The Think Tank: How to save WildStar (if WildStar needs saving)

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The Think Tank: How to save WildStar (if WildStar needs saving)
When I posed this week's Think Tank question -- what would you do to save WildStar -- to the Massively team, it sparked a heated discussion over whether the game even needs saving in the first place. Fair enough. It's possible to have a long run of bad news and not be in trouble. It's possible that players are just overreacting to Carbine's canceling Christmas. But justified or not, there's growing perception that the game isn't doing so well. I'll address that perception more tomorrow, but for this Think Tank, let's talk about what Carbine can do to fix it.

Anatoli Ingram, Columnist
@ceruleangrey: I'm not qualified to weigh in on WildStar's fate, but as a player who is decidedly not a hardcore endgame raider and yet deeply enjoyed what I played of the game, I'm hoping to see Carbine expand social features like housing as well as providing more stuff to do at endgame for the non-raiding player. It does seem to be going in that direction and I'm probably just repeating what a lot of other people are saying, but I've heard the game described as belonging to the "raid or die" subgenre. The "or die" part needs to go.

While I wouldn't necessarily participate in it myself, providing a greater breadth of difficulty options for group content at endgame would probably be a big help. And as someone who appreciates raid attunements on some level, I think their time has passed, at least as far as actively gating content goes.

Bree Royce, Editor-in-Chief
@nbrianna: I continue to think the subscription model was a big mistake for WildStar. The market is way too tight to convince people to pay a sub for what is essentially an updated classic themepark with mechanics a decade old. If gamers wanted to pay a sub for slim but polished content, they already have World of Warcraft. If they wanted a free-to-play themepark with updates and great housing, they already have RIFT, never mind a dozen other solid themepark MMOs. That's the first step. Carbine needs a better monetization plan, one that doesn't give everything away for free but still gets enough people in the door that the game can survive and maybe even thrive as buy-to-play like Guild Wars 2 or free-to-play like Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Keeping those players happily playing and paying is going to require more content and a rethink of the hardcore combat and endgame raid mentality that consumed the game in the last year. My hunch is that the recent departure of certain devs is the first step in Carbine's doing just that. In the game's early development, there was much more focus on non-raid elements like housing and socializing and soloing and paths, and that is why so many people fanboyed for the game early on (and felt so let down after design and/or marketing -- I don't know where the fault lies -- shifted to target that vanishingly tiny Burning Crusade demographic). WildStar needs to get back to what gives it real flavor next to its competitors. That, as the game's metrics apparently show, is what the audience actually wants. Deliver it.

Eliot Lefebvre, Contributing Editor
@Eliot_Lefebvre: I've said it elsewhere and I'll say it again: WildStar's chief failing was that it tried to court the hardcore endgame crowd, which was always a foolish decision because they were never going to truly love the game once they had devoured its content. Marketing to the game to the hardcore was always putting itself behind a wall and limiting the audience. The players who still want to enjoy the game aren't the ones who want to strut around and preen over raid acquisitions; they're the ones who like the game's solo content, enjoy housing, and generally want to keep having fun.

At a bare minimum? Put the raid equipment on a vendor for reasonable Elder Gem prices, increase the acquisition rate for Elder Gems, tear down raid attunements, seriously reduce the amount of stress involved in high-end group content (the medal system makes grouping far more irritating than it needs to be), and add more content for solo and small-group players with more functional rewards. Moving forward, doing something truly visionary like allowing dungeons and instanced content to scale to group size would be a great idea, but that probably requires more work than can be sunk into the game right now and isn't a realistic prospect for a near-future timeline.

Jef Reahard, Managing Editor
@jefreahard: I don't know that it's in trouble, and neither does anyone else outside of a few higher ups at NCsoft/Carbine. Should we as outsiders be talking about success or failure at this early stage when we have absolutely none of the information that goes into determining either one of those labels? People are pointing at Frost's exit as irrefutable evidence that it's in trouble, but devs game-hop almost as much as players do, so I'm unconvinced.

Assuming it's not financially crippled, I would circle the wagons and focus on both new content production and maybe some rebranding away from the HOLY SH$T THIS IS HARDCORE!! stuff. I doubt WS has already dug itself an insurmountable financial hole, but it does have perception issues.

Finally, screw F2P. Don't give away stuff you worked hard on and stuff that you obviously feel is high quality/worth money. It's really a shame that that's where we're at in this industry, the supposition that bringing in a bunch of (non-paying) bodies will magically fix everything. No. Just no.

Justin Olivetti, Contributing Editor
@Sypster: I was far more willing to pay WildStar monthly when the team was committed to pumping out new content and updates on a monthly basis. Now they're asking for the same money for less output, and that doesn't sit right with me. WildStar was always an underdog title due to its new IP and stiff competition, and its decision to stick to a sub hobbled it from the start when it could have been sprinting past dinosaurs living in the past. If it was up to me? Go buy-to-play today with a premium sub option, and make money by selling cosmetic content for houses, mounts, and outfits since the game is set up to prize those features.

As for failing, well, I wouldn't argue that WildStar's had an easy road these past few months. But it does have a really great-looking update coming next month and -- this is important -- a very solid, fun game at its core. The housing system here is one of the best I've ever seen, bar none, and it has a lot of terrific features. I'd pull back on the hardcore endgame nature, rethink the class customization system, and severely overhaul the crafting. And then I'd be powering forward with the ability to play as a Lopp.

Larry Everett, Columnist
@Shaddoe: WildStar is a good game. It's not one that I could stick with, but many people enjoy it. The combat mechanics are interesting, the housing fills a great niche, and the atmosphere is refreshing by not taking itself seriously. However, its content fell short because of its focus on fringe, endgame PvE players. They do need a place to play. But I think Carbine learned that when you cater to the 1%, that you only get 1% of your potential audience playing.

My guild no longer plays WildStar, and I hear the same thing from most of the members. They wanted a hardcore game before they jumped in, but after experiencing a hardcore game, they suddenly realized that they were no longer "hardcore." I'll personally take a step further and say that they might still be hardcore, skilled players, but they just don't have the time or dedication that they thought they had. WildStar's fix is conceptually simple: cater to the casual.

Mike Foster, Contributing Editor
@MikedotFoster: I don't know much about WildStar in specific so I'm hesitant to weigh in on this, but I can offer some general thoughts. The most common complaint I tend to see is that the game is targeted too much to the hardcore raider, a niche I think is of less importance than ever before. MMOs don't need raiders at the cost of a wider, more profitable audience. Softening access might inspire more players to take a run a that content, and providing something for the non-raiders to do (assuming there isn't already) would be a good approach.

Also, who's to say the game is in trouble? Internet commenters working off imaginary numbers and preconceived biases? EVE Online is one of the most durable MMOs on the market; you don't need millions of players to make your game work, but you might need a change of direction with a smaller population in mind. On the subject of free-to-play, well... I'm a firm believer that the sub model is deader than dead. I refuse to play any new game with a sub fee and I'm sure I'm not the only one. Buy-to-play makes much more sense to me as a player. If WildStar were available as a one-time $30 purchase, I would already own it.

What do you get when you throw the Massively writers' opinions together in one big pot to stew? You get The Think Tank, a column dedicated to ruminating on the MMO genre. We range from hardcore PvPers to sandbox lovers to the most caring of the carebears, so expect more than a little disagreement! Join Editor-in-Chief Bree Royce and the team for a new edition right here every Thursday.
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The Think Tank: How to save WildStar (if WildStar needs saving)