SWTOR F2P: Game On, BioWare!

As promised, key members of our team are going to give their thoughts on the announcement SWTOR has gone free-to-play. It’s Jemima Moore’s turn.

I love SWTOR and when I awoke to the news that my current passion was going F2P, I will admit, I got that sinking feeling most long-time gamers get when they hear that phrase.  F2P = MMO death, or at least it used to.

My immediate reaction was one of sheer outrage at the blatantly misleading marketing language.

“…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.”

What? Let me re-read that a couple of times and take out all the bits designed to confuse…

“a new Free-to-Play option… will give players access to … new higher-level game content and new features through individual purchases or through a subscription option.”

So… um… the F2P option doesn’t give you access to higher-level content and new features – you have to purchase them or take up the subscription option.

“Subscribers will retain unrestricted access to all game features”

Except you won’t. Some game features require Cartel Coins to access and subscribers get a restricted amount for their monthly fee.

Even the name of the option is misleading. I remember when Free-to-Play actually meant it was free to play. Without spending a dime you could experience every aspect of the game.  Real money was only required if you want to look different, get around more quickly or skip a grind fest to min/max your gear.

Pay-to-Win meant the game was mostly free but to get the best gear, experience late end-game content and be competitive at the highest level you had to pay.

BioWare, and many other developers, are calling their incoming model free-to-play, but it’s actually Pay-to-Win or a Super-extended-free-trial or some other marketing lingo yet to be developed. Somewhere along the lines the meaning of F2P got hijacked and twisted around to mean any model that isn’t strictly and solely subscription-based. From a developer’s point of view it makes sense. Any catch-phrase with the word FREE in it is number one with a bullet when it comes to advertising. So what if it isn’t true? Gamers are addicts – we just have to suck them in.

Well, we may have let them twist around definitions and use them for evil and not good – but most gamers are pretty picky about their drug, er… MMO of choice and value-for-money remains King.

In this regard, BioWare’s new Pay-as-you-Play option is the greatest blessing we could have hoped for. Subscription models don’t tend to force players to assess the worth of their fun every time they log-in and play. For most the financial commitment to a game happens once and then continues unmonitored until you tell it to stop.

Split those decisions into many little parts and shift them to the here and now and people get a lot more picky. Subscribers may be willing to spend $15 per month on buggy unfinished content, riding elevators, staring at loading screens, and basic MMO services that are unintuitive and clunky like the GTN or crafting window. But spending 50 cents on a Warzone that may or may not count as a win will only happen once.

Bioware haven’t always demonstrated the best sense in this regard, but I’m keeping the faith that the instantaneous money-talks feedback they’re about to introduce into the game will drive faster bug fixes, better QA, more content and a few sackings in the Crafting Department.

I’ve got money in my pocket, Bioware, so it’s Game On!


  1. As a soloing casual story concerned player I just hope that those parts of the game that are locked away for subscribers are available for purchase, extra character slots etc.
    I don’t think I’ve played much this last month particularly given that 1.3 update was mostly devoted to group finder etc. and the numerous additional maintenance times and I started strongly considering canceling my subscription until the next content drop.