Saturday, May 30, 2015

Life In The Old Dog Yet: WildStar

Tobold wrote a squib recently, entitled "Anyone Remember Aion?", in which he observed that Aion "is now making 7 times as much money for NCSoft than the subscription game Wildstar". He was making a point about payment models but the more interesting part to me is the subtext, which is this: there are a lot of MMOs out there and the great majority of them just keep on going even though none of us here is paying them much, or any, attention.

Azuriel, whose original post inspired Tobold's, went on to make the point overtly: "MMOs shutting down is more rare than you think.". It really is. What's more, new ones start up all the time. It's true that there's a subculture of relatively short-lived pure F2P titles from the East (although even there we're still talking about games that hang around for several years)  but for every one that disappears another seems to pop up to take its place, and when it comes to games from developers based in North America and Europe, the odds seem to favor longevity.

MassivelyOP was buzzing with news stories along these lines all week. Age of Conan, the very example Azuriel gives of an MMO that no-one ever even mentions any more, crops up with a story about a new raidTera developer Bluehole posted pictures from a secret project that may or may not be a new MMO. (Pro Tip - if you want to keep your project secret, don't send out press releases about it) Trion have something going on that they really are trying to keep to themselves but the dataminers and patent-watchers ferreted it out.

On and on it goes; the ever turning MMO wheel. Reports of the genre's death seem much exaggerated as do speculations over the supposedly inevitable demise of WildStar. The top story this week was undoubtedly Carbine's (or most likely NCSoft's) decision to make WildStar Free to Play. You could say it's the move we've all been expecting but actually I think a lot of people, myself included, were banking on Buy to Play, which is something significantly different.

Of course there are always nuances. Although Carbine are making a big deal of the "Really Free" aspect, their payment model would more properly be called a Hybrid. The full F2P model necessarily relies on cash shop sales alone but Carbine have concocted a convoluted version that includes both Loyalty points and a quasi-subscription "Signature program", whose perks look decidedly underwhelming to me. 

I was reluctant even to bother with the beta for WildStar but to my surprise when I gave it a go just before launch I found I rather liked it. Obviously not enough to pay to play it or, well, I'd be playing it, but it seemed to be something I'd most likely enjoy dabbling with here and there, now and again.

That's almost certainly what will happen this autumn when the pay wall comes down. We're off on holiday next week but when we come back I think I'll buy two copies, just in case Mrs Bhagpuss wants to take a look as well, mostly to have access to 12 character slots instead of just two. Am I likely to make a dozen characters in WildStar, ever? I doubt it but I like owning MMO boxes; they look good on my bookshelves, so why not? Hey, shopping and gaming - it's a thing, right? And it's cheap on Amazon right now. We'll see how long that lasts.

Another MMO I like and don't play (okay, that's a long list...) is Ryzom and that turned up in the news this week as well. It's a game that's had a turbulent history. It was one of the earlier entries in the genre, beginning development more than a decade and a half ago and passing through the hands of three owners in three different countries (France, Germany and Cyprus) before eventually going Open Source in 2010.

Since then it's been one of the myriad of forgotten MMORPGs that chug along in the background, played and loved by, at most, a few thousand players. I played the original beta long, long ago and I've been back a few times. It's a very interesting MMO with an unusual setting, stylish and stylized graphics that have stood up well over time and gameplay that can be compelling. It's also fiendish hard in some ways, at least by modern standards.

It's not a game you expect to see pop up in news reports so it came as a complete surprise to read this MassivelyOP piece saying Ryzom was up for a Steam Greenlight. Had, in fact, already been approved. That's probably not going to get me to play again, although it's a game I feel I could always go back to at some point. All the same, it's great to see one of these older games not only still plugging along but potentially even growing and finding a new audience.

One more MMORPG that's had a checkered history without ever even coming to market is Otherland, a property based on the series of Tad Williams novels. MassivelyOP (Yes, them again. What would we do without them?) reports that development is still ongoing under the new owners.

The game's in some kind of closed beta, for which I believe I signed up, only I have no idea what email address I used. Obviously not one I check very often. I should do something about that. It would be good to get a hands-on some time. I really enjoyed the source material and I've been following development, if fitfully, ever since the game was announced. Whether it will ever see the light of day I wouldn't like to bet but at least something's still happening.

I could go on. I could mention Wander, the non-combat, exploration MMO. That looks intriguing. It's inconveniently launching on the very day we go away, though, so perhaps I'll leave it until we get back. Or perhaps Dragon Nest II which very confusingly appears to be four different games. I'd better save that for after I'm done with Dragon Nest: Oracle, which isn't going to be any time soon, or at least it won't be if they'd be so good as to fix the darn portal bug! Ahem.

There's even a rumor the GW2 expansion might come out this side of Christmas although I'm taking that one with a large pinch of salt. And to think, some people said it was going to be a quiet year!


  1. Yeeey you didn't hate Wildstar! :) I will definitely check back once it's gone f2p, if I can somehow get rid of that google authentication lock, that is...I still think the game is doing some great stuff, the endgame story for one thing, it's just not as immersive a world feeling as elsewhere.

  2. I mentioned this on another blog but while I like WildStar's visual style I still don't think I'm going to play it - I'm very picky with my MMOs and don't play many to begin with, and the oldschool attunement style raiding that the game promises is not exactly something I wish to revisit ;)

  3. @Syl and Pike - There are two things about WildStar that make it unlikely I'd play it a lot: firstly, it's both visually and sonically abrasive and secondly the gameplay is arduous. Added together, all of that makes it tiring and enervating to play for more than 30-60 minutes at a stretch.

    It's interesting to compare it to, say, Dragon Nest, which is also bright, brash, breezy and loud. The difference is tonal. DN uses a much softer color palette with a lot of muddy, mixed colors in the background to offset the bright primaries in the foreground. It also uses an odd effect that keeps the center of attention sharp while allowing the periphery to shift out of focus. It's very relaxing on the eye where WS, which uses bright, flat colors almost exclusively and seems to give equal focal weight to every part of the screen makes me feel tired and edgy after quite a short time.

    Sonically, DN uses a lot of synthesized, unnatural sounds but they tend to come over like some weird kind of ambient noise, easy to factor out. My overriding audio memory of WildStar is that someone was ALWAYS yelling in my ear. It has an incredibly hyperactive soundtrack that literally never lets up and it's wearing after just a few minutes.

    Gameplay-wise, those endless shapes on the ground are just frickin' annoying. I switched them off after a while but I don't imagine that's feasible later in the game. As for the Dodge - it's SO clunky and unnatural. It was making me jerk my body from side to side in an autonomic attempt to get my character to MOVE when I wanted him to. Coming from GW2, where dodging feels like second nature and takes only the most minimal movement of the hands to operate, I found that very hard to accept.

    I only saw two or three zones on one side, though and only played on race and class. I know these things can vary wildly so when I have unlimited time to experiment perhaps I'll be able to find a sweeter spot. It would be nice if so because I very much liked the humor and the setting.

  4. I don't know if I'll bother with Wildstar when it goes F2P. I mean, I currently have LOTRO, which from a narrative and immersion angle is way more interesting to me than Wildstar, and I rarely play it. Same with Rift. Same with GW2. Same with SWTOR. Same with...okay, you get the idea. I admit I do like the housing system though.

    I will definitely be checking out Wander when it releases!


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