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.