WildStar and the Futility of Online Gaming

Well, it’s not a surprise. I honestly expected it a long time ago. But there it is. WildStar is officially sunsetting. I adored this game. I loved the colorfulness, the characters, the story, the world, the freedom of movement, the classes. It had the best housing. It had the amazing combat. It had an incredible soundtrack. It had the my favorite mounts (I’ll miss you most of all, DeLorean hoverboard). But the game launched far too focused on ultra hardcore endgame raiding, and, while it had so much else going for it, it couldn’t turn the Titanic away from that iceberg. I think they tried, but the damage was done, both because they had built a team of people who didn’t know how to do anything else, and because their public perception was irreparably damaged. I want so badly for this game to get saved and rebooted by a different team, but I know it’s not going to happen.

At least we saw this one coming a little more than Marvel Heroes. But losing the two of them within a year of each other has had me thinking a lot of depressing, “all is vanity” type thoughts about playing MMOs.
XKCD 1136
All MMOs will shut down. It’s hard to imagine popular games like Elder Scrolls Online or the unstoppable juggernaut that is World of Warcraft suffering the same fate as WildStar, but realistically, this will happen sooner or later. It’s ironic, because one of the reasons why I like MMOs is because I feel like my achievements mean something. In a normal RPG, I get to the end and that’s it. Your character lives happily ever after and has no more adventures for the rest of their days (unless they show up in a sequel having inexplicably leveled back down to 1 from level atrophy or something). In an MMO, my character lives on indefinitely and continues doing bigger and better things. Until the game goes dark. I can always dust off the SNES and go for a Hyrule nostalgia tour around Zelda: Link to the Past (or, better yet, play it in one of the numerous more modern formats it has been released on), but how many 27-year-old MMOs will we be able to pull off the shelf and play again? The answer is we don’t know yet because the genre isn’t that old, but I doubt it will be many. How many more decades can Ultima Online have left in it? Or Everquest? Or Eve? In some ways, as long as people keep showing up with money, you might as well continue development, or at least keep the servers on, but on the other hand, from a business standpoint, it’s an opportunity cost. If they’re investing X dollars over here and getting a 10% return and X dollars over there and getting a 200% return, they’re both making money, but which one do you think they’re going to invest more in? That’s what happened to City of Heroes (which, ironically, many people believe was killed to fund WildStar). Sooner or later it’s going to happen to every online game.

But, you know what? Gaming ultimately isn’t about permanence or achievement for me. It’s about having fun. I had a ton of fun in WildStar, throwing psi-blades at alien robots, stealthing around and slicing up strain-infected wildlife with Wolverine claws, and putting on laser light shows that heal my friends. I met some cool people, none of whom I talk to anymore, sure, but I still remember their names and their characters and their voices. I built cool houses (nowhere near as cool as some people’s, but I enjoyed them). I spent a lot of time zooming around Nexus on hoverboards just for the fun of it (have I mentioned how much I love hoverboards?). I took a lot of screenshots.
I got a lot of memories out of it.
So in a way, even when they shut down, MMOs are still permanent in the ways that matter.


WildStar: Where It All Went Wrong For Me

I count WildStar among my favorite MMOs. The combat is fun, the housing is great, the setting and lore are original and different, I run around in a Samus costume on a DeLorean hoverboard, what’s not to love? And yet I haven’t played regularly for months, and that really saddens me. I recently went back for the free level 50 character, and it got me thinking about just where it all went wrong.

The biggest reason why I quit playing was that my guild broke up. There was no drama, we just had trouble getting critical mass for raids, and the two main leaders really wanted to raid, so they left, and from there it just kind of fell apart. While I’m glad it didn’t go up in smoke and petty bickering, it was no less sad, since I really liked a lot of the people in the guild, who have now gone in a bunch of different directions. This isn’t the game’s fault, but it was probably the biggest reason why I left.

Closely related to that is the fact that there isn’t a whole lot to do after you reach endgame if you don’t have a guild. This problem isn’t unique to WildStar–some might say that it’s inherent to all MMOs to some degree–but even most of the dailies require some sort of group content (dungeons, adventures, shiphands, etc.). Arcterra requires only small groups of people, so at least you can usually do the easy dailies there with only a few random people you bump into during peak hours. Even housing is easier if you have a guild, since a lot of the nicer stuff costs prestige (which can be obtained from a variety of sources, but group content dispenses it the fastest), and raid gear is where the real money is in the game. I’m sure I’ll find a new guild sooner or later, but I’ve always hated guild shopping.

Massively OP’s Eliot recently visited WildStar for the site’s Choose My Adventure series. In his wrap-up post, he made the comment that, “in many ways, when I write about WildStar now, I’m still writing about the launch version of the game.” While he goes on to say some things I don’t agree with, this line really struck me as exactly the problem. There are a lot of little annoyances and bugs that have been in the game since I played it in beta and are still there almost three years later. Sometimes I can’t right-click on a quest on my tracker, and I have to click a bunch of other things to get away from it. Sometimes tooltips get stuck on. Certain mobs reset if you pull them a few feet away from where they spawn. That dumb DDR minigame in Thayd that you can only complete once and it will never let you back on. None of these are big issues–if I had to choose one or the other, I’d rather have more content than have these small annoyances fixed–but it still hurts the overall experience.

Overall, I think WildStar is a great game that started out with some missteps that could have been corrected, but sadly Carbine never managed to turn the Titanic. A lot of that had to do with lack of funding, some of it seems to have been the fault of a studio that was not designed to be agile and responsive to change. I don’t want the negative tone of this post to come across the wrong way. I think the negativity surrounding the game also plays a large part in my lack of attention to it. I love WildStar. If it wasn’t such an incredibly fun game, this post wouldn’t exist; the answer for where it all went wrong would be that the game was lame, and that’s not worth writing about. I really want to go back to WildStar and see it succeed and keep cranking out content for years to come. I don’t know if that will happen, but hopefully my boosted level 50 warrior will be the incentive I need to get back into the game.

WildStar Events

Hoverboard RaceAs if to make up for the fact that WildStar hasn’t had a single holiday event in its nearly one and a half years of existence, WildStar is currently running not only its Shade’s Eve Halloween event, but also a Back to the Future themed hoverboard racing event.

I’ll start with the Halloween event. I guess I’m not really that big into Halloween. I mean, I’m looking forward to dressing up in my new Jedi robe and custom lightsaber (both of which I spent way too much money on), but other than that the whole thing is not that exciting to me. So when a game like WildStar gives me outfits out housing decorations that I can really only use in October without them looking out of place, I’m not as thrilled as other times. Christmas stuff I can at least put up in a winter/arctic themed house, or costumes on a character who’s supposed to be in or from a cold place, but I’ve never been tempted to make my character live in a haunted house or a graveyard. That would be depressing, and I don’t think of any of my characters as moping around in a ruined gothic cathedral when I’m logged out. It makes me appreciate games like LOTRO, who comes up with items that don’t look obviously halloween-ish. For instance, my theif wore that Mask of the Raven forever, and I loved the Cloak of Falling Leaves and used it on several characters. I’m sure there are plenty of people that are excited about WildStar’s Halloween giveaways, I’m just not one of them.

Uninviting rewards aside, I did enjoy the holiday dungeon. The maze section was a little bit frustrating, especially the first time, but fortunately they eventually just show you the way out if it takes you too long (and yes, I know from experience). The whole thing has a uniquely WildStar feel to it; the maze and its flickering flashlight and the insane cultists were both very mature horror themes, but Jack Shade and the shadelings that pop up everywhere were so goofy and over-the-top it dispelled any real fear. It was a good call to not only make it an Adventure instance (formerly known as shiphands) that scales to fit parties of one to five players, but also bump all players to 50. I hate it when events like this end up either being something that has no actual combat, which makes them seem disconnected from the rest of the game, or has combat that higher level players just roflstomp all over, while us mid level players have to slog our way through.

Apart from the dungeon is a variety of dailies that take place around your capital city, which hit a good middle ground between giving you something to do and just being a chore. My favorite is one that has you collecting floating plant fibers that turn you temporarily translucent.

WARNING NO ROADSAs for the hoverboard races, I really like what they’ve done with them. Games like LOTRO and Guild Wars 2 have done races before, but usually end up feeling a lot more awkward and gimmicky than what WildStar has put together. And the “WARNING: NO ROADS” notification that pops up when you hit a big jump is just awesome. I love the Back to the Future cosmetics and housing decor; you will definitely be seeing burning tire tracks if you visit my housing plot. It’s surprising how many games did homages to the Back to the Future hoverboard on October 21st. WildStar was unsurprising (they gave away a McFly-style hoverboard as a beta test reward, so we knew they were fans), and I guess Secret World isn’t terribly surprising given its modern setting and its recent inclusion of other, similar mounts, but Star Trek Online came as a surprise (a shame you can only use them on Risa).

DeLorean Hoverboard
I snapped up the limited edition DeLorean hoverboard from the cash shop as soon as it was released. It’s pretty disappointing that, given its $15 price tag, it’s not an account wide unlock, especially since they’re saying they have no plans to ever bring it back. I actually thought maybe it was a typo, but alas it was not. I don’t feel bad about it, though, because I’ve had a lot more fun in WildStar’s free to play in the last few weeks than in a lot of games I’ve sunk a lot more money into, so it’s worth splurging on a cool cosmetic, especially one as awesome as a DeLorean hoverboard.