I love how everyone is addressing BioWare as if their staff really have any part in the decision to destroy SWTOR for a profit. Now c'mon guys, does that sound like BioWare? No. That sound like EA? Ohhhhh yessss.
They're making the game F2P because EA ruined the launch. They're making the game F2P because EA botched up the preorder/early access mechanism so that many players got to see the buggy, feature-lacking game they were pushing out early to hit the "christmas crowd". They're making the game F2P because the end result of a botched launch, missing features, and bugs is that they've had to pump more money into staff/development to keep things rolling the past 8 months.
But wait... if they make it free... how does that "fix" the lack of revenue? o.O
Well quite simply, they gave everyone who had canceled (myself included) a free week of playtime when 1.3 added the LFG tool and consolidated the population down to make the servers actually playable. After the week of time was up, the majority of those players didn't resub. Newsflash: Same thing happened with 1.2's release. They've realized that the early, buggy, featureless launch of the game started a downward spiral in which players already have a bad "taste" in their mouth for the game and they can't develop fast enough to convince those players to come back and pay $15 a month.
One of the biggest issues is the overall population. MMO population works on an inverse exponential scale. The more people you lose, the more people you lose. And you always lose them faster than you gain them. Look at WoW. They had what? 13, 14, 15... million subscribers. RIFT came out, they lost millions overnight. Then slowly gained some of them back. SWTOR came out, same thing happens. When Guild Wars 2 releases late August we'll see the same thing. All other major MMO's will have a population dropoff, then some people will come back, others won't.
SWTOR needs to get ahead of this population loss or the game's going to completely die and they're just out the money they spent on development. Now I'm pretty sure everyone at BioWare, EA, and the vast majority of players on here agree that the launch was way too early and responsible for most of the issues we have right now. Better to wait and launch a functional game, than launch early or on time with a craptastic one. GW2 is a great example of that. Did they have some preorders get canceled when they pushed the launch back a month? Sure they did. Did they lose as many purchases as SWTOR lost with the early launch (and I'm talking percentages here let's not get into semantics), no they didn't. Because we all know in the back of our minds that it's better to wait and have something done right, than have something now that's broken or rushed. Apparently EA missed that little life lesson.
So going F2P is the only option at this point, and the way they're doing it is clever. Rewarding all the players who've already paid for the game with start up credits for the F2P store. Here's what'll happen. The game goes free to play. Mass emails fire out over the internet to all past subscribers: "Hey it's FREE now! Oh and on top of that we gave you money you can spend on stuff to thank you for being a subscriber in the past!" Now what happens when someone tells you "Hey there's this cool new store you've never been too in a place you used to really enjoy oh and here's a gift card for it" You bet your wampa you've got a trip to make. So what's going to happen is most of the canceled subs will come back and have a look at the game if for nothing other than to check out the F2P store/model and see what's what. Many of them will probably go "Oh wow... I can like enjoy the questing and stuff for free? Well hell... that was like my favorite part... I guess I'll stick around..." Because let's face it, the questing and storytelling in SWTOR is the most unique feature of the whole darn game.
Meanwhile the website announces F2P, Facebook and other social media announce it. Right now you're all posting in all your other forums and websites and chat rooms about how SWTOR is going free to play. Well hey guess what, that's advertising for them. Not to mention I'm sure we've all had this experience before:
You: Hey [insert friend's name here] have you played [insert game name here]? It's really super awesome and totally amazing and you should come play it with me!
Friend: How much is it?
You: Well it's $50 initially, then $15 a month, but it's really awesome and totally worth it and we could play together.
Friend: Ehh... I dunno man we'll see.
You make the game F2P and the conversation changes:
You: Hey [insert friend's name here] have you played [insert game name here]? It's really super awesome and totally amazing and you should come play it with me! Plus they just made it free to play so you can come check it out with me and it won't cost you a dime.
Friend: Sweet! I'll go download it tonight!
Bottom line is F2P means returning players, new players, better server populations leading to better player retention. Some monthly players will stop paying and go F2P. Some non-existing players will sign up and opt to pay monthly. Some old players will return and make some micropayments with their free currency, then buy some more here and there to augment the play experience.
In short, they're not losing any money by going F2P, but they are losing money with the current model. The game will die faster as it is right this moment than it will on F2P, and the only chance of pitching this downward spiral back up into growth is going F2P so they can reach the audience and get people involved in the game. The real question in my mind is, now that EA is finally exhibiting a little intelligence in their decision, are they going to screw up the F2P store with real stats gear, daily/weekly/monthly stat augments to turn your toon into superman for 24 hours so you can pwn noobs in pvp with a single hit, etc.
As long as the F2P store is set up with micropayments correctly, they just might turn this around. Some items to consider for the real money purchases:
- Additional character slots
- Race unlocks
- Additional Cargo Bays
- Increase in max currency able to carry per toon
- Cosmetic pets
- Moddable gear with unique looks only obtainable in the real money store (has no stats/augs in it yet)
- Color crystals with stats comparable to in-game ones but colors unique to the store
- Speeders/mounts with the same speed/knockoff protection as in-game, but unique looks
- XP boosters (maybe 12 charges each, 2 hr duration, persist through defeat)
- Legacy XP boosters (maybe 12 charges each, 2 hr duration, persist through defeat; stacks with regular xp booster)
Just a couple ideas there for things people might shell out some real money for, and obviously that stuff needs to be realistic in terms of price. People aren't going to pay $10 for a color crystal or a speeder. Also, set up a system where maybe every weekend there's a random store item/unlock that goes on sale for each person. Discounts the price 50%. But it's purely random. Could even be something they already unlocked on the current character but could unlock on another. That's the sort of thing to get people to make spur of the moment decisions on. "Oh hey wait what? I can get an additional character slot for half off right now? Hmmm... well I have been wanting to try a ______ and it's only a couple bucks on sale... Yeah ok."
Anyway, if you guys can do this right, SWTOR just might see an upward trend for a change
I'll be keeping my sub active for the time being in the hopes the store doesn't get filled with game-breaking items to make a quick buck.