In a move many arguably saw coming, Bioware’s often criticized first MMO title will be enabling a Free-To-Play option, sometime in the coming autumn. For the most part, the details are rather thin, but a general outline of both the Subscriber-based and Free-based systems have been outlined on the SWTOR website. While many see this as a great opportunity, there are just as many concerned over the move, myself included.
The core of SWTOR, the story, will be fully accessible to all free players, even up to level 50. Many of the of the flashpoints, warzones, space missions and other, more challenging content, will be subscriber based or supported via micro-transactions. Full operations (raids), will remain subscriber content.
This move comes after dwindling subscriber numbers over the last few months. Only recently, were server transfers enabled, albeit, far too late (for months, there were dozens of servers with only a handful of people on them), so a large number of players were paying for an online single player game. Now that server populations have condensed, the game is much more enjoyable, but lag has begun to show it’s ugly head.
Opening it’s doors to free players, Bioware will not be segregating the player-base with free and subscriber servers, it will all be shared. Subscribers will be getting ‘priority access’ when it comes to server queues, which in honesty, is of little consolation since paid accounts will still be competing with free players for slots on the same servers. It’s not as if Bioware could randomly evict free-players to make space for subscribers, either.
Also launching with the free-to-play system will be an in-game store for various vanity items and ‘consumables’, using a separate currency system, Cartel Coins. Free players will be able to purchase these coins with real money and trade them in for various items (not much word on specific items). Previous and current subscribers will also receive 150 coins for each month they have been subscribed, with the cut-off date being August 1st. Collectors edition members will receive a further 1000 coins. Since there is no value associated with these coins compared to items, it’s hard to tell if 150 or 1000 coins are actually worth much. In addition, active subscribers will receive an ‘allowance’ of Cartel Coins each month. Additional details about future expansions and coin details can be found here.
I’m extremely dubious over this conversion, Rob felt the impact first hand when long-time subscription based MMO classic, Lineage II by NCSoft, went free-to-play, which you can read about here. It all starts innocent enough, but it doesn’t take long before the wallet becomes bigger than the gameplay experience. Free-to-play suddenly becomes pay-to-win. Lineage II is by no means alone, the MMO scene is filled with free-to-play titles with balance distorting purchasables.
While there is no certainty that this will happen with The Old Republic, I just can’t shake this uneasy feeling of what so many other MMOs have done previously. I guess only time will tell.