Though seemingly an inevitability since early this year, BioWare’s esteemed Star Wars MMO, The Old Republic, will be the next game of the genre to take on the free-to-play business strategy. BioWare announced the news today that the game would become available free of charge later this year, opening it to players even beyond the level 15 cap currently in place for non-subscription users.
As the feature list which compares both user options points out, players who opt for the free route won’t be getting exactly the same experience as those who are shelling out $15 a month. While non-subscription users will have full access to all “story content” in the sense that they can play through all the way up to level 50, character creation choices, Warzones, Flashpoints, space missions, travel features, and the Galactic Trade Network will only be made available through limited access. Additionally, non-sub players won’t have any access at all to “Operations” content in The Old Republic.
While the news certainly isn’t surprising, it does bring with it an ominous overcast in regard to the state of the MMO market in general. Star Wars unquestionably boasts one of the most diverse, widespread, and loyal fanbases of any creative entity in entertainment. That a deep and relatively polished title with the backing of the industry’s biggest publisher in Electronic Arts can’t sustain monthly subscription fees is perhaps an embodiment of modern gamer sentiment – i.e., people neither have the inclination nor the budget to afford such a cost. Somewhere, the sound of deep gulping can be heard from inside the development rooms at ZeniMax and Bethesda as they ready an Elder Scrolls MMO they hope will be immune to similar issues.
Star Wars: The Old Republic has been shedding subscriptions throughout the year and will now join a long list of games that are currently financially viable through the use of microtransactions. Publisher EA is certainly no stranger to this business model, as even COO Peter Moore believes the microtransaction strategy will be present in every game in the near future.