19 August 2013

WildStar's WildGamble?

So there hasn't been much in the world of MMO's that has interested me lately, which is the primary reason for the lack of updates.  I've mostly been spending what little free time I have on various digital card games and so I've confined my writing efforts to projects at Utopian Chaos.  But this morning I saw a story that immediately grabbed my attention and demanded a response.  Carbine Studios announced the business model for their upcoming WildStar MMO.  As you know, this is a game I have been following since the moment it was first announced and have been looking forward to it with great anticipation.  So how is Carbine planning to make money off WildStar and how does this affect my attitude towards the game?  Fantastic questions!  Read on.

How a Gamer and His Money are Parted

Suffice to say I was shocked by what Carbine announced.  WildStar is going the "old school" route of a fixed box cost for the game itself ($60 according to this interview with Jeremy Gaffney) plus a mandatory monthly subscription (the standard $15 per month with discounts for multiple month purchases).  In addition to this however, Carbine is offering an "EVE style" alternative in the form of an item called CREDD.  These are like EVE's PLEX items in that they can be purchased with in-game currency and then redeemed for a month's worth of game time.  The "catch" is that they cost $20 to initially purchase.  The expectation is that players with more money than time will purchase CREDD, place them on WildStar's auction house (called the CX) and then other players with a surplus of in-game currency will purchase them in order to essentially play for free.  Carbine sees this as a "win-win" situation for both players as the player pressed for time can now obtain large amounts of in-game currency to purchase the items he does not have the time to acquire, and the other player with large amounts of time and game currency can turn that time and effort into free game time.

When I step back and look at it, I suppose I really shouldn't have been so surprised at the route Carbine took.  Although the "EVE model" was about the furthest thing from my mind, it does make sense that Carbine would go with the mandatory subscription model in some form.  Many things about WildStar's design have been unabashedly "old school," such as 40-man raiding content, and the developers have talked many times about courting that segment of the population that would like to return to what they see as more "traditional" concepts in MMO's.  But at the same time, going the route of the mandatory subscription is a very gusty, very risky move.  Carbine is basically "betting" that there is a large enough population out there that WANTS to see this type of game and payment system and is willing to "vote with their wallets" to support it.  And while there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that many gamers are tiring of "free-to-play" in its various forms, the numbers still speak for themselves.  The ranks of subscription games is very small (basically just World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XI and XIV, and EVE), and the greatest financial successes in gaming all seem to be various interpretations of F2P.  Even WoW itself seems to be inching towards a microtransaction model at some point in the future. 

But is the Vagabond a Fool?

In terms of my personal feelings about the announcement, my initial reaction was very negative.  I thought for sure that they would go with some form of "buy-to-play" system like either Guild Wars 2 or The Secret World had adopted.  I truly believed that the "era" of the subscription had come and gone and that no game would attempt to launch as "subscription only" ever again.  Furthermore, as I've noted before on my blog, subscriptions are something I simply can no longer afford.  At this point in my life, I cannot guarantee enough free time to justify a fixed cost per month to play a game like this.  GW2 is a perfect case in point on this.  I bought the game knowing I would never have to pay another dime for it and I could "stretch" that $60 investment across months and years to justify the cost.  I just started playing it more recently (and I'll be talking about that experience later this week) and that is a concept that works very well for me.  WildStar coming out with a mandatory subscription almost takes it off the list of games I can play entirely.

Additionally, I have become very jaded about games that start out as subscription games and then almost inevitably turn to some form of F2P.  Many of the comments on the articles at Massively, MMORPG, and ZAM reflect this concern.  Just in the past few years, games such as Star Wars: The Old Republic and The Secret World launched as subscription games but very quickly turned to various F2P models, cheapening the investment of initial backers such as myself who invested in the box costs and subscription fees.  Who is to say that WildStar would not end up doing the same?  It almost feels like an effort on the part of the publisher/developer to "milk" their biggest backers for extra cash up front, and then when that runs out, offer the game for free to the masses to "cash in" on the folks who didn't want to subscribe but would play for free and buy a "sparkle pony" here and there.  It may not be Carbine's fault, but it feels like a "Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me" situation.  Many MMO gamers have been burned by F2P conversions and Carbine is asking for a bit of a "leap of faith" here.  I'm not sure how many folks are willing to "jump."  Right now, I'm not.

When it's Ready...

Oh another tidbit that was almost "slid in" with the business model announcement was Gaffney confirming what many were already starting to suspect, that WildStar would not be releasing in 2013.  Based on the beta progress and the fact that Carbine admitted they were still fully revamping key game systems, it was already widely assumed that the 2013 target date would be changed.  Now we know for sure.  Spring 2014 is the new target date.  This doesn't bother me much at all as I would rather see a polished final product than a "rush job."  And with the announced business model, I'm not exactly in a hurry anymore to see the final game.  I still want to believe that WildStar will be a great game and that it could restore my faith and interest in MMO's.  But right now I'm just not feeling it.  Maybe the delay is a good thing in that regard too and they can do something to rekindle my interest between now and then.  Because if it were releasing today, I would have to take a pass.

So as I mentioned, I've been back in GW2 recently.  Since I'm trying to keep my card game stuff separate from my MMO stuff, and I've been mostly playing card games recently, I haven't had much to say here.  But later this week I'll post some impressions of my time back in GW2 and talk about some of the things I think the game does well, and falls very short on.  Thanks for your patience and I hope if you are interested in digital card games, check out the content at Utopian Chaos.  They really are building a great community around the concept of digital card games and I'm very proud to be a part of what they are doing there.