Wildstar – a game design lesson

Wildstar is an upcoming MMORPG by NCSoft. From the look of it, it seems they sank in it quite a pile of money.

It ultimately represents what’s truly wrong with the game industry, especially in the MMORPG branch: piles of money burnt on stupid game design (and stupid management as consequence).

Look at this video, showing a feature apparently well received: http://kotaku.com/wildstars-path-system-might-be-the-coolest-mmorpg-feat-509265563

This must be some comical failure of game design. It appears as a very nice thing but if you think about it for more than two minutes it’s revealed as totally stupid (and apparently the game designers only thought about it for 1 minute 59 seconds).

At the time we called this type of stuff “gated content/permeable barriers”. In the case of this game they decided to make something like the Bartle test into a CLASS SYSTEM. So that if you are an “explorer”: you’re given tasks to run between places or find hidden areas, or if you are a “scientist” you can examine stuff to learn about the lore.

So if you actually want to enjoy the diversity of the game you have to REROLL different characters.

I mean, the goal should be the EXACT OPPOSITE: letting the player enjoy directly all the game offers, and especially let one CHOOSE on which particular aspect to focus instead of forcing the experience into a linear and obligatory path (hint: Guild Wars 2 tries to reward different playstyles without shoehorning them into classes).

And at the end their idea is so ridiculous that in order to balance it, all these “custom” activities will be limited to silly trivialities, and in the end the system is pushed back to being irrelevant. That’s its potential: oscillating between irrelevancy on one side (because you need players to enjoy the best of the game fully, and so keeping the “gated content” as minor extra) and frustration on the other side (because every time you bump into something interesting BUT not “for your class” it’s like the game force you to log out and relog with a different character).

I mean, really, what’s wrong with letting players pick their favorite activities instead of shoehorning them into tightly defined boxes?

Since I have 5 minutes here’s a lesson on GOOD game design:

Game design is about being able to provide the HOWs and WHYs. That’s all. Good game design’s goal is maximize the good aspects, and minimize the suck.

Every idea usually has some of both, so let’s examine what we have here:

  • The good: the game offers interesting/varied side activities that don’t simply focus on boring and repetitive combat, and so possibly appealing different players enjoying different playstyles.
  • The bad: for some absurd reason they decided to shoehorn the playstyle into a forced choice at character creation, so putting a limit to the freedom of choice of the player. All the while without acquiring any other positive thing. It’s just masochistic (or clueless) design. Hence the "bad" is entirely removable.

The bottom line/design principle: players come in different types. MANY types. Different players enjoy different stuff. Your best interest is to accommodate the majority of them, and so give everyone something they enjoy. This also means that a variety of players require a variety of gameplay.

Now I can unfuck the system without even require a major retooling of the assets they have:

  • You remove the class "path" choice at character creation, enable all this content for all characters.
  • Within the game you add to the "character sheet" a "Path" tab. Under this tab you show all the paths available to the player.
  • Let the player check checkboxes corresponding to each path, which simply "hides" in the game content that isn’t selected (so that you can select all of them, or none, or whatever mix you enjoy).
  • Create a global "Paths" currency system, so that experience you gain in one path still goes into the same pool. Which means that you gain experience regardless what you decide to do.
  • Optional: add "perks" (special skills, gifts, or other bonuses) for players who especially gain their path experience in one path area.

That’s all. Applause.