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Via Eurogamer, news of WildStar’s business model – monthly subscription, with tradable blocks of subscription called CREDD that let cash-rich players buy gold from the guys with time to grind… at least in theory.

I’ve got doubts about how well this will work in practice. We’re past the point where subscriptions are the norm – so many games out there have gone to a freemium or buy to play model, including most of the AAA games, that players now expect to be able to play without paying a subscription, especially if they’ve already stumped up the box price. Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World set a pretty high bar for what players can expect for a one-off payment. WildStar seems to offer players the chance to do the same in return for giving up some of the gold they earn in game. However, the question is how practical it is to earn enough gold to buy a CREDD every month. To do that, lets look at the likely supply and demand, because that’s what is going to set the CREDD exchange rate.

In terms of subscription, WildStar will have three classes of player. Earners are trying to play for free, and need to each buy a CREDD every month. These guys will need to give up some of their gold earned in-game to do so. Subscribers are happy to pay their own sub, but they don’t want to drop any more of their real world dosh on the game tan that. They do get to keep any gold they make in game to spend on themselves. Finally we have the whales – they guys willing to spend more tan a subscription on the game. These guys will be flush with gold in return for the CREDDs they sell. Exactly how flush depends on how much CREDDs sell for. There has to be a whale selling a CREDD every month for every earner who gets to play for free – there can be more earners than whales, but only because some whales will be selling multiple CREDDs.

And that’s where the problem lies. The number of players willing to spend $30, $45, $60 or more every month is going to be fairly limited. The number of players who want to play for free, by buying CREDD, is going to be a lot higher. That’s going to drive the price of CREDDs up to the point that only a minority of players can earn enough gold to buy one – which makes things worse, because if a whale can get so much gold for one CREDD then he’s less likely to feel the need to buy a second one. The result is a lot of players who feel that they were supposed to be able to play for free but they’ve been “forced” to either subscribe or grind their nuts off in order to get the free play they were “entitled” to. There are enough bitter gamers out there ready to troll forums and bad-mouth any game without going out of your way to create masses more of them.

Things get even worse though, if we consider the inflationary effect of the huge piles of gold the whales will be sitting on – driving the gold cost of the most desirable traded items out of the reach of the subscribers. So now we’ve pissed off the middle class of gamers as well, and they’re justified in feeling aggrieved because these guys are paying cash every month for the game experience that has just been shat all over… or maybe they decide they aren’t going to pay every month after all in that case.

You might ask, what about EVE, which seems to do quite well with PLEX? I just don’t think the games are comparable. EVE is a niche game with a very different economic model and doesn’t have direct competitors offering a sub-less option. Also, with all respect to EVE that is a survivor from an older era of MMO gaming… but if WildStar after six months has the number of subscribers that it took EVE years to achieve, given the dev budgets of modern MMOs, it will be seen as a massive failure.

I don’t wish WildStar ill. There’s nothing about the game that personally excites me, but I want every MMO that launches to prosper because every failure hurts the genre as a whole. I just have my doubts that this one is going to thrive.

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