When I was sick a few weeks back, I was considering writing a piece about how subscription models were cool beans. Then I found out that quite a number of folks on MMORPG.com had the same idea back then due to WildStar, The Elder Scrolls Online, and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. I shelved the potential piece in order to focus on getting better, then came out with more timely content after I recovered.
I'm revisiting the topic of subscriptions now because I kind of changed my mind. While I still think subscriptions are great, I have to qualify that a bit. Subscriptions are great, so long as a game can justify having a subscription. MODIFICATIONS to the subscription model are also great, so long as people are happy to buy into the model and price points you're offering. That said, I'm hesitant to put a seal of approval on WildStar's announced money-making model because there doesn't seem to be any justification for introducing the CREDD model of subscription at this point in time.
CREDD and Subs
Here's the situation for those who haven't heard of it. According to current news reports, WildStar has a box price of $60, which provides the game and 30 days of game time, as well as three buddy passes for your friends to try the game for a week.
A standard subscription make-up is available, with monthly $14.99 increments, or three-month, 6-month and yearly increments that have a higher upfront cost, but would generally cost you less than if you paid the per-month pricing.
The added wrinkle is a system known as CREDD: The Certificate of Research, Exploration, Destruction, and Development. This is slightly higher-priced tradable subscriptions, which can be purchased from the WildStar website, then either redeemed or sold in-game on the game's Commodities Exchange (CX).
By my understanding, the CX is a sort of Guild Wars 2-like stock exchange-slash-blind auction. You can only buy CREDD from the CX at the lowest currently offered price, with that price going up as lower-priced CREDD is sold and higher-priced CREDD remains on the CX.
The running idea, as far as I can tell, is that people can barter in-game goods for the currency required to buy CREDD. This also means folks with some extra cash can pay $19.99 for a subscription that they'll trade for in-game currency on the CX, provided they're savvy enough about selling it and are willing to wait a bit for cheaper CREDD to disappear from the market.
This brought two questions to mind for me. The first was, "When did other games bring tradable subscriptions into the economy of their game worlds?" The second question was, "Can WildStar's content justify CREDD sales?"
The KronoPLEX Discussion
Off the top of my head, three games had tradable subscriptions. EVE had the Pilot License Extension, or PLEX. Evequest II got Krono, then Everquest got Krono afterwards. I heard TERA also had some kind of tradable subscription, but I'm region-locked from playing the game due to my geographic location, so I'll focus on EVE and the two EQs.
According to my research, PLEX was introduced in November 2008, following the Quantum Rise expansion. It was meant to replace the EVE Game Time Code, or ETC. While some places still sell ETC, PLEX was the attempt to basically make it easy to trade subscriptions for money, all while adding another element of risk in a game where strong economics also allowed for greater in-game power. Since you could basically transport PLEX as an item and sell it, people could also kill you and steal the PLEX you were carrying.
In its current state, PLEX can also be used to purchase game services, such as Character Transfers and Resculpts, as well as Dual Character Training capabilities. PLEX can also be converted into another currency, Aurum, which is used to buy cosmetic stuff from the Noble Exchange.
EVE Online came to life on May 6, 2003, which means they added the PLEX system more than five years after EVE was born. In the case of the two Everquests, the original Everquest MMO came out on March 16, 1999 and Everquest II came out November 4, 2004. Kronos looks to have been introduced in EQ2 first sometime in late 2012, while Krono in Everquest came out in 2013.
The kicker for Krono was that you could buy up to 25 Krono in a day, choose whether to trade it on EQ or EQ2, and only when it actually goes onto the Broker in either game or is sold or traded to someone in either game does it become a permanent fixture of that game till it is redeemed.
For added value, the EQ2 FAQ for Krono notes that if you had an All Access membership to Sony Online Entertainment games and redeemed a Krono, you basically got 30 days of game time added to your All Access membership, allowing you the benefits of a subscription on all applicable SOE games.
In these three games, the tradable subscription was of immense value to a long-standing game with a mostly robust economy. PLEX is advertised as a sort of high-value strategic commodity with metagaming implications. Gamehoppers who enjoy SOE games can turn one all-access membership payment into a long-standing subscription to everything SOE provided they can keep paying for Krono with in-game currency.
The question is, thus, what reason has anyone to go into a WildStar CX to trade CREDD when there's no assurance of the game's longevity, quality, or amount of stuff to do when you can pay less for a subscription to the game or get more game value from a different game (or games) for less? In case you didn't check out that Krono FAQ I linked earlier... Krono sells for, at most, $17.99.
On paper, I like that the WildStar team has taken the initiative to make the system available for its game. That said, WildStar has to have something particularly potent gameplay-wise that allows for long-term investment in the game, the game world, and its economy.
Otherwise, CREDD may very well end up being like FFXI's Moblin Maze Mongers: a wonderful idea that was overshadowed by other offerings.
Victor Barreiro Jr. / Victor Barreiro Jr. maintains The Devil’s Advocate and ArcheAge columns for MMORPG.com. He also writes for news website Rappler as a technology reporter. You can find more of his writings on Games and Geekery and on Twitter at @vbarreirojr.