So, why is Wildstar not doing better?

Yesterday, Rohan tried to put a finger on why Wildstar isn’t doing so well only 3 months into launch. Wildstar the great AAA-hope of 2014, the polished, cartoony WoW-esque holy trinity, theme-park MMO that appeared different yet similar enough to accommodate the mainstream. I agree with Rohan that WS has a higher difficulty level than WoW, although the leveling process never struck me as hard or tedious on my Esper. WS is packed with some fun quests and a very linear, well-paced progression to level 50. I’d happily place bets on FFXIV:ARR being grindier than WS, only FFXIV is so fortunate to have a faithful, asia-based community on top of all the western influx since revamp.

However, it’s true that WS dungeons are tough and by the looks, raids even tougher. Even if you’re not after the attunement, bronze runs are a tricky to pug. That said, I don’t think endgame is the problem either – at least WS has an endgame that poses a bit of challenge and brings guilds back to the table. What does GW2 have? No endgame, failing guilds and not even great housing. Somehow, there’s always something to complain about.

My veranda in Wildstar.

I’m not convinced anymore that WS would be faring better if endgame was toned down to accommodate pugging. What I will say is that like ANet before them, Carbine took their good time to fix long-standing player concerns as far as the UI, submenus and other optimization concerns went and they are still far from done in my book. I personally know three potential subbers that still cannot run WS smoothly on their machine and have therefore given up playing. Then there’s players like this one who believe Carbine aren’t doing such a great job in marketing their title to a wider audience – but how big an issue is this, really?

Maybe it’s just that simple: WS isn’t WoW just like none of them are. And we have crossed the notorious 3-month mark. The dwindling player base was to be expected. Today’s MMO market cannot reproduce the successes of WoW, not with titles that are “similar enough” and not with titles that are completely different or exactly the same. Even if you own a niche like EVE does, you need to content yourself with 500k subscriptions. And while some WoW attachment still lingers on and declines only gradually, the rest of the market must cope with grazers and players opting for f2p or b2p over subscriptions.

Wildstar is a fine game. It can’t be helped that it wasn’t released in 2004. We’ll see if mega-servers are a blessing or curse for its core community. Maybe it doesn’t matter either way.


  1. I’m kind of hopeful that the advent of mega servers will get people playing together again. I know of a bunch of servers without any raiders as they all transferred due to lack of playerbase. If you’re on one of those servers, then you’ve pretty much hit a brick wall of progress. People to play with is the whole concept of an MMO.

    1. What I definitely look forward to is livelier zone chats, more LFR options (even if I don’t pug much) and better economy. That last one was particularly bad on my lowpop server.

  2. “the leveling process never struck me as hard or tedious on my Esper”

    What I was trying to get at was not the reaction of core gamers (which, since you have a gaming blog, you are), but the people who are ten times worse. Levelling must always be too easy for people like us, or the people who are more casual will have no hope.

    1. That’s very true. Frankly I have no idea what’s considered too difficult nowadays. I have heard few players complain about the Esper leveling and thought they must be very lazy not to realize what CC is for…..but maybe we cannot expect such knowledge from newbie players. 😉

  3. Try and answer these simple questions…

    1) Does the levelling experience last more than two months?
    2) Do upgrading your gear through that levelling experience makes an immense difference?
    3) Do professions matter throughout the game (levelling and end-game)?
    4) How hard is it to farm mats for both levelling the professions and craft (starting from scratch should require more than 20 hours of in-game time)?
    5) Is the game economy air tight (are you required to grind just for having gold for repairing your gear, or afford riding skill and mounts)?
    6) Are you required to farm more than an hour before each raid so that you can have flasks/potions/elixirs and anything other the raid may require?

    If all the above answers NO then by any means you cannot compare that game with what wow used to be.

    PS. i just tried out a private server today and it got me more than half an hour to reach lvl 5!!!. I needed to consult an online db during that session. Plus killing mobs was no breeze. All those things were great for group play though (i had to group up for the human warlock quest for imp). Great times though.

    1. Half of these points don’t apply to WoW either though; I never crafted in WoW or upgraded gear while leveling. Many are similar to WS imho and 1-3 are a definite No for me on both accounts. So not sure what you’re saying here but WS definitely has a problem by the looks that some players find the leveling too hard. I don’t – but am not so representative a player.

      1. When whole guilds gathered in order to farm essences so they can do some resistance enchants alone brought the professions and therefore materials gathering (or grinding/farming) on a whole new level of importance.

        Anyway vanilla / tbc wow had so many things to offer a player besides the “hardcore raiding” that by accounts occupied only 10% of the playerbase. The levelling experience was by far superior to anything before and after it. And that was only one part of the package. Wildstar needed to do good on every aspect and excel on some of them in order to succeed, and that is true for every MMO due to the innate versality/variety of the players involved and their priorities. Some are into raiding, others like the social aspect, others like the rpg along with the persistent world aspect etc.

  4. Rohan has the right of it. When GW2 patches today the whole leveling game will get a revamp that’s intended to make it simpler, easier and less confusing for new players. Veteran players are insulted (at least the ones who frequent the forums are) but ANet have good reasons for the “dumbing down” :

    Key quote from ANet dev Colin Johansen – “After tens of thousands of usability testers and interviews with players who tried Gw2 and left leading up to China launch both in NA/EU and in China …we were kind of shocked how many systems, downed included a surprising number of players just didn’t understand”.

    This ties in directly with the Gamer/Real Gamer debate. The market the big gaming companies want is not the experienced, skilled “gamer”. It’s the vastly larger new audience we all understand has arrived along with the growing maturity of gaming as an entertainment form and the proliferation of platforms on which to game.

    Carbine took a huge gamble by aiming for the hardcore MMORPG gamers. They may very well have succeeded in creating a product that appeals to that market segment but in 2014 it’s no longer a segment sufficiently large to sustain the costs of a AAA game. They’ve made a niche product at mass-market cost and it’s just not a viable business plan, at least not without a strong pre-existing IP with an established, loyal fanbase to prop it up.

    I would expect WildStar to change both its gameplay and its business model substantially over the next 6-12 months. Carbine have the example of Warhammer Online to consider if they choose to do neither.

    1. Veteran Players are always insulted. 😉 Interesting points about GW2, I haven’t followed things there in a while. And well, I don’t disagree in essence, I too wrote about the attunement being completely over the top. But now that I’ve also looked at the raids a bit more and experienced the silver difficulty……they would have to tone down everything siginificantly. And isn’t the harm already done? I wonder who will re-sub to WS just for that. If the standard really is WoW today, why not play WoW instead? Am just not sure that particular cake is even on offer.

      1. If you’re coming into MMO space as a new player, you’re going to be confronted with a few roadblocks (among others): a) system requirements, b) graphics/sound, c) game complexity/gameplay, d) game storyline, and e) multiplayer activity.

        The first one can surprise people who are accustomed to console gaming, as MMOs (with WoW and LOTRO being the notable exceptions due to their age) can surprise a new player by how graphics intensive they are.

        The second one is a no brainer; if the game looks and/or sounds poor, they won’t want to play.

        The third one is trickier, as gameplay and complexity are variables that change significantly from player to player, but you hope to hit the right level for a new player to fit in.

        However, it’s the last two that can be a selling point for a new player. Can you do things with other people without being forced into them? Can you actually follow the story without using a cheat sheet most of the time? Does the story jump around too much to be comprehensible? And do you actually see players around in the game world, being helpful, and not turning you off with their behavior?

        Many of the newer MMOs, such as SWTOR and GW2, actually do a good job with the last two. Even LOTRO has a coherent story (with a backstory that millions of people around the world know), and has a deserved reputation for having a helpful and good playerbase. But it is in story where WoW now falls down, courtesy of the half-assed insertion of the post-Cata Old World into pre-Cata Outland and Northrend. I’ve known people –a few of them neighbors– who tried WoW and simply got lost trying to follow the storyline.

        The one thing that WoW has over WS and any other MMO out there was timing. It was in the right place at the right time, and consequently it grew to be the (now somewhat reduced) juggernaut that it is today. If we rounded up all of the MMOs out there today and had them launch at the same time, I think we’d see WoW somewhere in the middle of the pack, not way out in front.

        That said, my main beef with WS was that I felt it could never decide what it wanted to be; either a cowboy-esque nod-nod-wink-wink sort of game, or a gritty “let’s stab you in the gut a few times to really make you hate the other faction” sort of game. For all of the laser-like focus on making instances and raids hard, they kind of fell down with what kind of image they wanted to present to the world.

  5. I honestly don’t know why it didn’t click with any real permanence for me. I think a big thing that hurt my enjoyment was the fact that we happened to pick the underpopulated faction. I didn’t expect all of twitter to choose Exile over Dominion. I’ve always seemed to have a tenuous relationship to this title. I hated it in early beta testing, and then it grew on me a bit, and when I had a bunch of friends wanting to play I figured… sure why not. The problem that I ran into is the fun seemed to die for me somewhere around level 25. I don’t quite know why, but I just stopped having as much fun.

    I watched guild chat slowly empty, and when no one else was logging in I didn’t really have a desire to do so either. There were a lot of aspects of the game I enjoyed, but the hyper saturated technicolor in your face world slowly lost its amusement. What seemed really fun for a few levels, started to grate on my nerves. Ultimately I was struck with the problem of… playing Chua the race I actually enjoyed playing… but doing so almost completely alone. Either that or I could re-roll to the Exile side, where I didn’t really like any of the races and vehemently despised a few of them. I came to a point where I realized I just didn’t care enough about the game to try and start over from scratch.

    So again I have no clue exactly why it didn’t click but it didn’t. It feels like it is precisely the game I would have built for myself when I was a serious raider back in Burning Crusade. The problem is I am no longer that player. As to what this player actually wants… I think it is somewhere in between a FFXIV and an EQ2. So far FFXIV is close enough for the time being, and the community is pretty much the thing that is keeping me rooted. I love the people there much the way that I used to love my server in World of Warcraft. In order for me to get enjoyment out of an MMO it has to be more than just about me, it needs to involve lots of other people. The component I didn’t realize was missing until now, was that I missed the server being a vibrant force in that enjoyment as well. Wildstar unfortunately as far as a community went, did not inspire me to do anything other than ignore general chat channels.

    1. I think the same would’ve happened to me soon enough, had I not found a great guild in WS. Dwindling chats are no fun. And yes, you’ve probably fallen a bit too much in love with FFXVI:ARR to stick to WSfor long. 😀 It’s great you’re having so much fun there, I’ll let you know if anything changes on my front.

  6. I tried WildStar for a month or so, and did quite enjoy it. But I was playing mainly alone, or with the boyfriend, and it just wasn’t enough to keep me there. Maybe if I wasn’t playing WoW still, who knows.. Maybe then I’d have stayed. As it was, the cost of two subscriptions was too much – and both games are ones where you want to put a fair bit of time in , which means I always have to pick one.

    It seems difficult for any game to make it big on the MMO market these days, even if a lot of the titles currently out are all “fun enough” to play. None have really captured me enough to stay. Some days I wonder if I’m just not suitable for the MMO genre anymore. I’m not enjoying WoW that much anymore either. The amount of time you have to put in just seems too much at times. That being said, I love MMOs and I love being able to play with friends. Maybe that’s all that was missing in WS for me. The rest of my friends 😉

    1. It is totally depending on the social environment. I wouldn’t be playing WS if it wasn’t for a guild and if you’re still into WoW, it’s difficult to switch over.

  7. I’ve seen two things happen in Wildstar with people quitting:

    1. They don’t engage initially. I had two friends try it out wanting to play with me, neither made it past level 14. One didn’t make it past level 8.

    2. They get to 50, hit the attunement 500′ brick wall, hear Carbine’s “sorry endgame is only for hardcore people”, and quit because they don’t see the game as being for them anymore.

    Carbine themselves have said that they were surprised by how unpopualr the raids have been, and that’s likely because they’re such a logistical nightmare to get into with the attunements and the message that only the hardcore need apply. It’s a recipe for failure, as that audience is not big enough to sustain a game on an AAA budget these days.

    I give it 3 more months before they start making major changes to increase accessibility of the endgame (and with the solo dungeon it’s probably already begun).

    1. The attunement is a brick wall and frankly, raids aren’t easier. From all that I’ve seen, I honestly don’t believe it matters if they tone down that attunement but not the crazy raids. They’ll have to do both or none. And then, will it be soon enough?

  8. I may be getting super jaded but I literally lasted less than ten minutes of open beta of Wildstar. I don’t think I ever got into my first instance of combat. I carried a message from one questgiver to one quest completer and then took a quest to click on a clicky thing and then thought “you know what? I don’t care” and logged off never to return.

    1. Good Point. I did personally have a misconception that WS was more mainstream at first and I kinda blame Carbine for it too for stating they were going after the WoW audience. Quite obviously though they aren’t, am not even sure original vanilla Stratholme was nearly as hard as WS vets. 😀 I think the cartoony graphics were confusing the hardcoreness further and overall it always seemed such a polished title for a long time, that some just had these higher hopes for it.

  9. I’m one of those people who got to level 50 and quit because of the attunement requirements. Actually, I got to level 49 and quit. I had found a great guild, housing was fun, the game ran OK on my computer. I just looked at that giant attunement chart, and suddenly the game felt so much more like work than like fun. Also, the guild I was in was overstuffed with warriors and the idea of levelling something else made my soul die inside a little, since the levelling path was so linear. Plus, jumping puzzles ptui.

  10. plenty of LOL to go around in the above comments. 🙂

    Dayyyum… This thing was uglier than I thought because, y’see, I got sucked into WS by the goofy graphics and what appeared to be basic Kill Ten Rats and hybird holy trinity classes layout. Wrong! — Surprise!

    Actually, I think I got lucky. Dealbreaker for me was total unplayability due to interminable stutter and lag, in spite of having a rig that was beyond the game’s supposed minimum requirements. (Including my ‘netivity, I know that spikes in Eternal Battlegrounds in GW2 is due to Anet, for example.) Apparently, they never got their shit together on optimization for a broad variety of hardware out here in their market. Duh. So, looks like I missed out on the grind to the Raiders Only point of the product. Makes FFXIV look relatively casual. Yikes.

    So, yeah… What were they thinking? I keep seeing that point made here and there: Raiders aren’t a big enough demographic to support a triple A. Sounds about right to me.Wow, just wow (so to speak).

  11. The killer for me was simply the IP. I didn’t engage at all with the theme in fact it put me off. I still love a sword and board, bows arrows and magic style of game and the space tech vibe from the game really put me off in a very big way – so much so that even the chance to game with very good friends couldn’t keep me interested. Whatever Wildstar is, it is different and it should be applauded for that…but equally it may also be those differences that make it hard for some players to really gel with it. Oh and no short bald evil looking thing was a huge problem too =p

  12. I am sorry but just because there is a 40 man raid, attunements and difficult dungeons/raids does not make the game Vanilla wow.. Vanilla wow had also an awesome immersive world and lore…the first login at Elwyn forest or at Teldrasil was a shocking experience.

    All I see in Wildstar is looney toons in space. Where is the Noble Knights? Where are the Mighty Dwarfs? Where is the beautiful Elves? I think you know what I mean…

    1. and also I will add someone’s response on the video I posted above..

      The beautiful nights amongst the enchanted forest on Teldrassil. Then the rain starts, while you are standing near a pond and 1:12 comes on. Suddenly, everything hits you in an instant. Everything flashes back to you in a microsecond. You see yourself sitting there, without a worry in the world, not even caring what gear you are going to get or what quest to turn in. You have the best feeling nobody can ever take from you. You have just made a memory, and every time, no matter if it’s the soundtrack or something that looks like it that reminds you of this moment, you will instantly think back to it and return to the good old days for that split second when you truly felt FREE!!!”

      This is something Wildstar does not have and will never have with the looney toons, disneyland theme…This is what made wow unforgettable..

  13. I don’t find Wildstar especially engaging as a game world, and I suspect the problem s that it tries too hard to be “wacky” and “zany”. The lore and the storyline are too shallow to hold surface tension, let along long-term interest. WoW has a lot of jokes but they’re placed in a world that, at its core, takes itself seriously, while Nexus doesn’t feel like much more than an excuse to slap together a bunch of lazy clichés and pop culture references, all played for laughs. It probably doesn’t help that the NPC interactions feel like an enormous step backwards after playing SWTOR, ESO and even GW2. I may be spoiled, but I’ve come to expect more than getting canned voice snippet A played whilst a text window pops up showing me message B. The really successful MMOs feel more like places you can visit, Wildstar feels more like a “funny once” gag reel.

    Having said that… I’ve just hit level 50 on my engineer and will be logging on for a session this evening, but that’s more testament to my guild (Disaster Area) than it is to the game. I realised at the weekend that I was enjoying the sessions I spent in ESO quite a bit more as a game (and story) than I was enjoying Wildstar for those reasons, but Wildstar currently has the edge in terms of social experience. I suspect the fall-off is due to the majority of players not being in awesome guilds.

  14. To be honest – I think the MMO genre has lost it’s hook for longevity amongst the majority of casual gamers. By casual, it’s simply the people that don’t care a huge amount about the title, IP or guild. A lot of gamers give MMOs the free month (or a month) and if they aren’t being showered in instant gratification they move on to the inevitable next MMO that’s rearing it’s head – whether it’s good or not. I know this is a generalisation, but it’s a trend I’ve noticed on my MMO travels.

    If people like the game or find a guild theylike whilst finding the game enjoyable (or at least distracting), then this will constitute your steady player base. Disrupt either of these and then the exodus begins.

    WoW offers the constant safety net to a lot of players. 90% of the new content can be completed within a month of release and then the players migrate to the next big thing, or back to an old title that has new content people can play for a month before they move on.

    Actually – through the process of writing this post, it seems that the MMO player base has become nomadic with a short attention span I guess. They move to fresh MMO pastures, pick it clean of the new content and move on to the next pasture. It seems that there’s only a small percentage left that actually pick a title and stick to it through the ups and downs.

    I’m not sure how I feel about this to be honest. Is it good that i’m a “sticker” or am I missing a beat by not being nomadic? Does it even matter? Ho hum

    1. I am a casual myself and instant gratification is not what I am looking for…As a casual I enjoyed the old games because they offered a great non-linear leveling experience for me in an immersive virtual world. Both Vanilla wow and Lotro did not had instant gratification yet are the games I loved the most without even raid or get “purple” gear (I was not even in full blue).

      The problem started since developers abandoned the “middle game” and gone fully for the “endgame”. Give me fun gameplay, a huge, beautiful and immersive non – linear world and let me there leveling my characters and professions for months…

      or give me a linear instanced world that last 1-2 weeks and then try to put me on the gear treadmill and you already lost me.

  15. I agree with John’s comments. Let MMORPGs be about the world, a world that has mystery, is dangerous, and requires players to work together. Let the leveling process take time, because the world is worth living in, and let it be dangerous for the player so that it thrills us. It will be wonderful when a game is about the world again and not racing through a formality of a world that is really just a lobby to a raiding game.

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