We’ve heard this story before. There have been countless MMO games hyped to be the next great contender to the World of Warcraft throne.
Most have faded into obscurity. Some cease to exist. Very few, if any, have lived up to expectations.
But for over eight years, Jeremy Gaffney and the Carbine Studios team have worked to reach that lofty goal. The all-star development team formed in 2005 with a stable of talent with glittering CVs. World of Warcraft, Fallout, Diablo and Half Life are just a handful of the gems these guys have helped forge.
Such a high profile team draws similarly high expectations. And MMO fans have been awaiting their first game for a very long time. But Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither was World of Warcraft’s Azeroth and neither was WildStar’s Nexus.
“Carbine spent two or three years setting up tools, art styles and the base you need to make an MMO. Then the team expands. It starts with the first ten people until it grows and grows until you get to where we’re at today with a dev team that has over 200 people. These are big endeavours and they take a ton of time. World of Warcraft took about six or seven years to make.
“You need to have a vision that can hold if the market changes, or if other games come out and change people’s expectations. But also be innovative enough to have some brand new stuff that people haven’t seen before. That’s a tricky road to walk but this team has done a pretty good job of that over time.”
With over 20 World of Warcraft veterans on the Carbine team, comparisons between the MMO goliath and WildStar are inevitable. But Gaffney himself takes any comparisons to a game with such a long shelf life as a compliment.
“We’re kind of agnostic to it. World of Warcraft came out about a decade ago but it’s still a big force in the market because these games have such longevity. My first game was Asheron’s Call when I started Turbine Studios back in 1994, and they’re just sunsetting the first Asheron’s Call nearly 20 years after we started on it.
“People love these things, and when you love a game you stay with it. In a market where there’s so many new releases to steal your attention, it’s impressive games can have that sort of staying power and longevity.”
As with any new MMO entering the market, there’s the crowd that expects it to slay Blizzard’s colossus. It happened with Rift. It happened with Star Wars: The Old Republic. And now it’s happening with WildStar.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a World of Warcraft killer,” says Gaffney.
“If someone’s played the game for almost ten years, what the hell is going to pull them out? There could be a nuclear apocalypse going on outside and you’re still going to be there trying to gain an extra level or two before the mutants attack.”
Rather than beat the seemingly immortal World of Warcraft, Carbine is doing its best to create a rival MMO capable of reaching the same heights.
“What you do is aim to have a comparably big game and I think that’s doable. There’s room in the market for multiples. You can wound the giant but I don’t think anybody is going to kill it. There’s going to be a core group of people playing that game when we’re both in the grave.
“The things they do, they do great. Questing, killing and raids, nobody has managed to dethrone them. We have a shot at dethroning them on levelling, raids and I think we can throw some new stuff into the mix.”
"I don’t think there’s going to be a World of Warcraft killer. What you do is aim to have a comparably big game and I think that’s doable."
Jeremy Gaffney, Carbine Studios
So how do you compete with a franchise that has lasted for almost ten years, attracted over 13m players at its peak and spawned over four expansions?
“You need to take a look at what has been done before and do it better, or you need to come up with something completely new and drive appeal for it. We’ve tried to mix that,” explains Gaffney.
“One of the challenges for us marketing-wise is, we don’t build everything around one unique feature and pretend that’s everything about the game. We’re a full fledged MMO with everything. We’ve got arenas, battlegrounds, dungeons and raids. But then we’ve got new stuff, like our Paths, Warplots and housing.
“Rift did something smart by doing a couple of things differently, but they took one of their features in the dynamic events they could do and introduced them as Rifts, and then the whole name of the game was Rift. We had dynamic events, we just forgot to mention them amongst all the other stuff we’re doing. We’re not Paths of Pathsy Pathsness or World of Warplots. We’re a smörgåsbord, but I think Smörgåsbord Online was taken.”
A monthly subscription was once the norm for an MMO back in its heyday. But now the number of these games going F2P has raised questions over the future for the genre.
“I don’t know that it’s dead. People are interested. What most games have struggled with is keeping users for the long term. Those players are still there, they haven’t gone away. There’s health in the market for good, sticky games.
“There’s a hardcore group of gamers that tries out new games and then goes back to their favourite. The place to be in the market right now, for that core of the market, is you want to attract players looking for their first MMO as they tend to stick for a long time.
“You love your first MMO, it’s your first girlfriend who you’re always going to think fondly of. It’s ok if they go dabble and see other people on the side. You don’t mind if they go off for a month or two to check out the cool new person on the block. You want to be the home they’re coming back to.”
Eight years in the making, WildStar is now just months from launch. And Gaffney is confident that Carbine has achieved its original goal of creating the next great MMO.
“We’re absolutely going to be that. We held a beta weekend recently and more people played over that weekend than the entire history of the beta, all in one shot.
“It’s one of the great things about our industry, that only good games win. You can’t have a great marketing campaign and a crappy game and have it succeed. That works if you’re selling a box. But our money is all about keeping people hooked for years. You can’t lure people in with a clever gimmick. You can’t lure people in for years with a snazzy box on the shelf. You’ve got to do it by earning it. And as a new IP, you don’t inherit anything; we’ve got to earn every single person that comes in and checks out our game.
“If we keep them, we’ll keep them. And if we don’t? I’m absolutely fine with having our industry be one that’s based around good games win. All we’ve got to do is make a great game.”