In the last week Carbine Studios, the creators of Wildstar, made an announcement that the game was effectively moving away from the monthly update schedule that they had committed to prior to the games launch. Well quelle surprise. I don’t mean to sound cynical about this…oh what the hell of course I do, but nobody should be shocked by this.
It seems that the vast majority of MMOs have followed this pattern for years. The game launches, there are promises of rigorous update schedules, adding significant content to the game on a regular basis in order to keep players playing, and usually, subscribing. One or two patches follow, and then either delays, or as in this case, an explicit change of policy. There has been the odd exception to this rule. RIFT, as I’ve written about before, used to have an amazing update schedule and the pace at which it pumps out new content is still not to be sniffed at. Guild Wars 2 of course has been running temporary content patches very frequently for a while now, although the significance of these updates is debatable and many still argue that they would prefer something more permanent than the rather transitory living story updates.
What bothers me though, is why do MMO developers keep making claims about their update schedule before launch, only to renege on it later? It could be simply that they underestimate the amount of time required in order to develop these patches. Maybe they feel that they can add more significant content and systems to the game with a slower update schedule, but one which adds bigger updates to the game. Perhaps it is simply the financial reality that many MMOs face an uncertain future post-launch. It could be that committing a lot of resources to updates when player numbers are spiralling downwards and haven’t yet levelled off feels like a big gamble. It would seem more likely to me that updates are a good thing for keeping players invested, but I could understand some reluctance to commit resources.
The cynic in me feels that perhaps they make promises it was always going to be unlikely that they could keep in order to attract players to the game in the first place. I guess it’s hard to know for certain, but what is clear is that beyond the first big patch or two of stuff that was no doubt almost ready to go into the game prior to launch, many games go from a monthly schedule, to a six week schedule, to two months, or sometimes even more.
I think it’s pretty important for a game in Wildstar’s position, that is, as a newly launched game whose player numbers are probably on the decline post-launch, to try and keep the players that they do have. And for me personally, I find a regular update schedule to be an extremely attractive proposition when I’m on the look out for a new game to play. It’s one of the things that’s always made me wish I loved RIFT a little more than I do. I can’t imagine I’m the only one who finds solid content additions to be a major selling point for a game, so it seems a shame that we have to go through this rigmarole every time a new MMO launches.