From item shops to subscription costs, we explore the possible ways that we might pay for WildStar
Ask any WildStar fan for his or her top three questions about Carbine’s upcoming MMO, and it’s very likely that payment models will be among them. It’s a huge source of speculation, with players trying to second-guess what the developer is planning.
The debate also demonstrates just how far the MMO marketplace has changed. Eight years ago, players expected to buy a box and then pay a monthly subscription. NCSoft and ArenaNet has since driven the subscription-free model, with Guild Wars 2 using a mix of monetization quirks that fans have really responded to. Sony Online Entertainment has led the way on free-to-play, dropping upfront entry fees and mandatory monthly subscriptions from almost all its games.
And yet World of Warcraft continues with a subscription. Others, such as spacefaring sandbox EVE Online, still use one. It may not be the fashionable thing to do these days, but several developers keep the servers running by charging players a regular fee. Follow that up with the cryptic statement from WildStar lead narrative designer Chad “Pappy” Moore that “when we do talk about what our payment model is going to be […] I think there’s going to be something for just about everybody”, and you can understand why it’s a topic that generates interest.
So, what could Carbine be planning?
With players already queuing up to throw money at Carbine just to get their hands on the game, this is actually fairly likely. Although digital sales are taking off – as both Guild Wars 2 and Mists of Pandaria have demonstrated – I expect that we’ll see WildStar on the shelves of our local video game stores.
I also think it’s likely that we’ll see a Collector’s Edition of some form. There’s been plenty of postulation about what we’d find in such a box, with art books and soundtrack CDs being a staple component. Many of us are also hoping for a permanent reminder of our time on Nexus, from statuettes (my personal choice would be Piglet, the small spaceship from the original launch trailer that introduced me to WildStar) to maps and charts of the legendary planet. With launch still several months away, it’s likely that the box contents are still being confirmed.
Thinking outside the box, I think we’ll see Digital and Digital Deluxe editions of the game available direct from Carbine. We might even see a Digital Collector’s Edition sneak out for those unlucky gamers who missed out on picking up one of those highly desirable boxes, or who want all the in-game perks without all the real-life clutter.
Either way, I think it’s likely that we’ll see some kind of up-front payment as our ticket price for the journey to Nexus. Regardless of subscriptions, item shops or any other form of micro-transactions, I’m almost certain that we’ll be asked to part with something to play. I also think that there might be a pre-order system in place, with perks ranging from in-game items to beta access as a reward for doing so.
The Monthly Subscription
There’s an almost knee-jerk reaction among some players when they hear that an MMO has a subscription attached: “I’ll wait till it goes free-to-play.” It’s with good reason as well; in recent memory, Star Wars: The Old Republic, The Secret World and TERA have all abandoned the subscription-based model in the hope of enticing more players into their worlds.
If there’s one thing that Carbine wants to avoid, it’s gamers holding back on WildStar because of a subscription. Even though the team is working on cranking out new content every eight weeks, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to crack that mind-set without having proof that it represents value for money.
That said, there’s also a fairly sizeable chunk of MMO players that actively want a subscription. They appreciate being able to pay a fixed monthly fee in return for all the content they can voraciously eat, without having to pay for things like extra character slots or additional inventory space. Some of these players see the various boosts and bonuses offered for sale in a subscription-free title as a dilution of that MMO experience, and prefer a system that has less impact on the progression curve.
But what path will WildStar take? My gut feeling is that, if there is a subscription, it will probably be optional. For those that want the all-you-can-eat experience, they can pay a monthly fee for all the perks they like. For those who prefer to dine a-la-carte, I think they’ll be able to pay for the particular unlocks and benefits that suit them.
After being careful to build an enthusiastic and all-embracing community over a number of years (and yes, it really has been that long), Carbine needs to be careful that it doesn’t destroy all that goodwill by putting together a poorly thought-out system. When SWTOR initially announced the free-to-play option, large divisions opened up between the free-to-play gamers (or ‘freepers’ as they were sometimes described) and the subscription-paying player base. Even though BioWare eventually relented on some of the restrictions, it’s a mistake that Carbine would be eager to avoid.
One possible way around it is to make monthly subscription blocks tradable for in-game gold, using the in-game trading system. It’s a method that EVE Online has used for some time, with players able to trade Pilot Licence Extensions for in-game money. Another option would be to make the monthly subscription available on the item store for currency tokens, and have those currencies tradable in-game in a similar way to Guild Wars 2 gems. Which brings us to…
The Item Store
Almost every MMO has one of these. At one extreme is the Blizzard Store, offering pets and mounts for World of Warcraft in exchange for your credit card details. And even though many of us don’t think about it, account services such as name changes and server transfers are also item store purchases of a sort. All of them are virtual goods and services available for a nominal fee.
Sitting fairly neatly in the middle is Guild Wars 2, which offers a range of cosmetic items such as dyes, weapon skins and clothing alongside temporary boosts in various forms. Occupying the other extreme are Asian MMOs, designed for a market that embraces “pay to win” mechanics that exchange cash for power.
Depending on the subscription decision, I think that WildStar is likely to follow NCsoft relation ArenaNet down that middle road. We’re likely to see all manner of pets, clothes, mounts and other fun items available for cash. Such an item store (possibly even a Protostar Store) will probably also include player housing items, although these are less likely to be the buildings and plugs talked about in the DevSpeak video. Instead, I think we’ll see a mixture of funky furniture, demure decorations and other aesthetic features available for sale.
Will boosts be offered? Personally, I think it’s too early to tell. What I would like to see is the Guild Wars 2 method of being able to trade item store currency for in-game coins, with the market helping to decide an appropriate exchange rate. That way, everyone has an opportunity to take part in the item store regardless of the size of their wallet.
The Carbine Curveball
If I could sum up the Orange County developer in a single cliché, it would be to expect the unexpected. Jeremy Gaffney, Troy Hewitt, Chad Moore and Mike Donatelli take delight in surprising players in unexpected ways, from getting involved on fansite forums to organizing Arkship events. It’s ingrained itself into every aspect of WildStar, and I think there’s a strong chance that it’ll appear in the payment model as well. They may want to make a ton of money and build an island HQ, but they also want to make us love spending our money with them.
As a result, trying to predict what they’ll do is a little tough, partly because they’re so full of surprises. All my hunches and guesses could be completely wrong.
Whatever they choose to do, I think they’ll stick to their ethos of making sure that there’s something for all types of MMO gamer. In true WildStar style they’ll probably do things that surprise or delight us, like occasionally throwing in a random freebie when we buy something from the item store, or rewarding a fan artist with an in-game version of their picture to hang in their home. Whatever happens, I reckon we’ll be hearing cries of ‘Awesome!’ on the forums for some time after launch.
Either way, I’m still praying for a Piglet-In-A-Box, even if it’s a coffee-table ornament for my Cassian’s manor house.