Star Wars the Old Republic and Free to Play death spirals

Next week, as long predicted, Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) will go free to play (F2P). Gamers around the Web are split on this decision, though most welcome the idea of F2P in general, they are not happy with the way BioWare plans to implement it in SWTOR.  So is the introduction of F2P to SWTOR an indication of the slow death spiral this massive multiplayer is undergoing?  Or is it just a sign of the times, proving once again that if World of Warcraft does it, so must anyone who hopes to compete with it?

An Overview of SWTOR F2P

Before we talk about the free play affects, we should first look at how BioWare plans to implement F2P in the game.  It begins with the introduction of a new currency, called Cartel Coins, which can be gained in various ways – all of which involve the player spending real world money on the game.

Game subscribers will get a monthly stipend of CCs commensurate with their subscription level plus a bonus for being subscribers up to the F2P point.  The longer you’ve been a subscriber, the bigger your bonus (based on months paid and played sequentially).  The stipend starts at 500CC per month (for monthly subscribers) and grows with the bonuses.

Coins can also be purchased just like game cards (and will replace game cards, actually) in increments starting at $4.99 for 450CC on up to 5,500CC for $39.99.

Most of the in-game changes revolve around this new currency.  The new Cartel Market will be where the CCs are exchanged for in-game stuff.  Once you buy CCs, you become a Preferred Player, which gives you easy access to things like your Cargo Bay and many convenience features plus Global Chat.   You’ll find a full list of those bonuses on the SWTOR announcement for F2P.   If you’re a current subscriber, you will find that outside of the new Marketplace and your new CCs, not much changes for you.

Players who choose to just go free will find that they have limited access to what regular players of the game take for granted.  They will not have access to Artifact items (unless acquired before the F2P takes effect) and cargo/inventory will be limited unless unlocked (purchased) as will legacy species and perks.  Some player creation options are also locked out for F2P-only gamers.

In a nutshell, this is how the F2P system will work in SWTOR.

How This Affects SWTOR

Some of the strings attached to the “domino-like deterministic path cruel fate has set all of us on,” as Nathan Grayson at Rock Paper Shotgun puts it, will mean that the “last great white hope for subs in a post-WoW world” has caveats.  Namely, free player restrictions.

These restrictions are designed, says ControlBlue at DarthHater, “ convert demo players into subs through frustration.”

Less chat access, limited instance runs, fewer space battles, and almost no player vs player (PvP) skirmishes will greatly limit the game for F2P players.  Add to that the slower experience gain and you have a game that for many players considering spending money on an MMO may be too boring and slow for them to open their wallets.

This leaves only story content, which in my opinion is rather limited in SWTOR, and relatively generic MMO game play, only made interesting because it’s in the Star Wars universe, to keep new players interested in the game.

I predict that while it will mean a fast influx of new players at the outset and probably some paying customers for the short-term, after the holidays, we’re going to see player numbers at SWTOR haven’t gained much and what they have gained will be offset by even fewer subscribers.

The Old Republic was a great idea and a good start for an MMO, but in a market saturated with good ideas and smart games, it’s just another MMO.

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