By now we’ve all heard the news about SWTOR going hybrid-style free to play this fall. The news has given fans of the game some big questions to ponder. How will BioWare’s F2P model hold up to other F2P games? Is continuing my subscription worthwhile? Will EA/BioWare give in to the ugly beast named “Pay-to-Win”? How will this affect SWTOR’s community? All very excellent questions. And unfortunately, we may not know the answers to them until we see this hybrid model in action. Until that point, all we can do is hope for more information, and do our best to make that all-important decision– what’s the best decision for me?
A major model switch like this will no doubt change a vast number of features, Game Updates, items, guilds, social hubs, and individual playstyles. Some players will find themselves frustrated with the numerous changes, and journey to other pastures. Others will find the F2P model perfect to their gaming style, and enjoy leisurely leveling. Others will happily maintain a paid subscription in order to access all the current updates. One of the best parts about the model BioWare is aiming toward is the fact that, yes, there are options. What feels right to one player might not feel right to the next. So the question becomes: How do we know what’s right for us?
First off, thankfully, we don’t have to decide right away. We all have a few months to decide, and even after the system goes live, we’re free to test out various subscription models until we find one to our liking. I know I’m personally still on the fence. I have no intention of dropping my SWTOR subscription altogether, but after playing Lord of the Rings Online for quite a while about a year ago, I did leave the game with an ounce of F2P wariness. I have also tried out a fair smattering of other F2P MMOs, and most left a bitter taste in my mouth.
The quality of F2P MMORPGs is not always present, and while LotRO remains among the best currently out there, there are still a large number of players who agree that the game went downhill– yet became more actively played, ironically– when Turbine made their model switch. LotRO’s model, in fact, is largely similar to what we’re going to be seeing with SWTOR, which is why it makes an apt point of reference. LotRO did many things right– offering players the option to fully subscribe, offering players tons of ways to customize their characters, houses, accounts, mounts, and everything in between, but they also offered a few legendary items that made endgame players cringe.
There’s also the fact that the game’s UI, while customizable through mods, is a sea of a “LotRO Store” buttons in its default mode. I dislike the fact that microtransaction shop ads are found on every single UI menu, and I dislike the fact that a portion of the game’s developers spend time on creating cool, costly outfits, horses, and snazzy cash shop buttons when they could be working on creating new progression content, fixing bugs, and creating snazzy UI features that everyone could enjoy.
It’s a personal gripe– I know. The development teams are generally completely different, so that doesn’t always matter. There’s no guarantee that SWTOR will go down this same road, and in fact, they seem to be advertising the opposite, but if there’s one thing all F2P games have in common– it’s lots of advertising. In later cash shop examples, both The Secret World and Guild Wars 2 manage to have microtranscation shops that aren’t forcefully taking over one-quarter of the in-game UI. This in itself is a reassuring trend.
There’s also no guarantee that we’ll see any Cartel Coin items that affect combat and endgame progression in a major way such as to create a large “pay-to-win” chasm between players. If BioWare can manage to stay away from the allure of powerful game-changing items, we might actually be safe. Again, The Secret World and Guild Wars 2 are both on solid tracks as far as items go– all items are cosmetic, and Guild Wars 2′s combat “boosts” are quite minor and only affect combat earnings, not combat buffs. I hope BioWare’s team takes these examples, and others like them, to heart.
Opening the game’s doors to players who wish to enjoy the game casually and for free is a solid move, in my opinion, despite my lingering F2P distastes. SWTOR’s number one attraction is definitely its class stories, so making them free is a good decision for players who are on the fence about the game, or who don’t play that often. This will also give the leveling planets a burst of life, which is vital for keeping the interests of players newer to the game. I’m still not completely convinced it’s a good move to make all operations require a paid subscription (or microtransactions, if that’s to be the case), but I can understand making the most recent updates require a bit of cash.
One other perk is the fact that we’ll be seeing an influx of customization items as Cartel items. For players who enjoy that sort of thing, the subscription perks and bonus coins will add up to quite an enjoyable virtual shopping trip. Customization items, or “fluff” items, can make MMOs very fun for many players out there, and SWTOR, honestly, could use a boost in this department. I hope the model switch encourages BioWare to work on some of the social features players have been requesting (cantina chairs, pazaak), because social features are becoming more and more important in our MMOs.
Speaking of content updates, that probably will become the number one deciding factor for most players who keep their paid subscriptions. Is BioWare keeping their goal of “increased Game Updates”? Time will only tell, although many players are a little wary of that goal, which is completely understandable. In the meantime, we’ll have to keep a close eye on the the Cartel Market, ponder about our choices, and see what the future galaxy holds.