It has been a few months since Wildstar’s closure and shut down. The sci-fi fantasy MMORPG by Carbine Studios was released in 2014 initially as a subscription only game. After a series of unfortunate events, the game went free to play in 2015, and finally folded in late 2018. Many involved with Wildstar either as a player or former member of the creative team that worked on the game will admit that this MMORPG had a host of issues. To understand how this MMORPG went from being dubbed the “WoW” killer at release to being the next one in the MMO graveyard, let’s take a look at some key issues the game had from launch.
1. Alienating A Wider Audience By Being ‘Hardcore’
One of the values that Wildstar as an MMORPG sold to players prior to launch was that it wanted to make MMOs hardcore again. That meant harder raids and end-game content. While this for the most part is true about the higher, harder tiers of the end-game content post launch, it also pretty much killed it for everyone else. With where the MMO community is today, one could argue a more casual and accessible approach with the optional hardcore end-game would be more preferable. The playerbase have ‘aged’ since vanilla WoW. The once upon a time youths of hardcore MMOs have grown up to start families and work jobs, and that’s a possible result for the low demand for hardcore MMOs these days. As a result, this shunned many potential players away from the game or for sticking around longer than necessary.
That’s not to say Wildstar is all hardcore. In fact, it does have some of the most fluff stuff an MMO can have, with its excellent housing system and generic questing content. The cartoon art style is a great draw for the unknowing player, but the tedious requirements to get to end-game on top of the challenging end-game itself was perhaps, a step too far in hindsight.
2. Mismanagement Within Carbine Studios
What’s the trendy thing to do when an NCSOFT game shuts down? It’s to blame the publishers themselves. Not this time cupcakes. Many within the game’s community and the industry have suspected for a long time, that Carbine Studios wasn’t running the game efficiently. As a former developer pointed out, the studio had issues even before launch, as management had to reboot the IP, and missed deadline after deadline. Intriguingly, this former developer of the studio shed revealing insights about how Wildstar never turned a profit and NCSOFT never made a return of investment from the game after launch, yet still showing patience with the studio. They also mentioned the constant layoffs of employees to keep the bills manageable.
“Teams and personnel were constantly shuffled around at random without any real concern for if this was creating useable content. The economy team, which is, you know, the core of an MMO and literally the most important component to player retention and monetization, was a skeleton crew where staff were just flung at it when a producer didn’t like them but wouldn’t actually fire them. By the time someone went ‘Hey wait, isn’t the economy important?’ and reorganized the team, it was far too late to catch up on those systems… which included our end game content.” Source
3. Lack of Marketing and Promotion
Two key tenants of running a successful MMORPG involves making sure players have heard of you, and for those that are already with you, making sure they have things to do in-game. Wildstar failed to manage both. The game did have a big promotional push just before release and the studio’s clever usage of social media to highlight key aspects of the game was commendable. The Dev Speak videos are still my favorite things to watch, personally. But after the game was shipped, nothing else came out on the larger scale. We now know why – they never made enough revenue in return to push to marketing – but they could have found other ways to spread the word, like using players themselves for guerilla marketing campaigns. Today, MMORPGs include YouTubers, Twitch streamers and other influencers into a ‘Partner Program’ to create content about their game in return for rewards and privileges. Wildstar didn’t have that. And for a self-touted hardcore MMO, when hardcore raiders have never heard about your game, that’s a sign of terrible marketing.
4. Subscription Model Dragged On Way Longer Than It Should Have
Would have dropping the sub early on once the studio realized it was making literally no money stabilized the ship sooner? Perhaps. One wonders if they let the sub model drag on for another year was done to milk as much from the paying player-base as much as possible, when there should have been a Plan B in place.
What’s Plan B? Go buy to play/free to play, include scummy monetization options and as a last resort go Pay To Win? I loath typing the next few words, but unfortunately, it works. Neverwinter. Black Desert Online. Even RIFT for pete’s sake. What do all of them have in common? They and they’re studios and games, are alive and making money. Wildstar should have done something sooner, but they jumped straight to free to play without any contingency plan but it was too little too late. Changing payment models when done for the right reasons at the right time works. You only need to look at The Elder Scrolls Online, Guild Wars 2 and Secret World Legends to see how they’ve capitalized on that decision.
5. Lack of Substantial Content
What about content? Allegedly, Wildstar was supposed to ship with more than the vanilla zones, but because of mismanagement, no one knew how to do it or what the content scope post launch was supposed to be.
“The scope of the game was never realistic – we were supposed to ship with tons of extra zones, all of which got cut when they were well into production, because nobody actually knew what a pipeline was. But the higher ups would literally start screaming at the line designers for so much as laughing during work because obviously if we had time to laugh, we were wasting time that could have been used meeting these impossible deadlines.” Source
Players ended up waiting for ages for any new substantial content to drop. So there was no expansions adding beefy content, no ‘questpacks’, just events and holiday fluff for a very long time. And when you offer that as a subscription-only MMORPG, you’re destined to get buried alive.