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Revenue Model Revealed

William Murphy Posted:
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WildStar Online will not be Free-to-Play. It won’t be Buy-to-Play like Guild Wars 2, either. What does that leave, boys and girls? That’s right, you heard it here first: WildStar will operate via the classic subscription model, with a tasty EVE-like caveat Carbine is calling CREDD.  Last week we caught up with Jeremy Gaffney to chat about the revenue model for WildStar and why Carbine is betting on the subscription model over the new hotness of F2P and microtransactions.

First, let’s laydown the basics for you.  The box for WildStar will cost you the now standard price of $59.99, which gets you 30-days of free game time, and three week-long passes for friends to try the game too.  After that, you’ll have to pay $14.99 a month, or cheaper ($13.99 for three months, $12.99 for six, $10.99 for a year) if you pay for multiple months at a time.  But the big twist that WildStar is throwing into the mix is that you still can play for free... if you’re willing to work for it in-game.  That’s where CREDD comes in.

Not F2P Cash Shop Items.

CREDD stands for Certificate of Research, Exploration, Destruction and Development (cleverly “WildStarified” by the Carbine team).  Basically, players can buy this month-long unit of game time from the WildStarOnline.com website itself, and then turn around and sell it in-game on the Commodities Exchange.  Now the CE isn’t going to behave like some sort of bland Auction House. Think of it instead like a stock exchange.  While Jeremy wasn’t able to comment much on what else will be available on the CE outside of CREDD just yet, here’s the explanation from the game’s official FAQ on how it works:

“The CX is unique in that when a player wants to buy a particular commodity, they will only  be able to buy that commodity at the lowest currently offered price, with no awareness of who’s actually selling it.  Once the stock of that commodity at that price is gone, players will then be able to buy from the available stock at the next lowest price.”

This protects players from manipulation of the market, and allows players who are industrious enough to spend their in-game gold to buy game time and never have to actually pay for a subscription.  Meanwhile, players who want to buy gold won’t have to seek out shady third-party dealers; they can simply buy a $19.99 CREDD (higher than a normal month of game-time, again to help keep the market in control) and sell it on the CE for what Jeremy assumes will be a healthy some of in-game gold. 

I asked Jeremy, since other games have tried this like EVE, and TERA, what exactly struck a chord with Carbine about this model? Mainly, Jeremy believe that having CREDD in the game (PLEX in EVE, Chronoscrolls in TERA), allows for an interesting economy, and takes the notion of Gold Selling out of the spammer’s hands.  This is a safe and secure way for players to make in-game gold, and for players to avoid subscriptions if they’d like. But why not Guild Wars 2’s model, which has recently proven so successful financially for the other big western NCsoft release? To this Jeremy said that it becomes really tricky with a B2P game to walk the line between not stretching development costs too thin while selling the right things in the store, and keeping content coming to the game on a consistent and interesting basis.  He believes ArenaNet does amazingly with this, but that the model isn’t for them. 

The subscription model, with their upcoming content plans for monthly large additions to the game, means that they have a steady stream of development income, and they can easily provide the content to reflect the value players who are paying $15 a month expect. Jeremy and I agreed that often F2P games wind up hitting players over the head repeatedly with “Buy Now!” offers flashing across the screen, and that this takes away from the experience.  It’s funny now that the more traditional subscription model would be seen as the more sophisticated method of paying for your MMO.

This begged the question that a lot of our users point to: F2P games, while improving a great deal in recent years, are often seen as lesser quality than subscription games because of their “bargain sales” and sometimes being known as “Pay to Win” games.  Jeremy said that there are plenty of games that don’t have to resort to these tactics: League of Legends, Dota 2, even Wargaming’s titles have turned a leaf and changed their business model to not screw their customers over. The important part about going F2P or Subscription isn’t the revenue model, says Jeremy, it’s “whether the game’s any good.  Quality speaks louder than cost.” It doesn’t hurt, he added, that with a subscription model, players know they’re not getting part of the game, they’re getting it all.

I asked the Gaffer if he and the rest of Carbine would be paying attention to the soon-to-launch Final Fantasy XIV: A Ream Reborn, since it’s another game that’s sticking with subscriptions in an increasingly F2P market.  His answer? “We’re not watching the competition too closely at all, really.” Why? “Because business model does have an impact, but in general good games do well. And we know what we have is good and worth that value. But more importantly, the elder game needs to be there, all the content needs to be there, the features list needs to be full. If we have those things, and we do, we’ll be fine.”

Jeremy also said that the key to keeping people coming back and paying more is to keep the updates coming.  He believes too many MMOs that had subscriptions and later switched to F2P failed at this.  Updates need to come on a frequent basis and be of a quality that feels like you’re gettng what you pay for.  He pointed to GW2’s biweekly content, and how well it’s done to keep their players coming back.  WildStar won’t be going as ambitious, but their monthly updates will be big meaty story-progressing content that really adds to the world and gives their players a lot to chew.  He reminisced to his days back with Asheron’s Call (from Turbine, the company he co-founded). AC was almost “over-engineered” in Jeremy’s words, because they spent so much time making sure the tools to build content were easy and robust to they could add dungeons quickly.  Players of AC will remember the breakneck pace of content additions, and in AC2 as well.  WildStar is built from the ground up in the same way. That’s why there are systems like Warplots, Housing, Housing Dungeons, and so forth.  He’ll frequently go on travel to attend a convention like PAX for the weekend, and when he comes back the team’s built something massive and epic. He’s confident that with the tools they have in place, they’ll be able to churn out update after update, and keep their subscribers happy.

Lastly, we talked about the dreaded microtransaction, and if WildStar would opt to also have a cash shop.  In short? It won’t, at least not yet. They don’t want to close that door completely, but for now the only thing extra you can buy will be CREDD.  If they add other MTX options, it’ll only be stuff that won’t screw their customers over.  Cosmetic items, convenience things, and so forth.  And with that, I let Jeremy get back to his very busy schedule pre-Gamescom and PAX.  He did have one last thing to mention which is sure to upset more than a few hopeful players: WildStar's 2013 release has been officially pushed back to Spring of 2014.  But the good side of the delay is that this means Carbine is serious about getting everything packed into the launch game, rather than doing so prematurely.

So there you have it, folks. Many of you have speculated, many have hoped for this, and now we have the details.  WildStar Online will be subscription-based.  No shady F2P model here, and no constant barrage of “sales” in some WildStore. What do you think about the news?  Are you happy with WildStar supporting the now endangered subscription model?  Will you buy CREDD?  Let us know in the comments. Now all we need to know are those last two classes... and that pesky release date.

Bill Murphy Bill Murphy is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002. He'll also be playing a Chua in WildStar because crazy little dudes are awesome, that's why. You can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.

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William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.