In today’s MMO-saturated world, the post-launch period of an MMORPG’s launch is arguably the most critical time in judging whether players will stick around or not. The first few months in particular are paramount. Leveling can be awesome, but if the majority of players get to endgame and find the post-honeymoon gaming experience a little lacking, they’re likely to mosey on to that next shiny game.
This is exactly what happened for a fairly large percentage of players that tried out WildStar. Despite the game’s unique art style, addictively fun combat, and some of the most challenging PvE content seen, well, in a long time, WildStar isn’t as popular as most fans hoped it’d be. Some servers seemed empty even a month after the game launched. Guilds now struggle to find enough players for raiding or Warplot action. There’s a widening gap between the newly-50/casual playerbase and those who raid, giving players little room to easily make the leap if they so choose.
Carbine is wisely making some great moves including the addition of megaservers in the near future to try and bring players closer together again (which is vital, given the game’s focus on 40-man raids). They’ve also eased up on the attunement requirements and made more than a few loot adjustments to help players catch up. This is all a much-needed step in the right direction, but what happened exactly? What drove players off in the first place?
WildStar started out kind of like a hurricane. Its unique character models, cool humor, and futuristic, steampunk-esque story drew players in by droves. It offered us many of the things we thought we were lacking: a skill and aim-based PvP system in an MMORPG setting, a housing system that struck a balance between simple to understand, goofily awesome, and 100% customizable, 40-man raids, difficult dungeons, an attunement chain, and combat that rewarded us for dodging fire and tossing interrupts out.
We loved it. We leveled. And then, bit by bit, once we were in the calm of the hurricane and the hype died down, we realized that not everything was perfect in cupcake land.
Despite a fairly solid launch, WildStar suffered many issues right off the bat, most of which affected endgame and leveling in a negative way. Game-breaking bugs affected everything from dungeon runs and early raids to crafting, dailies, PvP, questing, and combat. Gathering bots and essential AMPs with low drop rates caused the economy to madly fluctuate. Major class imbalances led to players rerolling for both PvE and PvP purposes (hi there, massive amounts of Warriors and Stalkers). Several classes had an entire laundry list of bugs—some of which still aren’t completely fixed.
As someone who personally fell in love with the Engineer class, let me tell you—a huge amount of class bugs does not make for a good time, especially when WildStar had seen a ton of alpha/beta testing. I didn’t think it was possible for a game’s pet system to be 110% broken in this age of post-WoW MMORPGs, but then I met the Engineer’s accident-prone bot buddies. “Well, I guess I really didn’t need you to follow me correctly, attack the thing I’m attacking, not aggro all that junk over there, or let me use my tank cooldown properly in a dungeon. It’s okay.” No, no, no. It really isn’t.
A large portion of these bugs negatively impacted the climb for gearing up and accessing raid/arena content. Arena PvPers who climbed the ranks early on were given a huge advantage over those who took slightly more time to level. Some PvEers were forced to change their gear sets completely thanks to a few last-minute currency shifts. Some specs like DPS Medics were even deemed undesirable for raids.
Concerning non-bug-related issues, Carbine made more than one sweeping change to how medal loot was rewarded in adventure/dungeon runs early on. This led to drastic changes between which content players ran and why. Endgame adventures started out fairly popular, but now they’re largely avoided. This also led to players being extremely picky about performance during endgame runs. It’s natural for an MMORPG developer to make sweeping changes like this after a game’s been out for a while, but there’s a reason why even endgame loot systems need to be tested during beta.
Consistency is integral to the early endgame stage of an MMORPG. It ensures everyone’s on equal footing. Without consistency, the playerbase begins to shift into multiple groups. This lack of consistency led to some player groups developing specific instance-farming strategies for farming best-in-slot pre-raid gear. Other player groups felt as though crafting was the only real option for obtaining gear.
This gap—although obviously not intended by Carbine at all—helped lead to the current divide we see now in WildStar’s endgame. Unless a new level 50 player is lucky enough to find a guild willing to help them gear up, they have a long wait before they can raid. The RNG (random number generation—the chances of obtaining upgrades, essentially) is simply too random. No, best-in-slot gear isn’t needed to begin raiding, but it can make a difference. For some player groups and guilds, this difference is enough. This results in these groups looking elsewhere for new players, thereby further increasing the gap. This type of gap isn’t healthy for any MMORPG, let alone one that’s still finding its wings.
To make matters worse, Carbine had a bunch of new content lined up for release directly after the launch of WildStar. We saw two new content drops within a fairly short period of time, but what we didn’t see were fixes for some of the more critical bugs still in-game. Major class abilities were still broken, dungeon/raid mechanics were still causing groups major grief, and entire crafting professions needed reworking. Instead of bug fixes and mechanic reworking, we got nifty new content to explore.
Don’t get me wrong—new content is always welcome, especially for those who leveled quickly and were running out of new things to do—but bug fixes and mechanic fixes should always come first. Quality is more important to an MMORPG’s longevity than quantity. Carbine’s new content team (and therefore a different dev team than the team working on bug fixes) had obviously worked on this new content ahead of time which had allowed them to push the content out prior to the bug fixes. In light of player feedback, however, Carbine probably should’ve went a different route here.
Thankfully, the development team does seem to be listening. Carbine recently announced that from here on out they’re scaling back on the new content drops and will focus on bug fixes and quality instead. They haven’t even announced a release date for their third content drop yet. Instead, they’ve said they’ll push it out “when it’s ready.” Until that time, we’re seeing a solid chunk of bug fixes and much-needed class readjustments every week. This, in all honesty, is what should have happened months ago.
When these changes are paired with the recent announcement of megaservers and the fact that players can now freely transfer between WildStar’s servers, times seem to be looking up despite a bit of a rocky patch. It’s difficult to tell whether the addition of megaservers will fix the game’s population issues and help encourage raiding guilds to reach out to new level 50s in larger amounts, but this is the hope, anyways. It’s a solid place to start.
WildStar is an extremely promising game, with some of the most fun combat around (ask anyone who’s played WildStar then went back to World of Warcraft—one does not simply go back to not double jumping). All it needs is a smart path to travel, a few more bugs stomped out, and continued changes like those seen and announced in recent weeks. It may be too late to bring back the droves of players who originally tried WildStar and left for other games, but for those of us still around? We’ve got a bright horizon to look forward to. Unless you’re a chua, of course. Then you have a bright horizon to look forward to blowing up. Either’s cool.
What are you thoughts? Looking forward to returning to WildStar once the bugs are fixed? Tell us in the comments section!
For more on WildStar, check out our coverage hub.