BioWare announced that Star Wars: The Old Republic will begin featuring a free-to-play option starting this fall.
The free-to-play option will include the opportunity to experience all eight classes and their respective storylines up to level 50.
The game will still require a subscription for full access. BioWare outlined the differences between the two options:
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 items including customizable gear and convenience features that will enhance the game play experience.
Free-to-Play –The first 50 levels will be free-to-play, with some restrictions on access to new content and advanced player features. Some restrictions can be “unlocked” with Cartel Coins.
To help entice people to purchase the game, retail copies of Star Wars: The Old Republic will go on sale at $14.99. Retail copies include one month of free subscription.
In order to add more value to their game for existing players, BioWare announced that they will increase the frequency of content releases for the The Old Republic. Additionally, gamers who already subscribe to Star Wars: The Old Republic will receive Cartel Coins and access to special in-game items. Former players who renew their subscriptions in the near future will also be elligible for these benefits.
Jeff Hickman, executive producer of Star Wars: The Old Republic, explained the reasons behind BioWare’s decision.
Since launch, our team has spent a lot of time trying to find new ways to be able to bring the Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ experience to as many potential players as possible. We quickly became aware that our subscription only model was a major barrier for a lot people who wanted to become part of The Old Republic universe. In fact, many players who have left the game said they would happily come back if they could play without the commitment of a monthly fee.
We feel that flexibility and choice in playing our game is important for all current and future players. For that reason, we began the exploration of expanding the game to include a Free-to-Play option.
Analysis: There’s always a good reason that the band is on the wagon, and that’s because subscription-based MMOs are the gaming industry’s equivalent of a trip to Vegas. MMOs aren’t cheap, and the hidden pitfall of the subscription model is that, if you don’t hit it big, then you’ll probably trickle out and die. It’s the reason Everquest, Star Trek Online, The Lord of the Rings Online, World of Warcraft, and now Star Wars: The Old Republic have all adopted the free-to-play model in one way or another. At the end of the day, free-to-play minimizes risk by allowing people to get into the game before they start paying up, which means more people playing, which means more buzz, which means even more people playing, which means dollar signs.
The dark side, of course, is that there are people who spent $60 on the game at launch and then sunk in months of subscription fees, only to have a large bulk of the game go free-to-play. Sure, you get a bunch of “Cartel Coins” and an in-game item or two, but to have the price of the retail game go down to $15 just half a year after launch has got to sting.
Ultimately, though, if BioWare holds true on their increased content updates promise, then this is good news for most gamers who wanted to play what is supposed to be a good game, but at the same time don’t want to have to pay obscene amounts of money to do it.