Star Wars: The Old Republic isn’t doing so hot. After devoting over $200 million to at least six years of development in this absurdly ambitious MMORPG, the early subscribers are already dropping like flies. On the market for less than seven full months, the game has already lost some 400,000 players at this point. If you didn’t catch EA’s press conference during E3, the publisher revealed that SWTOR will soon be accepting the World of Warcraft approach, making gameplay free up until level 15. Now, through a GamesTM interview with lead designer Emmanuel Lusinchi, it looks like the definitive online Star Wars experience is looking into a fully free-to-play model.
“The MMO market is very dynamic and we need to be dynamic as well…Unless people are happy with what they have, they are constantly demanding updates, new modes and situations. So we are looking at free-to-play but I can’t tell you in much detail. We have to be flexible and adapt to what is going on.” – Lusinchi
While fantastic for fans, what does this mean for the future of subscription-based MMOs?
My opinion? Subscriptions are dead. The recent rise and success of spectacular free-to-play options like Lord of the Rings Online shifted the entire market, and is evidence enough. Beyond that, people already have more subscription services snaking their income on a monthly basis than they can shake a stick at. With cell phone data plans, cable, Internet, Netflix, and Xbox Live, the line has been drawn. What’s more, these luxuries don’t even take into account the basic living expenses of rent, fuel, food, and utilities. And now I’m expected to dish out 15 bucks a month for a game I may or may not find the time to play to ensure a sound investment, all the while with a hefty supply of high-quality substitutes to choose from for free? Nay, I say!
If Stars Wars, perhaps the franchise with the biggest fanbase across all entertainment mediums, cannot compete with subscription fees, everything else is dead on arrival (I’m looking at you, The Elder Scrolls Online). The early days of never-ending streams of easy dollars made WoW into a money machine, but the gamers have spoken, and enough is enough.
Long live free-to-play.