There are a lot of emotions being thrown around about the free players, it seems like. Words like "freeloader" and even "socialist." One of the more common ideas thrown about is that a free player is a negative on SWToR.
So I set out to gather some data, because numbers beat feelings every time. Setting aside intangibles, free players do
cost Bioware money. But how much? Well, turns out it's not a lot. And by not a lot, I mean you can maintain hundreds for a month for the price of a hamburger.
The cost of having a free player running around on SWToR is the cost of the bandwidth he's using - the amount of data transferred to keep his machine and the server updated on what the other is doing (or data transferred downloading the client/patches). He doesn't get customer service (subs only) and development work happens with or without him, and new stuff is largely paid content anyway. Downloading a bandwidth meter(1), I closed all other applications on my PC that might consume bandwidth and went to go play, measuring the various domains in SWToR and measuring just how much bandwidth I was using. What I found:
-Idling on the fleet
was actually the most intensive activity I measured, which had an average of 8 kilobytes per second
of combined download/upload traffic.
-Questing in populated areas
(in this case the Black Hole) was the second-most intensive activity, at an average of 5 kilobytes per second
of combined download/upload traffic. Questing is important because it's the most strongly encouraged activity for a free player, and the majority of the game.
were actually very light on bandwidth usage, at an average of 3 kilobytes per second
combined download/upload traffic.
-Questing in unpopulated areas
and space missions
both also had around 3kb/s
; this is not surprising, the least bandwidth is used while soloing or in small groups. The less players/actions you have to update, the less bandwidth gets used.
-Loading into new areas
was no more intensive, probably because it's all on your hard drive.
-I have not yet tried to measure Warzones. I kind of like winning and the meter won't minimize. ^^; I feel fairly confident assuming it will be the most bandwidth-intensive activity, so I'll come back with more data later.
(On an unrelated note, I found out that the bandwidth used in SWToR is low enough that if you were able to download the patches before the next patch hit, you could play it on dial-up.)
But this is just traffic. How much does this cost
Bioware? I don't actually know how much their bandwidth costs, so I'll use something that's 99% likely to be more expensive: the "any old person could get this price" option. No bulk discounts at all. I chose a Virtual Private Network server(2) because in a VPN, you are also renting the server used. They therefore include the costs of server maintenence in your fee (with a markup, of course), so we're accounting for server costs in our napkin math. They cost 3.99 euros per month ($5.08) for a combined 1 terabyte upload/download, which equals 0.398736937 megabytes per second, or 408.3 kilobytes per second.
The majority activity is questing. I'll use the questing in populated areas average for our numbers here, since presumably places where you'll find one free player you'll find a lot of them. At 5kb/s, this means that $5 per month will get you 81 F2P players who play 24 hours per day. Assume that they instead play 8 hours a day, and that $5 gets you 243 really dedicated
free players for a month.
So let's get some metrics, specifically leveling to 50
as a free player. Consulting a thread which lists play time (3). We get some people with 13, some with 6, someone claiming 3 who is probably lying. Let's highball our estimate a bit and say it takes 10 days /played or 240 hours to hit level 50. This comes to 4320000 kilobytes of data, which looks like a lot but it comes out to 4.32 gigabytes of bandwidth used. Applying arithmetic at a cost of $5.08/terabyte, it costs Bioware 2.14 cents
to see a free player level to 50.
Downloading the game client
is approximately 27 gigabytes of data(4), which costs Bioware 13.39 cents
under this model which is again, almost certainly more expensive than what they actually use.
Combining the two and applying some more math, it costs Bioware 15.53 cents in bandwidth for a free player to download the game and level to 50. Okay, so what does this mean? It means that if fifteen free players download the game and play to the level cap, and one of them buys a single operations pass, Bioware has made money.
tldr: bandwidth is not expensive, Bioware needs a hilariously small conversion ratio on free players to make money on them.
engaged in trial mode for the purposes of logging.