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I want to pre-empt this discussion by saying I have never worked in the gaming industry.

Monetization And WildStar: A Primer

I want to pre-empt this discussion by saying I have never worked in the gaming industry. My 20+ years of marketing experience spans a veritable cornucopia of industry, from local politics to regional grocery chains to national charities. However, I am no stranger to MMOs and have watched from the sidelines as the landscape has shifted from pure pay-to-play subscriptions, through buy-to-play and now several years into the free-to-play movement. As someone who pays close attention to financial trends across multiple industries, I feel imminently qualified to offer this feedback and following suggestions on how Carbine can capitalize off the WildStar property – and hopefully secure a long and healthy lifespan for the game and studio.

 

Also, this discussion focuses completely on monetization. It is not intended to address other issues like Endgame progression, class balance, new content or any of the other myriad things that could be done in order to bring in and retain more players. We are focusing on how to make money with WildStar in its current iteration.

 

Finally, it should go without saying, these are just my opinions.  Nothing here is based on metrics or hard numbers.

 

THE CASH SHOP

No discussion about monetization can begin without breaking down the Cash Shop. As expected, WildStar’s cash shop isn’t as fleshed out as the shops in other games that have been F2P for longer – but that is not the weakest point here. The biggest current drawbacks on the Cash Shop are lack of unique cosmetics and a preponderance of re-skinned, limited-time and/or over-industry-standard price points items. These three things together means that the majority of the “good stuff” is not desirable, not available or not affordable to the average player. Also, please, a little consistency goes a long way to making people feel like the studio is reliable. If you sell a three-pack of dyes for $9 at the end of October, and then turn around and sell a single dye for $10 just over a month later, people are going to notice and complain.

 

Suggestions for the Cash Shop

1. Bring the price point for single-character and account-wide cosmetic items better into line with the rest of the industry. $12-$15 for single character and NO MORE THAN $20 for account-wide unlocks. Period. Anything else will be seen as exploitive and over-priced. If the highest-earning and lowest-end MMOs can charge $20 account-wide, then so can Carbine. Lower price points also mean more players are likely to make purchases, as opposed to fewer sales at a slightly higher price point.

 

2. Leave Holiday/Event Items on the Shop for a month or more after the event is over. Taking all the new, spiffy stuff off the shop after a week or two is just silly – and sure, you might lose a little of the urgency in consumer pressure, but you will make that up in after-the-fact sales. To this day, I promise the zBoard (Available for what? Five days?) will still sell even if the racing tracks aren’t up and even if it’s not a Back To The Future anniversary.

 

3. Enough re-skins already! Yes, we understand that it’s easier to recolor or retexture an existing asset – and honestly, that’s fine stuff to sell if you’ve also got enough unique and provocative styles to sell along with it. Mostly this is about Mounts, since costumes can be dyed and a recolor for those is pointless. Still, seven or eight different “My Little Equivars” isn’t going to keep the lights on for long.  

 

4. Pick a Price Point and stick with it. If the Shade’s Eve 3-Pack of Dyes sold too well and the Winterfest dyes didn’t sell enough – then figure out a middling point and stick with it. If you’re going to sell dyes, they all need to cost the same. If you’re going to sell packs, they need to have the same number of dyes and they also need to cost them same. “More expensive dyes” is a figment of the player bases over-active imagination and exploiting their silly little ways isn’t good business. In other words, “black” and “white” costing more than “blue” or “pink” is taking advantage of player perception and isn’t based in reality, where all Crayons cost the same.

 

5. Package Deals! Everyone loves a package deal. These are a great way to lump several items together for a special price point. So far, Carbine has done a pretty good job with these and it’s a route that should be further explored. Suggestions: A “Fashion Show” package that gives a Holo-Wardrobe expansion, a dye (or two) and a Costume Slot, for instance – or an “Endgame Rune Pack” that has a couple of high-level rune pieces, a few Service Tokens and a couple of Random Rune Bags – or a “Lopp Village Pack” that comes with some Lopp Dancers, the Lopp Party FABKit and several pieces of on-theme décor.

 

6. In-Game Assets for Sale. Since making new stuff always takes longer than re-purposing old assets – there are, literally, dozens of in-game costumes, animals (pets/mounts) and décor that players have been clamoring over since original launch. Kick some of that down by putting it on the cash shop. A Lopp House, a Temple of the Six “House”, a Kurg mount, etc. This is also the place to sell Housing skies, grounds, background music and other desirable assets.

 

7. Stop Hiding Things! If you put an item in-game for an event and then lock it behind random chance (either drops or as an RNG "prize") then that item also needs to be on the Cash Shop for a slightly-elevated price point. In other words, the Present Pet (Winterfest instance-drop) should have gone on the shop and it should have been $12 single-toon and $20 account-wide like everything else. Most folks will tend to run the content in order to get the drop they want - but if RNGesus is unkind we should have the option to just pay for it. I mean, it's vanity crap after all. Take my money and hush!

 

EVENTS

Here is where WildStar has really shown off its chops. Both the Shade’s Eve and Winterfest in-game events were well-done, evocative and welcome relief from the same-old-same-old on Nexus. Both events had good monetization points and both had just awful points. Events can (and should) be huge money-makers – but the quality of offerings has to be consistent, well-priced and thematic. This stuff should be limited time but (as noted above) should be available for at least a month after the event has wrapped in order to squeeze the stragglers or the forgetful or those who just happened to join a day or two late.

 

These events should come with a full array of Package Deals on décor, costumes, toys, dyes, pets, mounts and music. The prices and quality should remain consistent, and everything bought with real money should be able to be traded or sold or shipped to Alts.

 

My best advice here is to keep doing what’s worked best and adjust the things that have been public-relations nightmares. You know, things like calling Cash Shop items “rewards” or publishing unclear descriptions of what players can expect. Don’t do that. It makes you look like amateurs and people will turn their backs on you when they feel cheated, lied to or robbed, even inadvertently.

 

LOCKBOX KEYS

If monetizing lockbox keys is the future of WildStar’s success, then we can stop having this conversation right now. Seriously. NO ONE LIKES LOCKBOXES. Players can accept them in very limited quantities, but the moment you start locking entire events behind the Lockbox Paywall, you have failed your player base. In fact, if you guys (Carbine) haven’t already accepted that the World Boss Event was bad idea, then I am not sure my advice will do more than fall on deaf ears.

 

Please do not mistake people BUYING keys as being the same thing as people ENJOYING it. Now, having said all that, there are most certainly ways to encourage purchasing Lockboxes without tricking the player base.

 

1. Never, ever tie lockboxes to in-game events unless that event is 100% upfront about its nature. For example, the much-reviled World Boss event was the wrong way to go about it, whereas if you create a “LOCKBOX WEEKEND” where you sell two kinds of Keys – the “regular” keys give you access to the normal rewards, but if you buy the Event Keys, then you get access to an entirely new loot table just for that event, that's okay. Being clear, being honest - and offering quality goodies, that's a win.

 

2. Give out Lockboxes for Gold Expedition runs, as well as Adventures, Dungeons and Raids. Not every time, but as part of the regular loot table. More lockboxes in play means more people will want to open them. Also consider adding them to the Discoveries loot table, at least in the higher-end zones like Margrave onward.

 

3. Lockboxes should contain unique items, but the loot table should be fairly small and each type of content should have it’s own specific loot table – so Adventure boxes give different stuff than Gold Expedition boxes which in turn are different than Dungeon boxes. Publish the loot tables for all to see what is dropped where. Make these drops highly desirable cosmetic or collectible items and slightly-better-than-usual gear for the level of content involved. Never Best in Slot stuff and never non-tradable items of any kind – anything you pay money for (even if you only paid for the key!) should be able to be turned into in-game gold through player trade or the Auction House.

 

RANDOM-CHANCE GAMES

In my professional opinion, Madam Faye should be the soul purveyor of for-cash randomness – and she should be exploited even further to that end. Instead of one huge loot table that changes regularly, offer different Madame Faye tokens for different events/content, but still leave access to older tokens. So if you want to lock away “World Boss Event” contents behind random purchases, then you PUT IT IN HERE and NOT AS A LOCKBOX. Straight up, most folks would be more predisposed to roll the dice if they had even a minor, superficial semblance of affecting the odds of getting something they want.

 

You want to sell Kurtenacker’s music this week, but don’t just want to post it up as an item (even though you should?) Then create Madame Faye’s Music Tokens and put a bunch of different tracks in there. If you want to sell Dyes this month, make a Faye coin just for that. Faye coins shouldn’t cost as much as out-right purchases because you can’t control your choices – but the drop table should have good stuff and all of that stuff should be tradable some how.

 

SIGNATURE PERKS

Volumes have been written about this already, but I’d just like to reiterate the most important aspect of Signature Service:

 

It is practically worthless to a long-time player in its current form.

 

Honestly, I think Signature Perks should change after the account reaches a certain Cosmic Point plateau. Swap out the XP gain for increased OmniBit drops, or an ever-increasing Cash Shop discount (up to say, 15% Off at the highest Cosmic levels), or a minor OmniBit stipend, or even a pittance of Service Tokens. Something, anything, other than XP. The gold buff is nice, but not $15/month nice. The Crafting boost is nice, but not that nice.

 

Basically, Signature Status is wonderful for the new, leveling or Alt-O-Holic player, but once that process is over, the Perks should reflect the type of play-style being used. I would still be subscribing today if it was worthwhile, and I promise I am not alone.

 

I am not sure what the final solution is here, but leaving it as it stands will just assure that there will never be a large number of subscribers. If that’s the plan, then groovy. If it’s not (which I suspect isn’t the plan), then make some adjustments.

 

MERCH! MY GOD, MERCH!

So, I want to buy a Jabbit plushie for my little girl. Can’t have it. I want a 4XL WildStar t-shirt for my birthday. Can’t find one. I want the soundtrack on CD and digital download to stay in the WildStar mood while in the truck. Nope. I want some size 16 Rowsdower slippers. Can’t have ‘em. Statuettes of my favorite class/race combo? Yeah, right.

 

WildStar is a freakin’ gold mine of merchandising possibilities that has been nearly completely ignored. I mean, I can host (or win) an in-game contest and have a box sent to me, but if I just want to give y’all some money, I can’t do it. What gives? Make this stuff (even if you start small with shirts and a single plushie) and sell it.

 

PAID PVP CONTENT

Now, hear me out before freaking out, PVP Community. Want to solve the PVP Bot infestation and make a little money for the studio in the process? Lock level 50 PVP behind the lowest Cosmic Point strata. As in one single $5 purchase and high-level PVP is yours forever, regardless if level cap increases in the future or not. Gold-farmers aren’t going to spend money and in-game botters at least had to have paid for the privilege of cheating.

 

No more mass-bots in Endgame PVP. No, it doesn’t solve pre-50 bot issues but it will assure that all of the advanced battlegrounds are bot-free – and since that’s where players spend the vast majority of their time, that’s where the issue can be solved.

 

IN CLOSING

There you have it. Focus on selling quality items for industry-standard pricing. Offer package deals. Bring on the merch. Figure out a good balance between lockboxes and Madame Faye. Make Signature Status more appealing to long-term players and for goodness sake, stop holding events based around the cash shop unless you guys are just trying to make people angry.

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