MMOs – Time is a Flat Circle

An interesting bit from Stephan Frost, in relation to MMO development. If you recall, he was one of the leads on Wildstar, a spectacular example of MMO failure.

In the conceptual layer, the items described apply to any long-dev cycle of an evolving product, not just games. You’re competing against a finish line that is always moving, mainly because you’re competing against established market forces. Big bang successful launches are ultra rare in existing markets, they instead start small and grow over time. MMO’s are rarely given that luxury, as they are competing against expectations from long-established products. New World has 50 other MMOs to compare against… it’s got to be focused and refined to have a chance. You need a super clean vision and new flawless execution to have a remote change.

Wildstar, to kick that dead horse, had an incoherent vision and launched about 6 months too early. I had a blast in the leveling portion and really liked the crafting system. Hell, it had social housing and tons of cosmetics. It was a solid setting, with a decently solid 1-to-max experience. And then it shifted to the same place WoW has turned, the ultra competitive + fine tuned playerbase. It had no social tools for nearly a year, and all group content was either against a clock or required twitch reflexes to get through. Raids being only 20/40 was an insane choice that only works worse the farther we move away from it.

Could Wildstar have ever succeeded, even with more time in the cooker? I like to think so, as the bones were solid. Had social tools been there from the start, had the “timer” dungeons been an extra tier instead of the wall of quit (WoW ran with this as Mythic+), and had raids been much smaller, perhaps we’d be having a different conversation. People can understand balance issues at launch, but systematic issues are tougher pill to swallow.

Is this due to dev cycles, or poor vision? Maybe they just copied the wrong mechanics and should have pulled from FF14’s bag of tricks. I don’t think we’ll ever truly find out, at least not until there’s a deep dive on the topic with such a purpose.

Which is a right shame, as we’re seeing a larger push for games as a service, MMOs in nearly all respects, and those lessons just don’t seem to be learned. Or perhaps they are simply not being listened to while the bean counters run the show.

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