SynCaine is on vacation so somebody has to pick up the slack. That title is dedicated to him for having brought the SWTOR nickname “Tortanic” to my attention.
As usual, I want to mark the moment in time when we finally got the word. But first, a choice quote. I like an opening quote to set the tone.
This is transpiring exactly as Bioware anticipated. They planned to transition to F2P from the very beginning.
-Best Rationalization, from the RPS comment thread
I love that comment. Things are all going exactly to plan!
Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that there was very little in the way of plans. EA and BioWare had a more than a decade of MMOs to study and learn from, and yet they made the same mistakes we have seen multiple times.
I think, looking back on things, that the most surprising thing about Star Wars: The Old Republic has been its total lack of surprises.
It wasn’t a surprise when it was announced BioWare was going to make a Star Wars MMO. It wasn’t a surprise when the budget ballooned to around half a billion dollars all told. It wasn’t a surprise when all that money invested meant that no risks could be taken. It wasn’t a surprise when EA got LucasArts to kill off Star Wars Galaxies to limit the competition. It wasn’t a surprise when it played like a BioWare single player RPG. It wasn’t a surprise when sales spiked initially and then fell off. It wasn’t a surprise when subscription numbers began to crash.
And, finally, after weeks of hinting, it wasn’t even in the same ZIP code as anything resembling a surprise when EA announced yesterday that SWTOR was going to go free to play. (Massively was in such a rush to post the story that they missed the whole “another big subscription drop” aspect and had to go back and revise it.) Some gaming news sites went out of their way to make sure everybody knew this was in no way a surprise.
The whole SWTOR charade, from kick off to current day, has been tedious and predictable and, like the game itself, brought exactly nothing new to the table. Nothing. The game even opened up like its predecessor almost point for point. The problems were all foreseen by too many to be a lucky guess.
The last four years of SWTOR has been like a grotesque parody of MMORPG development. Things have gone from the peak of hubris, when EA was targeting 11 million players, to the CEO of EA saying that SWTOR really isn’t their most interesting property in a mis-guided effort to direct attention away from it. (Now though he says SWTOR performance was disappointing.)
And you know what else won’t be a surprise? When EA screws up going free to play by giving away too much for free at the start and then turning around and pissing everybody off by having to “take” some of the “free” back. You watch. They have messed that up in the past, and they will be anxious to boost numbers in the short term to show that the transition to F2P is a success.
But they have the weight of the game to support. They have said on numerous occasions that they need 500,000 subscribers to make money. With George Lucas’ hand in the til, that isn’t a surprise. And with the subscriber count having fallen below the 1 million mark, the break even number keeps getting closer despite their… um… best efforts.
However, what they plan to be giving away seems to be the levels 1-50 single player BioWare RPG aspect of the game. You know, the part that people seem to like. The complete change up to old school raiding at the end game, they’ll charge for that. And they will charge for their WoW battleground knock-offs. And they will charge for some travel options, if I read things right, which I guess means mounts.
So, if I were a SWTOR player, I might be very tempted to drop my subscription and just work through the story again at my own pace. Or can somebody convince me that there is a significant call for raiding in SWTOR?
Likewise, battleground… or flash points… or whatever? Anybody? Anybody? Beuller?
Which is going to put a lot of weight on the shoulders of the cash shop.
Are custom speeders and cosmetic gear going to be able to fund the game to the point of profitability? Granted, some people will stay subscribed, but the incentives to stay subscribed seem weak if you simply want to play the main level 1-50 game.
We shall see where the money ends up coming from to keep the lights on for SWTOR. Maybe EA will surprise us at last. Or maybe they will tinker with the things via their usual crowbar-like subtlety in order to try to get more juice out of the system. I expect, in the end, that SWTOR will end up the embodiment of all that I dislike about cash shop games. And that won’t be a surprise, because to drive the cash shop pay the bills, you have to work that money maker and get it in everybody’s face.
Meanwhile, many are saying this is the death knell for subscription MMOs. If Star Wars cannot make it, then who can? (Though Star Wars Galaxies seemed to be surviving right until it got the bullet in the head.)
I mean, who is left on the subscription model? Who is still thriving while charging a monthly fee?
World of Warcraft doesn’t really count. Blizzard is the crazy sperg outlier that put in its 10,000 hours of multi-player online gaming practice before trotting out its first MMO.
So there is EVE Online, the nutty sandbox spaceship game that somehow turns 100,000 players into 400,000 paid accounts.
There is Rift, which has now danced between being WoW, where being WoW is a good thing, and being light and responsive and providing new content in a way Blizzard never does, for more than a year now. (Though they do seem to emulate EVE in that every patch needs a couple more patches.)
And then there is… who? Who else is left thriving on the monthly subscription plan? There are lots of games still using it… PlanetSide, Dark Age of Camelot, and Ultima Online pop to mind… but are they really going anywhere or are they just waiting out the clock?
Oh, there is one more. I love this.
When did EA say that WAR would go free to play? Never? And yet their flagship MMO…
Well, there is no shortage of irony. And the monthly subscription model lives on.
Finally, at the price point of free, I might actually go back an give SWTOR a try. After playing it in beta, I decided it was not worth a $60 box and $15 a month to me. But for free it could be amusing, at least until the cash shop begins to loom heavily.
We shall see when the day comes.
You hit the real problem on the head. BW refused to look at anything, almost a “we want to try it first by ourselves without help” approach that works fine in home repair projects where you can call in an expert afterwards to clean up your mess, but not so well for…shall we say…titanic sized investments.
One thing I would give them money in the cash shop for…double xp potions so I don’t have to wade through the awful side content…again.
Although they dropped hints I’m surprised this has came so soon. For an established game studio I think bioware have to have a long hard look at themselves on how they have dealt with the game.
Patches have been slow and often break more than they fixed, content updates sub standard and finally admitting they lacked a true vision and followed what their forum fans asked for. Not really good enough.
I wonder what swtor would have been like if trion had been the devs and had a monster budget….. Just saying.
If they were to give WAR a decent F2P treatment, I’d play that again in a heartbeat. TOR…? Not so much. I’ve already seen the story, and the PvP doesn’t appeal to me.
As far as “thriving on the subscription model” we COULD throw in The Secret World, but to be fair we should probably give it 6 months to determine how “sticky” it will be.
I imagine SynCaine’s Smugness can be seen from space right now.
The thing about The Secret World and its subscription plan is that, unlike EA/Bioware, Funcom clearly planned the move from Subscription to Freemium along with the game itself. They’ve already pretty much said in the opening month that the game will go F2P in due course. It’s not a fallback position, it’s a business plan that they’ve operated successfully on their previous two MMOs (people don’t often seem to recall that Anarchy Online went F2P/Freemium long before DDO etc).
Launching with a box sale and running subscriptions for as long as they’ll hold, then converting to a built-in Freemium model for the bulk of the life of the game looks like a pretty solid strategy to me. Early adopters/hardcore fans will give you their money as soon as you deign to take it and then the real crowds will come along with their nickels and dimes later.
And EA probably need to pay me before I’ll find time for TOR.
Thanks for filling in for Syncaine! I kept checking my reader for his smug post to pop for some choice entertainment!
(And I actually play SWToR, having missed the WOW boat because of years of EVE entrainment. I became susceptible to a theme park diversion when I won EVE last winter, and SWTOR just happened to be there!)
Well you know, EA/Bioware/Mythic had years of criticism from WAR to go through to see what customers want in an MMO and determined the answer was voice acting.
And I would also play WAR F2P.
That’s a good point, bhag. TSW is currently a subscription based game because that’s their model and at some point their model will dictate they switch to income from the cash shop only. They know this, admit it, and are planning based on it. And the game isn’t yet suffering from it.
Even f2p, I cannot bring myself to play SWTOR (although the thought of creating a Jedi named LASUXXORS is tempting). Like you, I firmly believe EA persuanded LA to yank the SW license from SOE, thereby killing SWG, a game I loved. For that alone I will not play SWTOR or any other LA game.
I must say, never have I been so sorry to see Syncaine on vacation. Your column was just what I needed!
If they needed half a million subscribers to break even, aren’t they going to need something like 5 million freeps to do so? Can’t see that happening.
Personally, my take on SW:TOR from beta was not only that it wasn’t worth a $60 box and $15 a month, but that it wasn’t really even worth tens of gigabytes to play for free.
@Carson – That is exactly the ugly math that makes me think that EA is going to have to turn SWTOR into a cash shop nightmare. I was only kidding with that Clone Wars Adventures post… but it looks like it might come to pass.
@Aerynne – Glad to have been able to fill in, though I am sure SynCaine will have more to say on the subject.
To say that Syncaine’s smugness can be seen from space is an understatement; more accurate to say that it has developed to the point where it has taken the planet and the moon as satellites. But not without merit.
That said, whether or not they’re giving away too much depends on where you fall. For folks interested in single player stuff, they gave away everything. I think that BW is banking on the majority of players being heavily interested in FPs, Ops and BGs. Those players are either going to have to keep subbing, in which case I think they’re shooting a leg off, or they’ll offer premium level access for a fee in the cash shop similar to lotro which will get them income, albeit less than what they’d get from keeping those players subbing.
The issue with those two scenarios is the key to the whole Tortanic Debacle; namely, that management decisions are the jet turbine engines driving this boat into the iceberg of fail. TOR, as a theme park, is well done. There are issues to be sure, but you can’t say that the core storyline missions aren’t fantastic for a themepark MMO. It’s definitely a hell of a lot better than what I’ve seen in Cata and MoP from WoW. However, I don’t think that BW is going to have the alacrity to pursue a method to allow F2P folks to get access to unlimited FPs and Operations. So what they’re doing is alienating players who would pay a fee for access to that content, since it’s all they’re interested in, and the players who aren’t interested aren’t going to be paying at all.
So, when you ask the question, “who’s paying for Tortanic?”, the answer is that the boat’s being driven towards the iceberg at flank speed by the delusions of EA and Bioware’s PHBs.
I’m acquainted with someone who used to be on the TOR team and was in one of the many rounds of layoffs in the last year or two. According to him (reliable or not, but I think probably so), the lead developer finally lost faith in the project when EA was so specific about their 11 million subscriber plan… And that was years ago.
Not sure why (our discussion was cut short because we were supposed to be working), but interesting as a random factoid.
As an aside, working with LucasArts doesn’t seem to be a picnic either.
OMG I just realised. I have *sources*. I hope that doesn’t make me a journalist.
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I almost fell over reading the headline. You do know one of the things they highlighted for the cash shop is a Sith meditation throne, right? 9,9
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