SWTOR’s Free-To-Play Pros, Cons, and WTFs
Star Wars: The Old Republic went free-to-play last week in a bid to draw back lapsed subscribers and to entice new ones to sample the game. But in the rush to retrofit the game into a F2P model, BioWare offered returning players a stripped down model of the game that may have doomed this AAA title.
The Haves and Have-nots
What do you get for free? Two character slots, two hotkey bars, an in-game currency cap, and access to the full class quest lines. These kinds of restrictions are fairly standard with other MMO F2P models.
What don’t you get? No ability to send mail, no priority on login queue, reduced crafting capability, inability to equip high-end (Artifact-level) gear, no bank access, restricted chat access, inability to loot high level gear from group instance, slower experience gain, higher vendor costs, no rested exp, and the list goes on. Of course, many of these features can be purchased (some only temporarily) through the Cartel system. Though some of these restrictions are commonplace among other MMOs, all together these leave you with a very confining experience of a game they are trying to get you to pay full price for.
Once you do give in and spend at least $5 on Cartel Coins (SWTOR’s microtransaction currency) you get bumped up to Preferred status. This grants you some banks space, complete chat access, a second crafting profession, a higher credit cap and a few more perks. But all those other restrictions listed above are still firmly in place.
Free-to-Pay Would Be More Accurate
I’m not going to say there is a right or wrong way to do free-to-play. Instead I’m going to say there is a way to make players feel like they are getting value and are inclined to spend a few extra bucks for more and there’s a way to make players feel like second-class citizens unless they pay up. And I think you know which way I feel SWTOR went with last week’s free-to-play conversion.
BioWare chose a F2P model that gives you but a taste of the game, as it should, but instead of leaving you wanting more, it leaves you feeling frustrated and irritated. Think two hotkey bars are enough? Wait until you hit level 30 and have more abilities than slots. That’s not incentivizing you to play for convenience, that’s crippling your play unless you pay up.
Shouldn’t the studio get paid for the time, money, and effort they put into the game? Of course, but it’s not going to get people to pay by locking them in a straight jacket and insisting they pay to get out. Some of the more successful MMO cash shops sell convenience and content, not critical game features on a temporary basis.
Can SWTOR Be Saved?
The bigger issue BioWare is facing with F2P is one of perception. If you played the game as a subscriber when it launched, coming back to check it out in free-to-play mode delivered double disappointment. All the flaws that drove you from the game still remain and now you experience them again this time with drastically crippled access to critical game features. New free-to-play players may find it more palatable to be without many of the game features, but they are going to hit the wall well before they get through the 50 levels of class quests advertised as free.
SWTOR devs have stated that they are going to tweak the F2p service restrictions in Update 1.6, but I fear it is too late. Those that they had a chance to lure back have already come and gone. Only those who never bought before and are thinking of trying it now will dip their toes in. And whether or not those who do stay and pay can keep the game afloat along with the diehard monthly paid subscribers remains to be seen.