I failed again at promoting the podcast, so let’s all assume that this counts. When you’re done reading here, if you haven’t already, go check out this week’s Cat Context podcast, in which we talked about EQ Next, and probably some other stuff that I can’t remember. We’re recording again this weekend, and then the following week we will do something live from PAX! Please leave us comments, ratings, and whatever other kind of feedback you want.
So, yesterday, Wildstar finally announced what sort of payment scheme it would be using when it eventually goes live (sometime next spring, which was neatly hidden in the same announcement), and it appears to a not-entirely-unique take on the “standard” subscription model. That is to say, it will require an active subscription to play each month, but you can pay for that subscription in one of two ways – first, you know, with actual money (and hooray for this!); and then secondly, with a tradeable in-game currency called C.R.E.D.D. (I will endeavor to never actually put the periods in that, again). CREDD can be purchased from their online store for the equivalent of a month’s subscription, traded around in-game (probably primarily for game money), and eventually be redeemed back in the store for a month’s worth of subscription.
As I am understanding it, this is exactly the same thing that EVE currently – and really the only part of that game that holds any interest for me. It’s also pretty similar to what Rift has done with their REX currency (although Rift has the whole free-to-play aspect, and a subscription doesn’t really get you very much). And if this is the case, then queue the Macklemore music:
This is fucking awesome…
I’ve definitely talked before about my preference for subscription models over F2P – I’m not going to go back over it here – but suffice to say that I have a pretty strong preference for paying one price and getting access to all the content. It obviously remains to be seen just how hard it will be to earn enough Ollars to buy a CREDD, but I think it’s a really smart move. Besides the fact that it means a more predictable, steady stream of income for Carbine/NCSoft, it means that people are actually going to be encouraged to play the game, since they are paying for it. And, if they want to be able to keep playing it? They have to play the game. I’m not even sure if this is able to be said enough, because the fastest way to kill an MMO is to have a bunch of players signed up, but not actually having them signed in and actively playing.
CREDD-style subscriptions (well, really just subscriptions in general) are awesome because you know that everyone who is playing is actually contributing to your well-being as a company. As a player, you know the same thing, which lends some level of investment in both the game AND your fellow players. Accounts are that much less disposable, and your actions in-game matter that much more. CREDD means that it’s that much easier to pool some resources and help a friend out through a rough financial patch, or to gift a friend a month or two of subscription. It also means that, if you want, you can dedicate yourself to in-game economical fun-times and be able to play mostly for free. Or, if you’re like me, just buy a CREDD here and there with your extra in-game cash and get a “free” subscription month every so often. Theoretically, it limits the need for sketchy gold-farming operations to exist, because it gives a more legitimate path to convert RL-cash into CREDD into in-game cash. (Note: this is not a practice that I love, but when it basically happens anyway, it might as well be done in the open.)
All-in-all, this is a positive announcement for me. I’m already cautiously optimistic about my ability to enjoy Wildstar – moreso than I am about, say, Everquest Next – so this just adds to that. I’d been feeling somewhat resigned to the fact that I’d have to start participating in more F2P games over the next year (and I probably still will), but I hope that this catches on, because I think there are a lot of benefits that come with actually having a paying customer base.
Too bad we’re also waiting another six months or so.
Actually, it’s not good news. RIFT is apparently going free-to-play this summer. I’m pretty sure that this sucks. I feel like I’ve talked about subscriptions and F2P a lot, in general, but I find it even more frustrating when a) it’s a game that designers have said many times is not going to go F2P, b) has been championed for its subscription -> rapid content updates service model, and c) that I still have 213 days worth of prepaid time for.
I think the last bit is the one that frustrates me the most. It’s not that I’m upset with having given Trion my money – the choice I made to purchase a year’s subscription along with Storm Legion is one that I’m still reasonably happy with (despite not having actively played RIFT very much in the last couple months) – it’s that the thing that I paid for is being swept out from under me. Given that the developers have said that they have been actively investigating F2P conversion for more than a year, it is clear that they made the pay-for-a-year option available knowing full well that some part of that year would probably fall under the F2P umbrella. I don’t know whether I still would have gone for it, or not, but it feels like the negotiation is made in bad faith when one side is holding out on pertinent information (sidenote: Apple does this same sort of thing a lot, by being extremely tight-lipped about product launch schedules. Informed consumers can make decent inferences from past behavior, but lots of people still end up buying a new computer in the week or two prior to product launches.).
Now, Trion is doing that thing where they convert all of the subscriptions into “Patron” accounts – giving them perks like trainer-summoning and extra storage space or whatever – but that is a very different type of service from what those of us who paid for subscriptions were committing to (i.e. access). Trion is also introducing things like purchasable raid gear which sounds like a truckload of landmines. Theoretically, it’s only going to be the not-top-most gear, and only things that are otherwise obtainable in game, but man does this seem like a good way to destroy any sort of reasonable progression structure. Who knows though, I’ve been in a position before where I really wanted a viable catch-up option (say, to join a more progressed guild).
I’m way more worried about the social implications. Will people still be interested in running tiers-behind raids at the end of an expansion, like I was doing, when there are more direct shortcut methods to gear? If I join up with a new guild that happens to be ahead of where my old guild was in progression, will I be expected to drop $40 on a complete set of cash shop gear? Or maybe just $5 here and there to fill in holes when the boss doesn’t drop my shoes for 6 months?
Two other things they are adding are pretty standard cash-shop fare: xp/token boosts and cosmetic items. I’d like to go on record here and now that XP boosts, in particular, are a complete fucking travesty of game design. To me, they indicate that you have failed to build a game that people actually want to play – if people are willing to give you money to not play your game (or to “have” to play it less), then you should probably reevaluate the game systems. And yes, I absolutely realize that for some portion of the population in any given MMO, the “max-level experience” is all that they are really after. In fact, I’ve played with that mindset at various times. But the thing is, if you want to provide end-game-only players an opportunity to ignore the part of the game they aren’t interested in (and think that this is actually a good idea, which I doubt), then why not let them ignore the part of the game they aren’t interested in? Why not just sell them a max-level character, complete with some standard of gear that lets them actually complete whatever tier of content they want? Why even force them to bother with the leveling experience at all?
And, as a more casual player, still working through the available questing content, why would I be happy about getting some XP boosts that make me miss out on cool quests and exploration time that much faster? If I don’t have a group waiting for me, then all I have to look forward to is tooling around town waiting for an instance queue – and I’m not especially keen to get to that place faster than intended. Same thing if I am leveling up with a friend. If one of us happens to get XP boosts, and the other doesn’t, then all it does is break our ability to play at the same level. Sure, I can “just not use them”, but then I’m actively throwing away part of what my money is paying for.
I just… really, really hate XP boosting items. If you want people to experience a leveling curve and area storylines and things like that, it seems important to understand approximately how quickly a character will move through a zone. Blizzard got this completely wrong when they introduced heirlooms and refer-a-friend bonuses, and they made it so very much worse when they redid all the leveling zones in Cataclysm. Even when doing my best to avoid rest experience, I couldn’t finish an area without quests going grey on me. And, again, I could just not care about that (and tried not to), but that doesn’t meant that it isn’t completely terrible tuning.
And quickly, on cosmetic items. I’m typically glad when there are more cosmetic items available. I love customizing characters and giving them personality. I even just like collecting bags full of weird robes or hats to show off for 5 minutes and then put away. MMOs typically offer a lot of opportunity to collect things – and, more importantly, show them off a bit. So sticking the vast majority of “cool” items behind a pay wall is sort of getting old. Hopefully, they’ll end up similar to the costume items in Defiance – where the models aren’t unique, but the colors are – but I think that will be hard with the (totally awesome) dying mechanics in RIFT.