[SWTOR] 4 things you need to know about F2P SWTOR

“.. in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes AND F2P MMO conversions.”

So, the big MMO news today is that Bioware announced that SWTOR will transition to a full free to play game before the end of 2012. It doesn’t come as a great surprise following a couple of rounds of layoffs in response to falling subscriptions, and departures of senior developers. Clearly EA were looking for some quick fixes for the expensive MMO which is starting to look like an albatross around their necks.

I thought I’d distill the answers to the four main questions I had.

1. When is the game switching to F2P.

November 2012.

2. How much can you get without subscribing?

Quite a lot. Many players (including me) would say that the real jewel in the crown of this game is the levelling content, and that’s largely what you’ll get for free. The game will be F2P to level 50, with restricted access to flashpoints and warzones (ie. a restricted number per week) among other things such as number of auctions. You will have to subscribe to gain access to raids/Operations and there are some other restrictions which are lifted for subscribers.

The current plan is that you’ll still have to buy the core game, but the price is being reduced (a lot) to $14.99 in August and who knows what will happen by November.

If you like the idea of this style of Bioware/classic MMO gameplay, then I’d say it’s a pretty darn good deal. EA never expected to have to give this away and spent way more than they would have done otherwise so you’re getting a very polished Old Republic RPG with some MMO elements attached. It’s also one of the best games I’ve ever played for duoing.

3. I’m a subscriber now. Should I drop my sub and go F2P in November?

Well, if your main interest is levelling alts, you don’t care about Ops, and you aren’t too bothered about grinding flashpoints or warzones, it looks at the moment as though F2P would be the way to go. This is the problem with introducing a F2P mechanism that offers only free or subscription options. Suddenly the subscription option becomes a worse proposition because you pay the same sub as today, but get relatively less for it.

But who knows what they’ll plan to do with this in the future. Ideally they’d look at letting people buy things piecemeal.

3a. I’m not a subscriber now. Should I play this game when it goes F2P in November?

That rather depends on why you’re not playing at the moment.

If you liked the idea of the game but were put off by the cost, then come play and enjoy it. I do rate it highly, it’s a good quality game of its type. I think the levelling game is way better than WoW, for comparison. If you played SWTOR for awhile and then left because you were bored, you might want to check out changes such as LFG, or reconnect with other friends who are playing, it’ll be much easier to set up the occasional flashpoint/PvP night when people don’t have to all subscribe.

If you hated the idea of the game and are burned out on this type of MMO anyway, then it’s not going to change your mind when it is free.

If you are a current or ex-subscriber, you’ll be given an allotment of ‘cartel coins’ (ie. cash shop tokens) when the conversion happens, although the only things we currently know to be on sale are a pet, a cosmetic hat, and a chair (I’m not sure where the chair goes, would be cool if it was on your ship though.)

4. So what new content is planned for this year, seriously?

Currently the stated plans involve a new Op, new warzone, new companion (HK-51) and new space combat missions. What they notably don’t involve is new story content, which is unfortunate since that’s the main draw (fourth pillar et al) of this game.

A new planet had been mentioned previously but isn’t listed on the new content page for this year.

Various commentary stuff

SWTOR subscriptions were noted  as being below a million during yesterday’s EA earnings call (link is to the pdf of the transcription):

Although it launched well, subscriptions have been on a declining trajectory and have now slipped below one million. Last year we announced that the breakeven point was roughly 500,000 subscribers. And while we are well above that today, that’s not good enough.

- (Frank Gibeau)

So the question is whether they can get enough players in for F2P to work its magic, compared to the number of paying subscribers they have today. And how many of those new players (assuming they come, which I hope they do since it’s basically a good game) will want to take out subs or buy items from the cash shop. On the fleet last night, reactions ranged from looking forwards to a new influx of players, people wondering whether they will drop their sub and just play F2P, the usual concerns about the unwashed masses who might pick up a F2P game, and more specific concerns about the future of the game – will they ever make enough money to plan future story chapters?

This looks to me like a swiftly implemented F2P conversion. I have no idea how long Bioware had been considering it as an idea (my guess is from fairly soon after launch) but this isn’t a carefully thought out plan so much as a “give lots of free stuff away to get players in and … err… then charge a subscription for hardcore endgame type players.”

Scott Jennings at Broken Toys is, like me, a fan of the game. He notes that subscriptions for MMOs are looking more and more like an initial markup, which devolves quickly to F2P. That implies that a F2P conversion is in TSW’s future also, and that anyone who said ‘I’ll wait until it goes F2P’ about a new subscription game is likely going to be right in their assumptions. (Note: WoW currently is obviously an outlier to this model, although I suppose who knows what the future holds?)

Green Armadillo has a typically thoughtful analysis, noting that:

While I personally will most likely pay less for SWTOR under the new model, I’m not celebrating.  SWTOR is a quality product, albeit one that may have been especially ill-suited for the subscription model.  The quality and direction of the game’s future development, with the reduced staff and revised business model, are likely to suffer.

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17 thoughts on “[SWTOR] 4 things you need to know about F2P SWTOR

  1. It’s pretty sensational news and just the fact that the expectation now is that any non-Blizzard game should (in time) be free to play may make it hard for any games to operate as sub-based.

    My time in TSW just ran out. I didn’t renew even though I rather like the game, mostly because I’m playing Eve heavily but also to some extent because my style of play (pootling through the story content with an occasional instance) really suits the standard F2P model.

    Van Hemlock has, for many years, touted a “Three Month Rule” for playing MMOs. Always wait three months before you start. That was largely because MMO launches were awful back then but it’s now more true than ever. If I had not bought SWTOR in December but instead picked it up at F2P launch I’d have saved a box price, played a game with a LFD in place (a big deal for me), and played a game that has many of the bugs and issues fixed.

    Is there any reason other than altruism (I want these guys to make some money from me so they keep making me games) to buy a MMO at launch now? Keeping up with the high flyers is moot for most of us and we’re also probably over the OMG [insert exciting brand here] I have to get it now now now.

    • The main reason will be if you have friends who play and want to all play the new hot game together, or if you feel that MMOs are more exciting and lively (and maybe more forgiving) in the first couple of months. (Or I guess if you blog and want to blog about what everyone is playing.) I think Altruism (ie. the kickstarter approach) works too, if you like the developers and want to help their game be successful.

      (I have a strong suspicion that the MUDs had it right and the best model for MMOs is open source code, volunteer staff, F2P.)

      I don’t personally regret any of what I paid for SWTOR though, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time in the game and I think my decision to unsub from WoW and play this instead has been a good one. I also had the chance to play with a cool bunch of people, and we made a fun guild for the few months it lasted. Who knows whether that social situation will return? My current guild are a nice bunch also. I don’t know how long that will last or if they’ll end up drifting away in response to the F2P announcement — it’s going to be difficult to have faith in the future of any new MMO now, which is one of my concerns I guess.

      But I agree that this does affect the decision on whether to buy in at launch. So for me, it’ll probably be only games/companies I’m really into or have some friends who intend to play. There’s a similarity with single player games, where you pretty much know that they’ll get cheaper quite quickly (probably in Steam sale) if you wait.

  2. Rohan over at Blessing of Kings had a suggestion that TOR’s F2P limit the number of toons to level to exactly one, to push people who want to explore more class stories into purchasing a sub.

    I don’t know if one will work, but LOTRO and AoC have a max of two on a server, and two seems a decent enough number.

    • Actually, I expect the limit to push people to pay a one-time fee to unlock a new character slot, not subscribe.

      For example, you sign up and level a Jedi Knight to 50. Then you pay $X to unlock a second character slot to level a Sith Inquistor. That way Bioware gets money for the best part of the game, while not requiring players to subscribe.

      • That’s not too far from the “buy a story line” I proposed four years ago. Sort of a GW model, piecemeal, selling stories within the SWTOR world.

      • That ain’t too bad an idea, really.

        Here’s a corollary to that idea: if you already have those characters out there, you get to keep them if you go F2P, but you can’t level them.

  3. Yeah I will give it a go finally, but they’ll need to pick up the pace on content updates to remain competitive. Lotro seems to have a sustainable enough pace of content, 1 expansion, 1 zone, 1 or 2 instance/skirmish released each year. I don’t expect to play Lotro every month, maybe a few weeks of more intensive play 2 or 3 times a year. I don’t think the WoW model works anymore for any game not WoW, even then it still baffles me that Blizzard can promise smaller, speedier updates and then not follow through on those promises, and leaving subscribers without content for the best part of a year again.

    Spent last weekend playing Rift, then this weekend is a free weekend in TSW. I think what Rift does next is the more interesting, they provide a great service and plenty of content, with fast turnarounds on patching and bug fixes, I think they may be able to hold onto their subscribers. TSW seems a perfect fit for a F2P model, give subs the extra missions free, then bundle them together every few months and sell an adventure pack in the in-game store.

    Bioware are doing two things that I’d consider a good idea, keeping the intial entry charge (albeit greatly reduced), and only allowing subscribers to do operations. I think Lotro could even do the same for raids, and the vast majority of premium players wouldn’t mind. Heh WoW might get away with doing similar, levelling content and dungeons for free, heroics and raids for subscribers, it’ll be interesting if any other games would adopt something similar.

  4. Pingback: F2P fallout in a galaxy far, far away | Bio Break

  5. Obviously there’s missing a lot of details but the question seems to be: do you want to raid?

    If the answer is yes, then subscribe. If the answer is no, then don’t Considering that the raiding portion is arguably the weakest part of the game, this seems like it would push current subscribers to actually stop paying.

    In the end though, you’ll be getting KOTOR3 with multiplayer for 15$. That is an awesome deal.

    As for WoW going F2P, their content management process is so incredibly poor, they couldn’t go down that route if they wanted to. Adding new stuff to the “store” every 6-8 months would bankrupt any F2P game today. For those counting, the delay between last content patch and MoP will be 10 months – so people have paid 150$ for 1 patch. Rift’s process could sustain it, if need be.

  6. As I’ve said on various blogs before, SWTOR would now be considered a big success (or at least moderate) if it had launched with the GW2 model (buy the box, play for free), sold cosmetic fluff items and boosts in a cash shop, and then sold expansions with new story content once or twice a year. The fact they are going to sell the box for $15 speaks volumes about how desperate they are for a quick cash infusion, or very possibly they just want to move all unsold boxes ASAP and then will make the game a free download. I’m fairly certain they won’t be spending more money on printing any more physical box copies once the current ones are gone.

    I would have gladly paid full price (well, maybe waited for a reasonable sale price, to be honest) for that as a kind of KOTOR 3 type of game with optional multiplayer online features, which is pretty much how the game turned out by all accounts. Now I’m not even sure I’d spend $15 for it, depending on just how limited the F2P side of things are. They’ve dumped a good portion of the devs, so you have to wonder if the game has any real content coming down the road. If their hybrid option is as bad as the SOE games, then no thanks. Gotta give credit to NCSoft (as much as I hate to based on how they treated those of us playing Aion), at least their Truly Free type of F2P, aside from a stupid name, is the best conversion of P2P to F2P by far.

  7. Many players (including me) would say that the real jewel in the crown of this game is the levelling content, and that’s largely what you’ll get for free.

    That is what kinda throws me. Where do they expect the money to come from if they give away the best stuff for free? /boggle

    I find it very sad that many an MMO could live quite happily with 500k subscribers (or less!) but in this case the model is getting binned purely because the company wanted more. :S

    • Yeah, I don’t know the answer to that one. I think Rohan’s scheme would have been better, but basically it’s another factor that makes me feel like this was rushed and doesn’t give me much confidence in the business plan.

      I think people have generally enjoyed the class stories and many of the planet stories and story-based instances, but as you say those are not the new content they’ve announced. (Too expensive to produce given how quickly players rip through them maybe? I don’t know. But I know it’s what people would pay for.)

      I think though that you are on the mark with companies needing to design sub based games for a realistic player base. The players are out there who would happily pay subs for games tailored to what they want, and they don’t all want a free for all EVE-like sandbox. But there’s the basis of a profitable market there.

  8. MOP is going to be released Sep 25. Where do they expect to get new players from in November? (If you’ll be bored with MOP after only one month you’ve probably already bought SWTOR during Cata.)

    To me it looks more like a way to give the current player an option to log into SWTOR without a sub before they completely return to WoW. I don’t think it’s a move to grow the game, it looks more like a desperate move to not be crushed by MOP.

  9. I’ve started playing SWToR under the current F2P to level 15 mode. I can’t say that I’d raid at all, but when this takes effect I will level through to see some story. Therefore I cannot understand how this approach will generate extra revenue. Maybe the lure of raiding will be enough for some players, but there must be some other option introduced soon to get money from the userbase. DLC or somesuch, akin to pets/mounts?

  10. SWTOR lacked something that TSW does have – “Lifetime” subscriptions.

    So many companies, including Funcom, have done well by F2P (AoC grabbed 300,000 new players and doubled revenue after the conversion a year ago, and what happened with LOTRO is pretty well documented.).

    I know probably 2 dozen people who have bought Lifetime subs for TSW, and we all know pretty much how that scenario is going to play out. $199/14.99 = 13 months 8 days and some hours.

    August 11th, 2013 is when TSW will “pay off” the lifetimers, and that’s my (and my Lifetimer friends) projected F2P Launch Date.

    I’m OK with this.
    I missed out on the LOTRO Lifetime Sub, and have been kicking myself for 5 years now – doubly so once I looked up Turbine in my Mint account and realized I’ve spent $400 with them in the way of subscription fees, expansion packs and “extra” Turbine Points in times when I wanted something but the 500/mo wasn’t cutting it.

    AoC is 4 years old now. LOTRO is 5.
    I’ll get much more than my $200 worth out of TSW, I’m sure. =)

  11. I never understood why companies go with either a $15 subscription or a F2P model. Why haven’t they tried a cheap $5 subscription model? They would keep all of the subscribers they have now and probably pick up some new subscribers since, well $5 is really a reasonable price for a month of game time.

  12. Pingback: SWTOR: Late on the free news « stnylan's musings

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