5 Ways EA Can Get SWTOR Free-to-Play Right
Star Wars: The Old Republic is making a big shift in going to a free-to-play system later this fall (we still don’t know exactly when), and that’s a situation that includes a lot of pitfalls. The game was built for subscriptions, and that’s what developer BioWare and publisher Electronic Arts expected to get for it. Moving to the F2P system isn’t just different, it’s uncharted territory for two companies that have never done an MMO like this.
While BioWare is still trying to find its way in the darkness of the F2P transition, however, there are pitfalls to avoid. Some games do F2P very well — many others suck terribly at it. And while some players may complain about SWTOR, I actually quite enjoy it, and I’d love to see it succeed in whatever form that might require. So we’ve put together a list of five things EA and BioWare can do to make sure that a free-to-play SWTOR doesn’t suck completely.
5. Pay to Win is a Loser
There is one thing that must be avoided by the F2P transition at all costs: turning SWTOR into a game that’s “pay to win.” That refers to the idea that the game is technically free, but the discrepancy between players on the free side and players on the paid side is so big that basically, in order to get anywhere or be at all competitive, you need to lay down money.
The trouble with this is that it’s easy to fall into the pay-to-win trap. Of course, the point of any MMO is to make money for its developers, at least as much as it is to make a cool game that’s a lot of fun if we’re giving the benefit of the doubt. And even under an F2P system, BioWare and EA need to make money to keep the game going.
But it’s easy for free-to-play titles to feel exploitative of the word “free.” Just because your game is technically free doesn’t mean it’ll feel free, and that’s exactly what pay-to-win situations can make happen to players in the game. Players want rewards given to those with skill and dedication, not fatter wallets or more willingness to part with their cash; that even alienates a tier of players who do want to pay but find they have less to pay than others.
4. Avoid the Bait and Switch
As bad as allowing some players to unlevel the playing field because they have money (or more money) than their competitors is faking like your game is free but, really, it isn’t. It’s another exploitation of the word “free” and we see it a lot in the mobile and Facebook spheres. Games that pull the bait and switch force players to put up their cash if they want to actually get any enjoyment out of the game, and it’s just downright slimy. If you want people to pay for the game, charge them — don’t try to trick them.
An example is calling your game free-to-play, but capping players out at the first 10 levels, or being “technically” free but forcing players to pay if they want the full, real experience of the game. This isn’t to say it’s impossible to charge for elements of a free-to-play game, but again, it’s all about how players feel they’re being treated. You want to encourage players to have fun, and for them to increase that fun by paying — not allow them to have a little fun, get them hooked, and then try to get them to pay if they want that feeling back. You’re pushing a video game, you’re not peddling narcotics, after all.
And shouldn’t a game be strong enough to draw people in and make them want to pay without you having to trick them into it?