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Free-to-Play and You

Guest Writer Posted:
Developer Journals 0

Greetings MMORPG.com readers! I’m Mike Donatelli, Product Director for Carbine Studios’ WildStar. We are less than a week away from a major moment in our game’s history as we’ll be switching over to a free-to-play business model on September 29.  The decision to change business models was not a light one, and we put a lot of thought and debate into when, why and how we were going to do it.

We’re all gamers here at Carbine, so we know what players think when they hear free-to-play, “That’s great, but what’s the catch?” While any company—or at least ones that have employees that like living in homes and eating food—has to make money, we’ve worked hard to not have a catch. And we feel confident enough in our plans to share our intentions with free-to-play, what it means to us, and what it means for WildStar.

One of the things we pondered the most was this – how do we make WildStar free-to-play without making it pay-to-win?  It’s honestly a tough question—there are lots of definitions for what “winning” in an MMO means. For this specific question we’ll define winning as mastery of or over whatever’s being beaten, and that mastery will include both tests of time and tests of skill. Virtually everything you’ll do in a game contains aspects of both of these things, and it’s our responsibility to properly distinguish between the two.

To achieve that, we constantly ask ourselves two questions: “Does this allow players to pay to skip a test of skill?” and “Is the test of time such a burden that the players feel obligated to pay to bypass it?”

They’re important questions, because they’re at the core of people’s concerns that a game is pay-to-win. Culturally, the thought that a player can pay to bypass a test of skill means they didn’t earn their success, while the thought of pressuring a player to pay to bypass some extreme test of time feels manipulative—both hurt the core experience of the game. Taking an example from WildStar, let’s look at runes and adding them to gear. Rune slots appear on most high level gear, and offer a way to augment the power of the item by adding additional stats. If we were embracing a pay-to-win philosophy, we’d be monetizing the test of skill—acquiring the gear through successful completion of content—by selling the gear outright. No need to run the dungeons, conquer the raids, or dominate in Arenas—you would just buy your gear with cash. And if we wanted to set unreasonable tests of time we’d just set the requirements to add, re-roll, or clear rune slots so astronomically high that you feel required to pay to sidestep them. Simply put, we aren’t doing either: players are still expected to earn their gear, and while you can use Service Tokens to create the results you want faster, the gold costs are reasonable for an active player.

Sure, we’ll focus a lot of the in-game shop around the obvious cosmetic stuff like mounts, pets, and costumes. However, we also look to provide ways for players to get to the tests of skill quicker, while keeping it fun and fair for all players, including those who don’t want to spend anything at all.

Forever in Your Favor

So how do we do that? We focus on four primary interconnecting systems that allow you to choose how you pay (or not) and play: Signature, Cosmic Rewards, C.R.E.D.D., and OmniBits.

Let’s take a look at three cleverly alliterate characters.

Completely Free Franklin

Franklin plays completely for free. He doesn’t really care about the pay-for cosmetic items, and can buy most anything he may want from the shop just by collecting OmniBits—which are earned over time as he earns experience for his characters, and receives occasionally from the Login Incentives system. He can have full Signature membership access for free by redeeming C.R.E.D.D.—which he purchased with in-game gold from the C.R.E.D.D. Exchange—the redemption of which then awards Cosmic Reward points, unlocking the Cosmic bonuses and rewards. He can even buy himself a sweet Protostar Spider-Rider exclusively available from Madame Fay’s Fortunes, since everything found in the fortune capsules can be traded or auctioned. Without spending anything, he’s hitting each of the core reward systems and enjoying all of the content the game has to offer.

Affluent Audrey

Or there’s the complete opposite like Audrey. She still gets the free login rewards and OmniBits as she plays, but she’s fine buying pretty much everything. She pays for Signature, and also buys anything else she wants off the store with NCoin. She doesn’t always have much time to play so she gets gold by buying C.R.E.D.D. with cash and selling it on the C.R.E.D.D. Exchange to other players, or by selling off her excess items from Madame Fay. She’ll get Cosmic Points any time she buys or spends NCoin in the in-game store, and unlocks the Cosmic Rewards that way. With her limited play time she’s able to cut down some of the time investment, but she still enjoys being tested in the challenging raid content she tackles with her guild.

Pick-and-Choose Patrick

Or be somewhere in-between like Patrick, who chooses to mostly play for free, and then buys a few things here and there when he feels like something’s worth it to him. During the summer he has more time to play, so with the extra gold he buys C.R.E.D.D. off the C.R.E.D.D. Exchange to have Signature access for a while. Here and there he’ll pick up a boost or cosmetic item off the in-game store when it’s appealing to him, or maybe spend a bit at Madam Fay’s. Of course he’s still earning Cosmic Points whenever he redeems C.R.E.D.D., buys or spends NCoin, or buys anything with cash.

Any way you play, it’s up to you to determine what’s worth paying for.

We know there are still going to be some people out there who just don’t trust it until they try it, and that’s absolutely fine—it’s free—try it! We don’t believe that blocking off content, or making the game difficult to play or enjoy without paying is the right way to do things, and we’ve set out to try to make this the kind of free-to-play system that we’d like using. We hope you do too, and we encourage you to give it a shot and let us know what you think.

See you on Nexus on September 29!


Guest Writer