With Elder Scrolls Online finally transitioning to a buy to play model and being praised for it, there’s no doubt that it’s going to reap rewards for doing so. Even I, who criticised the game heavily, reinstalled and thoroughly enjoyed returning back. Is the buy to play model going to work for the Elder Scrolls Online? I believe so and there’s a few reasons as to why the model is not only brilliant, but arguments against it are unfounded and illogical. Most importantly and as the topic of todays column: why isn’t WildStar buy to play?

As an individual who loves the buy to play model, there’s going to be a certain bias here. It’s certainly not a perfect method of extracting money from your playerbase but if done right, I believe it’s considerably better than subscription model. If nothing else, a buy to play model ensures the following:

  • Those who actually have an interest in the game are required to buy it, thus providing some initial revenue to the developer and publisher.
  • Having to pay money up front for a boxed copy of the game ensures that those who play it haven’t, in passing, just downloaded it.
  • There’s no pressure to continue to login every day after purchase knowing that if you don’t, you’ve wasted $15.

Outside of this, I firmly believe that the fundamentals design decisions of any game, whether buy to play from the start or switching from subscription, don’t have to change. Whenever I’ve discussed buy to play over subscription, many subscription fans have stated the following to me:

  • Buy to play results in a pay to win game
  • It attracts people who don’t care
  • Buy to play means the game systems will be changed to make players spend money
  • Stores are intrusive and stop developers making content outside of the store

There are many more and all of these excuses (because that’s what they fundamentally are) are largely untrue. While some developers certainly approach the buy to play model as a means of draining their players of cash at every opportunity, not all of them do. Probably the most famous buy to play game is Guild Wars 2 and while it doesn’t do everything right, there’s no question that you can achieve everything in the game without paying a penny. Does the game want you to spend money? Of course, but it doesn’t in any way force you to. I’d also argue that in many ways, ArenaNet have failed to truly tap into the buy to play market and potential revenue streams.

Back to WildStar and having played the game since launched, its population has dwindled to the point where completing content is a challenge and doing anything outside of peak time results in enormous queues. No amount of new content is going to lure people back because regardless of how much they want to play or road test the game, they have to hand over $15 before they even get back in the room. If WildStar were buy to play, I guarantee that droves of people would return for every single patch just to see how the game is progressing.

Would Carbine need to change much in order to earn the same or more revenue than before? No. I think one of the biggest things that developers and publishers fail to grasp is how willing players are to spend money on attractive items. Vanity in almost every game is big business and WildStar only needs to exploit this area.

Hoverboards, mounts, housing items and armor/weapons on the store would guarantee more income than any subscription could provide. I only look at my purchases in Bloodline Champions or Guild Wars 2 to know that if I’m presented with a skin or item that looks great, I’ll buy it. It doesn’t matter if its $5, $10 or $50. All Carbine would need to do is implement such skins and keep everything else exactly the same. How difficult can that be for a team that’s clearly talented in the art department.

If Carbine ensured that they continued to also release items of all kinds available in PvE, it’s a win-win scenario. Most importantly, the barrier for entry would be removed. What I can’t fathom at this point is why the delay? Having watched the last few Zero to 50 Twitch streams and the social media reactions to what Carbine says, public affection and interest couldn’t be worse. When your game has only 50 viewers, or a couple of likes on a Facebook news post, the game is in need of emergency resuscitation. I’m convinced a buy to play model is the answer, until someone actually makes a logical case to stay subscription. I don't see that happening any time soon.

Come on, Carbine. What's taking so long?


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Last Updated: Mar 15, 2016

About The Author

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Lewis currently splits his time between Heroes of the Storm, Battlerite, and World of Warcraft, having covered MOBAs and MMOs for many years.

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