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PAX East 2014: Pre-launch words with WildStar's Jeremy Gaffney

Eliot Lefebvre

WildStar is being released in about a month and a half. It feels as if it's been forever since the game first revealed its announcement trailer. Now we've finally got a release date in sight, and the last few features for the game are being revealed to the public. It's one of the last chances that we'll have to talk about the game before it releases.

On the last day of this year's PAX East, I had a chance to sit down with executive producer Jeremy Gaffney to chat a little bit more about the game before it launches. While the game has gone gold and the discs are being manufactured, the team is still refining and improving the game and plans to do so up until the day of launch. That meant talking about the endgame, the development process, and the changes that have been made already in the most recent stages of beta.

I'm reserving my judgement about the raid situation, but I do have a large cannon for voicing necessary opinions.The first question I had to ask was about the game's raiding structure. As it stands, raiding has been touted as both the hardest possible content in the game and the source of all the best rewards, which is somewhat at odds with the overall direction of games and the industry over the past several years. How will making raiding less accessible address players who don't find the gameplay mode enjoyable?

Gaffney started by stating that the team feels strongly about risk and reward needing to be tied together. Making raids easier and easier to enter for players ultimately makes for a less fun experience and less risk for those who do enjoy raiding in the interests of trying to funnel people into the single endgame experience.

The raids in WildStar are designed to be fun, and they're designed so that beating a boss once gives you the option of buying loot from that boss via the elder gem mechanics. Even if you're not a raider, being there for a kill can get you access. Gaffney also mentioned that as time goes by, level caps change and content can get easier and more accessible; nothing is set in stone forever, and depending on what happens in the live game, difficulty and mechanics can always be dialed up or down. One idea he mentioned was possibly allowing weekends with vastly increased player caps on raids, and while that may or may not happen, it's been floated as a way to let people who otherwise wouldn't experience the content at all jump in and give it a shot.

An obvious example of change coming as a result of feedback is the addition of the new body types added in the last beta patch for the game. Ideally, having more diverse body types was always something that the team wanted, but it hadn't been planned due to the technical challenges involved. The community spoke out loud and audibly, however, and that meant a need to address the complaints.

Gaffney stressed that community involvement can always be a balancing act; development has to not listen to everything while at the same time being flexible enough to respond to real issues. It's a game of inches to figure out what's urgent and what ultimately isn't as important.

That also ties into future community interactions, which Gaffney sees as very important even post-launch. Making the team accessible is an important part of the development process. While community interactions with the development team can go south, something proven in the first several years of Ultima Online's lifespan, it's important not to pull back simply to the game's official forums and disregard a huge section of prospective engagement with players.

See you after you've left space cowboy.So once the game goes live, what's the first development priority for the team? Getting in more solo content. Yes, that's probably not the expected answer, but it's something that needs to happen quickly. Solo content is always being consumed, and unlike raids or PvP maps, solo content ensures you can't just repeat the same quests over and over barring dailies. Story development and new battlegrounds are both important, but players of all stripes need something to keep them engaged in the game, and solo content is the most consumed content out there. That means it won't take long to be gone, and it needs to be replenished quickly.

How the economy moves will also be a major point of interest; the team wants an active economic system, and that means keeping a close eye on everything. Items need to be circulating, players need to be interested in both crafting and buying, and how the CREDD system plays out in the context of the game will need to be monitored. Yes, there are some early concepts in place, but it's live players who can make the system tick.

I also asked Gaffney whether the game's servers will have a proper roleplaying flag in addition to PvE or PvP flags. He said that he wasn't certain but that he believed they were indeed being flagged. He also expressed interest in opening up more dialogue with the game's roleplaying community in the hopes of seeing what tools can be put into place to help support the community; the game has a strong emphasis on player creativity and individual preference, and the team wants to support players as best it can.

Ultimately, after launch, it's going to be a question of how well the game can keep the players it acquires at launch. While he freely admits that the launch date for WildStar lands it between Scylla and Charybdis, the main metric for an MMO can't be sales on launch day but subscribers retained several months out. That's why the team has been eying the endgame so intently, focusing on giving players things to do there and reasons to stay around and keep playing.

Would it have been nice to launch with a strong IP? Yes. But ultimately, the strongest IP in the world won't help a game that just isn't fun. Gaffney feels that the game is fun, that it is ready, and that it's up to players to see if they agree in the long run.

Massively's on the ground in Boston during the weekend of April 11th to 13th, bringing you all the best news from PAX East 2014. Whether you're dying to know more about WildStar, Landmark, or any MMO in between, we aim to have it covered!

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