Earlier this week I talked about the changes upcoming to World of Warcraft's raiding model and some of the philosophical underpinnings of those changes. At the end of that post I mentioned that another game was going a different route in attempting to appeal to its players. Again, just as a disclaimer, WildStar is a game I am looking forward to and have high hopes for. I am not trying to come across as a "fanboy," as I find them just as annoying as you hopefully do, but at the same time my optimism for this title likely still has an impact on my commentary regarding it. So since I always try and be as honest with my readers as possible, I want to try and make that clear up front. That said, let's take a look at a few things Carbine has said about their game recently and how it contrasts from some of the things Blizzard has been doing.
Dare to be... Different?
Before I get to raiding specifically, I want to comment on something that Carbine said recently that worries me a bit. One Carbine developer called out WoW specifically claiming that WildStar will "fill the void" that WoW has created. I am always leery when another MMO "calls out" WoW like this. It typically never goes well for the game in question and makes me wonder what they really think is going on. Trion tried this with RIFT. I still recall the "You aren't in Azeroth anymore" ad campaign they ran. No, you may not be in Azeroth but you are lifting so many game mechanics from there that you might as well be. Trying to be WoW is a no-win situation. I still don't understand why other games and other developers try to do it. It never succeeds and it never pays off. I had thought Carbine was unafraid to be different and try to set themselves apart. Instead, it seems they are content to say, "See, we're just like WoW but better!"
More than anything else, this has dampened my enthusiasm for WildStar. I'm tired of games trying to be WoW. Yeah I'm as disappointed as many others in terms of where Blizzard took their game, and I understand that is the frustration that Carbine is trying to channel here. They are trying to appeal to people who enjoyed a different "version" of WoW. And I will confess, if Blizzard rolled WoW back to a model akin to what existed in Wrath of the Lich King, I'd happily go re-subscribe. But is that what we want our games to be doing? Do we want to be constantly looking backwards? Hindsight is always 20/20 and it is easy to judge in retrospect, but shouldn't gaming be about innovation? Shouldn't it be about making things better rather than simply rehashing the past? I suppose the same argument could be applied to the once vaunted Nintendo. All they seem to be doing these days is releasing old classics with new coats of paint and hoping nostalgia will carry the day.
I don't want to turn this into a commentary on the gaming industry as a whole, but I just want to say that it sure seems that innovation as a whole is sorely lacking. Just looking back at E3 and the major game announcements we see nothing but sequel after sequel, remake after remake, with hardly any new games, franchises, or concepts. We get Call of Duty #4532. We get Final Fantasy XIIIXIIV. We get Super Mario Redux 3D Galaxy 64. Where are the new games? Where are the new ideas? It feels like everyone is stuck in "play it safe" mode. Don't rock the boat. Don't try anything different. Just push out Madden 501 and Halo 53 and let the masses gobble it up. I know I am exaggerating to a degree but it feels like all the "daring" is gone from gaming these days. Much like Hollywood, producers and publishers don't want to take any chances for fear of coming up short.
Path of Least Resistance
So that brings us back to WildStar and Carbine's take on raiding and content accessibility. I've been trying to find the exact spot where they talk about reintroducing 40-man raids, but this article was the best I could find. It does explain their philosophy and their overall goal of "bringing back" large scale raiding. What philosophy is at work here and how does it differ from the direction Blizzard is taking WoW? Well first of all there is a difference in terms of how each game is delivering its story based content. For WoW much of its continuing story takes place within the raid instances, and this has been true for almost all of the game's history. Once you reached the current level cap, the only way to really "see" where the game is continuing to go was to raid. Each expansion's "big bad" is conquered in a raid instance. By contrast, Carbine is saying that in WildStar, story content will be delivered primarily through quests and "solo dungeons" at level cap, not through large group content such as raids.
For a player like myself, this is an important distinction. I have no problem with raid content being exclusive and difficult to access. I even have no problem with the best gear and equipment being available in said raids. My problem is when the next "chapter" of the story is hiding behind those "gates." It's like getting to the last chapter of a book and then being told by the author that in order to read that last chapter, I have to find ten, or twenty, or forty other people and we all have to read it at the same time. Huh? Ok sure, I as a single player-character should not be able to take down <insert big baddie here> by myself, but there are other ways around that issue rather than forcing players to raid in order to complete the story. So by separating storytelling from raiding, Carbine is giving themselves more latitude to be more exclusive in terms of their raiding content without denying players access to the overall story that they are trying to tell.
So if raiding is not a storytelling device, what is it for? Well as their statement on raiding philosophy would imply, it is a place where players can test themselves. It is a venue for accomplishment. It is a way for like minded players to come together and overcome large challenges. It is one activity among many that a player can choose to participate in once they reach the level cap. The "tightrope" that Carbine has to walk here though, is difficult. The majority of gamers are not going to spend their time doing something if they can do something else for a better reward. I touched on this in my discussion of WildStar's path system. Even if a player is an explorer at heart, they are not going to choose that path if being a soldier provides superior benefits. The same argument extends to raiding. There certainly is a demographic out there that will applaud returning to large scale raids. But unless the benefits for completing those raids are superior to the benefits gained from other, less strenuous activities, those raids will be neglected. It's just simple behavior.
But at the same time, if Carbine offers only large scale raiding as a way to improve your character, then the rest of your players, the vast majority that either cannot or will not participate in raiding, are left with no alternatives. They eventually hit a "wall" past which they cannot advance, and that is a bad place for any MMO player to be in. And here the raiders will say, "But you don't need raid gear to solo quest, or PvP, or run dungeons. Raid gear allows you to do just that, raid." Correct. But MMO's are dependent upon progression. Tell a player that their character can no longer "advance," and the primary motivation for continuing to play is negated. So as "bold" a move as it is for Carbine to reintroduce large raids, they need to be very careful in terms of balancing the accessibility of that content with the rewards that it provides. Gamers will always opt for the path of least resistance, and in this sense I think WoW provides a clear "warning." When Blizzard equalized the rewards for 10-man and 25-man raids, 25-man raids basically died. Why? They were harder to organize for the exact same rewards, so what was the point?
Time will tell if WildStar's approach will catch on. As you might imply, I have my doubts. I think MMO players these days are generally "spoiled" by the ease of acquiring rewards and accessing content, and any attempt to "roll back" that situation is going to be met with complaints. But maybe Carbine has the guts to try anyway, and that would be gutsy with NCSoft controlling the purse strings. If any publisher is willing to cut a game loose at the first sign of trouble, it's them.