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BioWare 'looking at free-to-play' for  Star Wars: The Old Republic
BioWare 'looking at free-to-play' for Star Wars: The Old Republic
June 15, 2012 | By Mike Rose

June 15, 2012 | By Mike Rose
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing

As subscriptions for BioWare's major MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic begin to dip, the studio has admitted that it is considering making the game free-to-play.

The Old Republic launched last December, and quickly amassed 1 million subscribers after just three days, eventually settling on 1.7 million after a couple of months.

However, just months later subscriptions for the game had fallen to 1.3 million, as publisher EA said that it was down to the numerous non-paying subscribers who stopped playing after using up the game's 30-days of free game time.

Talking to video game magazine GamesTM, BioWare lead designer Emmanuel Lusinchi has now said that the company is exploring the free-to-play model for the game.

"The MMO market is very dynamic and we need to be dynamic as well," he explained. "Unless people are happy with what they have, they are constantly demanding updates, new modes and situations."

He continued, "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."

However, Lusinchi believes that the success of major free-to-play games is far more than the game simply being free, but rather, the game needs to have competitive in-game prices compared to other titles.

"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," he noted.

BioWare has run a number of free weekends for The Old Republic, in an attempt to ensnare more players into signing up for subscriptions.

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Rob Wright
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Yikes. TOR is going to make one fascinating post-morten in Game Developer Mag in a year or two....

Tim Kitevski
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^ Very true.

I hope this does happen. I am not an MMO player and really tried to play this game on the first free WE. The story and characters are great but the MMO and more specifically the monthly sub part of it really put me off.

If it goes F2P I know I'll be back to actually play it through.

Alan Rimkeit
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Lots of people said Bioware should have made KOTOR 3. Yes, I am beating the dead horse. But this proves my point painfully. I wonder if someone did an analysis of how much profits they have made from the MMO, then did a theoretical projection how how many copies KOTOR 3 could have sold to how much profits it could have made them. What would be the comparison?

As for the Free-To-Play, I play TOR and I pay monthly. If they go Free-To-Play, does that mean I have to pay for new content? How does this work? What is the deal?

Rob Wright
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Oh KOTOR 3....don't tease me!

But seriously, per your point about a sales analysis, I'm guessing that's why EA/BioWare decided to move toward the MMO market and chase WoW dollars. KOTOR came in 2003 within two weeks had sold something like 250,000 copies for the Xbox, and it achieved almost universal critical and fan acclaim....and yet, has it even topped 2 million copies after 9 years on the market? For a game as great as it is, that just seems a little low -- and therein lies the rub for RPGs.

Look at the hours upon hours of content that Bioware makes for their RPG games...even Mass Effect 3, which sold 3-plus million so far, doesn't get a sniff of CoD or GTA-like sales. I'm guessing that some folks over at BioWare/EA said this is for the birds, and decided to make an MMO.

Michael Wenk
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After KOTOR2, they would have had a bit of an uphill fight getting players back.

SWTOR needs to focus on story, or focus on mechanics. Trying to do both is what's killing it.

Michael Wenk
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SWTOR looks to me like Bioware started to make its normal RPG as an MMO, but then later tried to add stuff to bring in WoW players.

I wonder if this really means that RPGs will be a dying breed, because a good RPG will never get the sales of an action or FPS, it just doesn't have the appeal.

I also wonder what this means for Guild Wars 2. I suspect it means nothing good for it. Tho at least ArenaNet seems like they're trying to play to their strengths rather than try to play to your competitor strengths.

Dave Smith
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they probably could have made Kotor 3,4, and 5 in this time and be sitting on piles of money, but they just had to chase this MMO garbage.

Adam Bishop
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@ Michael

RPGs may never hit the sales figures of Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty, but Dragon Age Origins and Mass Effect 3 have each sold something like 3 million copies. The Witcher, a PC-only RPG from a small Polish studio, sold 2 million copies. There's still a sizeable market out there for single-player RPGs, and I think companies like EA would be foolish to avoid that market in search of the fool's gold that is much of the MMO market.

Matthew Williamson
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Add a random loot system similar to D3's with a real money auction house that crossed all servers in SWTOR? Could make things interesting.

William Johnson
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I honestly don't think they should do it. EA has a very VERY poor track record with free2play games. The two Battlefield games and the Need for Speed MMO just show they have no idea what they're doing. Pay to win and fragmenting the user base behind pay walls is the name of the game when EA does F2P and it just doesn't work.

JB Vorderkunz
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EDIT: bad idea...

John McMahon
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I think anyone trying to create an MMO is chasing a pipe dream. The last MMO I played was Jumpgate: The Reconstruction Initiative and that closed after over 10 years on the market.

No MMO has come close to that and so far the model most follow don't even look like it. I've been a primary console gamer for years now, MMOs are too much of a cash-sink for me. at least I get a different game experience every once and a while and can choose not to pay $60 bucks.

I'm only buying two games this year, ME3 and GR:FS. That's it, I'm good for the rest of the year.

Though Minecraft looks tempting...

Bob Stevens
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I suspect their business models are based around consumers who do actually buy and play games.

Dave Smith
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Simon Ludgate
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I've only played early beta versions of SW:TOR, but I wonder HOW they would implement F2P. They already have a level-capped free trial, which is the obvious interpretation for "free to play" for subscription games (that's how WoW and Rift label it). How else would they do it? Content gating like LOTRO, selling you one zone of quests at a time?

Eric Kinkead
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I hope they make a Mac version first. F2P on an MMO sounds like the next step to death, which would mean no Mac Version. :(

Glenn Sturgeon
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It worked for D&D online, so i'd expect the SW franchies to bring in more than enough revinue to keep the game alive. But i agree with Simon Ludgate with the fact of i'm not sure how they would implement it.

John Flush
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Free to play won't change the fact that I won't play it. The fact it is online only killed any interest for me out of the gate.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Michael Joseph
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"It's as if George Lucas waved his magic artistic travesty wand over the whole project."

So THAT'S how he does it!

"and the list goes on and none of this that made Kotor meaningful in Swtor."

Well maybe all they need to do is double down on the achievements, and rewards and "contingencies." Cuz that is modern day AAA game design so it must be right.

Stephen Chow
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Why don't they try subscript by hour not month. Monthly subscription is a big commitment for player.

Darcy Nelson
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"Please insert another credit to continue."

Hmm. Where have I heard this before?

Gil Salvado
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Aah, this is almost hilarious. Anyway, it's going to be interesting to see, if they succeed with this model.

Brian Ford
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The F2P would be simple - steal some from DDO, some from LOTR, and some from WoT.

- steal the mission packs for sale from DDO (some free to give you a taste of a story followed by the next 2-3 chapters for charge mixed with whole stories for sale).
- steal the costumes/mounts from LOTR (everyone loves pretty cloths, and a dune lizard mount)
- steal the ~$30-50 premium vehicle concept from WoT (who'd not pay to get an upsized corellian?)

I craked out on the premiums from WoT as it seems like the only way to credit up to a 2+ million credit vehicle with any kind of speed? I can say I am the 10-20% on the F2P side of things...

Jesse Mikolayczyk
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I really hope they don't go free to play. I can't see any way of this working out for the better of the game. In the end it would come down to "I have spent $50 on my character and you only spent $10 so my character is stronger" which completely ruins any point to playing.

They have to realize that many of the people that have left the game did so because they had too many servers from day one so if 100 people in your server were only planning to play for the free month, you're left with only another 500 or so people on your server all divided into empire/republic, leaving you with about 250 people left on your team, then divided again by another 10 planets or so, which leaves you with around 25 people in the same area and level range to assist with quests or group with (and quite often the people there didn't want to do the quest you were doing). The main reason I didn't play for a while is because there was nobody to play with and in the end I had to re-roll an alt on another server with more people.

I think everything will work out much better once they complete the character transfers and people can enjoy the game with other people again.

Dave Ingram
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"I have spent $50 on my character and you only spent $10 so my character is stronger"

I completely agree. I am a SWTOR subscriber, and I love the game. I would probably stop playing if they switched to a freemium model, however, because a broke young adult will never be able to compete with spoiled rich kids or adults with more stable finances in a freemium game.

Freemium is a such a strange way to apply the concept of social class -- only the wealthy can succeed at games now, too? Blah. Video games are supposed to be an escapist counter-culture, not an extension of the way things work in real life.