The Naked Gamer: SWTOR F2P Thoughts

SWTOR F2P Thoughts

The Naked Gamer is a regular opinion column that strips back the superficialities and looks at the flesh underneath. If you’ve got a topic you’d like discussed, drop columnist Kristy Green a line!

My relationship with Star Wars: The Old Republic has been more like a rollercoaster than well, a relationship. When I first heard about this new MMO my immediate thought was how awesome it was going to be to play out my childhood fantasy of being a Jedi. Obviously this isn’t the first Star Wars game but it was the first one that I was interested in playing. When I heard BioWare were behind it, well I had a bit of a geek squealing session.

I was frustrated when I heard it wasn’t being released in Australia at launch but through some clever workarounds I was able to get the game. So when launch did come around, I was able to play and to live my dreams as a Jedi Consular and even got to play as a Twi’lek. How much more cooler can you get?

Sadly, then my friends stopped playing and the awesomeness of being a lightsaber wielding blue woman wasn’t enough to keep me playing. The game had some great things and like many, I loved the story (even if I got lost a few times because I kept pressing the spacebar during cut scenes) but there just wasn’t enough to keep me paying a subscription for. I let my account lapse with the promise that if it went free to play, I would return if only to find out how the story ended.

When I heard the announcement that SWTOR was going to go free to play and how the story part of the game will be available to everyone, I was more excited than when the game was first released. Well, I was at first. Then they released more information about how the free to play will work and I went from yes to maybe to no, although floating around ‘maybe casually’ right now.

I admit that I am not a fan of free-to-play models with a subscription. I feel that it should be one or the other. There is always a chance of tension building between those that pay and those that don’t. Also, you have the added difficulty of finding the balance between rewarding the subscribers without punishing the free-to-players.

When I look at SWTOR’s new free-to-play plans, one thing sticks out to me – it seems to be all about getting you back to paying a full subscription. They seem to offer no reward for subscribing but instead lay all the punishment (or restriction) on the rest of the player base.

I admit I can’t see this working; the whole point of going free-to-play is getting people back playing your game and getting them to spend money because they want to, not because they have to.  People shouldn’t feel like their game play is affected because they aren’t paying a subscription.

I feel that F2P will only succeed if the unlocks are really cheap, so you can essentially unlock the whole game for the same amount as a typical box price and if they allow people to go from subscription to non-subscription back to subscription without feeling like they are being penalised.

For now though, my gaming plate is already pretty filled with four other MMOs and numerous other games I play with my friends. I would have made time for SWTOR but right now, I am not sure I will. This weekend will really tell if I start playing again.

So good luck to BioWare and May The Force Be With You.

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!

Comparing SWTOR F2P Versus Subscription

It’s been a big day for SWTOR, with the announcement of the game going free-to-play. Although I’m extremely cynical about the framing of the announcement of a great positive sign for the game, I do think the move is likely to grow the game somewhat. Not purely because of the change broadly, but because of the way BioWare have drawn a nice line between what F2P’ers and ongoing subscribers can access. Let’s take a look at the key ones:

1. Everyone can play right through to Level 50

This is an unavoidable move if you want to attract new players and it’s a good move when you factor in the other differences between the two player types.

2. Limited character creation options for F2P’ers

Only subscribers will get to choose species. It’s a good differentiation, as any RP’ers or other Star Wars devotees that love a particular species will be driven to subscribe. More casual players won’t be fazed most likely, so it’s not a huge issue.

3. Warzones

F2P’ers will have a lesser number of Warzones they can complete each week. There’s no confirmation of what the exact limitation is at this stage. Rabid PvP’ers will probably maintain a subscription anyways, while everyone else can really check out if they like SWTOR PvP.

4. Flashpoints and Space Combat

Again, only subscribers will have unlimited times they can play Flashpoints or space missions. What will be interesting here is the number F2P’ers can play – if the number is relatively high then there actually won’t be that big a difference. No-one sane plays dozens of Flashpoints a week. Do they?

5. Operations

This is probably the firmest line in the sand between the two player types. If you want to raid, you need to be a subscriber. That said, the F2P players should be welcome additions to guilds, as they can level up and gear up on F2P and if they decide they want that last step, they can pay up then. The cynic in me says that F2P’ers will get some Operation access in the future though.

6. Travel Features and GTN

Again, less access for those who go F2P. GTN access is apparently going to be ‘extremely’ limited, with full subscribers able to have 50 simultaneous listings. There’s no clarity on exactly what falls within ‘travel features’ – perhaps there’ll be longer cooldowns on Quick Travel for those who go F2P.

7. Priority Login for Subscribers

Ok, I feel bad, but I laughed when I read this one. Subscribers will always jump the login queue ahead of F2P’ers. That’s reasonable and handy – if there were queues. Can anyone tell me the last time they had a queue? 1.3 update maybe?

Over to you: are the subscription features enough to stop you going to F2P? Let us know!

SWTOR Goes Free to Play

In one of the biggest non-surprises of the year, BioWare have announced that SWTOR has gone free-to-play.

Even though in recent weeks there have been more layoffs, including departures of some of the big names involved in the development of the game, it hasn’t stopped BioWare plastering their front page with the excited “The Old Republic Is Expanding!” as the lead for the F2P announcement. Cynicism aside, there’s a bunch of related content announced with the change:

1. Players can still choose to pay a subscription, which gives them access to everything and also earns them ‘Cartel Points’

2. The F2P option will go live in August, when you can buy the game for only $14.99 which includes 30 days of game time.

3. A range of new content is coming as well:

The full press release from BioWare/EA:

BioWare™, a Label of Electronic Arts (NASDAQ: EA), announced today that it will be expanding the story-driven, massively multiplayer online game Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ by 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.

“Players want flexibility and choice. The subscription-only model presented a major barrier for a lot of people who wanted to become part of The Old Republic™ universe,” said Matthew Bromberg, GM of BioWare Austin.

Jeff Hickman, Executive Producer of Star Wars: The Old Republic added, “Since launch we have been adding new content and refining The Old Republic at a breakneck pace based on the feedback from our fans. We believe we are in a position to help improve the service even more, not only by continuing to add new content, but also by expanding the game to many more Star Wars fans, increasing the populations on worlds and the vibrancy of the community.”

Starting this fall, there will be two different ways to play Star Wars: The Old Republic:

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.
As the first step towards adding the new Free-to-Play option this fall, in August at retail Star Wars: The Old Republic will go on sale for $14.99 USD, including one-month of free subscription.

Current and former players will also find additional benefits as part of this program. BioWare will be increasing the frequency of game content updates, with the first of many new releases coming in August. In addition, current subscribers will receive Cartel Coin grants and qualify for access to special in-game items. Even former players who re-activate now will qualify for special benefits. To learn more about these rewards, please visit

We’ll be covering this is more detail today as our team of writers dissect things. In the meantime, what’s your take? A great move that will grow the game, a desperate measure to keep the game viable, or somewhere in the middle?

SWTOR to go Free To Play?

Over the past 24 hours or so there’s been a lot of interest in some comments made by BioWare’s Emmanuel Lusinchi in an interview with UK magazine games™. Interestingly, the online interview preview appears to have been pulled, but you can still view the cached Google version.

The two comments being dissected so forensically are:

In regard to competition from free-to-play MMOs:

“I think it’s more than the free-to-play model – it’s more that there is a lot of competitive offers,” suggests Lusinchi. “If it was just free-to-play games and they weren’t very good it wouldn’t even be a question but there are definitely good games out there and good games coming out, so of course all of this competition impacts your plan with what you want to do.”

On feasibility of making SWTOR free-to-play:

“The MMO market is very dynamic and we need to be dynamic as well,” he says. “Unless people are happy with what they have, they are constantly demanding updates, new modes and situations. So we are looking at free-to-play but I can’t tell you in much detail. We have to be flexible and adapt to what is going on.”

That’s the sum-total of information out there at present. None of it is that explicit, nor that surprising. The challenge BioWare face is that in some quarters going free-to-play is seen as admitting defeat – even though some games have grown going that route. There’s no right or wrong – it’s just how such a model would work that becomes key.

Over to you: do you think F2P is on the near horizon, and if so, what impact do you think it will have on SWTOR?