How Hardcore Will Wildstar Actually Be?

Keen brought up an interesting perspective last week in regards to Wildstar:

I keep hearing/reading that WildStar is going to be such a hardcore game not for the casual, console, [insert something with a core not hard enough] audience.  Yes, there are inaccessible 40-man raids.  You’re delusional if you think that WildStar is now or will ever be hardcore.  Even compared to Vanilla WoW (like WildStar often is) it’s ridiculously accessible and easy to level.  People were hitting 40+ in 3-4 days or less.

All it will take is a few exit surveys for NCSoft to step in and force accessibility.  “We’re losing subscribers because they can’t experience the content they want to play.”  It will never, ever, be more inaccessible than WoW.

It’s an interesting perspective to me because I was (and still am) prepared to take Carbine and the Wildstar devs on face value. There was another Reddit AMA last week that sort of doubled-down on the hardcoreness. You can read a much cleaner, more condensed version here. This rather epic deconstruction sums up a lot of miscellaneous things:

Q: When it becomes apparent in the next year that hardcore 40 man’s aren’t going to work because it’s not what people like to do anymore, what other ideas are you going to try?

CRB_Gaffer: This is a “gotcha” question, but I’ll answer it anyways since some variant of it comes up reasonably often.

Little aside here: Why is this “gotcha”? Well, let’s examine possible answers:

1) Say “yes, 40 mans won’t work in a year, we’ll roll to another system” – well obviously we don’t believe that, or we wouldn’t have done them. And if early testing were pointing that way, we would have already converted them.

2) Say “no, they’ll never change, even if no one plays them!” – well, obviously, we’d be idiots to not respond to player feedback; it’s what we do. They’re fun enough that they’ll get played, we’re confident.

3) Say “it’s entirely up to player feedback!” – that’s hardly giving a strong direction, and we know this one will be contentious – there’s not likely to be a consensus. Every interesting game design decision is a mix of having a vision and being willing to intelligently and rationally assess when to swerve from it if reality and vision collide.

4) If we say that contingently we’ll push other fallback ideas, then of course the player base will potentially rapidly become divided to say “DO THAT NOW!!!” or assume that our plan all along is to go that route, when in practice, anything we do in terms of long-term planning is to an extent contingency based. We’ll be MUCH more knowledgeable about the health of the systems in the long terms six months post-launch.

So, that’s kinda the definition of a gotcha question – there’s no simple answer that actually addresses the question.

There’s another issue; the phrasing “when it becomes apparent” that implies that you’re asking the question to people you think aren’t that smart to begin with.

One assumes that’s intentional; it creates the added issue that responding to the question potentially Pavlovian conditions folks asking us questions to be snarky, when generally we try to focus answers on intelligent, well-phrased questions (even contentious ones) to make sure we’re doing our best to improve the quality of dialogue. No offense intended if that phrasing was just unintentional and through poor communication skills! Anyways, a good policy in TL;DR form: “Don’t feed the trolls”

But what the heck! To answer concisely after the extended parenthetical:

If it turns out that gamers are no longer capable of enjoying large-scale raiding, at that time our cross-discipline group of folks will have a series of debates on what works, what doesn’t work, base it on the data we’ve pulled from the systems and talking with our fans, and either double down on the parts of the systems that work well, or innovate some new directions to move forward in.

But early feedback is that that’s a pretty hypothetical situation. ;) Cause, hell, they’re pretty fun, and we think the added fun of the deeper gameplay we get out of those fights outweighs the social overhead of maintaining large groups. But folks will prove us wrong or not.

There are enough Ins and Outs in that response to construct a burger franchise, but there you go. Vague PR bullshit or nuanced game design? While I find myself more inclined to wait and see, I must confess that the following responses seems a bit contradictory:

Q: Are you committed to keeping a natural progression of content? […] Do you plan on adding shortcuts to previous tiers of raids when new ones come out? Removal of attunements, nerfing fights, adding equivalent gear from casual and easy to obtain sources (see WoW patch 2.4)?

CRB_TimeTravel: This is a great question for four months from now. Our post-launch balancing plans will depend heavily upon the speed with which players consume the content and the # of players doing the consuming.

However, we definitely don’t want to simply invalidate our previous content when we release new stuff.

Q: I know this is far into the future, but I’m hoping you guys keep old content relevant. I think it would be a great way to get the more casual players to raid in older/easier raid instances and have the new raids maintain the benchmark for hardcore players.

CRB_TimeTravel: We definitely don’t want to make our older content irrelevant, so will be looking for ways to have an intelligent progression forward with gear and ability as the game matures post-launch.

Q: What are your plans for longterm raid progression in terms of gear? Will you be taking the WoW model of trivializing the oldest raid instances when new ones are released? or the EverQuest model of a strict progression system, or somewhere in between?

CRB_TimeTravel: Somewhere in between.

We do not want to trivialize our content, nor force players to do all of it before seeing anything new.

What “middle way” is there between “not invalidate older content” and “not force players to do all of it”? You can either skip tiers or you can’t. The fact that the last boss of any given raid tier is always harder than the first (few) boss(es) of the next tier is one of the reasons I have always considered things like attunements and the justifications for them to be asinine. “Linear progression” is never linear progression, at least not for the first half of the next instance. If the hardcore raiders get a handful of gimmie bosses, why not everyone else? What good is preserved by putting a hard, game-ending limit to a given guild’s progression when you’ve specifically crafted new bosses that that guild could defeat if you but got out of the way?

Ugh. I think “attunements” and “linear progression” are trigger words for me.

That being said, I am not entirely sure whether I share Keen’s “optimism” regarding raiding in Wildstar becoming more accessible. As mentioned, there is enough wiggle-room in the posts by Carbine devs to allow them to nerf the content based on low participation. More problematic is how exactly they plan on nerfing it. Many of the gameplay videos I have seen paint most of the bosses as “bullet hell” dances, even in the 5m dungeons. In a world in which something as simple as the Heigan Dance threatened to break guilds apart, I’m skeptical these devs will be able to thread that needle. Maybe the attacks will 3-shot you instead of 1-shot? Maybe there will be less “bullets?” As any PUG raid leader can tell you though, moving out of the fire and dodging the fire are two entirely different things.

In any case, I suppose we’ll see how things shake out a few weeks from now.

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Posted on May 21, 2014, in Wildstar and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. What are your thoughts on the price model? $60 buy-in, $15/month … That’s how some games are currently operating, but it’s definitely not the norm for newly released games. Personally it’s keeping me from trying it. I don’t want to spend $60 to find out I’m not crazy about the game and 30 days later have nothing to show for my $60. I didn’t get in on the open beta so I’m hoping they’ll have a trial available but I doubt it will be anytime soon.

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    • What I’m doing is hoping that GreenManGaming gets some more keys; there were sales a few weeks ago which let you purchase at 20% off. Given how release is two weeks away though, I’m afraid I might have missed the window.

      As for the model itself, it’s both archaic and par for the course. TESO launched that way, as did FFXIV, I think (although you can routinely pick it up on Steam for $15 these days). Given how WoW costs $40 without sales, it’s tougher to justify a “AAA” purchase price, IMO. Then again, I usually avoid purchasing anything at full MSRP if I can help it.

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  2. What “middle way” is there between “not invalidate older content” and “not force players to do all of it”? You can either skip tiers or you can’t.

    Off the top of my head, they could make it possible to skip a tier (not needed for an attunement) but not desirable because actually running that tier is still the best way to gear up for the next one.

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  3. Little aside here: Why is this “gotcha”?

    It’s because the question has a built-in assumption, and to answer it at face value would be to lend credence to that assumption. The ostensible question is what other ideas are you going to try. The built in assumption is When it becomes apparent in the next year that hardcore 40 man’s aren’t going to work …

    This is a little like “when did you stop beating your wife”. The only correct answer is to not answer the ostensible question, but to address the assumption contained within it that it is inevitable that hardcore 40 man’s aren’t going to work. It goes a little further, though. It implies that the questioner knows how this is going to pan out, but the developers are too stupid to see it (or they wouldn’t have created 40-an raids to start with).

    That’s why it’s a gotcha, and CRB_Gaffer addressed those points in his answer.

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  4. Personally I think that they hope they can draw in as many non-raiders as possible with their cartoony graphics and such, in order to, much like WoW, have a caste that gets new content basically every patch (Raiders) and enough peons (other players and playstyles) to pay for that content to be developped.

    Call me a cynic if you must, but I also expect a large Store selling Vanity Items to be going part of the plan, as while a tad ludicrous as a payment model, WoW’s is the best from a proft PoV (base game + expansion + sub + character services like get-out-of-dead Faction/Server fees + Vanity Items sold at premium)

    I wouldn’t mind however if WildStar gained the same function in the MMO-verse as argueably EVE has (ie concentrate otherwise-problematic personalities neatly away from the rest).

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