Star Wars: The Old Republic – When Free To Play Goes Wrong
Star Wars: The Old Republic had the world at its feet. The hype and promise surrounding it was intense, perhaps the most anticipated MMO since World of Warcraft. Things started off well, subscriptions surpassed the 1 million mark and the community feedback was generally positive. But then things went a little pear shaped.
By the end of April 2012 subscriber numbers shrank from 1.7 million to 1.3 million. The rapid decline was worrying for both player and company, EA had clearly been shaken given the amount of resources and money put into the game. Various people had their says on why they believed subscribers had fell so quickly. Some pointed towards the market and the growing trend in the ‘Free To Play’ model. Others put it down to players simply returning to their preferred MMO’s (World of Warcraft, EvE etc…), the actual Old Republic players had their own theory.
Bioware had pinpointed Star Wars: The Old Republics (referred to as SWTOR) story telling as its key selling point. The theory was that combining the celebrated Bioware story telling (bar Dragon Age 2 of course) and familiar MMORPG elements in the Star Wars universe would be a match made in heaven. To a certain degree they were correct, but the cracks began to show and then the cracks became large gaping holes, which of course, leads to problems. The story elements were all well and good. They provided a decent tale set within a number of familiar locations, and even some familiar characters, but between each chapter of the story came some rather dull questing.
Questing is a staple of the MMORPG genre and, for the most part, is unavoidable. While Old Republic tried its best to mix things up, the results were mostly a number of kill quests with various tiers. Other quests faired a little better and came with a slight narrative attached to them. In the grand scheme of things, quests just didn’t feel all that up to it when compared to other MMO’s.
This issue created long stretches of game time where things just didn’t feel great to play. Flash points did provide some joy in between story missions but these were far and few between. A number of Flash Points felt more repetitive than enjoyable, the amount of time it took to form a full group was another issue.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom when it came to down time from the story. PvP was great fun thanks to Hut ball. It’s combination of the familiar PvP elements mixed with a new sport like twist made the whole thing both interesting and enjoyable. Players could get in on the act no matter what their level was. It was a great part of the Old Republic package. But PvP can only cover a certain percentage of a MMORPGs player base.
Away from both the storyline and PvP Old Republic came to a halt towards the higher levels. Things became extremely stagnated and the player base began to become jaded with the game. The lack of end game hurt The old Republic, it seemed end game was replaced in favor of players creating alternative characters, alts if you will, and this did not pay off.
With the subscriber numbers continuing to dwindle, EA began to approach the free to play model hoping it will breathe life into The Old Republic. This new era of the game is set to go live later this month, however there are plenty of questions surrounding EA’s plans. The free to play version of The Old Republic is arguably one of the most ridiculous examples of Free To Play to hit the market.
Free to play (F2P) players will have a number of features restricted, some of them being just plain odd. The number of field revives (when a player dies in the game world) is restricted to five. It’s not yet known if this mean five an hour, a day or a week. PvP and flashpoints will be restricted to three per week as will space missions (which are terrible in all honestly, so no big loss).
The more confusing restrictions come in the shape of no sprint ability for free to play players, restricted inventory space, restricted quick travel and restricted character creation options. These options beg the question; why bother? Why restrict the sprint ability? With sprint restricted this instantly puts free to play players at a disadvantage in PvP, as well as the team they are on. It’s a mind boggling restriction.
The key to cracking the free to play market is instilling a belief that each player is welcomed in the game, that no one is seen as a ‘second class citizen’. Unfortunately EA seem to struggle with this concept. Why would someone bother to play The Old Republic when they are at such a distinct disadvantage? Why would they bother if their progress and enjoyment of the game is so limited? Simply put; they wouldn’t bother.
The free to play model The Old Republic is adapting gives all players (both subscribers and free to play) access to all the story content. This seems a little bit of an odd feature given the main selling point of the game is its story. What would the game (both community and EA) stand to gain if people simply play the story then quit. Sure a passing player base would be obtained but this would dwindle in time. The other features of the game aren’t strong enough to attract a wide audience of new subscribers. Surely it would make more sense to restrict the later parts of the story content rather than basic ‘quality of life’ features.
Star Wars: The Old Republic has had a difficult time and people have already written it off as a dying game. The departures at Bioware have also raised a few eyebrows within The old Republics community.
Star Wars: The Old Republic isn’t dead yet, but EA’s free to play model could be the final nail in the coffin.