Wildstar is definitely changing business models – for the better

I decided to go into FFXIV on my own, and thus far I’m very happy with that decision. It’s a great game as you get going in it, although one that doesn’t leave the strongest first impression. A lot of stuff unlocks as you get going and the game expands massively. It also has a certain ‘something’, I think it’s the longer global cooldown and generally slower feeling pace, but it’s relaxing and fun to play rather than stressful and exhausting. It’s a welcome change of pace.

Wildstar Is Definitely Switching Business Models

Things got off to a fast start this morning with the news that Wildstar’s boxed copies are being pulled off the shelves in Australia, exactly like what ESO did before it switched business models. Of course, that’s a rumor and doesn’t necessarily mean anything… right up until Wildstar unveiled the “mystery box promotion” the same day.

The mystery box promo lets you get special goodies for buying a boxed copy of the game. Only a boxed copy. Digital copies are excluded. Existing copies are excluded. This is a transparent attempt to earn some revenue by clearing physical inventory with randomized stuff for players who plunk down cash. The best reason to do that is right before you’re no longer going to have to plunk down cash, at which point that inventory becomes worthless. That is the only reason to make this physical boxes only and exclude digital sales.

On top of that, the Australia news is interesting. ESO did it a few weeks before their switch. What’s in a few weeks for Wildstar? NCSoft’s quarterly financials, where revenue data for Wildstar will be released.

NCSoft revenue graph
NCSoft revenue graph. Notice the Wildstar line is heading for zero with alarming speed. Thanks to MMORPG.com for the image.

Speaking of NCSoft’s quarterly financials, here’s a lovely graph from their last set. The Wildstar line is disastrously heading in the wrong direction.  This is simply not a trend that can be maintained for much longer, especially with NCSoft’s existing problem of dealing with a hostile major shareholder and potential takeover threat in Nexon. They simply can’t afford to keep throwing money at Wildstar endlessly in the hope that the audience for it suddenly turns around on its own.

Add it all up. The timing of these moves mean that in a few weeks when the new financials come out, they’ll be in a position to announce a business model change along with the new financial data. That will allow management to say that it’s trying to save the game, rather than simply letting it bleed to death.

That’s not an official announcement, but it’s only a matter of time before that announcement comes out.

It’s a Good Thing

The simple truth of the matter is that the subscription model for Wildstar didn’t work. It didn’t gain traction or an audience large enough to sustain an AAA game in todays market. There’s no shame in that, a LOT of games have failed to do it. How many subscription AAA MMO games have launched successfully in the last five years? It’s not a long list. The pool of people willing to pay a subscription and willing to leave from another game is limited, and competition is extremely fierce.

If you want Wildstar to survive, this is a good thing. On it’s current course as a subscription game with a small and quite possibly still declining playerbase, it’s only going to survive for so long as NCSoft keeps willing to eat losses. Once that patience ends, it’s dead. Growing out of it isn’t really realistic – Wildstar’s visibility on things like social media is low due to the lack of players. There simply aren’t enough enthusiastic players, bloggers, Youtubers, and so on to get the word out about all the new things they’re doing in patches.

A business model change gives Wildstar a chance to get back into the spotlight and get a lot of eyeballs on their improvements in the last few months. It lowers the barrier of entry to get people willing to give it another chance. Those are the people that Wildstar needs to reach in order to become a thriving game. You might oppose this on the grounds that the business model change could alter the game away from what you like about it… and maybe it will. But it doesn’t matter. The present course is a death sentence. People who actually want to keep playing Wildstar have to understand that if the game can’t turn a profit, it doesn’t matter how much you like it. Unprofitable games die in this market.

As Belghast and Liores both said back when ESO did this, someone has to pay for these games. The subscription market isn’t doing so in sufficient number (for a number of reasons, only some of which are within Carbine’s control), so the only alternative left is to switch and try to get money from other sources.

I hope it works out for them. I like the game, and my best friend loves it. I want it to do well. This way, it has a second chance to do so.