Subscriptions Are Alright By Me
On Monday morning, our Editor in Chief William Murphy was finally given the green light by Carbine to tell the internet the big secret he had been let in on: the monetization model for WildStar. Twenty-four hours after MMORPG.com broke the news that WildStar would have a MSRP of 59.99 USD and require a subscription (we will talk more about the CREDD later) there were over 380 comments and 100,000 pageviews on the article. Needless to say, this was about as hot a topic as that time when we all wondered where Mary-Kate and Ashley were going to attend college. In case you forgot, it was NYU.
Editor's Note: Rob wrote this article before the ESO announcement of also having a subscription model in place.
Let’s just get this out of the way: I have hated and will always hate the term free to play (F2P). I think is deceptively misleading and that the only people who should use it are marketers trying to sell you on a game. Remember when your parents told you that nothing in life was free? They were right. This includes video games. It may not cost you money to download the game and install it on your machine, but it most certainly has an opportunity cost. That opportunity cost is whatever else you could be doing with your time. For some of you it might be spent constructively putting in a few more hours of overtime at the factory. For others it could be playing a higher quality game.
For some of the parents out there it might be just getting a few more hours of sleep that you desperately need. In addition, if you live in an area that sells you an internet connection based upon bandwidth usage you also bear that cost. Bottom line, they all cost you something. I, along with a growing number of people, prefer to call them microtransaction-based games. I believe this is more honest. The companies want your money and this is how they plan on getting it. Now the only question is how to abbreviate it? MTX, MTP, UTP, μTB? I prefer the latter but that Greek letter “mu” is a pain in the butt on a standard keyboard.
There are a plethora of games with different types of microtransactions, all aiming to get their hands into your pockets. A number of SOE games will allow you to download the base game for free but then charge you for the newest expansions. Also if you want to wear the high end gear you are going to have to pay a premium subscription. In addition there are a number of items available in their cash shops. Depending on the game they can range from purely cosmetic and convenience, to allowing you to craft more powerful gear.
Turbine also has a very similar model. You can download their clients for free but if you want to take part in the newest expansions you are going to have to buy them. Also there are content packs that have quest clusters in them. A lot of those have to be purchased separately. You could theoretically quest for hours on end and earn turbine points to spend in their store to unlock everything you want; however, I do not think there are mathematically enough hours in the day to unlock it all at said rate. They want you to spend money in these stores, and they should. This is a business with a lot of money and people’s livelihoods at stake.
Personally I am a fan of the buy to play (B2P) concept. I think ArenaNet really struck gold with the way they have monetized Guild Wars 2, and their box sales are proving it. I feel like I received my money’s worth with the box fee. I spent plenty of time with GW2 and I do not feel obligated to ever play it again. No buyer’s remorse here. As a bonus if they ever add in a content update that I want to try out I can hop back in, check it out, and not incur any fees. I do not feel compelled to spend money on their cash shop either, which is good because I’m not a fan of the chests and casino items it often contains. I do not like Neverwinter’s Zen Store either. If you are going to sell cosmetic items in a cash shop just sell the item outright. Do not sell keys for lockboxes that have a chance to contain the item players want. If I wanted to play the lottery or go gamble I would go to a casino or a convenience store. All these devices are is a way for the developers to bleed a little bit more out of their players. I have written about this before while talking about Neverwinter's duplication debacle, but needless to say the developers have every right to do what they will with their game and I have every right to refer to such tactics as a scam.
And now we have taken a long and winding path back to WildStar. WildStar is going back to the old school subscription model of MMOs from yester year. Interestingly enough, another big AAA MMORPG due out this month, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, is also subscription based, but only has an MSRP of 29.99 USD For the PC, and 39.99 USD for the PS3. I recently questioned whether or not I thought it was a smart move on Square Enix’ part to pick a subscription model with all the μTB based and B2P games out there and was met head on by a zealous fan base that seems more than willing to pay the subscription. Bill asked Jeremy Gaffney if they planned on paying attention to the success of FFXIV:ARR and their subscription model, this is what Jeremy had to say:
“We’re not watching the competition at all, really…. Because a 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.”
“Those things” that are projected are substantial monthly content updates. I believe Mr. Gaffney has attempted to put WildStar in a league of its own with that statement. They will also sell something they’re calling CREDD for 19.99 USD. This is a lot like the PLEX system in EVE or the Kronos system in EverQuest and EverQuest II. You can buy CREDD from Carbine and sell it in the game for game currency. CREDD is worth 30 days of subscription time. If players choose to they can farm gold and buy CREDD and never have to spend a dime on a subscription. This is also supposed to cut down on gold farmers. Even with a system like this, farmers still exist but it does help suppress the problem.
I say we should stand back, watch, and support Carbine if they succeed. Far too many comments yesterday on this site and across social media were, “I’ll wait until it goes free to play.” My question to you is why? If a game is not worth paying for is it really worth playing at all? You cannot argue that a month’s worth of game time is not worth 15 USD. On average a single ticket for a movie at the theater in the States is 15 USD and you only get two to three hours of entertainment out of it (unless it is a Peter Jackson film, then you might get four). If you legitimately cannot afford to spend 15 USD a month to play your favorite MMO then you have bigger problems to worry about and should take this new found free time to address them.
Some of the replies were just out of a sense of entitlement. Who told you that just because you were born on the planet Earth you are entitled to every MMORPG out there for free? They lied. Now before you start looking for where I live with torches and pitchforks at the ready, I’m not just some honk for WildStar. I am not advocating for you to throw your money at any developer recklessly. What I am suggesting is that you put aside the mob mentality, stand back, and take a critical look at the game and judge it for yourself. There is a reason that all of these business models exist, and each has its place in the MMO ecosphere. Do you want another disposable μTB game that you will play for less than a month and then move on?
I hope that WildStar and Final Fantasy XIV:ARR can succeed where others have failed. I want to play a subscription-based game again. Not because I am looking forward to parting with the extra money each month but because I am tired of the endless MMO hopping. I’m tired of the barriers erected requiring you to pay to play in a supposedly “free” world. In any μTB there is always some kind of transaction flashing in front of my face. I do not want to put up with it anymore. I want developers to create worlds that call to us. Worlds that keep us engaged because they are fleshed out and ever-evolving. I would rather complete a well-designed quest that rewards me with a cool looking set of armor than buy it on the store. It is more rewarding. I will gladly pay 15 USD a month to spend my time in this kind of world. When that time has passed and the game has grown stale, I’ll eventually move along to the next virtual world or just spend my time in the real one.
Robert Lashley / Robert Lashley is a Staff Writer and Online host for MMORPG.com and RTSGuru.com. Rob's bald and when he isn't blinding people from the glare on his head talking in front of a camera you can chase him down on twitter @Grakulen