It was pretty easy to discern which news story in the F2P space would stand out for me during the past couple of weeks. Those who didn't pick the launch of SWTOR's “Free-to-Play option”, go to the back of the class. And in case anyone has missed it, note the careful wording that the associated marketing and PR materials have been meticulous about using.
Back in August, a short while after this was announced, I presented the initial thoughts and feelings expressed by the representatives of four companies that are active in the F2P sector. Since that time, I've had the opportunity to think further, to discuss the topic with industry members whose opinions I respect, and to read what a number of other writers and many consumers have said. So, it seemed appropriate to devote this iteration of The Free Zone to a few things that have come to mind during the past three months.
One is that I'm still disappointed EA's decision makers seemed rather cautious, perhaps even timid with respect to the revenue model they chose to implement. Let me be very clear that this doesn't mean I feel they should have gone with a full-blown item shop-only approach. I do wonder, however, if they missed a potentially significant chance to be grab first mover advantage in terms of offering users greater scope in terms of being able to fit how they pay for the game with how they want to play it. Instead, they opted for something pretty familiar and thus not distinctive by apparently falling prey to the “single solution syndrome” I commented on last time.
As just one example, what if I don't want to subscribe for $15 a month because I only play a few hours per week? Is it conceivable that I'd still be willing to sign on for a $5, $7.50 or $10 package with appropriate restrictions? I'n not saying there should be tiers at all these levels, but how hard would it have been to offer more than only one?
In addition, while I'm not set against the concept of limitations on F2P players, some of the actual ones strike me as... well, pretty chintzy. Like not being able to sprint. I suppose how much this will actually matter depends on how often an individual plays with people who do. But really, what's the point? I'd be interested to see the rationale that led to this decision because I can't come up with anything reasonable, not easily anyway. Frankly, it seems like it may have been tossed in because it was possible and no one stood up to say it was weak.
Second, I agree with the gist of Michael Bitton's column stating that there are multiple reasons to consider taking SWTOR F2P for a test drive. Without going into the ones he stated, why not? If you previously played and stopped, you can check to see what and how much has been added and/or improved, plus former subscribers receive certain benefits. If you haven't, there's very little risk - the time to download and install, and perhaps a chunk of bandwidth allowance if you're on a capped plan.
That said, if you had serious issues with the basic nature or style of the game, I don't know that such concerns will ever be addressed enough to satisfy you. Its core qualities may evolve somewhat over time, but barring a large-scale makeover like we saw with Galaxies, it's still essentially SWTOR. So if it wasn't for you before...
On the other hand, I expect that adding the F2P option will have some key positive effects. The obvious one is that I think it will both expand the total player base, which will help address the server population issue, and increase the number who pay something. The latter rates to augment the game's overall revenue. With luck, this could translate into an improvement in how quickly new content is implemented. I'm not about to predict this will happen, but with my rose-colored glasses on, I can hope.
Finally, I can't help but wonder about a question to which I doubt I'll ever know the answer. To what degree if any did SWTOR's inability to gain and/or sustain a large enough subscriber base to stick with its original revenue model factor into the still fairly recent departure of BioWare co-founders Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka? And regardless, I will miss the class they always demonstrated in every dealing, conversation and communication I had with them since our initial contact over 15 years ago. Ray and Greg, may the force be with you in all their future endeavors.