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Wayfinder Is Hoping Dropping Microtransactions Could Reverse Its Troubled Launch

Finding a way back.

key art from Wayfinder
Airship Syndicate

A small live-service game getting pulled from sale after a rocky launch might not be the most shocking development, but in the case of Wayfinder, a live-service action RPG that launched last August, the story has a surprising second act. Developer Airship Syndicate announced today that Wayfinder is returning to PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X soon — without the microtransactions. It’s a bold move, to be sure, but one that makes some sense given other recent live-service games crashing and burning.

Last month, Wayfinder was pulled from sale after Airship Syndicate bought the game rights from publisher Digital Extremes, following a distinct lack of interest from players at launch. Anyone who bought a founder’s pack in the game’s first run can play Wayfinder’s new Echoes update on May 31. For everyone else, the game goes back on sale on June 11 on Steam and later this year for console. When it returns, Wayfinder will no longer have microtransactions, instead costing $24.99 while in Early Access, with the price increasing for the 1.0 launch later this year.

Wayfinder is switching from a free-to-play, online-only game to a single player adventure with co-op.

Airship Syndicate

Free-to-play games rely on microtransactions to keep making money — and in some cases they make much more that way than if they charged a one-time fee to buy the game outright. While that can be a boon for developers, it also means that players who can fork over more cash enjoy an advantage over others, and there’s always the risk of in-game items you spent real money on becoming obsolete through future updates.

According to Airship Syndicate, it’s not just monetization that’s changing in Wayfinder. In order to push players to keep making purchases, free-to-play games have to cater to FOMO and even twist some of their systems to encourage spending. Now that Wayfinder won’t have to rely on microtransactions, Airship Syndicate is changing the game to include features more like those of other paid titles. According to the studio, it’s adding random gear drops, a new skill system, multiple difficulty options, and a greatly expanded open world, which could bring it more in line with a game like Diablo IV. The biggest change is that it will now be easier to unlock new characters to play, which was a major time sink in the original game, and one of the systems that would theoretically drive players to spend more money to speed the process up.

It’s not unheard of for a paid game to later switch to a free-to-play model, as was the case with Destiny 2 and Rocket League, but the reverse is rare. Wayfinder’s rough launch could end up working somewhat in its favor, since it doesn’t have a huge community that’s grown used to the game being free, but the general fatigue over live-service games could end up helping it more.

Wayfinder isn’t without its issues, but its good qualities may shine without its free-to-play model.

Airship Syndicate

Publishers clearly realized the potential of live-service games as infinite money makers a few years ago, and countless live-service games sprung into existence. Sony announced that it was going all-in on live service, with multiple games in development across its studios. Fortnite developer Epic Games published Rumbleverse, a fighting game twist on the battle royale genre. Even Naughty Dog was getting into the game with its The Last of Us Factions multiplayer spin-off.

Now, Sony has said half of its planned live-service games are delayed, Rumbleverse shut down within a year, and Factions was canceled before launch, a fate shared by plenty of similar games. Even the popularity of Marvel superheroes isn’t enough to get people excited, with Marvel’s Avengers shutting down in 2023. The same day Wayfinder revealed its upcoming return, Ubisoft announced it was canceling the free-to-play shooter The Division Heartland.

Wayfinder’s live-service model wasn’t the only thing players criticized about the game on launch, but even complaints like its reliance on grinding and slow progression could be remedied now that it doesn’t rely on keeping players hooked. When I played a beta version of the game last year, I wasn’t immediately enthralled, but I did see a fantasy action RPG with plenty of potential. Now that Wayfinder is set to return as a co-op experience with the rough edges of live service sanded off, it could serve as an example that there’s another way out of the microtransaction model than shutting down a game entirely.

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