Obviously many people will come to the conclusion that the game must have failed. As an active subscriber, with multiple toons, I can tell you that the population is healthy. Although it's not booming, it's greater than a lot of other MMOs out there. So why go free to play?
The free to play system is what we in sales and marketing refer to as a "puppy dog close". This type of close, as in the end pitch of a sale, is designed for products that a sales rep is confident that the consumer will love once they experience it. And once they have invested time into the game, they'll be more than happy to pull out their credit card and finalize their commitment. Now the free to play system that BioWare are launching for SWTOR gives you full access to the character story line, but only gives you limited access to flashpoints, races, auction houses and other crucial game elements. It also gives you no access to end game operation (raid) content. After you have invested hours with your beloved character, if you want to participate in end game content you will have to subscribe.
After experiencing more than 50% of the class story lines, I can tell you that this is a very strong sales pitch. There is no risk up front for any Star Wars fan to pick up this game. Free to play is going to increase server population and it has the potential to increase profit margins for BioWare. Higher populations means more PvP action and even more people in queues for flashpoints. This provides a greater experience for subscribers. Obviously subscribers will have certain advantages due to access to end game content that the freebies won't, giving them lots of easy kills in PvP - and who doesn't like feeling like a legend?
Rather than trying to cram everything into this one post I will explore the changes that Free to Play will bring to SWTOR over the coming weeks. Here is the official Press Release from EA:
EA Expands Award-Winning MMO Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ with Free-to-Play Option This Fall
New Free-to-Play Option Will Open Up the Critically-Acclaimed MMO from BioWare and LucasArts to Millions of Additional Star Wars™ Fans and Gamers Worldwide
AUSTIN, Texas--(BUSINESS WIRE)--
BioWare™, a Label of Electronic Arts (EA), announced today that it will be expanding the story-driven, massively multiplayer online game Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ by adding a new Free-to-Play option this fall. This option will give players access to each of the eight iconic Star Wars character class storylines, all the way up to level 50, with certain restrictions*. Unlimited game access, including new higher-level game content and new features, will be made available through individual purchases or through a subscription option.
“Players want flexibility and choice. The subscription-only model presented a major barrier for a lot of people who wanted to become part of The Old Republic™ universe,” said Matthew Bromberg, GM of BioWare Austin.
Jeff Hickman, Executive Producer of Star Wars: The Old Republic added, “Since launch, we’ve been listening to feedback from our fans and adding new content and refining The Old Republic at a breakneck pace. We believe we are in a position to help improve the service even more, not only by continuing to add new content, but also by expanding the game to many more Star Wars fans, increasing the populations on worlds and the vibrancy of the community.”
Starting this fall, there will be two different ways to play Star Wars: The Old Republic:
Subscription – A service designed for players who want unrestricted access to all the game features via ongoing subscription or by redeeming a Game Time Card. In addition to gaining access to all game content as our current subscribers do now, subscribers will receive ongoing monthly grants of Cartel Coins, the new virtual currency that will be introduced later this fall. Cartel Coins can be used to purchase valuable in-game items including customizable gear and convenience features that will enhance the game play experience.
The first 50 levels will be Free-to-Play, with restrictions on access to new content and advanced player features. Some restrictions can be “unlocked” with Cartel Coins.
As the first step towards adding the new Free-to-Play option this fall, Star Wars: The Old Republic will go on sale in August for $14.99 USD, including one-month of free subscription.
Current and former players will also find additional benefits as part of this program. BioWare will be increasing the frequency of game content updates, with the first of many new releases coming in August. In addition, current subscribers will receive Cartel Coin grants and qualify for access to special in-game items. Even former players who re-activate now will qualify for special benefits. To learn more about these rewards, please visit www.StarWarstheOldRepublic.com/FREE.
Star Wars: The Old Republic is one of the most critically acclaimed MMOs of all time, having won MSNBC’s “Game of the Year” award in 2011, “Editor’s Choice” awards from IGN, PC Gamer and “Best MMO of 2011” awards from Game Informer, GameSpy, AOL Massively, Ten Ton Hammer and more. The game is set thousands of years before the classic Star Wars movies, with the Galactic Republic and Sith Empire locked in the middle of an epic, galactic war. Players choose one of eight iconic Star Wars character classes, including the Jedi Knight, Jedi Consular, Smuggler, Trooper, Sith Warrior, Sith Inquisitor, Bounty Hunter and Imperial Agent, becoming the hero or villain of their own personal Star Wars saga.