Signs and portents are starting to swirl around a shift in business model for WildStar. Over the night we heard that Australian retailers were told to pull the boxes off of the shelves, a move very similar to what happened to ESO a couple of months ago before ZeniMax announced the buy-to-play change.
I’ve been musing to guildies that I think there’s another sign, albeit one more subtle, with the upcoming patch. The focus on character customization and the addition of vanity pets feels like a path leading in and out of a cash shop.
No matter what these might indicate, it is time that WildStar ditches the sub-only (plus CREDD) model. Heck, it’s been time since about the second month of beta when many reasonable people were worried that this new IP title was going to have a heck of a time sticking to subscription guns against ESO, WoW, and a huge field of F2P/B2P titles. I honestly don’t know why NCsoft allowed it, nor that the publisher allowed the subscription-only model to go on as long as it has after WildStar started tanking in numbers.
There’s a core of players that have and will continue to hold on to the sub-only model as the only way that WildStar can remain “pure” and be the game that it needs to be. That mindset does not get a lot of sympathy from me these days, especially in light of a vastly diminished population and the abandonment of the monthly update schedule after a whopping two months. Like it or not, remaining sub-only will almost certainly doom WildStar to either extreme niche status or outright death (again, this is NCsoft we’re talking about — a studio that isn’t particularly attached to Western titles and has few compunctions against shutting down what it views as underperforming games).
And the “subscription is good, all else is bad” is a black-and-white argument that dismisses any possibility that business models can be mismatched with games, all business models have examples of games that have implimented them well and poorly, and that there are legitimate criticisms of the sub-only model (such as it repulsing players who don’t want to be locked down with a monthly payment). For those who continue to shout, “Well, we don’t want those players anyway!” I have to respond, yes you do. You do want those players if you want more revenue to come into your game, if you want your game’s potential lifespan to lengthen, and if you want to generate buzz and cultivate a larger community.
Anyway, back-and-forth with the sub-only crowd aside, I’m very excited about a business model shift, especially if the studio does it right (i.e., not SWTOR) by keeping the core content free and making money on optional subs, cosmetics, vanity pets, and housing purchases. Seriously, WildStar has one of the absolute best housing systems on the market that is ripe for monetizing.
Plus, as a gamer who’s recently returned to WildStar, I very much would welcome a drop of the subscription. I shuttle back and forth between several titles and won’t always be playing WildStar enough to justify the cost.
We’ll see. It could well be that Carbine is still a ways out from any such announcement, but the studio has the official go-ahead from me if nobody else. Let’s do it, WildStar.