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Star Wars The Old Republic Going Free to Play
Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) launched in December of 2011 to the waiting arms of nearly two million subscribers. Set during a cold war over 3,000 years before A New Hope, the MMO offers players sixteen different, if not distinct, advanced classes, nine playable races, and two separate factions, all within the Star Wars universe. As an MMO, SWTOR also brought unprecedented attention to story and immersion, providing class-specific quests, branching storylines, and a fully voiced world with over 900 hours of audio for both player characters and NPCs.
If you're still not clear what exactly I'm talking about, check the Wikipedia link for Star Wars: The Old Republic. It's not all inclusive, but it should get you up to light-speed.
Que the Imperial March
But, SWTOR has had trouble maintaining its subscribers. Update 1.1, "Rise of the Rakghouls", ushered the first world event for the game, and Update 1.2 revealed an inventive "Legacy System" that offered new roleplaying options and even greater character customization in addition to other tweaks. Still, in early July, Bioware, the developer behind SWTOR, announced a new trial system.
The trial system would allow players to test each of the eight available classes to level 15. Even with trial's limitations, players could complete quests on both the class' starting planet and the faction's home planet, choose and improve an advanced class, tinker with all the crafting options, and bit more. Like the trial offer for World of Warcraft, SWTOR's system gave players great freedom with an early portion of the game, allowing them to invest time and, hopefully, resources once they've enjoyed the game enough to warrant subscribing.
Unfortunately, the trial plan seems to have come too late.
So Much for the Younglings
Now, Bioware has opted to convert the trial system into a free-to-play system alongside the current subscription system. Although unsurprising given SWTOR's difficulty maintaining subscribers and various free-to-play promotions within Electronic Arts (the publisher), the announcement is still somewhat bitter. After months of fighting the free-to-play panic and clearly no design intention of including such options, SWTOR has finally folded. So, the issue now becomes how will a F2P model improve SWTOR? And, honestly, I don't think it will.
A Bad Feeling
As a player and a fan, I'm not particularly inspired by Bioware's effort to expand its subscriber base. Granted, F2P could make a huge difference. I just don't think it will, and here's a few reasons why.
- Bioware never meant for SWTOR to include F2P. Even with predetermined flexibility, transitioning between a subscription system and a F2P system is difficult, and I don't think Bioware can do it without great pains.
- SWTOR also cost seven years of production and around 80 million dollars (or half-a-billion) to develop. With investment like that, the micro-transactions of a F2P system would have to earn Yoda-level yields to make the transition an even exchange, to say nothing of actually benefiting.
- The best, though certainly not all, free-to-play systems focus on freedom and micro-transactions. Rather than limit the player's efforts, the system allows near-total freedom and simply charges for accessories -- early access to a mount, an additional character slot, extra inventory space, special (though unessential) gear, and so on. According to the official site, Bioware seems to adopt the opposite philosophy, imposing harsh limitations upon players in an effort to frustrate them into paying for services that really are essential to the game.
My Only Hope
Is that Bioware knows what it's doing. After all, I've been involved with SWTOR since early beta builds, and Bioware's always done right by the franchise and the fans. Early access, relatively bug-free, heeding fan input, solid updates and patches, clever Legacy System, great gameplay -- honestly, if my computer weren't in need of an engineer, I'd probably be playing SWTOR right now, instead of writing this hub. And even with the desperation of the gaming industry, Bioware has the capabilities to make this work. I really don't see how it could make this work, but it could turn out for the better. They could be the chosen one, the one to restore balance to the force of gaming...though that didn't turn out very well for the Jedi. Oi.
What do you think? Is this a good deal or a disturbance in the force? Have you played SWTOR before (please, tell me you weren't a Pub)? Is your subscription active? Leave some comments below.