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Free-to-play is not a magic bullet, says Wildstar producer

Monday, 23rd September 2013 16:17 GMT By Sherif Saed

Contrary to what seems to be the norm for MMO launches these days, Wildstar producer Jeremy Gaffney of Carbine Studios doesn’t believe that going free-to-play is the answer.

Gaffney recently spoke with PCGamesN about the best way for Carbine to monetize its upcoming MMORPG, Wildstar, and why he thinks free-to-play is not the answer.

“There’s variability as a player because you don’t know if you’re going to get sucked in and pay $1,000 a month, because some people do. As a publisher it’s a juggling act because most the games I’ve seen end up devolving to the point that one or 2% of the players are paying $100 or more a month and they’re actually funding most of the free players, which can be up to 70 – 80% playing completely for free.

“As a publisher [that variability] can be distracting because when you’re making money you never know when that’s going to go away. As a player it’s distracting because generally you have a very different experience if you’re playing for free – and if not, then why the hell pay?” he added.

Citing City of Heroes’ smaller user base; a subscription-based MMO which he produced, versus Guild Wars; which is not, as an example.

Gaffney said, “Different games with different business models work in a very different fashion, If you look at City of Heroes compared to Guild Wars, it looks like City of Heroes is a smaller game.

“And it is, fewer people play City of Heroes, they peaked out at – I don’t know the numbers – something like 200,000. But 200,000 subscribers paying $15 a month, if you do the math, that makes about as much money as selling 6 million boxes [Guild Wars], if they last long enough.”

Wildstar will be a subscription-based MMO, but with some free-to-play elements. The game will be using a system similar to EVE Online’s PLEX, dubbed CREDD (Certificate of Research, Exploration, Destruction and Development).

Are you a free-to-play or subscription only advocate?

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17 Comments

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  1. Hcw87

    Exactly right, Buy to Play should be the norm these days.

    Completely free to play games tank a few weeks after release, and releasing sub based games now (FFXIV) will never work out.

    #1 10 months ago
  2. Sylrissa

    @1 seems to be working out wonderfully for FFXIV so far, but then it’s only been a month.

    On the subject of MMOs, I don’t care if it’s sub based, F2P or B2P, a good game will hold me attention and I’ll be happy to keep paying, while a bad one won’t.

    #2 10 months ago
  3. viralshag

    For me it depends on the game. I’ve recently played and maxed out a character on Star Trek Online and I thought their model is great. I barely noticed any restrictions and enjoyed most of what the game has to offer without getting the wallet out.

    Of course I did actually pay for some items but when the experience plays like that I really don’t mind spending a bit. Offer a good free experience and people will be willing to spend money.

    From a business side I think B2P with MTs is probably one of the safer options. You recoup some money from the start and you will probably get a few initial F2P spenders.

    F2P with MTs I imagine, is a bit riskier as you either need the game to be good enough to make people want to pay for anything and keep on paying for it.

    Like #2 said, if it’s good I will pay and probably pay too.

    #3 10 months ago
  4. Hcw87

    If you’re going to release a sub-based game, you need to have the servers to support it. Hopefully Wildstar won’t have such a messy launch as FFXIV.

    #4 10 months ago
  5. TheWulf

    Huh, #1 and I agree on something. I was beginning to wonder if there was some kind of matter/anti-matter situation going on, there. Or maybe I’m just a contrarian bastard who doesn’t think like normal people most of the time.

    Anyway, I don’t think that subscription models really help anything, since you have to incentivise people to stay month after month. That usually means more padding, more grinding, and less fun. What I crave are MMOs that can accept that they won’t last a year — even if they only last me a month, so long as they’re really fun I’ll come back and play them again one day. Just as I tend to do with Champions Online.

    #5 10 months ago
  6. GrimRita

    We will see in 6 months if he will be eating his own words. People will pay a sub if they see VALUE. Value being the key word. But if like SWTOR, they see a design nightmare, lacking in creativity, depth and has zero end game, going F2P is the only way the bad can make a quick buck.

    I hope Wildstar finally fills that MMO void by actually offering something different instead of being all hot air and yet another WoW clone

    #6 10 months ago
  7. viralshag

    @5, FFXIV launch was quite terrible. I haven’t really gone back to it. Combat in that game, up to level 20 at least, is slow as hell and I’m really struggling with enjoying it.

    @7, I’m still playing TOR and I think the ridiculous F2P restrictions aside, it’s still a good game.

    #7 10 months ago
  8. GrimRita

    @8 I bring myself to the value point. Players dont see value in paying a £9 a month sub, if they did, millions wouldn’t have left as quickly as they did.

    And even as a so called F2P, the server numbers are dropping again as people probably wait for the crappy 2.4 update – 18 months without anything new for pvp is a joke.

    I wonder how many more paying subscriptions an MMO would get if they placed their pricing around £5 a month? As TOR stands now, I would pay £5 a month but £9? Not a chance

    #8 10 months ago
  9. viralshag

    @9, But what does dropped sub numbers really mean in this day and age of MMOs? What games have come out where that doesn’t happen? GW2 was B2P and that experienced a big player drop too and sold just a little more than TOR over time.

    I think most new subscription based games will struggle to retain more than 50% of their initial base as you can get through quite a lot in a month and move on. I just don’t think the majority of MMO players are in it for the long haul anymore and would rather blitz a load of content in the free month and then move on to another game.

    #9 10 months ago
  10. Blackened Halo

    a free-to-play model is a root of all evil !

    #10 10 months ago
  11. DSB

    I have a really hard time figuring it out. F2P is safe and moderately profitable. B2P is somewhat riskier and less profitable. Subscriptions have been dominated by WoW since 2004. And that’s obviously a license to print your own money.

    But doesn’t WoW also prove that there is indeed a market for it? WoW is a shadow of itself (at least it was when I left) and yet it still has millions playing.

    Surely that’s a market worth having a go at. I don’t think Wildstar is barking up the wrong tree there. It’s ambitious, but that’s something I like.

    But then I have my own preference which might make me biased. I’d much, much rather pay a sub and not be hassled than I’d pay one time, or not pay at all, and constantly be faced with a paywall of some sort.

    For me it just isn’t half as attractive to be playing through a virtual storefront.

    And I also think there’s a common denominator among the also-rans, which is that none of them were as good as WoW. Few actually tried to do anything like it.

    #11 10 months ago
  12. Unknown_Gamer

    Poor producer , trying hard to justify his business model for his game to avoid the amount of disappointments from players trust me if you still sticking on subscription fee model with this game don’t be surprised if most of your loyal players give you their backs With the passage of time , its your own fault
    Your game cause the delay of Blade & Soul and i and many players like me will never forgive you and your team for that .

    #12 10 months ago
  13. GrimRita

    @10 I think the reason for that is simple. The last batch of MMOs have all been WOW clones in some way shape or form, with something ‘else’ added to try and be different.

    Players are BORED of the stale WOW formula – the fact even WOW is seeing huge drops proves that players are just bored of this linear cookie cutter MMO experience.

    Developers really shoot themselves in the foot by making a themepark MMO because the pressure is on them to churn out regular content, which can cost pots of money and time.

    Star Wars Galaxies had it the mix right by letting players get on with it, then by throwing in live events (anyone remember 10k Sand People raiding Bestine?!) – then came the ability for players to use in game tools to create their own story and adventures.

    The devs at Wildstar can vent all they want about how they made their decision to be a subs based MMO, which will simply bit them on the arse 6 months after launch because it looks like yet another theme park MMO with another element added.

    #13 10 months ago
  14. orren

    I prefer, subscription, for the following reason.

    The cash cost is, for me, negligible compared to the ‘my free time’ cost. The latter is much more valuable currency i spend while playing. Therefore, i want to spend it on quality entertainment. And that means not being nagged every ten steps about ‘buy this bonus’ or ‘but that shiny’ or ‘your reward for this quest could be SO much greater if you only…’.

    Screw that. If the game is not fun, i will not play it, sub or not. If it IS fun, if it is worth my free time, then it also is worth the negligible(50 cents a day? bah) money cost.

    #14 10 months ago
  15. Andrew C.

    @13: You are right about Blade and Soul. It’s such a wonderful game and contrary to their words I think it started the enthusiasm of many MMO gamers.

    I will never understand these NCSOFT guys: you have a game (Blade and Soul) that is seen as a potential success (see China or Koreea, where it’s released), and you’re focusing on a MMO clone!? Let’s face it: it’s a damn clone with different resources. It seems that every MMO developer is trying to copy WOW’s mechanics and it will fail and go F2P in a few months when they’ll realize that it’s not working. Later they’ll come with excuses, etc, etc, etc. AION is the best example from them.

    I will never give Wildstar a GO just because it looks like every other B2P model released and I’m pretty sure I’ll be bored after 1 month.

    #15 10 months ago
  16. TheWulf

    @14

    I couldn’t agree more. That’s why the MMO that sits firmly at #1 in my interests right now is Everquest Next. WildStar has a meagre interest, somewhere down at 20 or so, but I’ll only even dip my feet in if there’s no subscription. If they bother with a subscription, I won’t even look at it. I just want to see whether my initial suspicions about it are right, mostly. That’s what I want from that.

    With Everquest Next, though? It’s such a different approach. I can’t wait to get my mitts on Landmark because I do like making things! It’s a very different system to the vast majorities of MMOs and it seems to share the biggest similarities with the mechanics of The Secret World and Ultima Online. Those are two entities that, as far as gameplay mechanics go, I wouldn’t mind future developers being inspired by.

    It’s funny, the painfully bad conspiracy writing kept me from The Secret World initially. It wasn’t until it went buy to play that I even looked at it. And this was mostly at a friend’s behest. Funnily enough, it didn’t turn out that bad, and most of the writing I was afraid of seemed to be contained largely within the Illuminati. Of course, I did try the Illuminati a bit, but I was too distracted by constant facepalming to actually enjoy that. The Templars seemed more reasonable in regards to the setting and the writing, so I quite enjoyed that.

    So, yeah, I would never have known that the Templars were enjoyable if not for buy to play. And what I’ve taken away from The Secret World is that I love its system of not having levels. I’m sick of levels, honestly. It means that my friend and I, whilst playing it, don’t have to worry about grinding or a gap occurring between us. It’s been the easiest MMO to actually sit down and play that I’ve ever played.

    So Everquest Next is taking mechanics from The Secret World? Okay, do that.

    I won’t lie, though. That EQ:N has bloody awesome-looking kerra helps too. Oh, and tail flaps! That was one thing I’ve hated about every MMO that has beast races, only EQ2 seemed to actually understand how to do that right. Tailflaps are important as a design aesthetic if you’re going to include beast races. WoW’s beast races look like they’re wearing a furry butt-plug that magically phases through their armour.

    Bleargh.

    So on top of EQ:N having a progression system like The Secret World’s, it also seems to share things in common with Ultima Online in that it’s non-linear and that players can actually make things. I think I’m ready for that sort of game, now, so long as it has some decent writing involved because otherwise there’s no point in me playing EQN as opposed to, say, Garry’s Mod, Minecraft, or Terraria.

    And the voxel-based destruction and construction is glorious. I want me some of that.

    So I’m horribly excited for EQ:N. That’s in my #1 spot right now.

    Edit: I genuinely apologise for this, but since I touched upon it above I have to explain why the kerra are so much better than the vast majority of beast races I’ve seen.

    Here’s a blank tauren model, extracted directly from WoW. Look at that and see if you can tell me what the problem is, yeah? If you can’t, it is this — the tail goes into to the butt. WoW tails are butt-plugs. Tails should absolutely not look like butt-plugs!

    Compare with the kerra above, whose tail drapes down from the spine.

    Ffff. This is such a pet peeve for me, so seeing someone get this right from the outset is actually refreshing.

    (For the record, werewolf and furry artists make this mistake a lot too and it drives me crazy. In fact, in a ‘How to draw Marvel’ book from the ’80s, one artist was driven so nuts by this that he stressed five different times that Nightcrawler’s tail is an extension of his spine, and it does not come out from his butt.)

    #16 10 months ago
  17. Vice

    Sure why not cash in at the start for few months.

    #17 10 months ago