Attitudes toward payment models in MMOs have shifted dramatically in recent years. The traditional subscription approach has given way to free-to-play models with item stores, subscription bonuses and pay-wall locked content, with new systems being introduced seemingly with every new game release.
The announcement that WildStar would be using a subscription based model was received with mixed feelings by the community. Many were expecting the game to follow the current trend of free-to-play systems, but traditionalists were relieved to see Carbine steering away from that route.
Things took an interesting turn, however, with the introduction of CREDD, essentially a digital item that a player will be able to purchase from Carbine for real-world cash and trade on the in-game market for game currency, services or simply give as a gift.
CREDD isn't a new idea; the concept of giving players an alternate method of maintaining their account time was introduced to EVE online way back in November 2008 in the form of PLEX (Pilot License Extension). The program has been a huge success; almost 20% of EVE accounts are maintained with PLEX instead of a subscription, and more than 60% of all PLEX purchased is sold for in-game currency.
What this has done is provide a legitimate means for people to invest real-world cash in an exchange for game currency. Critically it's taken that trade out of the hands of third-party Real-Money Transaction cartels (commonly known as RMT) and has generated a tremendous amount of additional revenue for CCP since its implementation.
But who is buying PLEX in EVE? More importantly, who will be buying CREDD in WildStar, and why?
‘Players with more money than time’ is the easy answer. Dropping a handful of cash into a digital item to make some extra gold is a tempting convenience for those players with full-time jobs and families. Such players might use CREDD as a method to save time by trading it for currency and services by effectively “buying” someone else's work and time investment.
These users are more likely to look to “buy” in game currency though CREDD than shady RMT outlets as a safe alternative. Even if it might cost them a little more than the black-market price of gold, players will hopefully invest a little more to eliminate the risk of getting banned.
What CREDD will need in order to succeed in combating RMT is a strong economy; too much inflation or gold being too readily available could have a devastating impact on the selling price of CREDD. The economy of WildStar will be impacted by what players use gold for, and where gold comes from.
Whilst PLEX has been an undeniable success for CCP, the nature of a sandbox MMO creates a strikingly different market environment, compared to what we would expect to see in a more traditional theme-park such as WildStar. The vast majority of items and services purchased with in-game currency in EVE are temporary; you could invest a fortune purchasing and equipping a shiny new spaceship only to get killed immediately on entering low-security space and lose everything. In the aforementioned theme-park MMOs, purchases are much more permanent; gold has less wastage and much more limited usefulness as a result.
Normally, a player would only invest the time in getting gold that they would need for everyday services (repair bills, skill training, travel costs), item upgrades or the occasional luxury purchase.
The interesting factor to consider is the impact that CREDD will have on inflation. If a player is looking to purchase CREDD in order to maintain their subscription on top of their regular spending, they would need to acquire more gold than normal. The question becomes, where does the gold originate?
Whether the gold is injected into the economy by farming mobs, completing quests or playing the markets, a whole heap of players will be compelled to play outside of how they normally might in order to generate the gold that they need.
Imagine if every time you needed to pay a bill at home, you could invest time performing an activity that would allow you to generate money out of thin air. Unlike a regular job where money circulates currency between employer and employee, this money is created from nothing; it's more like having a minting press at home. An extreme analogy perhaps, but not only is this possible in MMOs, it's the fundamental basis of economics in the genre.
Sure, some people will play the auction house and the Commodity Exchange to source gold in order to fund the purchase of CREDD, but this is simply adding another transaction layer to the process. It does nothing to change the original source of the currency, or to suppress the potential damage that the extra gold flowing into the market could do to the economy.
Carbine has already mentioned that it will balance inflation in WildStar’s economic system by using money sinks.
Some of these sinks will be cosmetic: housing, mounts and a potential bounty of things to come. There must also be some incentive to purchase genuinely useful items or services for gold that players will need in order to balance the gold being generated for the economy to remain stable in the long-term. The only hint of their intention in the Q&A is repair and travel costs; Carbine may well be planning to implement necessary gold-sinks beyond that, it could be that they simply weren't asked the question at the time.
People will always need game-time in order to play, but will they always need gold? It remains entirely possible that, at level cap, gold will have little real use. There could then be a problem of gold being worth so little that it isn't beneficial for someone to invest the real-world money to attain the stuff. On one hand this could leave CREDD scarce on the market and at frightening prices but, on the other, it could create a very lucrative market; players with large amounts of disposable in-game income are much more able to justify paying large sums to purchase CREDD. If Carbine succeeds in implementing systems that require players to consume gold, this then presents the concern that if gold is useful, will buying CREDD equate to buying power?
It's too early to say. Until we see the systems that Carbine choose to implement for gear upgrading, crafting and a huge array of other potential solutions we can't really be sure.
It would be naïve to think that Carbine hasn't considered these possibilities and I am entirely confident that they have people working on it that are far better qualified than I.
Ultimately, it's safe to say that CREDD will work for some people, but not for everyone. Some players will have the luxury to pass judgement on whether the cost of the subscription fee is worth more or less than the gold that they have. It could be that this is the point entirely; the players with the real-life funds to pay the subscription fee simply aren't the demographic that Carbine is aiming for with CREDD (as they would play regardless), instead targeting those with the time to dedicate to amassing in-game wealth in order to give their potential playerbase an opportunity to grow.
It's down to Carbine to give the community the tools to control the economy to an extent, but remain diligent in preventing it getting out of control.
There is one thing we can be sure of though; Time is money, friend!