A few years ago Wildstar was being written off as just another MMO among many. It looked like the smallest name on a sizeable list of competitors, and it didn't help that it was penned in shortly after The Elder Scrolls Online. But as the other big players nosedived into oblivion one after the other, Wildstar kept doing little things to peak the gaming community's interest. Now, with launch day just around the corner, it seems that the audience is chomping at the bit for Carbine Studio's MMO contribution. The man who started it all found a moment to chat with us.
Strategy Informer: Wildstar wasn't getting much attention last year, but recently there's been a surge in excitement surrounding the game. What do you attribute that to?
Jeremy Gaffney: There was an interesting thread in The Elder Scrolls forums on Reddit where people were saying, "How come we keep hearing 'Wildstar, Wildstar, Wildstar'? How are they out-marketing The Elder Scrolls?" I actually posted on the thread and I said, "Look, it's not marketing." They've spent millions of dollars on trailers and TV advertising and all this stuff. We just sit down making fun videos with our devs and treat you like an intelligent human being. If people like them, then they share them. If they suck, then they don't. It's kind of darwinian fitness in terms of getting our message out.
We know there's a huge market of bored MMO players out there. You see so many games come out, they sell three million units, and then people leave three months later. The real goal is that you want to keep those guys for the long haul.
Strategy Informer: On that subject a lot of MMOs have suffered from having a content heavy start and then nothing to do after level cap. We've heard a lot from you guys recently about your endgame, how's that working out?
Jeremy Gaffney: There's no better way to set fire to millions and millions of dollars than taking an MMO and thinking you're going to 'patch in' your endgame after launch. The problem is some people will be there in under a month and they'll be posting on your forums, "This is a bunch of crap! Don't bother!" You have to cater to them because they're your advanced scouts.
We passionately believe that this day and age you need to launch with a full game. You can see the corpses of some massive titles who didn't realise that. We don't want to be one of those and so we've focused heavily on endgame content - raids, level 50 zones, veteran dungeons. We're going to launch with more content to do at cap than anyone has done before; including the big boys. Our raid designer put down a challenge saying that no one is going to be able to complete our 40 man raid in the first month. Maybe there's someone out there who can prove him wrong.
Strategy Informer: It seems that you're very responsive to community feedback. Can you give any recent examples of that?
Jeremy Gaffney: I can do that even from this last week. We did a live stream. Our PVP designer fielded a question on allowing costumes in PVP combat, and it looked like some people really wanted that. So she agreed in real-time, "OK, we'll let you opt in to do PVP costumes during PVP so you can look how you want to look when you're fighting."
While that was going on, I was doing an AMA on Reddit and over there one of the guys said that he loved the dungeon experience but you need to be level 17 before you can start it. He suggested taking a ship-hand mission and moving it down to level 10 or so and then you could have even lower level players doing cool dungeon stuff. So, in real time I spoke to the product director and said, "you know, this sounds like a pretty reasonable suggestion." He went off and talked with the content guys. Then we got back to the Reddit thread and told them that after we've had a look at how to implement it a little more, we're pretty likely to do it.
We try to be open about what we're doing as we do it. We have a no bullshit policy.
Strategy Informer: We've heard a lot about how you try to make normal mobs useful in terms of teaching skills and keeping player interest. How are you doing that?
Jeremy Gaffney: We think every combat should be a puzzle you have to solve and as designers our challenge is to make every combat interesting. Telegraphs add a lot to the toolbox for that, if we put a telegraph in front of the creature which sweeps in a big arch then you might have to dodge and run behind him to do a ton of damage.
If you're levelling up then maybe you'll be fighting giant bears in one area and then slightly bigger giant bears in another zone, that's kind of an MMO trope. Without telegraphs all you can really do is up the damage they do, but we can do things like change things in the environment, like maybe you're fighting in a mine field this time. So now the bear's attack which knocks you back is much more deadly and you really have to dodge it, or maybe you have a knockback attack in your toolbox which you can use to push the bear into a mine. On top of that, maybe there's an NPC huntress in the area who's hostile but preferentially attacks monsters, so maybe you can use her to kill a bigger monster, but then when you finish you'll have to deal with her as well. So that's kind of our secret to getting players excited. When we do it right it feels great, when we do it wrong then it's like, "Ah great, another fricking bear."
Strategy Informer: What has been the most challenging thing to balance in the game?
Jeremy Gaffney: One of the hardest things about making these games and one of the reasons why so few games launch with elder game is that it's really hard getting legitimate testing with the in-game economy the way that it's genuinely going to be and with legitimately levelled characters and people in coordinated groups trying to beat that content.
We've done our damnedest. We had an 80 person QA team in there to test war plots in 40 v 40, we've had guilds secretly playing for some time in the raid content to test the 20s and the 40s. We do things like snoop while players are playing the raids and a member of our raid team will test things in real time with difficulty and with bugs and all that stuff. But we know that when people start to hit that content for real, we're going to have to be reactive in real-time to what happens in a real world economy. We've got about half our team focusing on tuning existing stuff and about half on creating new stuff for our monthly content drops.
Strategy Informer: What kind of content is in the pipeline post-launch?
Jeremy Gaffney: There's a giant zone hitting in the first monthly update called 'Brighthaven', there's a battle grounds in the hopper for the update that follows, there's a bunch of high-level areas which will expand on some of the lower-level areas, there's new dungeons, there's new every damn thing actually! We just did a interesting exercise where we walked through the next 16 months of updates, all of which are in various different stages of preproduction. You need to think far ahead in this business.
Wildstar is set for full release on the 3rd of June.