WoW succeeded “because it was a good game, not because it was Warcraft” – Wildstar producer

World of Warcraft, in its Cataclysm era.

If you were to crack open Carbine Studios on a rock and scoop out the amber liquid in their centre, you’d find senior World of Warcraft developers – the guys who built and launched the game which eventually ensnared a population the size of Malawi’s. These are men and women who voluntarily climbed down the mountain to start a new MMO in Wildstar – to apply the lessons they’d learnt at Blizzard.

They’re about to begin the climb again, and exec producer Jeremy Gaffney is certain they can compete with WoW. Why? Because there are no magic formulas. Just good game design.

When we caught up with Gaffney at Gamescom, he suggested that Wildstar’s position as a new property prevented its developers from getting lazy.

“Because we’re a non-existing IP, we’re not telling a story you’ve heard before, we’re not taking some movie you loved when you were a kid and trying to play with that – we have to earn every user we get,” he explained. “The reason there’s some reminiscence to World of Warcraft in the art style is because, as you may know, the studio’s formed by 20 of the senior team from World of Warcraft. Right after WoW launched they were like ‘We did stuff, we did stuff wrong, we really want to nail the space’ so they started Carbine studios specifically to do that.”

Gaffney said that there was a certain amount of “cross breeding” on the team, thanks to over 60 ex-Blizzard staff who’ve worked on WoW at some point or another. Between them, they know how to take their experience “to the next level”.

“What we want to do is that make sure there’s enough compelling features and stuff like warplots and player housing and make sure those systems are embedded deep in the game,” he said. “Those new features are in part to attract new players in but the core of it is to make the meat and the potatoes, to make sure your game is solid from level one to level cap [and] earn those users – to have them love the game. They’ll bring their friends into the game and [we’ll] do the right social systems and that’s what grows your game up.

“That’s how all the good games do it to one extent or another,” Gaffney went on. “That’s how WoW did it. Remember that WoW was a huge success at launch, they had 300,000 people in the game but that grew to over 3 million people in the Western market, 12 million people globally, because it was a good game, not because it was Warcraft. They made a solid game.”

Carbine may want to take WoW’s approach, but they don’t necessarily want to take its players. Gaffney told PCGamesN that the developers don’t want to steal anybody from other MMOs in part “because we’re really good at maths”.

“A good MMO churns out maybe 5%, 10% of its users each month and then reclaims some of them, and this means existing MMOs have seeded the market with 10 to 20 million people who have played MMOs before but aren’t attached to one currently and we want to tap that market,” he explained.

“For us that means have a really fun levelling game, fun combat, the basics, and then lead into deep systems so that people actually stay for a long time. That’s the core of the MMO business. Nail the end game, the things you do at level cap, not thing you do in the first 10 hours.”

Which MMOs have successfully ensnared you in the past? Can you think of anything they had in common?