WildStar Goes Free, Gets Biggest-Ever Update Today

Q&A: We talk with Carbine Studios about the business model transition and the release of WildStar: Reloaded.


The world of WildStar has changed. Carbine Studios on Tuesday re-launched the PC MMO as a free-to-play game and pushed out its biggest-ever update, which the studio is calling WildStar: Reloaded.

WildStar launched with a subscription model in June 2014. But, after seeing initial player figures and assessing where the game stood in the overall MMO market, Carbine decided just months after launch to transition to a free-to-play model, which was announced back in May. That transition has now taken place, representing a major milestone in the game's history, product director Mike Donatelli says.

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Veteran WildStar players will receive bonuses for their loyalty, while anyone who wants to continue paying a subscription fee can do so to earn "Signature" status. Although there are no restrictions placed on free players (every zone, dungeon, raid, and battleground is accessible), there are some limitations to free accounts in terms of character slots and auction house functionality. For a full breakdown of the differences between free and paid WildStar accounts, check out this detailed free-to-play FAQ.

Don't take WildStar's business model transition as a sign that Carbine is backing away from the game, however, Donatelli tells GameSpot. He stressed that Carbine's commitment to WildStar and creating more compelling content for it to keep players engaged has never been stronger.

"Just because we're going free-to-play doesn't mean we're going to be stopping on developing the kinds of unique and compelling content that have made a good name for us out there in the community," he said.

On top of the business model switch, Carbine also today launched WildStar: Reloaded. This major update, described as the "most comprehensive" to date," adds a variety of new content and accessibility features (including refined starting zones and more) that should appeal to newcomers and veteran players alike.

To learn more about WildStar's free-to-play conversion and Reloaded update, we spoke with Donatelli. Among other things, he tells us that, while WildStar now has more microtransactions, these are aimed at convenience and have been designed to be fair; you can't buy power. In addition, everything in the game can be earned through gameplay, provided you play long enough. Below are some highlights from our interview with Donatelli, while we'll have more from our discussion later in the week.

You can start playing WildStar for free right now by signing up for an account at the game's website.

What was the leading factor in going free to play? At what point did you decide on it?

That decision was made pretty soon, I would say within a few months after we launched, back in June [2014]. We looked at some of the numbers, how many people we were getting into the game, what people were doing once they got in, and then we kind of looked at the market, where it stood, and it became a pretty obvious decision for us. The main driver behind that decision was really, anyone who wanted to play WildStar we wanted to make sure that they were able to do that.

"If you look at the MMO market, there are just not many subscription games that are left" -- Donatelli

So basically, we got rid of all the barriers to entry. And we've also over the last year getting rid of a lot of the in-game barriers to our content, working on accessiblity, making sure that we have tons of content for all different kinds of players whether they be casual or the dungeon and raiding crowd. If you look at the cadence of releases that we had since January and February, everything that we've been doing has been to get as many playes into the game as possible and have as many players as possible enjoy that content. And I think we've done a pretty good job with that.

What do you think free-to-play allows you to do that you couldn't before? Basically, why is it in the best interest of the game to go free-to-play?

I think the number one answer to that question is if you look at the MMO market, there are just not many subscription games that are left; it's an extremely competitive market. And so I think for us, our goal was to get as many people into the game as possible, it was just obvious that that was the best decision to make based on where the market is today. The majority of AAA MMOs right now are free-to-play MMOs and I think that basically put us in the best position to be successful and to offer the best experience for our players.

What are did you hear from fans when you originally announced the change?

I think at the very begin there is always concern. They might wonder what form your free-to-play model is going to take. I think unlike many companies who have done this, what we decided right from the get go was we were going to be as transparent and upfront about our plans as early as possible. We announced free-to-play back in May before we decided to flip the switch. Everything since that time has been about communicating to our existing players and our new players what is WildStar as far as a free-to-play game. I think that our free-to-play systems are more than fair; I think what we have tried to do is almost every case as far as our design is to not always take away things; especially don't take away things from players who have already been playing. But if you decide to make purchases in WildStar, we're just adding on top of that experience instead of taking things away from people. [Beta testers] almost across the board are saying, at least from a free-to-play standpoint, it's a really fair and compelling system for WildStar.

With this change, presumably you're going to see a huge upswing in players and in turn, server strain. Are you boosting the number of servers, hiring more devs, etc?

We learned a lot from our launch; we've got a really great operations team. Craig Turner is our director of operations, who has been with WildStar from launch all the way through. So they've got great plans to make sure that the servers are ready for the influx of new players that are coming once we flip the switch on the 29th. As much as we can, we want this to be a smooth transition for all of our players; it's always a great time, an exciting time to be playing an MMO, when something like this happens. It's going to be potentially millions of new players that are going to come in. That's just great for everybody. Queue times will be lower, lots of people around to group with and take on world bosses. I think it's just a great time to be playing WildStar.

WildStar wasn't designed from the beginning as a free to play game. What sorts of challenges did you run into with this transition and how did you overcome them?

A lot of the changes we made are obviously tied to the in-game store. We had to focus more time and effort on making sure that there's lots of things in our store for players to buy. And I think, there's a lot of in-game systems where, those systems exist--we had a rez mechanic in the game--but you look at some of thoese individual systems and you figure out ways where you can transition those to make more sense in a free-to-play model. So much of the experience that you get in a free-to-play game is about buying things that make your game easier or more covenient. So anywhere where there's an opportunity to do that, we had to make some changes to the systems. I do think though that the biggest chunk of work that we did was actually just not specifically related to the free-to-play transition, but was just more related to making the game better for everybody.

"I think that our free-to-play systems are more than fair" -- Donatelli

We totally revamped the character creation experience; we changed the tutorial level to be faster; you actually have the option at the very beginning of the game to choose how you want to start the game. Totally revamped what we call our world story in the game so we added a new story instance at level 15 to get players into that story much earlier [used to be level 35]. We've made big changes to our dungeons to make them more accessible. Raids used to be 40-man, now they're 20-man. We have lots of casual content at end-game; we have a contract system which is basically just a bonus objective system that drives players to different pieces of content and they get rewarded for doing that. So it's kind of a long-winded way of saying although we did make a lot of changes to the game to make it better for a free-to-play business model, I think the best and the coolest changes are in making the game more accessible and better for all of our players.

What is the extent of the microtransactions? Are there any limitations for free players?

We'll have the usual things; convenience items, mounts, pets, costumes, lots of general customization options. We have things, as you're playing through the game there will be other convenience opportunities so you can purchase immediate rez if you happen to die in an encounter. Instant teleporation across the map; those are the kinds of things you will be able to purchase with our microtransaction currency. What we definitely didn't want to do is sell power; so you won't be buying weapons or armor or things that are more powerful--we just don't sell those kinds of things on our store. We still want players to basically assign value to the time they play in our game; we don't want people to buy power in our in-game store. Something to take note of is we also have what we call a 'sweat currency' in our game, which is called Omnibits. This is just a currency that drops as you're playing through the game. If you earn enough Omnibits, you can actually buy the same exact kinds of items that you can buy on the microtransaction store with real money--you can actually buy just by spending time in the game. That again is just another one of the ways that our free-to-play systems I think are fair and reward not just players who are paying but players who just want to spend time and are enjoying WildStar.


For more on WildStar, check out GameSpot's review.

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Avatar image for sigmact

the question is: really Free to play or just pay to win

Avatar image for oroelf

It initially failed because they tried to cater to a crowd of gamers from 15 years ago. Nowadays the hardcore raiding group makes up less than 1% of a game's population. If you actually want a game to be profitable you have to cater to casual gamers. FFXIV has proven it can have content to appeal to all kinds of players and maintain a subscription.

Avatar image for phillip209

I keep getting memory errors and can't play the game xD

Avatar image for bandd

I wonder how many people just hate this game because "lolfurries."

Avatar image for snugglebear

Did beta, played at launch, took a break, went back and am currently "on hiatus." It's a great game, just not for me. Go Mechari.

Avatar image for jessie82

the beta was very meh

Avatar image for BigFeef

From the way this F2P launch has been handled so far; I can see clearly why they had to switch from a subscription model: incompetence; incompetence everywhere...

Avatar image for aurugorn

@BigFeef: Almost every single MMORPG has problems at launch, it's a poor way to judge MMORPGs these days.

Avatar image for BigFeef

@aurugorn: Only this isn't a launch; it's a re-branding of a game that's been out for about year and a half. They didn't do a complete rebuild like FF XIV; actually, not much has changed from the previous iteration.

Problems like people getting stuck in character creation for hours unless they close the client and risk entering a large queue again; massive server side lag that makes combat a real chore; etc, etc. Yeah; that year and a half of experience already running the game is really showing here...

Avatar image for dave_mckee

@aurugorn: Fully agree just look at Final Fantasy XIV, what a horrible launch the worse I can remember. So bad they pulled it and took almost 2 yrs to remake it from the ground up and relaunch it. Look at it now I am one of the millions who play it now and the only game I am quite fine paying a subscription to play.

Avatar image for legatusinvisus

I think I'll give this game a try now.

Avatar image for Xenro4

My computer can run Skyrim but not Wildstar. Or at least it couldn't. Anyone know if they've optimized it at all since launch?

Avatar image for pentraksil

@Xenro4: You are saying as if Skyrim needs some high-end machine to run......

Avatar image for me3639

To those thinking MMOs are dead tens of thousands to millions are still playing WoW, The old republic, Guild wars 2, Neverwinter(over a million subs on Xbox one which is crazy), FF, ESO, etc. More people playing those games and obviously are having fun. I sure know a lot of developers who wished they had those type of numbers.

Avatar image for Stiler

Yet another mmo that tried to go sub-based and had to resort to f2p.

When will they learn? Seriously, people are TIRED of playing the same game.

MMO's need to get out of trying to copy WoW (which largely copied EQ) and try different things.

Why can't we have an old west mmo a la RDR? Why can't we have an mmo Skate game? (like The Skate series but with a huge city that you can travel around, having skating tournaments,, and do other things).

When I first started playing MMO's back in the mid-late 90's I thought the possiblities were endless. Ultima Online, Asheron's Call, Everquest, all of them were VERY different in terms of their design and gameplay. It seemed like the beginning of a great new genre that would encompass MANY different playstyles and genres of it's own , but then WoW came along and everyone under the sun saw the $$$ it was making and though "lets just copy it and we'll get a piece of that pie!"

I was really hoping for the World of Darkness mmo but sadly it got canned, I'd love to see an mmo focused on vampires/werewolves and base it off Vampire:TMB in terms of gameplay/style.

Avatar image for Vexov

@Stiler: People are so tired of playing the same game that they play the same game: WoW. The problem with failed mmo's are too many flaws or too big of one that puts people off from them. IMO, it tends to be the greed that ends up throwing the potential away.

Avatar image for davillain-


None of this sounds appealing, to be honest.

Avatar image for larsondir82

WoW and FF are the 2 P2P MMo's I can think of that are still running strong. MMo Companies need to learn that copy and pasting wont keep subscribers anymore.

Avatar image for Frozzik

@larsondir82: both WoW and FF are also the 2 biggest "carrot on a stick"/ gear treadmill mmo's out there. (And the best at it).

That's one of the big reasons people keep playing and paying and what devs of many other MMO's never understood.

Gw2 did it right for a game that isn't gear/loot based.

Avatar image for Vexov

@Frozzik: OH, well if its all about loot and gear and GW2 got it right... that must be why its doing so good. I don't recall quitting the game over loot and gear, that game was just retarded mess for group content.

Avatar image for Frozzik

@Vexov: there is nothing retarded or messy about GW2 just people who try and play it in a way it was never intended.

Avatar image for MugenTheKing

This game was probably the most fun MMO I've ever played, but it suffers from way too many issues that they all do. Also it started to get incredibly hard with the demanding combat and terrible control scheme.

Avatar image for Tiwill44

played it, it's the same old shit

cool trailer though

Avatar image for neo-rtsd

Looks like it's going to be P2Win. If you pay the subscription fee, you get 50% reduced cooldowns, that's fucked up.

Avatar image for tonyleo01

@neo-rtsd: Are you talking about the "wake here" cool down reduced from 1 hour to 30 mins if you pay? Does that really help you win?

Avatar image for Thanatos2k

Another MMO bites the dust and goes F2P

Avatar image for Allicrombie

May need to give this a shot.

Avatar image for Barighm

Yet another dev discovers appealing just to the hardcore and elitists gamers will nip you in the butt.

Avatar image for Thanatos2k

@Barighm: More like another dev discovers the MMO market is falling apart and has been for years.

Avatar image for normanislost

@Thanatos2k: +1 to Thanatos2k

Avatar image for lionink

The Stalker class was one of the most fun times I've had in an MMO while going through the content. If they improved the co-op leveling experience (better integration in sharing quests/objectives), I'd have to give it another shot sometime down the road.

Avatar image for bekyuubi

MMO f2p, mostly cancer gaming.

Avatar image for Samathir

Going F2P means the mmo failed to have enough content to keep ppl interested, simple as that.

Avatar image for Mogan

@Samathir: Not really. It means Wildstar failed to have content which enough people found sufficiently more compelling than all the many other F2P games out there to keep paying for it. Every time an MMO goes F2P, it becomes that much harder for subscription only games to maintain a healthy player base. It's difficult to compete with free. Especially when a lot of these games are of a quality indicative of a subscription game, because that's how they started out.

Avatar image for larsondir82

@Mogan: WoW and FFXIV is P2P and is doing pretty good. So I don't think its the pay model. its just the lack of stuff to keep players to keep subscribing.

Avatar image for Mogan

@larsondir82: I don't know about FFXIV, but WoW is losing subs fast. The population spikes when an expansion comes out, but they were down to 5.6 million subs in August, and that's the lowest they've been in nine years.

A lack of content could certainly be one of Wild Star's problems, but even if it had a bunch of content, it's asking players to pay for that content when they could go play any number of other MMOs for free. It doesn't just have to have content to play, that content has to be way better than the content in its free competitors.

Avatar image for luert

@Mogan: fair point on that (=

Avatar image for Cruxis27

@Samathir: Yes but to be fair any mmo will fail with a p2p model nowadays.. WoW is still holding on but that won't last for much longer

Avatar image for carbongear13

@Cruxis27:Actually FFXIV is doing very well, and SWTOR is still holding on pretty good, so...

Avatar image for luert

@carbongear13: swtor is a bit diff, it has the back up and love o the star wars saga fans, so it might take a bit more for it to go down, expecially with the new movie coming out, I know the games story is a goner now but average fans don't really care, it's just that they want shinies (=, as for wow it depends how long they can keep giving out new expansion, when their ideas will run out or turn out to be more less the same and any person( no offence) with an IQ lower than 70 will actually notice that the game is still the same then it might probably fall, but still all of this will require a pretty long time, as for FF, it's just a matter of time, they made the last exp( at least that's what they say) and it's only a matter of time before people start get bored, very few things last forever it's just a matter of time, by the way amongts all producers I think blizzard has been one of the smartest because they managed to keep up running a 10+ years old mmo by giving out new patches and ideas, that's how the market runs on a side I think

Avatar image for Trev9421

Eh, I'll give it a try now.