WildStar, Carbine's massively multiplayer online role-playing game that launched last year with a full-priced box and a monthly subscription fee, is going free-to-play this fall, the developer announced today.
"It's not a decision we came to lightly but after thinking about it for quite a while it seemed like the best path for us as a studio," creative director Chad Moore told PC Gamer. "We wanted to communicate to everyone that there are some things about the way we're going to do free-to-play and what we want to get out of it."
The gist is that Carbine wants more players in the world, and according the developer, existing, paying players want the same. The developer didn't share exactly how many players were actively playing WildStar these days, but said that the free-to-play model will add "millions" more.
Carbine is making several changes to WildStar in order to absorb this influx of new players. It's completely redoing the tutorials for the two factions (the Dominion and Exiles) and improving the starting zones to make early progression smoother, more intuitive, and rewarding. Dungeons will be similarly rebalanced so the early ones are much easier to complete, and with a steadier difficulty curve to endgame content, which is still challenging.
More importantly, it's revamping the AMP system, which is how players customize their class-specific skills. Some of these skills used to be locked behind specific drops. Players told Carbine they didn't like that, so the developer kindly took it out, which should make progression easier for new players too.
Carbine insisted that the decision to go free-to-play wasn't made under pressure.
"Some game companies, I'm not going to name names but some will panic and will have to do this kind of thing," WildStar product director Mike Donatelli told PC Gamer. "We were never in a panic. This is just going to grow the game, it's going to get more players. We're in no rush. We're going to do it right or we're not going to do it all."
Carbine of course promises that the new free-to-play model will not mess with the game's balance, make it "pay-to-win," or hide content behind paywalls. It will introduce a new type of currency, NCoin, which you can buy with real money to use in the in-game store, but Carbine promises that there's nothing you can buy from the store that you can't get for free through play, and that it'll never sell a power advantage.
Instead, the store will offer a variety of cosmetic and convenience items like special mounts, costume pieces, and potions that increase XP, drop-rates, and gold.
Carbine is also introducing a Signature membership program you can pay for like the current monthly subscription, which will get you a steady drip of rewards. If you've been a subscriber since launch through the transition to free-to-play, you'll get an exclusive Ikthian Crawler mount, a few other decorative rewards, and four months of Signature service. If you paid for a shorter period of time you'll get a smaller but similar gift package.
Carbine said that it will share more details about the transition to free-to-play over the next several months, but the general monetization strategies it presented so far seem fair enough. Based on what Carbine said, I trust that the new free-to-play model won't break the game, and if dropping the subscription fee does actually grow WildStar by "millions," existing players will have an easier time finding groups for dungeons, more populated zones, and a better experience overall that is still unique to MMOs.