**Ok, I know this is a bit late, but it's actually a cross-post from my personal blog I recently started up, and I just now decided "why not put it up on GB as well?" So here it is! My first (real) GB blog entry!
So EA/Bioware announced today in a press release that SWTOR will be undergoing the transition to a F2P (free to play) model coming this fall. This, not too long after they rolled out a sort of trial that allowed players to experience levels 1-15 absolutely free of charge in early July. It’s public knowledge that SWTOR has continued to bleed subscriptions over the course of this year (though EA has not released current numbers for a few months now), but it is odd to see them making this move so quickly after the trial was released.
That said, I don’t believe it’s all doom and gloom for SWTOR. I believe it going F2P is easily the best thing not only for EA/Bioware, but also for the players. By allowing the game to adopt this model, Bioware is able to pull in more players into the game world, thus allowing them a higher chance at profit from microtransaction purchases, or even increased subscriptions (they are still keeping the standard $14.99 subscription model as an option to have everything in the game unlocked to you, if you so choose), and it also allows players a bit more peace of mind about perhaps features or additional content that have yet to be introduced to the game, but are coming soon, without feeling the need to drop their support of it and stop playing until the features or content are released.
This idea of players being able to freely move in and out of multiple MMO ecosystems that is allotted by F2P MMO’s is why the F2P model has become so popular among developers across the market. Think of it this way: GW2′s release date was announced to be 8-28, with the headstart beginning 8-25, right? Not long after, Blizzard announced that their latest WoW expansion, Mists of Pandaria will be releasing 9-25, exactly a month to the day after GW2′s headstart begins. This is Blizzard reacting as they always do when a popular MMO release is on the horizon: Let the game sit on the shelves for 1-3 months, then hit the players with a new expansion, driving them all back to WoW.
And it’s worked– until now. When MoP releases, Blizzard is expecting to pull “subscribers” from GW2 back to WoW, thus increasing their numbers and decreasing those of their competitor. However, while that plan works to disrupt subscription-based MMO’s like Warhammer Online, Rift, and SWTOR, no one will really leave GW2 for MoP. Instead, they will simply buy MoP, and play it alongside GW2, since there is no additional cost associated to continuing to play GW2. This means that serious WoW raiders can still spend that time in WoW, still see all the content, still down bosses, but then return to GW2 once in a while to hit up wuvwuv or sPvP, or maybe to work on crafting that legendary greatsword we all want.
Now, all that said, this also isn’t just guaranteed profit for EA/Bioware either. It all depends on how they handle converting the game into a F2P model. The early news we have shows that all leveling content from 1-50 will be completely free for all, and it appears as though all classes will also be available. No purchasing content packs or professions a la LotRO’s F2P system. However, they have chosen some odd restrictions for those playing gratis. Free players may only do a set number of Warzones (structured pvp), Flashpoints (dungeons), and Space Combat missions (who even enjoys those?) per week, though the exact number has not been announced yet. More strangely, only subscribers may complete Operations (raids).
It’s the wording of some of these restrictions posted here that has me worried about the direction they’re taking SWTOR in their transition to F2P. It seems like one possibility could be that they will not simply have a F2P option that allows you to purchase -with real money- some of the quality of life omissions that paid players receive, but will instead require players to pony up the monthly fee if they want to see things like operations, unlimited pvp, or some playable species. Assuming this wording can be taken at face value, you can really feel the hesitation from EA/Bioware in making SWTOR a F2P game. It’s like they’re saying “Here, you can enjoy the leveling content of our game completely free! However, if you want to enjoy more than just a finely measured dose of these other features, you’d better just go ahead and give us our $15/month.”
At this point, only time will tell how successful SWTOR’s transition to the light side of the MMO market will go, but I’d love to get back in there and continue the Great Hunt on EA/Bioware’s buck! Just after I do everything in GW2 first…