The classic model for the MMORPG (massively multiplayer roleplaying game) was to get customers to pay for a boxed product, and then sign up for a monthly subscription fee. Increasingly, this has become harder to sustain as more and more MMORPGs became free to download and play, making their revenues from sale of in-game items. A number of games have made the change from paid to free-to-play, and the latest is NCSoft’s WildStar. NCSoft and developer Carbine Studios have announced that WildStar will become free-to-play this fall.
“At the beginning of 2015, we outlined key points of focus for WildStar to help make this great game even better, focusing heavily on player feedback and bringing meaningful changes,” said Mike Donatelli, product director, Carbine Studios. “We continue to deliver on those points and feel strongly that removing the subscription cost will give everyone who loves MMOs, or just wants to have an incredible gaming experience, a chance to try WildStar.”
Over the next several months, the studio will share more details about how this transition will impact current and future players along with more detail on the significant improvements coming to the game. Mike Donatelli, product director for WildStar, shared some thoughts with [a]listdaily about this transition and how it’s being carried out.
What led to the decision to move WildStar from a subscription model to a free-to-play game?
Back in January of this year, I laid out in an address to the company my three major goals for the year. One being that we would focus on player feedback and cultivate players and make sure we were making the game more fun. Second, update the game with different types of players in mind — we wanted to make sure that people who liked crafting and short session gameplay were being handled. Finally, that we would keep growing the game, and that we’re vested in making WildStar a better game, and that we’re going to keep growing the game.
Part of may address was talking about growing the game, and the best possible way for us to grow the game and drive millions more people into it is to going free-to-play. We are going to remove the box price, we are going to remove the subscription price, and just let players get the game and play.
It’s not easy, going from a game where you charged for the box and charged a subscription to a free-to-play game. How did you prepare to make this transition?
It wasn’t a decision that we jumped into lightly. There were some really important things for us as a studio that we wanted to set in place before we did this transition. We want to communicate those to our existing community. One, Carbine and NCSoft have been very committed to making WildStar a great game, a AAA game, and that commitment is going to continue in the future as we go free-to-play. The second part, which is probably the most important part, is that all of the areas in our game, all of those pieces of content, will be available to all of our different kinds of players. We will not hide content behind pay walls. We want to make sure players understand that WildStar is for everyone. Third, for those players who are currently paying a subscription, we are developing what we call a Signature Membership, so if they want to continue to pay a subscription — a membership fee, which is what it will be called in the fall — they will get additional bonuses and rewards for being part of the Signature Membership program.
What sort of in-game purchases will you have?
Since we’re going to go free-to-play, we’re going to sell things. We’re going to use a currency we call Carbine coins that players can use to buy cosmetic or convenience items. We also have sweat currency we call Omnibits, which just means that a player during his normal game play can earn Omnibits and but the same kind of cosmetic or convenience items. It just allows players who want to play free-to-play to actually be able to progress as well. We will not sell power.
Why should players be excited about this news?
The biggest reason is us taking out all these obstacles, we think it’s going to have the effect of millions of people coming in to WildStar. If you read any of the forums, there’s just a huge percentage of players out there who, for whatever reason, didn’t jump into WildStar for the last year. A lot of those players said “I would totally play WildStar but I don’t want to pay for the box” or “I don’t want to pay a monthly subscription fee.”
Having a huge influx of players makes the game better for everyone. Queue times are decreased significantly, group content is easier to achieve, there’s just a great feeling of running around a zone with lots of people. It’s a great experience.
Why should new players be excited WildStar was the highest-reviewed MMO of 2014 according to Metacritic, it is a way better game now than it was even then, and they should be excited there are no barriers to them getting in and trying it. Also, a reason that all the players should be excited is this isn’t just the transition that’s happening in the fall. We are making massive adjustments to the overall game experience. We’ve completely revamped the tutorial in the early game so onboarding is smooth and compelling.
What will you do for existing players who’ve been paying a subscription fee for months?
We’ve added this loyalty program for former players. Players who’ve been with us since the beginning, all the way from launch until now, they have so much loyalty built up that the stuff they can get from the plan is crazy. But even if you tried it for three months and you want to come back, you’ll have three months of built-in loyalty with lots of points to spend.
Anyone who continues to be a subscriber from the day we announce this through the transition, there will also be special awards for those players. We love our loyal players, they’ve helped us get to this point, and we want to make sure they get rewarded.