Wildstar's Weekend Warriors: Why We Suffer Through Early MMO Launches

Wildstar's Weekend Warriors: Why We Suffer Through Early MMO Launches

Carbine Studios' WildStar began its HeadStart launch this weekend. Through the false start, long queues, and bugs, why do people keep playing?

On May 31, 2014 at 12:01 am, developer Carbine Studios turned on the servers for its first title, WildStar. In an era of the free-to-play MMO and the online MOBA, Wildstar wants to be the next big thing in subscription MMOs, a title once coveted by Final Fantasy XIV and The Elder Scrolls Online. Carbine's initial core was comprised of former Blizzard Entertainment senior leads and executive producer Jeremy Gaffney has outright stated that the studio wants to "take [World of Warcraft] but do it right this time." Even Carbine's 'About Us' page says the developer is looking to craft "the Next Great MMO."

So after months of beta tests, the moment of truth was here.

For an MMO fan, the 24 hours prior to launch are the hardest. There's a sense of anticipation. Syncing up with your friends and guildmates from other MMOs to choose a server. Picking group for leveling. Deciding on what class you're rolling first and what build you're going to use.

For me, it was another normal day at work, but the evening was all about preparation. The 12:01am launch time was for those on the West Coast; I'm on the East Coast, so that slides all the way to 3:01am. Tall order there. I went to the store and grabbed my requisite gaming snacks: Sour Patch Kids, Coke Zero, and some Red Bull Sugar-Free. I napped for a few hours, so the 3am rush wouldn't completely destroy me. And then at 2:45 am, I hopped on my PC, loaded up the client and prepared for launch.

At Carbine, happy developers did a countdown to the game's launch, hands full of champagne and other party drinks. The switch was flipped. And... nothing happened.

Players mobbed the servers like desperate parents hunting for deals on Black Friday, but each and every one was greeted with a hamster (sorry, Chompacabra) in a wheel, as the WildStar client attempted to connect to servers. No one could get in. 15 minutes into the game's HeadStart, Gaffney went on Reddit to let players know it was possible that NCSoft's login servers were the victim of a DDOS attack. Players in other NCSoft games like Guild Wars 2 and Aion were also unable to get in. 45 minutes into launch, the DDOS attack was confirmed. Even under normal circumstances, a DDOS attack is bad, but thousands upon thousands of players hammering the servers in an attempt to log-in just adds more on top of the pile.

During all of this, I'm laying on my floor trying to get some more rest. I have my headphones on and I'm in my guild's Mumble voice chat server. When I hear the someone has gotten in, I crawl from my slumber, get back in my chair, chug a Red Bull, and try to log-in.

No MMO launch is smooth. I've been through a number of them: World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2, Star Wars Galaxies, Star Wars: The Old Republic, City of Heroes, Final Fantasy XIV, and Elder Scrolls Online. None of them has been perfect. There's always issues, and WildStar is no exception. Even with the DDOS attack staved off, login issues persist. Disconnections. Crashes. Deluxe Edition items not working quite right. Serial code issues for certain players. Carbine was on top of many of them, bringing the servers down in rolling fashion to patch in hotfixes. New servers were brought online to handle the load.

Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeep.

The biggest problem, one that WildStar still deals with, is the server queues. If you're on a full or high-population server you can expect to see major queues during prime time. And if you're number 1000+ in the queue you can expect 1-2 hour queue times. For many, it was a boon that Watch Dogs and Mario Kart 8 launched earlier in the week, as both titles provided something you could play while waiting. I played Mario Kart 8 and watched episodes of Hannibal while I waited for my Sunday midday queue to tick down. I even created a character on a new server, but couldn't bring myself to leave behind the three characters I created on my primary server. Others just went to Twitch to watch others play WildStar while they waited.

Final Fantasy XIV had the same problem, one that many players fixed by simply never logging out; FFXIV Reborn did not have a system to remove players who were away from keyboard for too long, so players could stay in indefinitely. WildStar on the other hand does have an AFK kick system in place, so there's no hope. If you're gone for too long, you need to get back into the queue. And all of this is before the game's full launch (which happens on June 3) meaning more players could be joining in on the queuing fun.

But by and large, players kept playing. They keep logging into those queues for the chance to play more WildStar, just like players do with every MMO before now and every MMO after. So why do we suffer the queues, the bugs, and everything else?

I can't quit you, angry assassin.

For some, an MMO is a way for their achievements to be recorded. Unlike in the real world, where you may do something first/best and no one notices, in many online games, there's a concrete monument you can point to and say "I rock." New, flashier gear. A full bank account. A robust guild. Achievements for exploring, clearing dungeons, or even finishing raids. Even the world firsts; as of this writing, people on my server are hitting level cap and are receiving their First to 50 class achievements. Others may look at them and wonder why they don't enjoy the ride, but for those players, that is enjoyment. The rush of an immense challenge against other players, knowing they're right beside you sprinting towards the finish line. The feeling of victory when the achievement pops up, an achievement that will exist in game as long as it's running. No, that may not be forever - RIP City of Heroes - but I'm not sure why that matters. Real world achievements get passed by all the time, so what makes digital ones any different?

For other players, there's the chance to reinvent themselves. Games are great vehicles for escapism and wish fulfillment and MMOs in particular allow you to craft whole personas separate from your day-to-day life. In that way, a new MMO is like going to a new school or moving to a new city for the first time. Whoever you were before launch, you now have the chance to be someone else. You may be a manager who has to crack the whip at work, but in an MMO, you hang back and heal. Perhaps you have issues performing in front of a crowd, but you'll step up every time to be the lead tank in a raid. You can be someone louder, more competitive, kinder, nicer, more social, or whatever else you want. Just... someone else. That's freeing.

For WildStar in particular, there's the return of the "hardcore". While World of Warcraft has made things easier over the years - why wouldn't Blizzard want most of its player base to see all of the content the studio spent money to create? - WildStar harkens back to the old days of WoW. Hard dungeons, harder raids, and crazy raid attunements are all things that turn off many players, but have the hardcore salivating. These folks want to get into those raids as soon as possible, to figure out how they work and how to break them.

Sometimes you have to tackle things together.

For me, it's that new MMO smell. The developers at Carbine have put a lot of love and new ideas into WildStar. It plays different that my bread-and-butter WoW, it's faster than Elder Scrolls Online, it feels like there's more to do than Square Enix's impressive Final Fantasy XIV. Many players will be jumping over to WildStar because WoW is hip-deep in a nine-month content drought, as Blizzard hasn't added anything since Sept 2013's Patch 5.4, the Siege of Orgrimmar. It's just a matter of if Carbine can keep them from heading back to Blizzard.

There's a number of reasons; we MMO faithful suffer because there's just something there that fulfills us. It's similar to the trouble of waiting in line for a major concert, rushing to grab PAX tickets, or braving the parking lot after any major sporting event. If anything, the amount of suffering you go through makes the final experience even more sweet. Adversity brings us together. Just ask vanilla WoW veterans, or current Dark Souls II players. There's a certain camaraderie in shared pain; in the future WildStar veterans will talk about the 2 hour queues and crazy attunements with wistful fondness.

It's exciting to be a part something new and you can find yourself just swept up in the excitement of the moment. I was ambivalent about WildStar during the many beta events, but as the HeadStart launch approached, I found myself becoming more and more excited about the possibilities. Maybe this could be the one that replaces World of Warcraft as my comfort food game. That's what lead me to being up at 4am on Saturday morning, playing WildStar.

That reminds me, I should probably log in now if I want to play tonight. I'll get right on that. Hope to see you there.

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Mike Williams

Reviews Editor

M.H. Williams is new to the journalism game, but he's been a gamer since the NES first graced American shores. Third-person action-adventure games are his personal poison: Uncharted, Infamous, and Assassin's Creed just to name a few. If you see him around a convention, he's not hard to spot: Black guy, glasses, and a tie.

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