Social Lessons from Wildstar

I really liked Wildstar. The setting, the mechanics, the storyline, the humour. Sure, it was in “in your face” but it was consistent. And had the best Hallowe’en event in any MMO, hands down.

Yet it had the wrong audience, or rather, it focused on an audience that didn’t exist. It was meant for the hardest of the hardcore. In the MMO space, those people are already playing 1 or 2 games – likely WoW and FF14. They are seriously invested there, as it’s days/months of effort to be considered top tier. Any new MMO means people drop what they are doing, and do it all over for this new game. That front-line investment is a huge barrier. And Wildstar tripled down on every barrier possible, creating an effective quit-wall.

Raids were insanely complex, punishing, and founded on a flawed combat model of one-hit-kills. Either you were perfect or you were dead. Skill drops were essential for effective raids, yet limited to RNG on acquiring them. Gear increases were gated behind timed dungeons, where a single wipe meant the entire team just vanished – again, perfect or dead.

Which is an entirely acceptable game mode for those that choose it. The problem with Wildstar is that this was the only game mode. Guild/social tools didn’t exist for nearly a year (which was amazing, considering SWTOR made that lesson super clear). Group content had a skill floor that absolutely punished anyone trying to learn the system. There was no difficulty ramp – it was leveling then this giant wall of pain.

And this to me is the larger lesson in the MMO space, you need group content to get people together than allows for mistakes. Housing runs in private dungeons was a great example of this in Wildstar, but so, so late. Tying your progress system entirely to success/fail mechanics in a group setting is not going to work, people become selfish.

LFG in WoW came about in WoTLK, to my recollection, because of the the issues from the Violet Hold. Way back then, you made groups organically. You ran to the dungeon, did the content, and flew away. Violet Hold was different, the dungeon was right in the main city. And the bosses were randomly selected. People needing a specific drop (again, before tokens) would get into the dungeon, see what boss popped, then quit if it wasn’t what they wanted. It was beyond painful replacing someone for that dungeon, since people joining wanted a clean run. LFG automated all that pain (and tokens to a very large extent).

One of the key tenets of gaming is that people are like water, they will take the path of least resistance to their goal. If it means grinding the Maw 1,000 times for AP, they will do that. If it’s 100% token based drops, people will find the most efficient route and just do that, making some dungeons never run. If there are world drops, then people don’t run dungeons (BfA much!). If you need 1 specific drop, say a legendary recipe, then you’re going to farm that thing til your eyes bleed, other people be darned. And it’s a better use of time to eat 10m deserter buff than finish a dungeon. And where expansions come with a stat reset, all of a sudden the 10+ years of go-go-go runs have to slow down.

I still think FF14 has this on lock. Drops + tokens, making practically all group content relevant. With a couple exceptions, people will run any dungeons/raid cause seeing it to the end is still a boon. I’m still amazed that the group award system here hasn’t been put elsewhere.

Wildstar paid a high price for their design choices – it tried to attract a group that didn’t want to play, and pushed aside those that did. WoW has been paying a smaller price for their design choices, and I am exceedingly curious as to how they manage to apply lessons learned from their failures and others moving forward. We’re in the “good expansion” cycle, so hopefully that bears fruit.

One thought on “Social Lessons from Wildstar

  1. Pingback: MMOs – Time is a Flat Circle | Leo's Life

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