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Wildstar Begins its Inevitable Shift to Free-to-Play

Carbine Studios' MMO is changing from the subscription-only model it launched with last year.

This article first appeared on USgamer, a partner publication of VG247. Some content, such as this article, has been migrated to VG247 for posterity after USgamer's closure - but it has not been edited or further vetted by the VG247 team.

Wildstar, the action MMO from Carbine Studios and NCSoft, is shifting over to a free-to-play business model today. Any players that have stuck with a game until now get shifted over to Signature service, gaining Loyalty Points for the original price of the game and the time they spent subscribed. Depending on how long you've been subscribed, you may be eligible for an exclusive Ikthian Crawler mount, a DJ Caretaker housing decor item, a Disco Snoglug companion pet, a new housing music track, four months of Signature service, and two new in-game titles: "Living Legend" and "Nexus Loyalist".

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In addition, those who originally purchased the boxed product retain 12 character slots, 6 costume slots, 5 personal bank slots, and a 200 decor item maximum as perks. Free players get much less. They still have access to the entire game, as Carbine isn't shutting anyone out of any content, but the studio has to make those subs lucrative somehow. Signature players also get a number of other in-game perks, like more auction house items, the ability to create guilds, public test realm access, and more.

The closed beta for the free-to-play transition is live right now and players can sign up for it here.

It's hard to make it out there as a subscription MMO these days. Even the king of the king, Blizzard's World of Warcraft, is down to 5.6 million subscribers. I really enjoyed Wildstar at launch, but the game seemed to have trouble reaching a larger audience. Part of that was a lack of existing familiar IP, but I feel the game's problems ran a little deeper. A major issue is Wildstar's elder game was aimed at a hardcore playerbase; the later content was grindy and very hard for the average player. The thing is, a game can't survive on the hardcore alone.

"We will encourage and listen carefully to your – the player's – feedback and focus development on making WildStar a more fun, less grindy, game," wrote Wildstar product director Mike Donatelli in a State of the Game post this January. "We will make these updates with both present and future players in mind, to support a multitude of play styles, durations, group sizes and levels."

"For example, many players love the sophistication of WildStar's housing system -- but some never reach the level where they can try it out. Many players enjoy dungeons -- but some find they have not been appropriately prepared for the intensity of the encounters. We also see examples where players are unable to fully customize their characters because the system can be difficult to understand and options too hard to unlock."

Basically, keeping the hardcore happy is cool, but you need the casuals in order to have a healthy community. Even basic dungeons were a rather lengthy experience for little in the way of solid loot. Carbine's been slowly re-working the game, simplifying stats and improving the way that players engage with certain systems.

I loved Wildstar, but I'm the MMO guy for USgamer. I didn't have time to keep up with Wildstar's commitments in addition to World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XIV, and Guild Wars 2. Most players I'd assume had families and other real-life commitments, meaning they're getting a hour at best a night to play. The choice was Wildstar's admittedly hard content, or playing another MMO they were already invested in. With a sub fee, that was an easy choice to make.

At the very least, the free-to-play business model and the focusing on content for casual players will probably help Wildstar find a larger audience. If you're up for a fun action-MMO experience, I urge you to try Wildstar. It's fast, good-looking, funny, and now... free.

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