The WildStar Headshot

Yesterday was one of those days.  I started writing about cash shop behavior being a symptom of the over-saturated MMORPG market and a couple of stories pop up that seem tailor made to illustrate that assertion.

The first, and closest to my interest, was the cancellation of EverQuest Next.  No new Norrath for us as Daybreak continues to sort itself out of its SOE history.

And then there was the death of WildStar.


Okay, no closure was actually announced.  What was announced was:

Hi Folks,

Earlier this morning, Carbine Studios completed a reorganization of its operating structure. Moving forward, the studio will focus on operating and updating WildStar as a live game in the US and Europe. As part of this change, the studio has canceled its plans to bring WildStar to China.

Unfortunately, as a result of these changes, we’ve had to reduce staff. These cuts are directly tied to WildStar’s evolution from a product in development to a live title, to the cancellation of work to bring WildStar to China, and to the overall performance of WildStar since launch in 2014.

These kinds of decisions are exceptionally difficult. The talented and passionate professionals who are impacted by these cuts have been valuable team members and respected colleagues. We wish everyone well for the future and will be providing severance and employment search assistance.

As for WildStar, we remain committed to the game. Over the next few weeks and months we will deliver a significant update to the game, kick off a variety of community events, and continue our work on new content that we will talk more about in the near future.

-Omeed, NCSOFT Director of Community and Social

Summing up:

  • Cancellation of plans to bring the game to China
  • 40% of the current staff, 70 people, laid off (per Polygon)
  • Cheerful outlook about carrying on and delivering new content

That is sad for those affected by the layoff.  I hope they are able to bounce back with new positions soon.

If you are a fan of the game it is easy to spin this into something positive.  The game is still going.  Most of the staff is still there.  New content is coming.  And look, the NCsoft 2015 financial report says that WildStar revenues are up since the free to play conversion!

WildStar is up!

WildStar is up!

Unfortunately, I am not sure how well grounded that view really is.  Even without that Polygon article and its rumors of more layoffs and a sunset plan, or that analyst’s gloomy outlook, this seems like more of a last chance, and a daunting one at that.

Yes, revenue was up with the conversion to free in Q4.  However, that up is really only relative to how far down it was before.  The boost is nowhere near the previous peak and it barely gets the game within spitting distance of the revenue level for City of Heroes, $2.9 million, when NCsoft shut them down.  And look how its revenue stacks up against the other NCsoft titles.  GuildWars 2’s cash shop in any quarter you care to choose looks to have had more revenue that WildStar’s total revenue on that chart.

The game simply needs more people playing and buying things in the cash shop, but in this market that seems extremely unlikely to happen, especially with no new market to help.

Every game gets a bump when it goes free to play, but once that fades, and it always fades, what is left to make it a choice in a market crowded with very similar alternatives?

The thing is, there isn’t really anything wrong with WildStar so far as I can tell.  I haven’t played it myself, but my reading about it seems to indicate that It is well put together and has its high points.  It just didn’t really bring anything new to the table that would make it stand out, that would make it feel different from all the other WoW derivative MMORPGs out there.

Which is somewhat ironic, considering that Carbine Studios was founded by 17 former members of the original World of Warcraft development team back in 2005 with the stated intention to, “…do anything but WoW.”

Is there anything out there that might save WildStar?


17 thoughts on “The WildStar Headshot

  1. Dave Andrews (@proceduraldave)

    Sad to hear about layoffs anywhere in the industry, but part of me is shocked they still had over a hundred people working on that title to begin with. For the amount of revenue being generated (at least as reported on that chart), 100+ seems an excessive amount of staff to be carrying.

    Shame about the game as a whole. I tried it a few times but found the art style to really not be my thing. Had some nice aspects to it, but nothing to get excited about at the end of the day – and I kind of hate the telegraphs they put into it from the beginning.


  2. Noizy

    I played Wildstar at launch and I got bogged down with the crafting. It probably didn’t help that my computer couldn’t adequately run the game (10-12 fps). I’ve upgraded my computer so that shouldn’t be an issue anymore, but never could find the time to go back.


  3. wolfyseyes

    At this point it is hard to say for sure if WildStar can rebound. The rollercoaster ride of this game is becoming wearying, especially speaking as someone who found more good than bad in it.


  4. bhagpuss

    I’d have to agree with Dave Andrews above from my own experience. I like WildStar a good deal. i like the gameplay, I like the characters, I like the animations, the combat, the lore and the storytelling. Unfortunately, playing it gives me eyestrain and a headache.

    Whoever chose the color palette needs to go see an optician. Whoever designed the textures needs to think about another career. While WS resembles WoW in many respects, visual design included, it’s the harsh, clashing colors and textures that make it non-viable as a long-term option for me. Go compare it to Allods, an MMO that has a very similar aesthetic in many ways, and see how much softer the textures are in the Russian game, how much more soothing and well-balanced the color keying.

    I know WS had and has bigger problems than these, but increasingly I am coming to realize that how a game looks and feels has as much or more to do with how successful it is as how it plays. We spend hour after hour staring at these things, after all.


  5. Simon

    @bhagpuss Yeah, I think Wildstar was too brash and hip for its own good. Most people want a “home” in a MMORPG, not a place where the furniture is trying to be cooler than them.

    And also it’s problem a cautionary tale for “action combat” too. MMO’er will only accept a certain level of it (say the hybrid GW2 kind). Add telegraphs and interrupts to the point where it becomes like a platformer, and people will play something else.

    FFIV success with traditional tab target/hotbar combat should be noted.


  6. Jenks

    “there isn’t really anything wrong with WildStar”

    Well, to my eyes the art style and theme are wrong with Wildstar. I enjoy old school raiding, I liked the long keying up processes in EQ and early WoW. That makes me Wildstar’s target demo, right?

    I would never even bother trying a free demo of Wildstar because it looks like complete idiocy. I enjoy that stuff in shooters like TF2 or an off the wall garden sim like Viva Pinata but it doesn’t even come close to flying in an MMORPG where I want to become my character and immerse myself in the game world. LEVEL UP *Mr Torgue voice and air guitar* MEEDELYFEEDELYPOWOWWOWOOOOOOOOOOO EXPLOSIONS!!!!!! Sorry Carbine, I’m good.


  7. Halycon

    Wildstar isn’t a bad game. It’s just… It suffers from the same problem all Action MMOs suffer from. Too many damn skills you have to use to cycle through cooldown. 1-7 seems to be just your main damage, then 8-= is extras or GTFOs. Mouse is for orientation on a chaotic screen, and wasd+qe+space is movement. That’s just to do damage and basic movement, nothing else, 14 keys, all with the left hand. Some of those are near impossible to hit while also moving. All AMMOs just give me key fatigue trying to juggle them all. Sure, macros can help a bit. But not a lot.

    They’re horribly designed to require too much input on a keyboard which doesn’t easily accommodate that type of usage.


  8. Jeromai

    Well, if they cut staff and have to pay out less, they -might- be able to get the next quarter’s revenue to show a rise higher than 2,668, which might assuage their NCsoft overlords into letting WIldstar live another day.

    That is, assuming players didn’t just bail out from the game like rats leaving a sinking ship at the news, especially given BDO in the foreground.

    Even in GW2, there have been some really obvious cash shop ploys this first quarter of 2016. The HoT influx wasn’t as much as hoped, evidently. (Or maybe folks came in, looked around and promptly left. Not to mention, many regular casual players getting cheesed off at the expansion and taking their ball with them as they quit too.) Anet seems to be trying very hard to make this year’s drop-off look less precipitous. First it was $35 shared inventory slots, many $10 glider wings of different colors, and now an entire month of discounted old items.

    The upcoming NCsoft earnings call is going to be a very interesting watch.


  9. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Jeromai – I think you might be confusing revenue, which is the overall intake of money, with profit, which is revenue minus costs. Laying people off will boost profit, all things being equal, but won’t increase revenue. They need more players buying more things to do that.


  10. zaphod6502

    I guess we all have different tastes but I love the art style and colours in Wildstar (with reference to Bhagpuss post above). It did suit the comical tone of the game. The biggest issue was the comical light hearted fun style of the game was completely at odds with what what the game actually was – hardcore raiding content, with a horrible grindy unlock sequence to actually get access to the endgame content. It completely locked out 90% of the casual player base from actually accessing this content.

    Granted the devs reduced the raid unlock requirements but by then it was too late and most of the server population had left the game.


  11. Dersen Lowery

    I enjoyed everything about WildStar except the interface (seriously, what the hell?) and what often seemed like gratuitous complexity.

    Yes, it’s cartoony, but the use of color is brilliant. It’s one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever seen.

    If I were them I’d make the game less funny and get the interface the hell out of the way of their beautiful game.


  12. flosch

    About Wildstar itself, everything I could say has been said in the comments. I even tried it out once so I could say “I didn’t discount it outright”, and I made it through one evening session which reinforced my impressions that it wasn’t my cup of tea.

    Speaking about that slide you posted, though… That’s some horrible visualization if I’ve ever seen one. None of the plots are well-readable in relation to each other. From a first glance, they make it look as if Lineage and Lineage II are similarly strong, while in fact, Lineage produces four times the revenue! And about Wildstar… well… even the next weakest game (Aion) produces 7 times more revenue. That’s not exactly a good outlook. Yes, I get that they probably want to show the development over quarters for each game, and making all the y axes to scale would make the Wildstar numbers an unreadable thing line for each of the quarters, but that kind of visualization still irks me. It’s just so misleading, especially without any note about it on the slide.


  13. Fucknuckle

    Carbine wanted to make a game for the hardcore raiders, and they did. Unfortunately there just aren’t a lot of hardcore raiders, and so it failed.

    I don’t think they made a lot of mistakes but I think housing was one. It removed players from the persistent world and made the game seem more dead than it actually was. A month after launch I could visit my WOW styled Capitol and meet no one. WOW may have succeeded somewhat with similar housing, but that was 10 years after the community had already grown. It’s hard to meet people if they aren’t there is what I’m getting at, and an empty city doesn’t exactly make you want to stay if you’re already feeling a tad lonely.

    I doubt they will turn it around, because aside from everything, it’s just not that interesting.


  14. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @flosch – Yeah, charts used badly to project relative values. And you didn’t even get to what the numbers actually represent, which is millions of Korean Won, with one Won being worth 0.00084 of a US Dollar. I’m sure we can all do that conversion in our heads quickly!

    So they took in about $2.2 million in Q4 2015. That seems like a lot until you consider their staffing. Payroll and benefits could have easily eaten up half of that before they even started paying rent, utilities, and licensing and maintenance fees they have for underlying tech.


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