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The most expensive game in history is now free
The most expensive game in history is now free
November 15, 2012 | By Frank Cifaldi

November 15, 2012 | By Frank Cifaldi
Comments
    37 comments
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing



The game that is rumored to have the largest development budget in history is now free to play.

Electronic Arts' MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic has had a hard time holding on to subscribers since it launched as a pay-to-play game less than a year ago.

Paid subscriptions quickly jumped up to 1.7 million during the game's first two months on shelves, but those subscribers didn't stick around.

By May that count was down to 1.3 million. By the end of July it was under a million, at which point EA announced to its anxious investors that it would introduce a free-to-play mode.

Don't miss: What went wrong with Star Wars: The Old Republic?

EA has never publicly stated the game's development cost, but popular analyst projections range from $150 million to $200 million, which would make The Old Republic the most expensive game in history, and one that is almost certainly not living up to the company's expectations.

The game still has a subscription model in place: for $14.99 a month, loyal players still get infinite access to all of the game's content. However, a new mode introduced Thursday allows players to play up to level 50 in the game, with some additional restrictions.

Don't miss: The making of Star Wars: The Old Republic

The update also introduces a virtual currency system, so that players can purchase virtual goods and unlock features with real world money, as is typical with free-to-play titles.


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Comments


K Gadd
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The features list is incredible:
http://www.swtor.com/free/features
I can't imagine anyone having a remotely good experience playing in the 'free to play' tier, let alone being convinced by that experience that they should give EA money. They've literally disabled every single feature in the game that contributes to a remotely pleasant experience. Slower progression in every regard, higher costs for everything, reduced/entirely eliminated access to every type of content except the story missions, and near-zero social functionality of any kind. Also, absolutely no bank of any kind, just inventory. NO BANK. IN AN MMO. IN 2012. Have the people running SWTOR even *played* videogames before? Every F2P MMO I've ever seen offers a better feature set than this, even the bad ones.

To me the most hilarious detail is that the spam they sent out to people who bought SWTOR wasn't even proofread. An A-team effort this isn't.

Walter Verburg
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I think that since EA has dumped such an absurd amount of money into this, they are probably pressuring the studio very heavily to use the F2P mode as a demo to get people to buy the "real version", rather than just having an enjoyable F2P experience supported by hats or something.

Not saying it's the right or wrong choice, but it seems like their goal to me.

Eric Schwarz
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I agree, I can't believe they are calling this a 'free to play' option.

"Nobody wants to subscribe. Those that do are leaving. We should make the game free to play, open a cash shop, get some more money coming in."

"Okay, so how about we disable almost every feature a long-term player might want and render the free mode an extended demo?"

"We already have a demo..."

"So?"

"The people who aren't subscribing now aren't going to want to subscribe if you make the demo period longer and give them an inferior experience to subscribers... and the ex-subscribers don't care about a free option because they've already exhausted the game's content and have moved on."

"... so?"

Michael Rooney
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@Eric: Though I understand your point, I never gave the game a chance because I didn't want to pay for it. I'm sure I'm not isolated in that sentiment. If the goal of the F2P option is to just get more people to try the game I can't see it being that bad.

I am more likely now to at least try the game than I was before. If their problem was people like me who didn't even want to try the game, this is at least a viable solution.

James Yee
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Honestly my wife and I will probably come back to finish the story line and that's it. Honestly that's all the game had going for it. :|

Michael Joseph
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is there such a thing as iterative design on a 200 million dollar project with hundreds of team members?

The small scope of typical indie games really helps to nail down a good game design because bare bones playable is reached early and most of the dev cycle is a process of iterative design.

But how does one determine if a massive puzzle like SW:TOR ends up being fun once the final piece is laid into position and the entire machination suddenly comes to life and with that first pulse the pressure to ship or get out from under crunch already becomes palpable?

Or how else did this game just end up being so boring?

Eric Schwarz
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Because it's an MMO, and the one thing it had going for it, the story, was badly written, nonsensical and obviously rushed?

Kevin Alexander
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The environment you described is exactly what can happen on projects of large scale.

What becomes inevitable then is, more risky, progressive, innovative, cool (but problematic) features get boiled down, and cut for safer, more obvious, faster and easier things to see come together (genre staples that apparently worked for WoW?). You either adapt, compromise, and ship, or your budget goes out of control, and you slip.

Everything interesting, fun, emergent, and unique gets relegated into a box of post-poned/cut "future" features that you hope to come back to while you get the easier, established norms nailed down.

You end up with a flavorless experience in the end.

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Justin LeGrande
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Here's why I wouldn't play it, even if it is free-to-play: EA.

Roger Haagensen
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I wrote about some issues and possible fixes here http://gamasutra.com/blogs/author/RogerHaagensen/426810/

Now that was with the up to level 15 trial. Now that I've tested the free to play I have one positive thing to say, even though you can only have max 2 characters by default in free to play, the 8 characters I created during the trial was kept. The negative with the free to play is that the 1-15 level trial was better. The trial had restrictions, but the free to play has even more. Leveling is slower. And due to that I may not continue the smuggler. There is also 2 other characters now that are starting to show diminishing returns, leveling/xp wise.

I hope SWTOR does well and stays afloat as that means that BioWare and/or Lucasarts/Lucasfilm/Disney will be more willing to do another singleplayer Star Wars RPG.

Eric Schwarz
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I got bored of the game before I ever reached level 15 during the previous trial. I played several characters and none of them ever hit the limit. I tried out the "free to play" mode yesterday and the changes made actually rendered it an inferior experience to the demo mode they used to have. Tried jumping over an object in town, got stuck floating in the air above it for several minutes.

Ran uninstall.exe, it was much faster than reaching the next level would have been. Probably more entertaining, too.

Nooh Ha
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I am looking forward to giving it a go, something I would never have done with its up-front price and subscription paywall.

Rhys Yorke
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It's a beautiful game. It's apparent that a lot of talented people worked hard on the project.

That being said, I don't think going free-to-play will save the game. There are many fundamental gameplay issues (space combat as an example) that are the cause of low retention rates - not the idea that people were unwilling to pay a subscription.

I hope going free-to-play allows Bioware to generate enough revenue to fix the gameplay problems - but I'm being optimistic, as some of these issues run deep into the fundamental game design choices.

Steve Fulton
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So far, I found this to be a gorgeously interesting movie to watch.

Rob Wright
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Well, it's about $10 on Amazon. I think I'll give it a try. I've never been an MMO fan and I played the pre-beta build and the beta and never once felt compelled to buy it at full price, let alone the monthly subscription fee. Mind you this is coming from someone who has never been an MMO fan or regular MMO player (I much prefer single player narratives for RPGs), but also someone who holds the original KOTOR in the top 10 games ever made.

Eric Turben
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There is a right and wrong way to implement FTP. EA completely missed the mark and only displayed greed in this transition in my opinion. I expect and understand limiting access to CONTENT for the FTP players. This is evidenced in the new caps on instances/warzones and not having access to operations. These are restrictions I am completely okay with. What I find untenable is altering the core experience of the game for FTP individuals. I logged in for 10 minutes excited to return and finish my story quests after cancelling 2 months past release. Upon logging in, I found that the game is unplayable. This is because they went so far as to lock features of the basic UI (additional quickbars). Beyond level 20 in this game, it is impossible to play with access to only 16 buttons as this doesn't even cover your basic ability set. Moreover, each $5 invested only unlocks one additional hotbar (up to 6 total for your account). So... EA you are telling me that in order to play the FREE option effectively, I have to invest more money than a one month subscription just to have access to simple features that should be included in any MMO, and investing that $20 still leaves me with limited access to content and storage. Appalling. Vanity items, removing caps on instances, special mounts/weapons/armor are all acceptable ways for a publisher to squeeze some extra dollars out of their title. It is unacceptable to reduce the game experience to such an extent that it is entirely without joy. Any FTP person who was considering returning to TOR will find that the only way to play effectively is to subscribe, and didn't we leave in the first place because the content available didn't warrant the cost?

Mac Senour
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EA is assuming the only reason people aren't playing is because the player doesn't want to pay. The unfortunate side, for EA, is that apparently there are many reasons why people aren't playing the game and money isn't the top reason.

Steve Fulton
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And this release won't change that. I was excited to try it, but it bored the hell out of me and never got better.

Dave Sanders
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DING! I played a little of it when it went F2P and other than the amazing cut scenes, the game is frankly a big pile of crap compared to most any other MMO out there. I was immediately bored, the NPCs were a joke, and the story was far from gripping. This is STAR WARS - people expect a lot from the property.

And the fact that EA can't understand that pretty much sums up everything wrong with the entire project...

Kellam Templeton-Smith
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Yeah, I'm a massive Star Wars fan, but knew well in advance of the release that this wasn't for me (and I do still like WoW and GW2, so I'm not burned out on MMOs...yet).

They've done a lot wrong, the most basic being forcing story progression on MMO fans, and an OR sequel on fans who don't want to play a multiplayer game.

There's also the basic truth that any SW fan has explored all these sorts of planets before, and that there really isn't anything in a sci-fi setting that offers compelling dungeon and raid bosses (or flashpoints and something something, I forget their silly terminology). You're basically limited to robots, lizards, and force users. I've brought down Star Destroyers, killed Krayt Dragons and Rancors (and even that ludicrously stupid giant thing in TFU2-I think it was the Gorog?), and killed unfathomable amounts of lightsaber wielding goons.

Most other successful MMOs (using the term broadly to be generous) don't have an alternate way to explore the facets of that world or universe. WoW differs somewhat to its advantage, as we've always been able to see that world at arms length, building interest in it. SWTOR is just the umpteenth time I can go to Tatooine or fight Mandalorians.

So yeah, My wallet isn't the issue, it's the assumption on their part that this is what I wanted.

And if they had just made KotOR 3, it would have been a profitable endeavour from the get-go.

Michael K
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I like f2p games, as they remind me of games back then, when you had to improve your skills etc. to progress.
It's fun to frag those kids that obviously spent tons of money for all their armor, weapons etc. and yet cannot aim straight :)

it's like the enemies got challenging again, why on earth would I every pay them money to spoil it again?
on the other side, if they make a game unplayable like it seems with EA now, i won't even try it out, there are way too many free games and I just try those that friends recommend.

btw. Tribes 3 ;)

Kellam Templeton-Smith
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This isn't like Tribes-Imagine if in WoW (beyond the fact that you could only do 1 battleground a week), you were 50ilvls behind someone with paid access. Even with tremendous skill, you'd be only able to overcome the bottom-end of players at best, and be hilariously schooled over and over again by everyone else.

brad coleman
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These aren't the FTP features you're looking for.

Michael Wenk
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I found SWTOR to be fun and engaging to a point. The story was tremendously fun, but like every game it got boring when played repetitively. However, for an MMO, it lasted a while for me, approximately 6 months, which is roughly twice as long as other MMOs.

I think many people want to hate on SWTOR for many reasons, and they hate on it. Most of em aren't RPG players, and most of em are fan boys of some other game like WOW, GW2, etc.

As for this F2P conversion, what did people expect? Of course EA wants to maximize their returns. Any of the big public companies would do similarly. Are they going too far? Of course, the consumers, which is any gamer, would say yes they are. However, time will tell, I'm relatively sure that they'll adjust as time goes on based on how much revenue they get.

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Michael Wenk
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@Joshua Yes. I typically last til I complete the game or get bored of it. It can be anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. In terms of MMOs, I tend to play em for a bit, stop playing and go back later. I doubt I'm atypical in the way I play.

And yes I have played many BW games. I have liked some, disliked others, and been apathetic to a few. I personally think that KOTOR and BG were BW's best work. I didn't like Jade Empire or the ME trilogy much. I liked parts of DA, but much of it bored me out of my mind.

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Michael Wenk
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@Joshua Really? Antithesis? Have you played KOTOR recently? What about BG series? others? And you think SWTOR is the anti? Well, you're wrong. Its not the anti, its the next gen, it looks and feels like it. I don't see how anyone that liked the KOTOR story (not just the fact that it was an action RPG with lightsabers) would not like SWTOR's story.

The class stories for the BH, the SW, the SI, and to a lesser extend the Smuggler are interesting. I wasn't much into the JC, and I played the JK up to midway thru act 2, and I am fairly sure I know how that one comes out. I also didn't really like the trooper story, and I was somewhat turned off of the agent storyline.

Mac Senour
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To add to my earlier comment, this isn't about a players unwillingness to part with some cash, how is it possible that the heads of EA aren't aware of this? Are they so out of touch with their own product and users, that they think changing the price will bring in a ton of new players and therefore cash?

Since they appear to be clueless, why do they still have jobs? As a shareholder, I have to wonder why they are still in charge after betting so much money and failing.

Rhys Yorke
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Many agree that it's not a mystery where the game's failings are. Many of the fans (tactfully or not) have pointed out over and over again what they dislike and like about the game. You can be sure that the developers are aware of this as well.

EA on the other hand - I don't know what their strategy is to be honest, I've just felt the reverberations of their presence in SWTOR, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect, since they acquired Bioware. It feels like Bioware is experiencing what Origin went through so long ago.

I think this is a matter of a project being so large and expensive, that no one person can actually go in and make the necessary changes. Unlike films, there's no "the Director is King" here.

Perhaps the EA environment doesn't allow this - I don't know. I've never had to deal with EA from a developers position, but their process with their studios seems to a mysterious one.

WILLIAM TAYLOR
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I will now be able to pay $0 and get a hopefully awesome BioWare quality RPG. If this is the F2P future I'm always hearing about, bring it!

jin choung
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i don't know why game companies can't see the writing on the wall... who the f in this day and age is going to pony up for a monthly SUBSCRIPTION... to a game??? and for every game out there is ANOTHER subscription fighting for the same niche group of people for whom such a model is not anathema.

history seems to suggest that you can only really have one mmo at a time that will be profitable/survive. ultima online, asheron's call, then WW and that was all she wrote. everybody else ends up being the detritus of also rans.

srsly, who the f are these people who keep thinking mmos are a good idea? mindboggling.

Trent Tait
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The 9 million people paying to play WoW, that's who.

Nooh Ha
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@Trent. Actually only a proportion of these people are actually paying a subscription. Remember the Asian players (who make up a huge % of the "subscriber" base) are paying on a pay-per-hour basis or variants on this. ActiBlizz only applies the term "subscriber" to the 9m number very loosely.

Jed Hubic
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Bought it on day one, uninstalled it by day 5. I don't know what I was expecting, but as far as I can tell it was the same as every other MMO. Maybe I'm just not enough of an MMO junkie to tell the solid differences between them, but yah I can't believe anyone would be surprised that this slightly tweaked copy cat is failing. For shame. Jade Empire 2 or a new Kotor would have been awesome, but hey, when there's a cow just waiting to be milked...

Michael Bilodeau
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Exactly Nooh, people immediately site WOW numbers to why the sub model can work, even though WOW numbers continue to erode and the current large numbers are coming from overseas. Which face facts Star Wars though a huge success globally still has it's strongest numbers in the US. And even WOW is not immune to F2P with their free to play the first 20 levels even with their latest expansion.
Take into account this harsh economic climate an additional monthly bill isn't appealing to most people, when people are looking to reduce their monthly expenses. Name one new subscription MMO game that continues to have strong retention numbers and growing install base?
F2P has taken over subscriptions, though I don't agree with EA's approach, this game should have been F2P at launch and designed around this concept. Players instead played for a few months played till they got their story fill and then dropped it like every other MMO.
A new model needs to emerge for online gaming, some company needs to take a risk and it will pay off for them.


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