Today marks the official release of the new MMO Wildstar, though many players have already experienced the game through its beta or this past weekend’s “head start” event. It’s a game meant to be an MMO for those who aren’t usually into MMOs, and is supposed to cater toward more casual players, both with its cartoony universe and bevy of tutorials, aiming to be a fresh new IP in a genre increasingly devoid of such things. In fact, the genre as a whole has seemed like it’s been wilting for a while now.
There’s a reason for that, and Wildstar helps illustrate the limitations of this old world model of MMO, inspired by the One to Rule Them All, World of Warcraft.
This isn’t a commentary on the game itself. I haven’t played enough of Wildstar to have anything terribly substantial to say about it, though MMO vets I know have been pleasantly surprised by all that it contains.
But since I feel like I’m the target audience for Wildstar in many ways, I can’t help but share my frustration with the model being used here, and my issues with MMOs in general as I get older. Naturally, this is all opinion, but perhaps a few of you out there can relate.
It’s just too much of an investment.
That’s what it comes down to, when all is said and done. MMOs require too much of the player, and Wildstar illustrates that in a few ways.
First and foremost, it’s the most obvious in the model. Like Elder Scrolls Online, Wildstar is also charging not only ~$60 for a copy of the initial game, but also $15 a month thereafter as a persistent subscription fee. This seemed outrageous when games like SWTOR and ESO were doing it, trying to emulate a decade-old World of Warcraft model. But now? With a brand new, completely untested IP? It’s hard to believe Wildstar is employing this model, particularly when it’s supposed to be aimed at “casual players” or those who generally wouldn’t be interested in MMOs. ESO and SWTOR at least had enormous brand names behind them, but Wildstar has…confidence? And that alone is apparently enough to charge a relatively huge sum for a singular game.
It’s just hard to imagine how the idea of trying to appeal to non-traditional MMO players and a pricing model like this go together. A game like Guild Wars 2 got me to at least give it a chance, because even if it came with an upfront cost, there was no monthly fee attached. Even if I fundamentally wasn’t enamored with MMOs ahead of time, the absence of a subscription was enough for me to give it a fair shot (though last I heard, my GW2 account had been hacked an dismembered several months after I stopped playing).
With Wildstar, it may be a premium product when all is said and done, but it’s charging a very, very premium price up front. That’s a huge barrier to entry for players like me, and if I wanted to toy around with the game over the course of the next year or so, it would cost about $240. That’s a lot for a Star Wars/Elder Scrolls game, and it’s certainly a lot for an IP no one has ever heard of. Even among games I adore, I can’t actually think of any that could wrench a $15 a month subscription out of me at this point. To me, no game is that good, no matter how big and bold it claims to be.
Then there’s time, the eternal currency of the MMO. Again, I’m projecting my current life stage onto the game here, and perhaps if I was in high school or college I’d be sinking hours into MMOs left and right. But now? I just can’t manage that.
The problem with any MMO, including Wildstar, it seems already, is that in order to truly make you feel like you’re making progress, it requires an incredible amount of time investment. I’m not talking about the 12-15 hours it just took me to beat Watch Dogs, I’m saying at least a hundred hours to build up a character worth a damn. And naturally, to be anywhere near the “top” players, the hour requirement moves into the thousands.
You can say that isn’t true, and “you decide” how much time you want to invest in any MMO. You can play for an hour or two a day and be perfectly happy, after all. While that’s technically true, I’m the kind of person that takes little joy in playing a game and being constantly surrounded by top tier players reminding me of what I’ll never achieve in the game.
One of the few games I have sunk hundreds of hours into illustrates this well. Despite my better judgment, I’ve played Diablo 3 more than probably the last 20 games I’ve bought combined, and yet, to this day, I’ll join a game and find three other players 100 levels higher than me, wearing gear twice as good as mine. It’s frustrating to invest a lot of time into something and never stop feeling behind. Yes, this happens to me in Diablo, but it’s amplified tenfold in every MMO I’ve ever played. Despite all this talk among MMO pros about games catering to casuals, I’m not convinced a truly “casual MMO” even exists. Nothing that involves a 50 hour time commitment at minimum can really be considered “casual” in my eyes.
Another issue is the “value added” of the MMO concept in general, which ties into the time and money aspects. What value is really being added to a game by making it an MMO? In that format, the game requires hundreds of hours to “complete” (if you can ever really complete an MMO), and lots of money from subscription fees. You’re sacrificing graphical capabilities of the game (I’ve yet to see a truly visually impressive MMO, though GW2 came close), and you’re forced to constantly be surrounded by other players hopping around with names like XxXbuttslayer420XxX, breaking any chance at story immersion.
So what do you get out of it?
The answer from avid MMO players is guilds, and the virtual friendships formed when you join one and go on epic raids together. I am absolutely envious of those who have gotten to experience that type of gameplay, but I never feel like I’m going to be able to reach that point when I sign up for a new MMO. To tackle all this epic endgame content with a guild you have to be geared up properly (which takes hundreds of hours) and if you have an organized guild, you literally schedule raid times. Again, perhaps ten years ago I would have had the time for that, but now? Yeah, right. And if I, as a video game journalist, can’t even find the time to invest that much time into a singular game, how are any of my friends? Outside of my little gaming journo circle, almost none of my friends still have time to game regularly, and if they do, they’re struggling to compete ten hour single player games. How are they ever supposed to devote any meaningful amount of time to a game like this? Are MMOs a genre that we simply have to surrender to those players with yawning gulfs of free time? Sometimes it certainly feels like it.
It’s sad, because from what I’ve seen, I really do like Wildstar’s quirky, cartoony new universe. I would have been thrilled to play through it as a single player/co-op adventure title, but it’s a lot less appealing to me in MMO format. And even though the game claims to want to bring people like me into the MMO space, its pricing model is repellent, and the ability to reach its best content still requires more time than I have.
I do hope Wildstar succeeds. Anyone who spends seven years working on building a world this massive deserves some measure of success to show for it. But I do think there’s a reason the MMO is dying, and Wildstar still clings to many old concepts of the genre that have felt outdated for years now.
I don’t know if the MMO is “over” after the recent high profile releases of ESO and Wildstar, but it’s hard to imagine anyone spending the better part of a decade and hundreds of millions of dollars to produce an enormously ambitious, subscription fee MMO like this again. It’s just too much risk for what’s often not nearly enough of a reward.
What would my ideal Game of Thrones game look like?