Everyone said it was only a matter of time. Ever since the much lauded launch of this year’s self proclaimed “biggest” MMO, people declared it wouldn’t last. Now, with its population continuing to fall, EA and Bioware have turned nay sayers into prophets. Star Wars: The Old Republic is changing to a free-to-play model in the fall of 2012. With this comes a large number of changes, and promises of renewed efforts.
SWTOR isn’t the first MMO to turn free-to-play, although it may very be the one to do it the soonest from its launch. Like many mmos that started as subscription based games, SWTOR is being quite generous in giving the full, original game for free, once its purchased. As a former beta tester and retail subscriber, I can safely say this is an absolute steal, especially if you wait for its inaugural F2P $15 sale price. That’s fifteen dollars for eight fleshed out single player story lines that include all of Bioware’s classic RPG elements such as companions, optional romances, party campsite to converse and learn about your companions, and dialogue trees. I’m also glad to say this free version doesn’t include the rather weak multi-player component, at least, not entirely.
Players opting to play for free will have very limited multiplayer/pvp options. SWTOR has your bread and butter raids with instance matching you can do, however the endgame content for this category will be locked until you pay. For PVP, the controlled pvp events called warzones will be available a limited number of times so that players can experience it, but once you run out of tickets, they shake their money cup. Here is where things get pricey, and that proves to be evidence that EA/Bioware may not quite get it yet.
Other mmos that have gone F2P have many different options for players to spend money. The model is designed to reel people in slowly by locking out key features, and offering small steps up to the full shabang. SWTOR, while it does lock out these key features, such as restricted storage space and possibly money capacity, it falls flat by making it an all in deal. So, on paper, EA is charging a staggering 15 dollars a month just for endgame and pvp along with full access to storage and other features. It also remains unclear if there will be an option to purchase individual access for new content as the game expands without this premium subscription, but EA has time before coming to that bridge.
I can honestly say, this is probably not going to win back many, if any, subscriptions for SWTOR. Most of its lost subscribers, including myself, left because the endgame and pvp content simply wasn’t worth the monthly subscription. It consisted of three, now four 15 minute warzones that had to be spammed a dozen times a day to even be worth the effort in order to purchase random chance boxes for endgame gear. This in turn served no purpose except to make players better at those warzones. Yes, there is a open world pvp system, and there is a purpose to it, however it needs serious work. The endgame flashpoints that are going to be locked are hardly anything to cry about either. So, you really have to ask yourself, is that small sliver of content worth 15 dollars a month? Probably not, but there’s another currency system coming into play, and here’s where EA might win some dollars.
A new in-game currency called cartel coins are going to be introduced, which can be used for access to the locked endgame content. What makes this currency interesting is that subscribers get a monthly allotment of cartel coins, meaning they will have uses for them too, and this could very well give them a free monthly flow of credits(SWTOR money) by selling their allotment. It remains to be seen what’s going to be buyable with these coins, and just how much of the premium access will be sold this way. Most of all, this can potentially impact the game’s economy as subscribers strive to make it rich while savvy free-spirits earn premium access without spending a dime.
With these changes, EA is taking SWTOR in a new direction, and somehow thinks it can now offer even more content at an increased pace with a reduced staff. Their new goal is to release new content every six weeks with its streamlined crew. I’m not sure how it’s going to pull off more with less, especially after their previous snail pace, but more power to them if they can.
And now comes the obligatory pun. Will you follow the light and work for premium access? Or, will you fall to the dark side and pay to win?