These days, going down the subscription route is a dangerous road to take when you’re a theme park style MMO. After all, it’s all about getting good mileage from your monthly investment. This means regular content updates, ensuring there is entertaining and challenging encounters, and avoiding a repetitive grind. This is on top of providing balanced class abilities and PvP matches, ensuring competitive play is fair and fun, and hosting it all in an interesting and engaging world. During its first few months, WildStar managed just that, which is why I gave it 9/10 in our review last year.
Its combat was fast paced and required skill, its lore rather deep (if you went with the Scientist path), and its world filled with colour & character. However, I ended my assessment on an important point – “Providing the same level of quality & regularity continues with its content updates, there will be more than enough reason to stay on Nexus.”The sad truth is that after its first content drop finally went live it became clear that something was up. Content updates were pushed back to focus on fixes and balance issues, and when the much-touted World Story instance did arrive much later than expected it felt incredibly shallow in comparison to what we were expecting.
By December it was clear that large numbers of players had given up, but that didn’t stop Carbine from issuing those fixes and slowly delivering new content for the faithful that stuck with it. Today has finally seen the long awaited Invasion: Nexus patch, adding an arkship-load of content and a huge number of changes (too many to list here, so head over to the official website for details.) However, the monthly subscription fee had ultimately been found wanting, and a year on from its launch it’s clear a change is needed for WildStar. With last month’s reports of retailers sending back their unsold copies of WildStar (and a number of digital retailers no longer selling keys) the winds of change appear to be in the air, so we’re going to look at some of the routes WildStar could take.
For Carbine and NCSOFT, there are a few obvious routes which can be taken. The first is a method already used by Guild Wars 2 and adopted by The Secret World (and more recently The Elder Scrolls Online) – Buy To Play with an optional subscription and a microtransaction store. With Customisation already a large part of WildStar, monetisation wouldn’t be too hard to implement. Limiting costume numbers, plot sizes (or plug durations), along with inventory sizes and XP boosters is an obvious call. With the C.R.E.D.D. system they could keep subscriptions to provide priority access to new content, free boosters, and other account-based perks such as more character slots.
The next business method is that used by Star Wars: The Old Republic – Free to Play with optional subscriptions and microtransaction store. It would use the same monetisation model as the B2P example above, but would allow anyone to download and play. The issue here is that some might see the potential “nerfing” of free accounts (such as slower XP gain, reduced race options, and restrictions such as no mounts) as an aggressive way to encourage subscriptions – after all, many said the same when SWTOR went F2P. Here’s the thing; despite what you may think about SWTOR and / or EA, the truth is that the switch to FTP was the best thing that happened to that game, earning it more success than most realise. Of course, having the Star Wars brand behind it was a big help, but it’s a legitimate option for Carbine to take and show that the game is not only worth playing, but worth paying money for. Even just a little bit.
After all, that’s what this sort of move is all about. There will always be Whales who thrust more money than sense into these things, but as free to play games like PlanetSide 2, League of Legends, and Hearthstone have demonstrated, if a game is fun and the microtransactions don’t affect the core gameplay, people will happily hand over a bit of cash to support the developers.
That’s something I think players will absolutely do if they give WildStar a chance, but with time (and money) being such a precious commodity, a subscription fee turns from being a shield from letting undesirables in to being a stonewall stopping outsiders seeing what the big deal is. Case in point; The Elder Scrolls Online. I never would have considered it with a subscription, but having got a (very cheap) copy before its switch to B2P I have played it recently and found its most recent changes have made a much better game. I don’t play it regularly, but I’ve found it enjoyable enough to return from time to time, so as someone who thinks WildStar is a much better MMO than TESO… well, you get the picture.
So, here we are a year on from WildStar’s release. The Invasion: Nexus patch certainly looks good - adding in new content, cosmetic changes, and much-needed quality of life improvements - but now Carbine and NCSOFT need to allow the world to see that their MMO is worth a shot. They could always do yet another free weekend, but I honestly don’t think it will cut it this time. What we need is for Carbine to tear down that subscription wall, and inject fresh blood into the world of Nexus (not quite unlike some sort of weird Mordesh experiment, the crazy bunch of zombie space elves that they are.) Some fans may feel that even suggestion that the subscription should go is defeatist, but I don't see it that way because I believe that WildStar is a great MMO. All it needs is a second chance to thrive, and that new lease of life begins when the walls of subscription come down.