After a long and relaxing summer break from blogging (I’m feeling very rested – how are you?), it’s time to get back into the MMO scene and see what everyone is talking about.
Bioware’s decision to move Star Wars: The Old Republic to a free-to-play model, supported by microtransactions, is probably one of the key developments in the last months.
As I browse my list of followed blogs, I see many signs of smug vindication. Whether it be fanboys of other games, disappointed evangelists who were expecting SWTOR to be ‘the next big thing’, broken-hearted ex-Bioware fans whose lives were torn asunder by Mass Effect 3, or just the usual collection of internet cynicists that like to see things fail, the Schadenfreude has been strong with this one.
I enjoy SWTOR and would like to see it succeed. This is an unconventional position to take in the MMO blogosphere.
But I see the transition to F2P being a massive risk.
The problem with SWTOR to my mind was not the content, but rather the business model. Development was signed off based on business cases showing 2 million + gamers being retained for years on end. I have always said that I could see the game garnering a niche audience that love the combination of Bioware storytelling, Star Wars and simple group content.
A humble target might have been to retain 300k subscribers on $15 per month, with maybe 15% of those paying for occasion Value Added Services (race changes, advanced class changes) and 5% of those paying $25 for mounts and cosmetic items. Real merchandise (action figures, comics, novels, t-shirts) would have sold fairly well too.
This is still possible if Bioware
1) Resets its expectations
SWTOR isn’t going to be a WoW, but it could comfortably be a Rift.
2) Controls its costs
A game with 300k subscribers should cost less to maintain than one with 2 million
3) Doesn’t alienate its user base
F2P is minefield. Enter at your own risk.