Critics, current players, former players, people who had briefly heard about the title from friends and family – a lot of people didn’t think that WildStar could keep its subscription model forever. The question, for most observers, was when it would go free-to-play, not whether. But Carbine Studios has remained silent on the subject… until now.
Yes, WildStar is going to be transitioning to a free-to-play model this fall. And we do mean free-to-play, not buy-to-play; you’ll be able to download and play the game without paying a cent, whether you’ve purchased a copy in the past or you have never played a day in your life.
At a recent press event in California, I sat down to talk with product director Mike Donatelli and creative director Chad Moore about the transition, the team’s overall plans, and what it all means for the game’s past, present, and future players.
Moore and Donatelli began by outlining the ways in which the game has changed over the past several months, walking back through the game’s past several patches. Both of them argued that the driving force behind the updates has been how the devs have listened to player feedback and changed course based upon it. It surely won’t be a surprise to many of our readers that one of the most regular pieces of feedback was that the monthly subscription was a major barrier to entry for would-be players.
And that compounded the fact that there was no easy way to show that the game had changed if players weren’t able to join and play seamlessly. With the monthly barrier in place, people had an image in their head of what the game was like, and regardless of whether or not that image matched the reality, that was how people thought of the game. The team was patching up the game, but folks on the outside just weren’t seeing it.
Free-to-play, Donatelli and Moore now say, solves both problems neatly. Players who have stepped away from the game for whatever reason can jump back in and see how things have changed, players who have never played before can judge on their own rather than listening to secondhand opinions, and players who are already happy subscribers can continue to enjoy the same game — only, you know, with a more robust playerbase and loyalty rewards.
You didn’t think they forgot about loyalty rewards, did you? There will totally be loyalty rewards.
Players who have been subscribed from launch to the free-to-play launch will gain a special mount and title, while everyone who subscribes between June 15th and the free-to-play launch in the fall will receive four months of Signature service, a title, a new companion pet, and a new bit of housing decor. In addition, former and current players will be rewarded through the game’s loyalty program; you can find out some of the early details now and keep your eyes peeled for more.
If the free-to-play transition alone isn’t enough to entice you, take heart because autumn will also see another major update for the game, with stats and the new player experience both getting streamlined and overhauled. Players can also look forward to a rebalancing of open-world content and dungeons to fall a little more on the “difficult” side rather than the “hopelessly brutal” side. Oh, and at long last, all Amp slots will be automatically unlocked, which negates that particular barrier to building your character.
If you needed to be told that the game will have a microtransaction currency, you might be a little new to the whole free-to-play routine. Players will be able to purchase Ncoins and use them to purchase outfits, dyes, and other cosmetic items, along with convenience items like XP enhancements. Power will not be sold, Donatelli and Moore insist; you may level faster, but you won’t get extra power for money.
You can also purchase a membership for various perks, but none of those perks includes content access. New players and constant subscribers alike will have complete access to all content in the game, no matter what. Membership means additional character slots, costume slots, decor items, and the like, but it will not mean unique access to content.
We don’t know all of the details about the shift yet, obviously, but we’ll have time to test it all out. Moore and Donatelli told me that the free-to-play shift will land on the game’s test servers first, so players can thoroughly break it ahead of time. The transition is currently slated for sometime this fall, depending upon testing.
It’s a big shift for the game, but is it enough? Is it important? You should keep an eye open for someone who has a bunch to ramble on about regarding this shift later this morning. (Spoiler alert: It’s me.)