This post got me thinking. Will SWTOR have to go Free 2 Play at some point? As we all know, the MMO marketplace is packed with some very solid and fun games that either have gone F2P or are going to have it as an option very soon. Off the top of my head, I can think of Champions Online, Star Trek Online, DC Universe, Lord of the Rings Online, and Fallen Earth.
Why would SWTOR even consider going F2P? Because the word “free” attracts customers. For example, F2P is the only reason that I started playing Lord of the Rings Online. I was looking for a new game to play, and at the time, there weren’t any PC games that interested me. But along came LOTRO and its promise of the ability to play the entire game without (potentially) paying for anything. I could choose to spend as little or as much as I wanted without being worried about having to recommit for another month.
Low and behold, once I started playing, I was hooked and ended up spending $75 over the course of a year on Turbine points. Turbine got a new customer that they never would have gotten before going F2P, and I got a great deal on a fun MMO. F2P ended up being a win for both sides. I didn’t have to purchase the initial game (retail value $50) and I didn’t have to pay the monthly subscription fee (an average of $12.50 a month x 12 months = $150) so I see myself as coming out way ahead on cost savings.
With 3 months until launch, BioWare does not seem concerned with the F2P model. As Greg Zeschuk states here, “The trend for free-to-play doesn’t supplant great top quality premium games that support a subscription.” Clearly Bioware sees their game as one of these “quality premium games” and rightly they should. SWTOR is one of the most anticipated games of the year, and if successful, could end up being one of the most popular games of all time.
But, what would happen if SWTOR begins to lose subscribers? What if the player base decides after a year or two that the game isn’t as fun as it once was, or they can find a better use for their $15 a month? Granted, the die-hards/fanboys probably won’t ever quit, but the casual MMO player may decide, “hey, I can play one of these other F2P titles for much less money. Each one allows me to level up and kill stuff. I just won’t be able to do it with a lightsaber.”
How many subscribers would Bioware need to lose before they feel the pain and see a F2P/cash shop model as a viable business model? 1 million? 2 million? More? Only Bioware knows. Bioware has stated that they have an “aggressive post launch plan,” but how many months do they have planned out? I would hope that they plan a good three to six months ahead since they need time to take things from the “wall of crazy” to development, to test, and finally into production.
Fortunately, I am at a point in life where I don’t have to think twice about spending $15 a month for entertainment. But, for many others, they may think twice about spending up to $180 a year on a video game and choose a cheaper option that is just as fun to play. The bottom line is: will SWTOR create that kind of entertainment value where you can repeatedly say each month, “Yes. It is worth it. I’m having a great time.”