Due to recent developer comments that they’re “watching” player discussions as to the business model and the general state of the game, it’s safe to say that the business model of WildStar has come under scrutiny not only in the community but most definitely inside Carbine/NCsoft as well.
My general feeling on business models is that there’s no one best one, but the right one for each game. With a small-to-modest player population, we must ask, is the subscription model the right one for WildStar? Undoubtedly, the execs at NCsoft and Carbine were hoping for a World of Warcraft-like success with a top-notch product. And while I’ll agree that WildStar is a great game, it’s no longer 2004 and subscription-only MMOs are in the vast minority. Players have far more options that don’t demand a monthly fee, and they are exercising those options.
So going forward, what should WildStar do with its business model? There are three main options:
1. Stick to their sub guns and do nothing
I see sites like WildStar Core in a mild panic as of late that Carbine might indeed be changing its business model, because for some folks subscription-only offers a perceived level of quality that’s “untainted” by free-to-play options.
“Baffles me how people so down-trodden on #WildStar’s quarterly dev cycle think going F2P will give studio funds for same quality content,” they retweeted, apparently ignorant of everything else in the MMO industry. But that right there is the key argument for keeping it sub — that any other option will result in an income decrease and that the game’s quality will suffer.
It was foolhardy for WildStar to launch with a sub as a brand-new IP in a crowded field and up against much bigger names in 2014, and I maintain that today. If WildStar does stay sub, it’s going to become even more niche than it is today, CREDD or no. But… if they do stick with it, at the very least they need to implement a permanent trial (say, to level 10 or 15) to allow folks non-pressure time to get to know the game before buying into it.
2. Go free-to-play/hybrid
In my opinion, WildStar actually does have a good setup for a potential free-to-play conversion. Whether or not this was being discussed at Carbine, it’s not as if we haven’t seen sub-only MMOs make the switch from 2009 on.
I would look to games like RIFT for inspiration for this model and continue to offer a premium subscription that includes bonuses and currency. I would give away all of the gameplay content for free with no artificial gates, but instead focus on selling some of that much-ballyhooed customization. Costumes, mount pimping, housing items — players love these sorts of things and they have little impact on power levels or competition. Sell those. Sell boosts if you must. The upside is that this would encourage more development of cool customization options, which the game needs anyway.
The biggest advantage to this path is that it would completely eliminate an initial financial barrier with no initial or ongoing fee. The biggest disadvantage is the perceived stigma of free-to-play and the “this game is dying” PR hit that sometimes comes with the transition.
3. Go buy-to-play
I think that WildStar would greatly benefit from looking at its cousin Guild Wars 2 and taking a cue from it. Continue to sell the boxes, but make the rest of the game free with very optional microtransactions and sales. The whole premium currency market could be translated into WildStar thanks to its CREDD system.
Otherwise, a lot of the same free-to-play pros and cons and ideas would stay the same. Lockboxes would be a definite drawback, as it seems that B2P and F2P games can’t resist them (although different MMOs emphasize them differently).
So if you were in charge of WildStar and wanted to ensure its financial and operational future, what business model would you pick?