WildStar needs a business model

To the surprise of absolutely no one, WildStar is going to have to make money somehow. You don’t make an MMO as a charity, after all. But the big and understandable question is how it’s going to make money because it’s launching into a period when that is, in fact, a viable question.
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This is a new development, and not one that everyone is entirely happy with. Back in the day, there was no question about how your MMO would make money; it would charge a subscription fee and that was the end of it. Now there are at least three major potential models, all of which are viable over long periods by all indications. And that means there’s some question about what WildStar will do.

So today I want to examine possibilities. Rather than assume that any given model works, I want to look at all three possible launch models and try to forecast reasonable scenarios. So let’s start with the most obvious one, suggested by the current environment and the publisher.

Buy-to-play
Many moons ago, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and gas stations paid you to fuel up your car, I was reading an article about upcoming MMOs in a gaming magazine while eating some fried trilobite. At this point even World of Warcraft was yet to release, but one of the games previewed was a little title called Guild Wars. One of its major selling points was the fact that unlike any other MMO, you would be able to buy it and then play for free. Can you imagine?

Of course, it’s not free, just free to log in once you’ve bought the game. But that in and of itself was quite novel, and it’s an approach that Guild Wars 2 has also used with apparent success. It’s also an approach that hasn’t been tried all that often, with The Secret World being the only other AAA MMORPG I can think of that’s using something similar. (Obviously, it’s a lot more common outside the realm of MMORPGs.)

So what awaits if WildStar goes this route? It’s certainly going to appeal to the crowd that doesn’t want a purely free-to-play game but still enjoys not spending money on a subscription. Unfortunately, this would almost certainly necessitate some sort of cash shop or at least regular DLC-style packages for the game to actually make money. For people who feel that free-to-play models are transparent cash grabs, this may not be an appealing prospect.

Still, buy-to-play has worked well for the games that have tried it, especially with an optional subscription model. I think this is a distinct possibility, especially with NCsoft’s having been the first MMO company to try a buy-to-play model in the first place.

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