It’s high time for a WildStar business model shift

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.

The Secret Adventures: Sasquatches are nature’s quitters (Blue Mountain #2)

(You can follow my complete playthrough of The Secret World on Bio Break’s projects page! WARNING: Spoilers and stories ahead!)

cartreeWar of the Totems (action mission)

  • The lack of both dialogue and general helpfulness of the Sasquatch chief puts him in my short list of most unlikable NPC quest givers in the game… and yet I have two missions to go. Be strong, Syp. Eat that frog. Get ‘er done.
  • Another reason I have developed a strong aversion to bigfoot friendship is that their quests busy me with YET MORE AK’ABS. Every time I fight these annoying insects in low murky light, I envision several scenarios in which the developers brainstormed to make the most annoying enemy in all of the MMOs.
  • And yet ANOTHER reason why this mission is dumb is that there’s absolutely no context given before, during, or after the mission. It’s seriously click on the mission accept, shown the way to ak’abs, and told to start killing. I gather from the title that the sasquatches are offended that there are ak’ab totems, but… no context. No explanation. SO DUMB.
  • It’s a rather boring mission full of insect killing, with the sole highlight of me being moderately amused when I saw a car — with its headlights on — wrapped up in a tree cocoon. What are the logistics behind that? Did the car take a weird offramp somewhere? Are the ak’abs pledging a frat? Do the ak’abs expect to eat the car?

Know Thy Enemy (side mission)

  • There’s an abandoned CDC tablet by the ak’abs, and because a third of this game could be summarized as “cleaning up other people’s messes,” I start cleaning up the CDC’s mess. Which means more killing ak’abs. It’s a rather nondescript mission.
  • Random thought: What astounds me when I think about it is not how insane a variety of bad guy groups there are on this island, but that they aren’t at each other’s throats. Maybe they all got together for a secret pact meeting beforehand.
  • I would have like to have seen the minutes from that meeting.

hangingScavengers (action mission)

  • Now the sasquatches want weapons and armor, but not the kind loading down my backpack. No, the Goonies kind fashioned from random scraps. Pity, I would have enjoyed seeing a sasquatch running around with a kevlar vest and a machine gun.
  • So… if they want to be warriors so much, why aren’t they out fighting the mobs for the gear? This ain’t no training wheels army, son!
  • I’m given this drum to summon a scavenger sasquatch that retrieves the metal needed, which is all well and good until we get to the factory. Then the sasquatch runs away in fear and refuses to answer the drum any more. This is because — say it with me, class — sasquatches are nature’s quitters.
  • The abandoned factory where this mission takes place is another lightly used locale that’s a bit claustrophobic and even creepy. One of the buildings has several hanged corpses dangling over a rather nasty revenant.
  • I made a mistake of rounding a corner too fast and plowed into about 25 mobs in this tiny little space. Zombies 1, Syp 0.
  • While I’m dead, I notice that there’s a volcano-like plume of smoke coming out of the ground somewhere near the mine. Huh, never noticed that before.
  • At least the mission allows me to take out my pent-up frustration on an infected sasquatch. I guess that’s the only treatment this game even dares to suggest for the filth: elimination with extreme prejudice.

scoutThe Scout (side mission)

  • Near the exit for the Scavenger mission (the layout of which does feel like an actual theme park ride) is an undead army scout. To the devs’ credit, they give this zombie a unique look, which is that extra attention to detail that TSW often contributes.
  • As I said before, this is another “clean up someone else’s mess” — in this case, finishing up a recon patrol. Run to an area, kill three guys, rinse and repeat.
  • What’s nice here is that the last step of the mission asks me to report back to Sarge to complete, which is great because that’s where I wanted to go anywhere. It’s the circle of filth!

Picture of the Day: My SWTOR Stalker

stalker1stalker2With little else to spend my SWTOR money on these days, I decided to upgrade my outfit by puchasing cartel market packs for the Stalker outfit. Again, no idea whether it’s one of those “everyone has it” or “people think it’s dorky because it has a big circle right on the butt, seriously, what was BioWare thinking,” but I kind of like it. It fits the commando-esque vibe of my Operative, and I used a black-and-yellow dye pack I had lying around to give it a cool wasp color scheme.

Battle Bards Episode 49: RIFT

riftposterFrom the mind of Inon Zur to the ears of the Battle Bards comes the soundtrack to RIFT. And while the Bards may have a positive past with the game, their reaction to the score is a rocky ride indeed. What treasures and traps will they pull out of this music? Find out as they welcome Steff back into the fold after her long absence!

Episode 49 show notes

  • Intro (featuring “Defiant Theme” and “Iron Pine Peak”)
  • “Main Theme”
  • “Moonshade Highlands”
  • “Scarlet Gorge”
  • “Silverwood”
  • “Shimmersand”
  • “Atagarian Well”
  • “Stonefield”
  • What did we like best?
  • Mail from Josh
  • Outro (featuring “Siren Song”)

Listen to episode 49 now!

MMOs need to be doing a better job at guiding us in the endgame

Runway-repairsI’m sure I told you all that a few weeks ago, my SWTOR Operative hit level 60 and finished up the final storyline from the latest expansion. At that point there was a great sense of accomplishment and elation as I announced it to my guild, which had to feign enthusiasm for someone doing something they had already done many, many months ago (but they’re awesome like that, so I got a few all-caps GRATS! and one muffin gift basket).

Then I sat back, and as the glow of the achievement started to fade, I felt the cold claws of anxiety scrabble at the back of my neck.

Now what?  Now what, mister gamer? You’re in my world now. You’re in the ENDGAME. MUAHAHAHAHA. You should shave the back of your neck, you know.

We often mention “the wall” that MMO gamers sometimes hit (depending on the game in question) when the level cap is reached, and I’ve lost count of similar anecdotes from other players who felt lost, disillusioned, and even depressed when they reach what is promised to be the meat of the game’s content. Instead, it ends up being like you’ve arrived at some large party where everyone’s been there for a lot longer than you have and understand all of the weird social mores that aren’t explained to you and the conversation has way, way too many acronyms referring to places and things that are outside of your sphere of knowledge.

That’s not fun. That makes me want to run screaming and jump back into the MMO womb to be reborn as an alt rather than suss out what I need to do at this new stage.

And as much as I am a smart person who can figure things out if time and effort is applied, I think we need to dispel the notion that it’s on us to figure out what to do and how to play in the endgame. MMOs have traditionally been lousy at providing direction, instructions, and tools for this portion of the game, and I think it’s because the devs assume that (a) players will have figured it out on their own and (b) players will come up with their own guides for other players. That feels lazy and irresponsible to me.

Here’s what I’d like to see happen more in MMOs:

1. Integrate “leveling” and “endgame” activities so that they aren’t separate, untouching spheres of gameplay, but naturally flow from one to the next. What I’ve been doing during the game so far should be what I continue doing at the cap, just perhaps on a deeper level or with a twist. There shouldn’t be a bait-and-switch at endgame.

2. Don’t introduce the EPIC WALL OF GRIND at endgame because you assume that endgamers have nothing better to do and all of the time in the world in which to do it. You know what? We do have a choice. We can reroll or quit your game. In fact, why not be OK with the idea of us rerolling and perhaps offer us added incentives or new ways to do it?

3. Provide a clear tutorial or guide with all of the endgame options and then keep that tutorial available for players. Why MMO studios think that we only need tutorial notices for the first ten levels and then never past that, I have no idea. I’ve only ever seen one endgame tutorial window — Marvel Heroes, in case you’re wondering — and that made me wonder why we aren’t getting more of them.

Tell us what there is to do. Show us where you go to do them. If there are new or more complex systems, then for the love of Pete, spell them out for us. We don’t all live on the forums or exist in pro-raider guilds that can pick up the slack for a lack of information on the studio’s behalf.

4. If there is — heaven forbid — some long, grindy progression system at the endgame, then the very least you could do is give players a checklist in the game to help us keep track of where we are and what needs to be done. After all, this is what the game has done consistently so far with the quest tracker, etc. You have the technology. Use it.

5. Create an officially supported newbie endgame channel. No, the burden of doing so shouldn’t have to fall on the playerbase to cover up for your oversight (TSW’s noobmares channel comes to mind). New endgamers come around all of the time; don’t assume that everyone at cap has been there for ages.

6. If you can’t get a regular pace of new content out to players who are sitting at the cap, then create and release PGC tools so that the community can do that.

Pillars of Eternity: The six musketeers

musketI continue to creep and crawl, Infinity Engine-style, through Pillars of Eternity. It’s still fun, although the story’s taking a bit of a hit and I’m a little peeved at how micro-managing fights can involve too many button clicks. But I do have a stronghold and a full team, and I’m quite enjoying turning that team into a hit squad of sorts.

As I mentioned previously, Pillars of Eternity is wonderfully flexible with its character system. There are classes, sure, but enough leeway and overlap between them that you can build a team the way you want. My grand vision is to mold my team into a musketeer squad — all ranged, no melee. I don’t care if it’s optimal or not; I want a wall of muskets and blunderbusses and pistols flaring at the encroaching enemies. Other than the chant buffs, summons, and heals, I’m not going to be investing into magic much at all (and this Elf wizard is going to be the first one gone as soon as I find another character with a backstory to fill his place).

I like how the game gives you weapon focus bundles as talent options. You don’t pick just one weapon, but a thematic grouping of them (which seems to mostly always contain a ranged weapon). My main character has the noble bundle, which was great for the rapier, but she can also use pistols quite well too.

I did try to storm the castle of the early game’s big bad guy, and although I did clear out the castle and dungeons, the throne room fight was far too tough for my current level. So I left it to return later, shaking my fist with promised vengeance.

Have I said how much I love the fact that there’s a slot on your character to equip a pet? Just a non-combat, follow-you-around-type pet. I have a few, including a zombie cat, which is the only type of cat I like.