WildStar is hands down my favorite game of 2014. With over 10 years of MMORPG experience behind me, I spent the better part of this and last year streaming, writing about, and playing the game, and I've already put in about a month’s worth of time into it between beta and live. I was level 50 within the first week of launch, and was present for three server first boss kills in the Genetic Archives. I am the 1% of hardcore PvE raiders.
Everything about WildStar’s systems was built with me in mind. Yet after only three months, the servers are drained, 40-man raiding seems like a remote dream, and I can barely even force myself to log on. Why did so many people (including myself) stop playing what was designed to be the ideal post-WoW MMORPG? I’ve done a lot of reflecting on what stopped me from continuing to log on, and the heart of the problem is that the game is not rewarding enough for players who can’t dedicate massive amounts of time.
The immediate cause for why I stopped playing WildStar was that I had to move. Though I initially planned to just put the game on the back burner while I unpacked and found a job, once I stopped logging on every day, I realized how much consistent time it took to continue playing the game.
Without the momentum of working towards my goal from the days before, it got harder and harder to justify logging on. After a week I told myself I was burned out and taking a short break. After I found out that they were abandoning their monthly update schedule, I stopped trying to convince myself to log on.
Hardcore =/= Time Sink
WildStar is catering to an audience of “older raiders” — the guys who played EQ or early WoW, many of whom stopped doing 40-man raiding almost a decade ago. The people who were taking part in that content did so at a completely different time in their lives, and a lot has changed in the time since, including our gaming palate. The kids who spent 8-10 hours raiding MC in high school are now out hunting for jobs, the guy who led a guild because he was unemployed got back on his feet, and that mother who could PvP after her kids went to sleep now owns a small business.
These are just anecdotes, but they speak to a larger trend within the MMORPG community. There’s a reason that have raids continued to get smaller, and why MMOs shifted to a more casual model over the past decade. Many of us saw WildStar as a chance to get the band back together. The trouble is that the guitarist got fat, and the drummer has to pick his daughter up at 8.
Time commitment is one of the most important aspects of WildStar. If you do your daily quests every day, if you cap out your Elder Gems every week, if you take the time to farm 4-slot items, then you will progress your character. During raid progression nights, I spent just over an hour on daily character maintenance alone. Between doing dailies, updating auctions, securing consumables, and tweaking my runes and build, I had already dedicated a fairly serious amount of time into the game before I even began actually playing.
WildStar's whole design philosophy was dedicated to being hardcore. From the very beginning, Carbine promised the toughest, biggest, baddest raids, and they delivered. WildStar’s raiding scene is epic, challenging, rewarding, and fun. The attunement process was rigorous and selective (until they nerfed it), and made me engage with many aspects of the game I otherwise wouldn’t have. During the first few weeks, I watched the cream of the crop rise through the leveling and attunement processes; beginning the race through Genetic Archives. For that short period, I was living in a golden age. Kudos, Carbine — it was truly divine.
Unfortunately, maintaining that level of dedication took no less than 4 hours, 5 nights a week. Even more casual players usually dedicate at least a few hours of play a few nights a week to justify the expense. Playing WildStar is a decision that players have to make for the long term, and choosing to sustain that kind of lifestyle is something that requires a high level of confidence in the product. Players need to feel like playing will be worth their time both right now and in the future; if they don’t think they will want to be playing three months from now, they’re not going to play now.
The Theme Park is Closed
WildStar was a live experiment to see if the large-scale raiding theme park model still works, and sadly, it doesn’t. The archaic reward paths simply don’t offer enough to keep players logging on. Every day when I log on I am faced with the following choice: I can begin the laundry list of daily quests and tasks needed to marginally progress my character, or I can spend my time trying to find other players with the same goals that I do for the chance of maybe getting an upgrade or completing an objective I need.
If it isn’t a raid night, there are barely any ways for me to progress my character in at all. Sure, I could keep remodeling my house, or making new costumes, or 100%ing every zone… but customization only takes me so far, and most rewards are too distantly spaced and negligible to feel worth the time spent.
WildStar doesn’t need to be any less challenging. Combat is engaging and fun, I love it just how it is. Hardcore-ness should be a measure of skill and mastery, not time dedication. I don’t mind spending the time wiping to learn fights, trying new strategies, or sitting in town figuring out the perfect rune or LAS setup. That’s what these games are all about, after all. That said, I also want to be able to log on for 45 minutes before work and be able to do something more meaningful than the same quests I’ve done every single day for the last three months.
Even skilled and dedicated players, the ‘hardcore’ audience Carbine was targeting, get tired and burned out of months of working towards something that will barely even offer them anything at all. It’s become clear that there are not enough of the right kinds of rewards to keep less committed players logging on, and even players who might be willing to spend the time are having difficulty justifying the time when there are so many other issues abound.
The time commitment WildStar requires exacerbates the pain of dealing with bugs and major class or feature issues. When I am expected by the game’s model to be playing for 12-20 hours per week, finding out that a major issue with the game won’t be fixed for over a month isn’t just painful; it feels like a betrayal. Although I personally didn’t play a Spellslinger when Trigger Fingers was bugged at its worst, I knew several Spellslingers who rerolled and I didn’t blame them one bit. When PvP itemization made trying to climb the ladder pointless, I wasn’t surprised when I saw my friends logging back on League of Legends instead.
I’m not saying that the issues are easy to solve or that Carbine isn’t doing their best; I think that they are doing a great job. However, these issues have taken them weeks or months to fix, and players have short attention spans. The population began to decline, and as players lose other players to interact with, the feedback loop makes every loss worse than the last. WildStar in particular feels this pain because of Carbine’s gamble with 40-man content. Because the ability to even engage with certain types of content has such a high player requirement, the inaccessibility of certain content devalues the game. Despite being an amazing feature in conception, the time and resources dedicated to Warplots feel like they’ve been wasted; months after release I am still yet to have ever seen a Warplots match.
In My Opinion…
Carbine will have more success if they provide more of the same difficulty of content in a more accessible and less repetitive way. I am a proud member of the hardcore raiding community, but what I’ve seen happen to WildStar has convinced me that the large scale raiding model is no longer financially or communally sustainable. Although a few guilds have pushed through Datascape (go get ‘em, guys!), they represent .01% of the game’s population. Even the highly ranked guilds on most servers have given up hope of 40-mans, and can barely recruit for 20-mans.
Depending on the success and timeline of the megashard change, WildStar should accept defeat on large scale raids, and emphasize 5, 10, and 20-man content. If Carbine released three 5-man dungeons instead of one 40-man raid, I genuinely believe it would be better received. The need for changes to the attunement process proves that the content can be extremely mechanically challenging even with fewer players, and the content doesn’t need to be any less epic in scope or difficulty just because there are fewer players there.
WildStar is dripping with potential. Unfortunately, the game’s post-release has been a lot less graceful than its pre-launch phase. Carbine’s abandonment of the monthly update policy, as well as the game’s more recent troubles with server population speak ill for its short term future. With time, though, the game will bounce back, and after megaservers and all of the changes coming with the Defile Drop are implemented, WildStar will have a bunch of new content and fixes that will draw players back.
For now, I am going to give WildStar some space. I’ve got a lot on my plate in real life, and I’m trying out some other games from genres I don’t usually play. I’m going outside while its still nice. In a few months when it gets cold again, I’ll loop back around with WildStar, try out a new class, and have a whole new experience with the game. Maybe if I have the time I’ll even find a casual raiding guild. This time, though, I’ll have to leave the server firsts to a new generation of raiders.
Of course I know that WildStar still has lots of dedicated and highly active players, and there are plenty of other reasons that people left. What did you think of WildStar, and why did you stay or leave? Let me know in the comments below!