If NCSoft is going to kill Wildstar, they should do it now

Pretty terrible news for Wildstar fans on the bad news dumping ground day of Friday, with massive layoffs and the cancellation of the Chinese release. Everyone who has ever lost a job knows how much it sucks, and I hope everyone can bounce back quickly from it.

The worst news was probably the unconfirmed part. Although management gave the usual PR talk about being “committed to the game”, the scuttlebutt is that the game’s fate is sealed and sunset will happen in a couple months.

If we assume that’s true…

If You’re Killing It, Do It Now, FFS!

There is absolutely no reason to string people along if things are already decided. Don’t give your fans the PR crap. Don’t give your employees the PR crap. Just be honest about it.

I mean, what does anyone gain by deception at this point except a few dollars? The layoffs are so drastic, and include so many key, senior, public facing people, that major damage has been done to Wildstar’s ability to recruit and hold players. The die hards will stick around no matter what, but someone looking for a new MMO to try is not all that likely to try the one that looks like it’s about to get shut down. At best, Carbine and NCSoft are going to pull in a few bucks from people sticking it out and hoping things work out, or those who won’t leave until the lights go out (and even Pathfinder Online has a few of those, who are literally keeping the lights on).

It sucks the most for people who are still there though, because of the uncertainty. Should they look for new jobs? If they don’t, will they be gone in 3 months anyway? If they bail out now, are they abandoning the people still there? There’s no way to win in this situation, for staff. If the end date is put out into the open, they know for sure and can start the process of moving on.

As for fans? Well, they need time to mourn. Literally. If you look at the reactions, that’s how the fans feel.

There’s the people in denial, the people who are angry , the people who want to see the game sold/spun off, and so on. The uncertainty is bad for them too.

NCSoft <Slayer of MMOs>

There’s also the issue of NCSoft’s reputation, which is already not great because of how many games they’ve killed off. Now, except for City of Heroes, I tend to find that reputation unfair. In this case, especially, people are blaming NCSoft for a rumored shutdown as if they’re killing their baby without giving it a chance. They’re upset, and I get that, so I’m not trying to pick on them.

Rationally? NCSoft funded Wildstar in the first place. NCSoft kept paying the bills when the launch didn’t go well and revenue sank, severely. They kept paying during the F2P transition, which led to a bump (though apparently not a large enough one).

Here’s the thing. Wildstar came out in 2014. AFAIK, it’s never turned a profit. Sales were down to numbers that make it 1% of NCSoft’s business. If the F2P transition also failed to turn things around, exactly what is NCSoft at fault for, here?

NCSoft is a publicly traded corporation. It’s a business. It exists to make a profit. Indeed, profit (positive cash flow, to be more specific) is a requirement if you want to do things like pay employees on a continuing basis. At some point, it doesn’t make sense for NCSoft to keep funding a game that can’t make money, as that’s just taking money away from other games that can, or potentially could, if they fund a new development.

Is that cold? Yep. It’s business. If the market shows it doesn’t want something, someone has to justify to shareholders why it makes sense to keep dumping money into it.

All that said… stringing people along on the future is also bad for NCSoft’s reputation. If they intend to keep supporting it, they need to come out with a credible plan for how they intend to do that. Anything else won’t work, and just furthers the impression that they’re trying to pull some more money out of people by stringing them along on the future before dropping the axe.

They already have the somewhat unfair reputation as a remorseless MMO killing machine, but they really don’t need to add to it by this kind of shady practice.

Money Matters

In the end, money matters. Profit matters. A lot of upset fans have been preaching things like this:

And the same guy who, on a lifestream, said that the reason you make games is to make money. Apparently forgot that actual developers, unlike corporate henchmen, often also make games cause they are passionate about games and play games.


The worst is, his position is secure. He gets to keep his job. Passionate developers get fired. Olivar is right. This industry is sick. Then again people play right into their hands by supporting exploitative ftp models and dismissing sub models, the later which actually focusses on selling a game, instead of a manipulative cash shop.

Once again, not picking on anyone, as people are hurting. That said… no. To paraphrase Quark: “Passion and an empty sack is worth the sack.” (Also, The Oatmeal on Exposure.)

Data center owners and network uplink providers don’t take passion as currency. Landlords don’t take it either. Grocery stores don’t take it. It takes money to keep things going. That’s how business works. If Wildstar can’t make money, how does it stick around? “Passionate developers” get laid off because there’s no money to pay them, and expecting them to work for free because passion is exploitative and ridiculous.

Spinning it off to another studio (as some have suggested) doesn’t solve the problem. Who pays the bills for development and maintenance, if NCSoft isn’t doing it? What the game would actually need is a new publisher, and given the western MMO market landscape, who is going to do that for a game that didn’t find a big enough audience in a year and a half? How many MMOs have come back from this type of thing, aside from FFXIV? Any? I can’t see very many publishers being interested in picking up the bills, and who can blame them?

If you love Wildstar? You have my sympathies. Play it like there’s no tomorrow, because there probably won’t be. Also, here’s art I had made back when I was playing, because Engineer robots are adorable.

A commission I had done of Adith and Rhiss, my (and Rhiss') characters in Wildstar
A commission I had done of Adith and Rhiss, my (and Rhiss’) characters in Wildstar

Wildstar is definitely changing business models – for the better

I decided to go into FFXIV on my own, and thus far I’m very happy with that decision. It’s a great game as you get going in it, although one that doesn’t leave the strongest first impression. A lot of stuff unlocks as you get going and the game expands massively. It also has a certain ‘something’, I think it’s the longer global cooldown and generally slower feeling pace, but it’s relaxing and fun to play rather than stressful and exhausting. It’s a welcome change of pace.

Wildstar Is Definitely Switching Business Models

Things got off to a fast start this morning with the news that Wildstar’s boxed copies are being pulled off the shelves in Australia, exactly like what ESO did before it switched business models. Of course, that’s a rumor and doesn’t necessarily mean anything… right up until Wildstar unveiled the “mystery box promotion” the same day.

The mystery box promo lets you get special goodies for buying a boxed copy of the game. Only a boxed copy. Digital copies are excluded. Existing copies are excluded. This is a transparent attempt to earn some revenue by clearing physical inventory with randomized stuff for players who plunk down cash. The best reason to do that is right before you’re no longer going to have to plunk down cash, at which point that inventory becomes worthless. That is the only reason to make this physical boxes only and exclude digital sales.

On top of that, the Australia news is interesting. ESO did it a few weeks before their switch. What’s in a few weeks for Wildstar? NCSoft’s quarterly financials, where revenue data for Wildstar will be released.

NCSoft revenue graph
NCSoft revenue graph. Notice the Wildstar line is heading for zero with alarming speed. Thanks to MMORPG.com for the image.

Speaking of NCSoft’s quarterly financials, here’s a lovely graph from their last set. The Wildstar line is disastrously heading in the wrong direction.  This is simply not a trend that can be maintained for much longer, especially with NCSoft’s existing problem of dealing with a hostile major shareholder and potential takeover threat in Nexon. They simply can’t afford to keep throwing money at Wildstar endlessly in the hope that the audience for it suddenly turns around on its own.

Add it all up. The timing of these moves mean that in a few weeks when the new financials come out, they’ll be in a position to announce a business model change along with the new financial data. That will allow management to say that it’s trying to save the game, rather than simply letting it bleed to death.

That’s not an official announcement, but it’s only a matter of time before that announcement comes out.

It’s a Good Thing

The simple truth of the matter is that the subscription model for Wildstar didn’t work. It didn’t gain traction or an audience large enough to sustain an AAA game in todays market. There’s no shame in that, a LOT of games have failed to do it. How many subscription AAA MMO games have launched successfully in the last five years? It’s not a long list. The pool of people willing to pay a subscription and willing to leave from another game is limited, and competition is extremely fierce.

If you want Wildstar to survive, this is a good thing. On it’s current course as a subscription game with a small and quite possibly still declining playerbase, it’s only going to survive for so long as NCSoft keeps willing to eat losses. Once that patience ends, it’s dead. Growing out of it isn’t really realistic – Wildstar’s visibility on things like social media is low due to the lack of players. There simply aren’t enough enthusiastic players, bloggers, Youtubers, and so on to get the word out about all the new things they’re doing in patches.

A business model change gives Wildstar a chance to get back into the spotlight and get a lot of eyeballs on their improvements in the last few months. It lowers the barrier of entry to get people willing to give it another chance. Those are the people that Wildstar needs to reach in order to become a thriving game. You might oppose this on the grounds that the business model change could alter the game away from what you like about it… and maybe it will. But it doesn’t matter. The present course is a death sentence. People who actually want to keep playing Wildstar have to understand that if the game can’t turn a profit, it doesn’t matter how much you like it. Unprofitable games die in this market.

As Belghast and Liores both said back when ESO did this, someone has to pay for these games. The subscription market isn’t doing so in sufficient number (for a number of reasons, only some of which are within Carbine’s control), so the only alternative left is to switch and try to get money from other sources.

I hope it works out for them. I like the game, and my best friend loves it. I want it to do well. This way, it has a second chance to do so.