So the news this past week about Carbine is grim. Significant layoffs and possibly more on the way, their big planned expansion into China has been axed, and all of this comes just 6 months after going free to play. None of these are good signs and to top it all off, the MMO Killer, NCSoft is their publisher. I have really wanted Wildstar to be successful and I’ve said so in the past. But sadly, things don’t look good and it’s time to take a harder look at what went wrong and why the game can’t seem to retain players or attract new ones.
So it all started with 16 original WoW developers who decided that they missed the supposedly golden age of MMO’s where raids were 40 people in size and attunement requirements were uncompromising and brutal. Given how they’ve had to completely walk back those requirements for most of their raids in the game, time has judged this particular vision of MMO’s to be less than a winner. It was different back when 40 man raids and heavy attunements were the only game in town. But now that it’s not, nobody wants to manage the headache of organizing 40 people. I can’t organize the 4 other people in my household on what to have for dinner. Why anyone would think this was a desirable state of being, is a bit of a dreamer and that’s all I’ll say there.
And if that was the only mistake that the dev team at Carbine had made, just dreaming big and coming up short, than I wouldn’t look back so resentfully on the softball pieces I wrote for Wildstar up to this point. Sadly, other accounts paint a picture of hubris, disdain, and a lack of concern on the part of the development team and it’s time for a harder look at just where they fell short.
The first two months of the game’s launch were by all accounts a wild success. Population exceeded server capacity and the teams were struggling to meet demand. This is the kind of release you want when you launch an MMO. Sadly it came with a host of other issues as well.
Community management was wretched across the board. Forum posters who were drunk from the Wildstar Beta Kool-Aid made the forums toxic. The in game GM’s were often indifferent and at worst completely useless to a host of players who were trying to get issues resolved. Telling players they should just start over with a new character rather than fix the issues at hand is no way to retain players. Balance was all over the place for classes and roles, something that as experienced WoW developers, Carbine should have been able to handle and repeatedly couldn’t. Bugs became features as they would often release patches that would do nothing to fix the existing problems and would instead create new additional problems to add to the mix.
I have a special place in hell reserved for the game lore and it’s writers. At best, the lore was condescending and at worst, out right terrible with it’s binary focus on good and evil. The lore treated the players as either pawns in the grand galactic war, or as barely competent rookies, despite all of the NPC’s being completely inept. It seemed very much to me the lore was clearly written for the people who always skip past the mission text anyway. It feels like the dev team thought that if they made the raiding experience “pure” then everything else would just fall into line on it’s own. Never mind that the raiding population of any game is only a tiny sliver of your over all population and always has been for all games EVER. This should not be news to anyone, but for experienced MMO developers, it’s inexcusable to treat so many of your players this badly.
To be fair it wasn’t all terrible. The marketing videos were great. They did their job perfectly. I wanted to get in there and join the fight for Nexus. Space colonization with cowboys and space ships. It was a breath of fresh air. The setting was it’s other huge selling point. Not just another MMO set in a fantasy world. Give me blasters, space ships, and genetics any day over swords, horses, and magic. Yes I know it’s thousand island instead of ranch, but I’m so tired of ranch guys. Sooo tired of ranch.
It seems to me, that the game Carbine really wanted to make was Overwatch and not Wildstar. A team based action game set in a non-fantasy world that has almost no story and plot and is instead a giant PvP match in various arenas with objectives. A focus on gameplay and balance and nothing else is needed that your marketing team can’t provide. I wonder if any of the Carbine developers are looking back regretfully now.
Finally, since the game is published by NCSoft, the likely hood of the game going into maintenance mode after the final round of layoffs, I place at less than 1%. It would be refreshing to see if NCSoft has learned any lessons from it’s previous closures, but I do not have high hopes that those in charge at NCSoft have changed their ways. Much better to completely kill a failed project than to leave it out for everyone to see. And rest assured, they consider Wildstar a failure.
It would be nice to sit here and say if they only fixed their attitude and took care of their customers, then maybe they could have survived. Sadly, Wildstar needed to fix it’s community management, it’s game balance, it’s numerous bugs, completely overhaul it’s lore, and well….I could go on. But it’s clear that Wildstar isn’t. It’s a shame. I don’t actually wish ill will on anyone and I don’t sit here in quiet glee at all the lost jobs. Here’s hoping that lessons learned from this one sink in and next time we get something better.