Earlier today, my esteemed colleague, Dan McCall revealed to Inquisitr readers that Star Wars: The Old Republic (SW:TOR) is going to have a free to play (FTP) option starting in the fall of 2012. I decided to take a closer look at free to play and let our readers know what game developer Bioware is planning. Before we get into the details of the offering, lets recap why this decision was made.
The move to free to play was hardly unexpected, especially considering the dismal news that was reported during an investors call from SW:TOR publisher, Electronic Arts (EA), on July 31, 2012. EA admitted that SW:TOR subscriptions have dropped below one million for the first time. While the company wasn’t giving out specific figures to the general public, they did say subscribers numbered “well over” 500,000.” This is a shocking drop from a high of 1.7 million paying customers in the early days of the game. The bad news really sinks in when you consider that SW: TOR is only seven months old.
The game also has several serious weak points that are unrelated to whether you subscribe or play for free. They need to be addressed no matter what game access models players are offered. The world PVP is a mess; there are only 3 end game instances; space combat controls are awful and high end gear is way too easy to acquire. The game needs a major infusion of meaningful and challenging end game content if players are going to be convinced to play SW:TOR year after year. Easy mode and endless repetition will not win anyone’s loyalty in the highly competitive world of online gaming.
Lets get to the nitty gritty of Star Wars: The Old Republic free to play. FTP is basically a depressing list of everything you will not be allowed to do if you decide to stop paying a monthly fee. Veteran players will take one look at the details and conclude there is virtually nothing left of the game. New players will also meet with disappointment before they even begin to play. For some inexplicable reason, Bioware decided to place restrictions on which of the nine playable species (races) you can select when you create your character. Since many Star Wars fans are really into the all the different alien races in the movies, not being able to play all the available species is certainly a major turn off.
In addition to the limit on which species you can select, free to play also sets limits on how many times a week a player can join a warzone or attempt the game’s flashpoints There will also be a limit on how many space missions you can complete every week. These changes will have a direct impact on a player’s ability to acquire gear and earn credits. It will make it harder for those players who choose free to play to enjoy the game with friends and guild mates. Once they have used up their weekly quota of warzones, space missions or flashpoints, they will have to turn down invitations to these areas.
Who ever came up with the ridiculous idea of not allowing free to play to have access to Operations (instances) should be sent directly to a psychiatrist. It is simply beyond comprehension that Bioware has such a lack of common sense that they want free to play users pay for the right to enjoy the game’s already limited end game content. Raiding is a core component of a successful MMORPG and there is absolutely no point joining Star Wars: The Old Republic free to play without the end game instances.
Free to play will also bring changes to the game’s login rules, in-game travel and the Galactic Trade Network (the auction house). I have no argument with giving login priority to paying customers if the servers are crowded. But the idea of “extremely limited access” to the auction house is insulting. Not having full use of the Galactic Trade Market will reduce a player’s ability to benefit from the game’s economy. Reducing access to the game’s travel features will place a real burden on anyone who have doesn’t have a great deal of time to play. Star Wars is a huge game and having full use of all the travel options is a time saver. While it is arguably not a major issue, it will have a noticeable impact on casual players.
I am very unimpressed with free to play, as it is currently described on the SW:TOR website. Why would anyone want to play a game without being able to enjoy the most exciting content? How many characters can you level before you go stark, screaming mad. The way Bioware has free to play set up, leveling is about the only thing left to do and even that has several limitations. I certainly don’t see why any existing player, who is already level 50, would choose free to play. Perhaps it will attract new players, who will enjoy leveling their first character, but that will quickly lose its appeal.
For me, Star Wars: The Old Republic free to play looks like a total waste of time. EA and Bioware need to take a long, hard look at how Aion was totally revitalized by NCsoft. Aion has gone fully free to play and offers complete access to every bit of available content. NCsoft makes an excellent profit by having an exciting, well stocked item shop. If the current version of SW: TOR free to play is the best Bioware has to offer, I would much rather see them fix the game’s problems, add a generous amount of new content and forget about this awful, stingy mistake. Then I would be more than happy to pay my $14.99 a month and keep playing the Star Wars: The Old Republic.