Carbine's Donatelli and Moore on WildStar's population and philosophy

Eliot Lefebvre
E. Lefebvre|10.14.14

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Carbine's Donatelli and Moore on WildStar's population and philosophy
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Two weeks ago, Carbine Studios offered us the opportunity to interview product director Mike Donatelli and creative director Chad Moore regarding the state of WildStar and what future updates would bring to the game. We have their thorough answers in their entirety for you today; Carbine assures us that there was no animosity or conspiracy in the delay, and we thank the studio for that. So let's get to it: Read on as the duo discuss WildStar's current population, business model, development strategy, and plans for the near future.

No comment.Massively: How many players are currently active on a reliable basis in WildStar? How does the number of active subscriptions compare to the projections about subscriber numbers before the game was launched?

Mike Donatelli: WildStar currently has hundreds of thousands of active players. Would we like more? Absolutely. And do we expect to see active subscriber activity increase in the coming months? Definitely. Why? The various updates and activities we have planned are not only bringing new and exciting content to the game, but there are fixes and tweaks being implemented as a direct result of the feedback we received from our active and passionate community. And yes, we fully expect to see the game grow in the months and years to come.

Do you feel that the game's insistence on marketing itself as "hardcore" helped alienate players before it went live, as it was not a part of the game's initial announcements or marketing push? Was there a major shift in development philosophy away from the sandpark style of play originally discussed?

Chad Moore: Epic Warplot battles, intense raids, and dungeons that would put even the most experienced players to the test were always a part of our marketing campaign. Similar to most MMO marketing campaigns, those aspects of the game are discussed and detailed closer to launch following months of buildup focused on lore, features, combat. classes, races, housing, etc. However, it was the difficultly of the raids and dungeons that specifically caught the attention of both media and fans alike. Players embraced the difficulty of those specific game experiences as they were up for a new challenge. Because of this added attention to the difficulty of those game experiences, the "hardcore" label that was mentioned specifically in the Raid DevSpeak took on a life of its own painting an inaccurate perception of the entire game. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our fundamental development philosophy from the very beginning has been "play the way you want to play," and with things like Path content, Housing, Role-Playing, Challenges, Shiphand Missions and Adventures, we think we're still sticking to that philosophy. You will see moving forward that our content updates will provide fun things to do for players of all kinds and at various levels. MMOs are big, and we know that there are parts of the current game that need to be adjusted to better reflect that philosophy.

At PAX Prime, it was noted that the team was surprised a high number of players preferred to play the game completely solo (I don't have the exact number in front of me, but I seem to recall it was upwards of 70%). At the same time, at PAX East before the game's launch, Jeremy Gaffney specifically said that most players prefer to play the game solo, citing a slightly smaller but similar number. What led to this particular disconnect?

Moore: I can't speak specifically to the two quotes that you are talking about, but I do know that a significant number of MMO players prefer to play MMOs solo. And because of that, I can say with confidence we dedicated a massive amount of development time on creating content in WildStar that is accessible to solo players, and we will continue to develop that kind of content in the future. Quests, Path missions, the Drusera instances, Shiphands, and player housing are all examples of solo-friendly content that can be found at all levels of the game. Our upcoming content update introduces the first chapter in the Nexus Saga, Journey into OMNICore-1. This content was created specifically for solo players and it is perhaps our most immersive and polished content to date. But just to be clear: We have always been dedicated to giving players of all stripes great content, and that certainly includes solo players.

No comment.As it stands, many players who would otherwise like to raid are currently being locked out by taxing attunements and a brutality inherent in the progression system. Is anything being done to alleviate this beyond the existing scalebacks to attunements and the planned "training dungeon" mentioned in the State of the Game letter, or does the statement of "raiding will never be easier" still ring true?

Donatelli: We don't have plans to make raiding "easier," as players weren't asking for that. What they have been asking for is less of a grind in attunement, and we made some changes recently. We reduced requirements for attunement across the board. We changed the credit for bosses killed, and players could progress with lesser medals. Within a week, we had quadruple the number of players attuned and ready to run the raid, which is awesome.

Players like the challenge of the raids and dungeons. Player feedback has shown us that they're not happy with trying to wrangle a 40-man roster, so we're working on a plan to alleviate this, and we'll be able to talk about it very soon. I think everyone will be pleased. And as mentioned in my recent State of the Game address, we're implementing a training dungeon into the game to alleviate players from feeling as if they're being thrown to the wolves as they jump into dungeons for the first time.

What do you feel exists in the game currently to entice players who have no interest in raiding? Do you feel that most players are satisfied with the thought of never being able to progress past a certain point without raiding?

Donatelli: We think that things like Path content, Adventures, and Shiphand missions are among several things that keep non-Raiders engaged. With respect to the second part of this question, that's actually not the case; you can reach level cap without having to raid, soloers PvP'ers, and Dungeoners alike. If your question implies that you can get the most powerful gear in game only from raiding, that's true. But also bear in mind that since there are other ways to level cap without going on a raid, we've tuned gear for other types of playstyles; PvP gear sets are tuned to be better at PvP, Dungeon gear is tuned to make players better in running dungeons, etc. But since Raids are the most challenging type of gameplay in WildStar, it made sense to provide those players with the most powerful gear.

A quarterly update schedule is in direct opposition to previous statements that said the game's subscription model would be backed up by more frequent updates. Is a change in the works for the business model?

Moore: There aren't any current plans to change the business model. And while the updates will not be as frequent as previously discussed, we feel the value in the content and experiences we currently and will offer in the future is well worth the subscription.

We changed the update schedule because the new content wasn't being delivered at the levels that we or our players expected. We feel that this new approach, focusing on quality over quantity, is the right way to go and fits within the subscription model. Fans will still be getting new content but at the best possible quality.

No comment.Given overall player reception of many of the game's features (raiding, attunements, random drops for gear), is the feedback you're receiving now similar to feedback received during the beta? Are concerns from the beta still coming across in current player feedback?

Donatelli: I'd say a lot of the feedback from beta was focused on the leveling game. We just didn't get the quantitative or qualitative feedback for raiding, attunements, or elder game RNG (random number generator) until after the game was live. Now that we are getting it through the Live game, we will continue to enhance the player experience and give them more of what they are asking for.

The departure of two high-ranking staff members (Jeremy Gaffney and Stephan Frost) shortly after the game's launch gives a strong impression to players that things are not well behind the scenes. Can you give players more details on the departures and the timing? Who will be replacing Gaffney and Frost on the project?

Donatelli: It's policy that we can't talk about employee departures. What I can say though is that in JG's case he personally had a superbad year leading up to launch and he deserves a break. His parting post to the community pretty much explains it all. As for Frost, he was presented with an opportunity he felt was incredible and one he couldn't pass up. People in the industry move on from projects and studios at various states in their career; that's the nature of things.

I'll be handling JG's duties as Product Director, and Frost's duties will be absorbed into the greater production team with Jon Jelinek leading the way as Executive Project Manager. Pappy (Chad Moore) will be making guest appearances in Frost's stead on the weekly community livestreams.

Moore: I think that both Jeremy and Frost were fairly clear on their reasons for moving on, so I don't think we need to reiterate them here. But I will say that the end of a game's development cycle always results in people leaving the team and moving on to other opportunities. Losing those two was difficult for all of us and for me especially as I considered them both talented colleagues and good friends, but we still have a great team here at Carbine who is dedicated to WildStar. In terms of general communication about the game and interaction with the community, both Mike D and I have taken on a larger role and will continue to do so moving forward.

What specific actions and content are being planned to encourage solo players to stick around? Small-group players? Crafters?

Donatelli: We're trying to focus on short session and repeatable content. We have drops slated for January and April that will have shiphands, small dungeons, and new customization for players and their houses as well as Elder game trades.

Moore: Journey to OMNICore-1 is content created for solo players and is part of an ongoing series of story-focused instances that will be released at regular intervals. Part of our accessibility initiatives include a new Shiphand mission at level 6, which is accessible to both solo players and small groups, as well as the inclusion of Shiphands into the LFG tool, which should encourage group play at lower levels. To be honest, a lot of our efforts right now are focused on improving the core experience across the board during regular progression, touching on everything from itemization to story immersion to combat fatigue, as those changes will be felt very keenly by our solo players.

The stated reason for slowing the update pace in [what was at the time of these questions] the latest State of the Game update is a need to release less buggy content. Does the team genuinely feel that bugs are the biggest issue that has faced the game over the past three months?

Donatelli: It is the biggest issue by far. We've had more appeals about bugs with quests, crafting, items attunement, etc. than any other single thing. Iterating on the attunement quests wouldn't help if we ignored the nagging elder game bugs from launch. Class balance is paramount, but it's not effective if every other class has a serious bug with their abilities.

Moore: There are other issues that we have faced since launch, but I would consider most of them pretty common to any MMO that launches, which is to say that when you get hundreds of thousands of people playing your game at any one time, issues with your game design are going to come to light. Every MMO experiences it, and we were no exception. But we are fully aware that bugs aren't the only issue here. While we're fixing bugs, we want to continue elevating the positive aspects of WildStar that fans enjoy like combat, housing, customization and exploration, while making adjustments to the areas that fans and press have been vocal about needing some tuning.

No comment.Will players see a decrease of reliance on high-end raids and random chance for gear upgrades?

Donatelli: We're making a lot of changes to RNG and gear. We are adding new gear with each update with an eye toward providing more methods of progressing your character. We've already made adjustments to how the runes work, and we're adding a new system called "Contracts" that can be enjoyed in parallel with the parts of the game that you prefer regardless of your level, location, or skill.

The move to megaservers is inevitably going to negatively impact the roleplaying community; beyond the addition of last names and an RP channel, are other quality-of-life features on track for roleplayers? (Head tracking on targets, for example.)

Moore: Not in the short term. That being said, I think that there will also be positive changes for roleplayers with the introduction of megaservers, which is to say that that the population will be more stable and therefore the in-game community as a whole will be stronger and more vibrant. I don't say that to trivialize some of the concerns of the RP community (I would hope that at this point the RPers would recognize how much I personally value them), but I do think that we need to address the bigger issues with the game as a whole, which will allow us to focus on the kinds of improvements that you mention above.

How soon can players expect to see significant changes to the current state of the game, beyond the addition of some new content in the Defile drop?

Donatelli: I think we have a lot of big ticket systems improvements slated for the next update (mid-November) as well as a ton of bug fixes. I honestly think this will have a significant impact. I'm personally looking forward to music remodel in housing and to rune changes, as I was into runes before they went mainstream.

That's just the info for the next drop. We have new daily and weekly content, PvP and both the Protogames and the Protogames Academy dungeon/raid slated to roll out in the January update and Protogames Allstars and Augmentors dungeon/raids as well as new World Story and shiphands.

We hope players can see that we are dedicated and committed to bringing them the AAA experiences they want out of WildStar. It is not easy to switch a studio from pre- to post-launch activities, and we're now taking the time needed to ensure we're doing it right.

Thank you for sticking with us. We know we have something special here with WildStar, and we want to make sure we get it right for you.

Thank you both for your time.
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