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Ask Massively: Dancing on WildStar's grave

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This week's revelation that WildStar Design Producer Stephen Frost is quitting his role is not the first and likely won't be the last blow to the beleaguered game. Carbine lost several high-profile developers before and after launch, and with raiding guilds abandoning the title, server merges on the way, endgame grind being scaled back, updates being heavily delayed, and Christmas being canceled, even more players are losing faith in the title. That's nothing new in our industry. MMOs are big and unwieldy and sometimes launch with terrible underlying problems. They can usually pull out of a nosedive, given time. So let's give them time.

But there's a whole contingent of gamers already dancing on WildStar's grave when it's not even dead. It's one thing to deeply oppose a game's design, but if you take delight in watching major MMOs flounder, you don't really deserve this genre at all.



Massively reader wolfyseyes lit into such sadistic gamers in a comment on Tuesday:

I am absolutely shivering with rage. Not because of Frost's departure--he has an opportunity and I hope that it brings him all the joy and success he seeks. It's people who just non-stop delight in seeing this game go down. To what end, exactly? So you can finally erupt your "Toldja so!" load on everyone whether it was asked for or not? Is nobody else allowed to enjoy this game because you find it lacking, or too colorful, or because you have some psychotic axe to grind against NCsoft? Is no-one allowed to find fun in this game? So this game is shuttered. You have your release. Then what? Your self-assumed internet stock raises? Or do you just hate that people can enjoy a thing you don't or won't? What the *beep* is wrong with you people? :(
Sixty-two likes later, it's gotten more likes than any single comment I can remember, so I know wolfyeyes isn't alone in being appalled at the lawls and told-ya-sos and put-a-fork-in-its and references to the Titanic and screaming about freeloaders and hopes that NCsoft will turn to ashes. "I hate to be an I-told-you-so, but... No, you know what? I LOVE being an I-told-you-so! I TOLD YOU SO! Neener, neener," one commenter posted. "MMO's don't usually die as quietly and gracefully as WildStar. It's really refreshing to see them just give up," another quipped. "I just wanna see the world burn and corrupt video game companies and developers lose everything... Burn in hell," wrote still another. (Don't ask me how corruption got into this. Logic isn't at work here.)

Numerous players stepped in to try to analyze just why the reaction to WildStar's foibles has been so heated and gleeful, arguing that Carbine's design and marketing arrogance now reaps what it sowed. Commenter Jonah put it this way:
[G]ame studios play a role in this gross polarization, and WildStar was no different. Their deep contempt and hostility for any player not considered "hardcore" in their eyes was glaring. They did not hide their snotty, stuck-up attitude. The issue isn't that they attempted to create a niche product; the issue is in how they chose to market it. They inserted a radical divide on the playerbase by clinging to fictional notions of hardcore merit. Not surprisingly, lots of people took issue with their condescension. And when Carbine failed spectacularly at fulfilling their basic commitments that they boasted about for so long, folks had something to say back. I wish players would stop wishing doom on others, but I also wish studios would learn from past mistakes and stop exacerbating divides in the community.
And he's right. People can't help but snicker at a braggart when he trips and falls on his face. Gamers like to see wisdom and humility from game developers, not hubris. If they can't get that, apparently they'll settle for a fiery trainwreck and fan the flames in comment sections across the interwebs.


But this is an instance in which being right isn't fun. It's not fun to watch players who've pinned their hopes and dreams on a new game find them dashed against a wall. It's not fun when people lose their jobs and studios go under. It's not fun when a AAA game is flopping and a hobby is in jeopardy. When an MMO, especially a big MMO, appears to be struggling, I get an awful, sick feeling in my gut because players and journalists aren't the only ones watching these disasters. Developers, investors, publishers, and the next generation of student game designers are all watching too. Some players seem to think that when an MMO with the "wrong" design (or business model or target audience) capsizes, the industry will think to itself, "Well, we won't be making that type of MMO again!" What they're really thinking is, "Well, we won't be making an MMO again period." They aren't always looking at themepark vs. sandbox or free-to-play vs. subscription or raiding vs. roleplaying or the details of why a genre sometimes seems to have been circling the damn drain since 2004.

I don't want our genre to dry up. Do you? Some days I already feel that we have a whole lot of options but not much I'm burning to play. I don't want to see another trainwreck, and I don't feel joy or satisfaction when things that we saw coming actually happen. Our pet games don't "win" when another game loses, folks, and schadenfreude should not be your instinct. This isn't funny. This isn't fun.

I'm not saying you shouldn't criticize games. I'll never say that. "How will studios and publishers ever learn if their mistakes don't have negative consequences?" mused commenter GoldenGirl, and she's right too. Make your voice heard. Make your wallet felt. No game "deserves" to live. If a game is bad, don't you dare play it or buy it. If a studio is awful, withhold your support. Let the market sort this out in its own plodding and chaotic way.

But let's be clear what we mean by "negative consequences." I'm pretty sure developers can learn from their mistakes without angry trolls literally telling them to burn in hell. Not-buying a game is already sending a message, loud and clear. Stomping on a game until it's bruised and bloodied sends a message, too: that MMO gamers aren't worth trying to please.

What should you play? Where is the MMO industry headed? How does Massively operate? Has Lord British lost his marbles? Why is the edit button on a timer? Should "monoclegate" be hyphenated? Editor-in-Chief Bree Royce submits to your interrogations right here in Ask Massively every month. Drop your questions in the comments below or ping us at ask@massively.com. Just ask!

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