The Nexus Telegraph: How to fix WildStar

Eliot Lefebvre
E. Lefebvre|09.22.14

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The Nexus Telegraph: How to fix WildStar
I've been thinking about fixing my brain, but... actually, don't think about it.  Just do it.
It's been a quiet couple of weeks for WildStar, which could be taken as indicating the team is making major changes, or it could just be pre-patch preparations that are taking half of forever. It'd look the same either way. We know the next patch is coming, and we have some idea of what it's going to contain, but we still haven't gotten anything resembling a release date. Still, leaving aside the obvious shift in patch schedules, I'd like to think this is the start of a paradigm shift for the game's development as a whole.

This ties into the last column's topic quite well. The game has issues at the moment; it's not hitting the notes or player numbers it wants. What can actually be done to address this? How can the game draw players back and keep them engaged, especially when it's in need of some pretty serious server consolidation so early in its life?

Gotta knock a little harder, gotta knock a little harder, gotta knock a little harder, break down the door...Trim back the RNG

Do you remember the collective groan that was echoed when World of Warcraft decided to do away with dungeon/raid currencies in favor of the option to just reroll raid drops? Because I sure do. And I remember why those currencies were put in place the first time specifically because random numbers do not work the way that designers would like to pretend they do. If you have a 1% chance of getting a drop, your odds are still 1% each time you run.

The fact that WildStar launched in the year 2014 of the common era with only the barest support for not getting completely torched by random numbers is just baffling to me because it's a lesson that developers have learned by now, at least in theory. My other main games, Final Fantasy XIV and Star Trek Online, both offer mechanisms for getting upgrades even if you have poor luck with drops. Tokens and the like are more or less universally accepted as a way to pick up rewards over time. It might take you more time, but it's something you can work toward over time rather than just hoping.

This isn't even too difficult at this point; there are already vendors offering a handful of lackluster gear pieces for Elder Gems. Expanding those wares with reasonable prices would go a long way to making gearing in general not feel like a tedious and unpleasant march.

Adding better content for what people are actually doing

Defile seems as if it's prompted to bring some of this into the game in the form of solo choose-your-adventure style content. That's a step in the right direction because there's a lot to like -- it's just that for a lot of people, ridiculous raid attunements and crazy complicated raids don't fall under the header of "things to like," as evidenced readily by the steep subscriber dropoff.

It's a known fact that people love the game's housing systems. Look at playtime; a lot of people enjoy the solo experience. More content there is going to be a win for the game. If players aren't as keen on other elements of play, finding out ways to get them invested is grand, but the first priority should be encouraging them to play the parts of the game they already enjoy and offering them more ways to do precisely that.

And as long as we're on that point...

Drum out the tedium

The one major update that we've had since my last column involved trimming back the game's attunement requirements. This is a bit like speeding up the fans on the Hindenburg to keep it in the air despite its being on fire, but it's at least a look in the right direction. One of the game's major problems isn't even about the challenge of content -- it's about the time needed to get there.

Before you fire up your "players want everything handed to them" response, I... oh, you've already darted off to the comments. Well, unlike that reader, I hope the rest of you are aware of the fact that there is, in fact, a midpoint between "work for half a year for a 1% improvement" and "all rewards are granted to you upon logging in, possibly with a smile and music by Queen in the background." Creating a target to work toward over time is less than worthless if you're expected to do crazy amount of work just to access content, much less actually receive any rewards for it.


STAHMP
Despite the claims to the contrary, World of Warcraft did not remove attunements just for the heck of it. They were removed because all they successfully accomplished was creating another barrier between players and content. They're padding, and if you're facing an intense amount of work just to get to the point that you can start challenging the raids that have been advertised as brutally hard and unrewarding, the odds are good that you're just going to clock out and not come back. Creating something to work toward is a careful matter of balancing time to clear against perceived difficulty; if it feels like too much of a climb, people will just stop trying.

Start rewarding loyalty

While I cracked a few jokes back when The Elder Scrolls Online introduced its veteran reward program, that was based more upon the rewards being offered rather than the nature of the program. Having veteran rewards in place won't convince people who are fed up with the game to stick around, but they will convince people on the fence to stay just a little bit longer.

This isn't even as much about reversing a trend for subscribers as just making the existing subscribers happy. It's always a good idea to make players feel as if they're welcome and their time spent in the game is worthwhile. The developers are clearly willing to give people little benefits for staying in the game; offering something more on a regular basis is just good sense.

Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments or via mail to eliot@massively.com. Next week, I have a sneaking suspicion based on absolutely nothing that we'll have a bit more information on the next patch, so let's talk about that. Or whatever other fire has been started recently.

Here's how it is: The world of Nexus can be a dangerous place for a tourist or a resident. If you're going to venture into WildStar, you want to be prepared. That's why Eliot Lefebvre brings you a shiny new installment of The Nexus Telegraph every other Monday, giving you a good idea of what to expect from both the people and the environment. Keep your eyes peeled, and we'll get you where you need to go.
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