When I first heard that Bioware was changing SWTOR from a very traditional subscription model to a free-to-play one, I have to admit that I was pretty skeptical. While I’m all for the free-to-play model (who doesn’t like to play a game before spending any money on it?) I was concerned at the motivation behind the change. It’s not like Bioware and EA all of a sudden woke up one day and said “Hey, let’s make the game free-to-play,” it was done because they were shedding subscriptions on a monthly basis. I wasn’t sure how they would manage to turn a game that was designed with a subscription in mind to one that was free for all without pissing off their loyal customers or ruining some part of the game. It was also a decision that had to get made rather quickly as the longer they waited more and more subscriptions they seemed to lose. Well they finally released the details about their new F2P model and it looks, well uhh, interesting to say the least.
First off I should say that the game isn’t entirely F2P; there is still a subscription option for those who wish to continue playing the game without restrictions. What do I mean about restrictions? Well, those who play the game for free are going to find themselves on a pretty short leash. There will be limited character creation choices, a rationing of flashpoints and space missions, and a bunch of restrictions or caps on where, when, and how often you can travel. F2P players also have reduced priority in login queues and won’t be able to equip most purple items unless they purchase in-game credits which are called Cartel Coins. So yes, playing parts of the game for free sounds a lot like getting pulled through a theme park on a leash while being told that all of the rides that everyone else is on aren’t for you. But hey, at least you got in for free.
It isn’t all bad, however. Free players still have full access to story content all the way up to level 50. This is a lot to give away to be honest. The vast majority of the time I spend playing the game was spent in the game’s robust story. It’s most likely that they’re hoping to engage players with the game’s story only to have them spend real money to unlock whatever content they wish in order to customize their own experience. Some of the restrictions seem a bit like they are nickel and diming the community, especially the restrictions to the crafting system, but at least players will be able to choose which parts of the game they wish to unlock for themselves.
This is where the Cartel Coins enter the picture. They will be used in the game’s Cartel Market to unlock certain game features or remove restrictions implemented by the free-to-play model. So if you’re interested in only playing the story but you also enjoy crafting, you’ll be able to purchase these coins to unlock the crafting restrictions attached to your account, leaving all other restrictions intact. In some ways it’s pretty ingenious, allowing players to customize their own individual experience. If this option was available when I played I probably would have ended up spending much less on the game to get the same amount of content.
I’m not really sure if this will save SWTOR from complete obscurity or not, and I’m sure that many will have a problem with some of these changes, but this is really something new for MMOs entirely. Bioware and EA have really tried to come up with a unique solution and there’s no one else for them to look to on this, they’re in completely new territory. It could be a stop-gap measure that helps them keep afloat until their next big project, but it could also end up being incredibly lucrative if players find the free portion of the game engaging enough to invest in the rest. Regardless of whether or not it succeeds, it’s a step in the right direction for MMOs and their completely archaic and outdated subscription model.