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Star Wars: The Old Republic Column: Should SWTOR Go Free-to-Play?

By Michael Bitton on May 02, 2012

I’ve been knee-deep in the MMORPG.com community since I came on in June of 2009, but it feels like only yesterday when our community was up in arms over the notion of some Western game going free-to-play. While some of this sentiment still remains, it doesn’t take more than a cursory glance to notice that there’s been an overall attitude shift here, and this is likely due in part to the gradual trend towards free-to-play that has been going on since DDO made the extremely successful switch back in September of ’09. This apparent shift, at least to me, speaks volumes to where things are headed and it’s got me asking myself one question in particular as of late:

Should Star Wars: The Old Republic go Free-to-Play?

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This has been the kind of elephant in the room for SWTOR even before the game went live. BioWare didn't appear open to the idea on the run up to launch and I almost felt like they were sort of in a bubble, ignoring what is really becoming a foregone conclusion at this point: the MMO genre is going free-to-play. As long as the model is handled responsibly, Western consumers are increasingly warming to the idea, and even many MMO projects that failed to pass muster at their launch by the MMO gaming populace have found renewed life with the F2P business model.

The fact of the matter is this: Star Wars: The Old Republic should have gone free-to-play at launch. This has nothing to do with the quality or scope of the game. Whether SWTOR’s subscription numbers are rising or falling at the moment is frankly irrelevant. Subscriptions will drop this year no matter what BioWare does or how amazing the game is or could have been. There are simply a number of high-profile MMO releases coming this year and many of them are going in the F2P/hybrid F2P direction. Any game bucking this trend really isn’t going to be able to do so for long. When a gamer can get an AAA experience like Guild Wars 2 for the low month-to-month price of free, it’s going to be hard to command their attention while still demanding that $15 price of admission.

The subscription exclusive model is one of the primary reasons MMOs have had a hard time breaking into the mainstream, but the existing Western market simply wasn’t ready to make the switch. Outside of World of Warcraft (at least until recently), all subscription-based MMOs have been fighting the losing battle of subscriber attrition; it’s just the way things go.

Personally? I prefer the subscription model. I’d rather dole out my $15/month and be done with it. Living in NYC, going out to the movies is going to cost me over a month’s subscription as it is, so I don’t feel the need to play an MMO three hours a day every day just because I’ve spent $15 on my subscription this month. I feel I always get my money's worth. Unfortunately, I’m apparently in the minority and BioWare would simply be remiss to ignore this trend.

I really wouldn’t be surprised if EA are actively considering and planning for some sort of relaunch along these lines already. And if that day comes, it won’t necessarily be because the game isn’t performing well; it would just be an AAA developer making a smart business decision. It just might be better to strike while the iron’s hot instead of waiting for that inevitable plateau and dwindling interest. 

Would you have tried out SWTOR (assuming you haven’t already) if it were free-to-play at launch? Likewise, if you’ve played the game already, would you check it out again if it went free-to-play in the future? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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