EA/Bioware have released some more details on their free-to-play model. In my opinion, the best free-to-play MMORPG is Lord of the Rings Online. By comparing Star Wars: The Old Republic’s (SWTOR) model with Lord of the Rings Online’s (LOTRO) model, I found the big difference between them: ownership.
You see, Turbine allows its LOTRO players to be either free players with microtransactions or subscription players. Players in general will get a better deal going the subscription route, but the option is still available to buy content with microtransactions. It will just cost more in most cases. If you were actually to play the game for 5 years or so, microtransactions could even be the better deal once you have bought everything and are playing totally subscription free.
EA/Bioware, on the other hand, only allows its SWTOR players to be subscription at endgame. Sure you can play the stories for free and there are microtransactions (character customization, inventory slots, bank space), but all endgame content essentially will require a subscription. There is no way to buy one Flashpoint, Warzone, or Operation piecemeal. There are weekly passes which give access to this endgame, but that’s really just a subscription in disguise. Instead of a monthly subscription, it is a weekly subscription.
We don’t know how much weekly passes will cost. Maybe they will have specialized ones for specific content types (Flashpoints-only, Warzones-only, etc.), but most likely per month it will be cheaper with a full subscription. That’s perfectly fine, more subscription options are always nice. The problem is SWTOR is going to miss all the people that prefer solely microtransactions. LOTRO supports this; SWTOR will not.
World of Warcraft has shown how casual players like collecting things, but it goes beyond pets and mounts. LOTRO allows casual players to collect content. They get a sense of ownership when they spend money. Whatever they bought is theirs until the game goes down (if it ever does). SWTOR does not support that at endgame. You can only ever buy temporary time with endgame content.
Casual players are not the type to spend hours and hours on the game. They play an hour here, an hour there. Subscriptions are not cost effective for them. This is why MMORPGs have had so much trouble lately, not understanding that they are missing their biggest market by forcing everyone to pay subscriptions.
There is still time for EA/Bioware to make changes. Unfortunately, I only have a SWTOR trial account. I cannot post on their forums to let them know how SWTOR’s free-to-play model will discourage me, as a casual player, from spending money on their game. I will still play the game to see the stories and may even buy some of those convenience features (inventory slots), but I will have no interest in endgame without some way to outright buy content.
And I’m not saying this has to be cheap. I think it’s perfectly fine for a single Flashpoint to be $5 or even $10 for the latest and greatest ones, but don’t force players to buy temporary access. If they have a favorite Flashpoint, let them buy it and only have access to it. Keep the 3 free Flashpoints per week to let them try out the Flashpoints they haven’t unlocked. Maybe they will find another one they like and purchase it as well. It’s a really organic way of playing a game, and people will pay more overall for this option.
From my perspective, the leveling content is great. I think they actually are giving away too much. Some of the high level zones I wouldn’t mind buying piecemeal. It’s just the endgame that worries me. I will most likely be holding out to see if they change their ways. It will take me some to get to max level. Maybe this will all be resolved by then.