Subscribing Makes You Special! And Sparkly!
Back when F2P was first announced, I created a trial SWTOR account to talk to some existing subscribers.
They all said roughly the same thing: They were looking forward to F2P because they hoped it would mean a lot more players for them to play with.
The existing queue times for Flashpoints (group dungeons) and Warzones (PvP battlegrounds) were tediously long, and it was exceptionally difficult to find people to do world boss raids or create new Ops (raid dungeons) groups. More people would mean all this multiplayer stuff would become better.
Unfortunately, that's exactly where BioWare aimed its shotgun when blasting holes in SWTOR's available content.
Locking players down to a handful of Flashpoints and Warzones a week and out of Ops entirely was a big part of the plan (and the source of that $56-a-month fee). Which means the F2P solution they came up with does nothing to help address the concerns subscribers had when they were cancelling their subscriptions in droves.
So, on the one hand, BioWare is trying to create an F2P experience so horrifically bad that it brutally coerces players into subscribing, but on the other hand they actively sabotage the very thing subscribers wanted in order to remain subscribers. Two hands here, folks.
I can understand the desire to get subscriber numbers up. I'm sure the discussion at BioWare went something like:
"OK, we need more subs. How do we get them?"
"What about F2P?"
"Yeah, that's a great idea! We'll use F2P as a way to get new players, and then convert them into subscribers!"
The problem was twofold: meeting the requirements of subscribers (having people to play with) and also meeting subscriber expectations (that it's "worth" subscribing and not going free). The "worth" part of the equation went spinning out of control though. BioWare was SO worried that subscribers would feel they weren't getting their money's worth they basically made sure free players would have a worse experience than players who never touched SWTOR at all. Ultimately, the addressing the second problem killed any chance of solving the first.
What Do We Burn, Apart from Subscribers? MOAR SUBSCRIBERS!
BioWare's goal, thus, was to continue to sacrifice existing subscribers in the hope of getting new subscribers. The utter disdain for past customers is exemplified in all the "return to SWOTR" nonsense. "Get all these bonus Cartel Coins for all the months you paid for!" is the claim. Sounds like a way to bring them back, no?
No. What BioWare left out was the fine print: "You only get them if you subscribe again."
So maybe BioWare did want to get old subscribers back subscribing, but decided to do it in the sneakiest way possible. I'm surprised BioWare hasn't just emailed every past subscriber with the following ultimatum: Subscribe again or we'll delete your account. That would probably get SWTOR at least a few more subscribers, and BioWare's reputation couldn't exactly get any worse at this point.
BioWare's plan forward is clear: it has written off old subscribers, decided the game is a rapid churner, and is mainly looking for fresh blood to run through the churn. Which, aside from being an unsustainable practice and something that most assuredly drives your brand into the dirt, is also very ill-served by the crazy F2P implementation BioWare actually put in place.
Well, at Least the Story's Free?
The one major free thing in all of SWTOR's F2P is the single player storyline. If you're happy doing nothing but the storyline in a fairly single-player-esque and slow, limited, grindy fashion, and you don't mind not getting any quest rewards (you have to subscribe for those), you really don't need to spend a cent on SWTOR. And that single player story is probably SWTOR's most redeeming feature.
So here's the conundrum. Droves of people are going to download SWTOR for free, connect to the servers for free, play through the story for free, and quit (for free). BioWare doesn't just get nothing from these F2P players, but in fact pays for all that bandwidth so the F2P player can do it on the servers. It'd actually make more sense for BioWare to release an offline, stand-alone version of SWTOR on The Pirate Bay then to build its online F2P MMORPG around that model.
The thing that keeps players in MMORPGs is interacting with other players, and BioWare has made sure that free players barely get a taste of that interaction. In fact, just the other way around: Due to restrictions on F2P players, not only do they not get to interact with subscribers much, but subscribers won't want to interact with F2P players. Who wants handicapped players -- unable to revive in an instance or use all of their abilities due to UI restrictions -- clogging up their party slots?
Not to mention that F2P players can't even equip artifact gear (the good stuff you actually need to equip to be competitive in any aspect of the fabled end-game; you know, that thing subscribers play). The ironic thing is that subscribers might actually get more frustrated the more they play with F2P players, to the point they'll cancel their subscriptions in frustration because they're getting auto-matched with people who can't possibly help them!