Whose WildStar Is It, Exactly

So what is WildStar?

It’s an MMORPG, duh.

But I’ve talked to a lot of people about the game, and talked and written about it myself, and nobody I know is quite sure what kind of MMORPG it is. Is it a WoW clone? Is it something new and original? Is it for adults? For kids? Is it for PvE-ers or PvP-ers? Is it for hardcore players? For casuals?

“For all that’s good and holy, can we please pigeonhole it into a nice and neat category or two so I can know if I should keep paying attention to it or ignore/flame it?”

Ah, there you go. That’s why the semi-confusion about WildStar irks people. I don’t know if it’s intentional or not, or even if it’s a good idea, but Carbine Studios and NCSoft have done a phenomenal job of marketing the game while also keeping its true nature, and by extension, its target audience, a mystery.

An enigma wrapped inside a mystery…

Let me start by saying I’m not in the beta. I’ve not played one minute of WildStar, so anything I say is based upon speculation from what I’ve learned via the game’s marketing efforts so far.

From the first moment I, and many others, laid eyes on the first trailer, the thought was, “kiddie action game.” I mean, really – cute bunnygirl, handsome rogueish fellow on a high-tech motorbike, big, burly rock dude. It screams “Saturday morning cartoon,” if you’re like me and old enough to remember when there were cartoons on Saturday morning. All it needed to complete the vision was a breakfast cereal commercial or toy tie-in.

One thing that Carbine has insisted even before that trailer was released is that despite its cartoonish appearance, WildStar is most definitely not for kids. The NSFW language in a recent playtesting update all but confirms that: “I will, however, in as non-bullshit-as-possible fashion, promise that we’ll work our asses off to make the game better month after month, with the help of our players.”

In the nearly two years since we first laid eyes on the game, we’ve seen and heard a lot. Some of it fits the traditional MMO mold: races, classes, factions, leveling, a big planet to explore, lots of different bad guys. The usual.

Then there are the other, less traditional, things. I still haven’t full wrapped my brain around what the path system will do for my character. Housing, if it fulfills even half the potential it seems to have, could be incredibly awesome. The Elder Game is sort of like a typical MMO’s endgame, but it also isn’t. The crafting system is kinda original.

With these and more features, WildStar doesn’t seem to be a “push one button and faceroll to win” kind of game. It might not exactly be EVE Online in terms of complexity, but it’s not exactly Free Realms either.

The Fill-in-the-Blank-Killer

So who is WildStar “for”? What game’s audience will it “steal”? What game will it “kill”?

That WildStar has defied traditional attempts at classification could be both a boon and a detriment. Without trying to sound too much like hyperbole, maybe WildStar is for everyone – not in the “has a little bit of everything to try and attract everyone” kind of way, like many MMOs try to do – often spreading themselves thin in the process – but in the “it’s for gamers; full stop” kind of way. Not a particular type of gamer, but “gamers” as a whole.

I don’t think WildStar is necessarily trying to “be” anything or be “for” anyone. The Carbine crew is just making a game with a lot of fun things and not worrying about how it’ll all be perceived. Yes, several of the basic concepts are inspired or outright copied from other MMOs, and nobody would go so far as to say that everything about the game is awe-inspiringly original, but you also wouldn’t say Bioshock is like every other shooter because it has guns and a first-person view.

It almost looks like the developers are split up into a bunch of different teams, each doing its own thing, and in the end, they’ll glue it all together into a game. I’m sure that isn’t the case, strictly speaking; we just haven’t seen all the connections yet.

The downside to this approach is that, as mentioned, potential players who only want to play a certain type of MMO aren’t quite as excited about WildStar as they would be if they knew it primarily a hardcore raiding game or an MMOFPS or a casual crafting game, or whatever other niche many games try to fill.

In today’s crowded MMO marketplace, you could make the argument that you need to identify and cater to your core audience so they can passionately evangelize the game on your behalf. WildStar‘s reach is tracking higher these days than it did in 2012, but it still lags far behind this year’s other big MMO launch, The Elder Scrolls Online, as well as NCSoft’s last major release, Guild Wars 2, at a similar time in its life cycle.

But we’ve still got the summer convention season for WildStar to make a major impact, and beta testers are still under NDA – that one leak notwithstanding – so it’s got some time to attract an audience, whatever that may be.

Fun for all and all for fun

Maybe the answer to the question, “What kind of MMO is WildStar?” is simply, “A fun one.” As someone who’s played (and enjoyed) a wide variety of MMOs, I’m looking forward to WildStar to see how it can innovate and maybe provide a style of gameplay that’s uncommon, or altogether unknown, in MMO gaming.

I’d be lying if I said I was incredibly passionate about WildStar, though, like I was about Guild Wars 2 at this time last year. Admittedly, I also want to see what “kind” of game it is before I commit myself to it emotionally. As I said, a lot of the parts look cool, but I want to see how they all fit together.

That might not be a bad approach for Carbine’s PR team. Instead of telling us what we should like, and relentlessly going on about how cool everything is, they’re just laying out all the pieces and letting us make our own decisions about what’s cool. It’s a low-key approach in what’s usually a high-pressure industry, and it might just make for a better game in the long run.

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