It's not even June and already last year's big subscription MMOs are heading to the free-to-play model. Elder Scrolls Online made the switch a few weeks back, rebranding itself as "Tamriel Unlimited," which sounds like a weird crossover between Elder Scrolls and Test Drive.
And as of this morning, sci-fi MMO WildStar announced it's also going free-to-play. From the official announcement:
"This fall will be an exciting time for WildStar as we transition to Free-to-Play. Since launch we've listened to all of your feedback and worked hard to improve your game experience. Part of that goal has always been to bring more players in to experience WildStar, and that's what Free-to-Play is all about."
We'll have to wait until free-to-play officially launches to see whether WildStar's going with a more friendly approach (a la Lord of the Rings Online) or the "We'll annoy you until you cave in and pay for this" approach (a la Star Wars: The Old Republic). Right now it sounds like the former, though.
There will be two account types--free and "Signature." Free accounts have access to all quests, dungeons, raids, et cetera. Those who used to subscribe but lapsed and convert their account to free-to-play will retain some benefits, like extra character slots.
Those who keep on subscribing--the aforementioned Signature accounts--then get additional bonuses: extra auction house listings, a bonus to earning in-game currency, guild creation, priority server access, and the list goes on.
Then there's another currency, Loyalty Points, which free users can use to unlock paid benefits and...well, it sounds like it'll be a messy transition, as always.
But the important thing is that the transition is occurring, which should bring in a pretty big influx of players. The next problem for WildStar is whether the game can hold on to those players. Last year I called WildStar the "most disappointing" MMO of 2014, and it wasn't because of its subscription fee.
See, WildStar's biggest issue is it focuses on hardcore players to the exclusion of everyone else. The stat I cited in December? Only 1.3 percent of players had ever killed a raid boss. That's in line with my own experience (though I haven't played in a few months) which is that WildStar is cripplingly hard and full of grinding.
There's definitely a market for that type of game, as TERA can attest. However I think WildStar could stand to work on making a better first impression before the inevitable onslaught of free-to-play users. Though on the plus side, at least the WildStar subreddit claims the game is now "pretty much bug free."