“Star Wars: The Old Republic” goes free-to-play

Well, it’s official. The LucasArts massively-multiplayer online giant “Star Wars: The Old Republic” is now making its way to the consumer friendly model of free-to-play.

Is this a surprise? Yes and no. Partly because of the interview that the Vault did this past San Diego Comic Con with someone very in the loop about the company’s goings on. Another reason this is such a surprise is that “SW:TOR” had one of the most successful launches of any MMO, rivaling that of “World of Warcraft.”

But it’s not the first game to go free-to-play within a year of launching. “DC Universe: Online” went that way around half a year and “Lord of the Rings Online” did the same at around the same time in its life span.

Maybe it’s because they always make you go to Tatooine…

Strangely enough, “World of Warcraft” remains with its high subscription rate and large player population despite the general feeling of indifference from fans at the new “Mists of Pandaria” expansion coming. “WoW” has some of its game free-to-play, up to the first twenty levels actually, but the other sixty are for subscribers only.

Not to mention that “Wow” has lived longer than any other MMO – save for some of the first ones like “Everquest.” Of its generation, “World of Warcraft” is the lone survivor with no major graphical overhauls and strictly gameplay and story updates only.

With Azeroth still going strong, why would the Lucas universe need to go free-to-play?

For starters, the game has dropped below one million subscribers. This could be due to several factors compounding one another. Many players have spoken out about the lack of endgame content once the max level is reached, while others declare that the game itself is just not original enough for them, copying other games user interfacess and methods of gameplay. Some say that the game just isn’t “Star Wars” enough for them and it just doesn’t grab their attention.

MMO gamers will always complain about the lack of endgame content. That’s just a rule. Like the “Call of Duty” multiplayer aces who mope about the lack of more multipalyer content and maps or the RPG enthusiasts who gripe about the inability to play past the end of the game. It is inevitable that someone will complain about it.

The game itself has not been out for a year and already there is an outcry about not enough to do. There have only been three updates so far, all of which you can read about in our previous article, but most have dealt with gameplay issues and the need for smoother gameplay. Of course there have been missions and flashpoints added for players to enjoy at max level, but really there hasn’t been enough time for there to be any endgame content released.

I bet my life that people complained about the same thing for “WoW,” and they have been around for some ungodly amount of time despite it.

Honestly, if Bioware and LucasArts didn’t do the patches and updates that they have done, someone would complain that the game hasn’t been improved since launch. The point is, there’s just no pleasing everyone when it comes to MMOs.

Originality does seem to be lacking in the game industry, but one place people can’t be picky is in the MMO realm. There has been a proven and time-tested gameplay style that has endured for decades now, and for people to say that the gameplay is not original enough for them is a little absurd.

Taking the “WoW” gameplay style was smart for Bioware and LucasArts because if they had spent time investing in a unique gameplay system, they probably would have lost more subscribers just on the unfamiliarity of players alone. Using a well-known gameplay style and mechanics was their way of ensuring that the game would be accessible to current gamers in the market.

Honestly, I’m glad it’s on-rails. I would have no idea how to fly this thing.

Then there were those who complained that the on-rails space combat system was too lame for them.

Again, the game had just been released and while those missions become repetitive and mind-numbing at some point, there is no reason why they can’t be improved over time, and to assume they won’t be is a little absurd on gamers’ part this early in the game.

As for the game not being “Star Wars” enough for some people, there really is no fighting this. As a “Star Wars” fan myself, I actually enjoyed this fresh and new locale to play in that wasn’t part of Galactic Civil War of the original trilogy or the Clone Wars from the prequel trilogy.

Taking on a large gap in Star Wars history, one with plenty of Jedi, Sith and regular people fighting each other, was probably the smartest thing to do for the developers. There would be people who complained they couldn’t be Jedi or Sith if they didn’t do a time period where this was possible. And then there would be people complaining about wanting to be something other than those two classes and they would be unhappy too. Since the prequels were released, there has been absolutely nothing that anybody at LucasArts and Lucas Film can do to make people happy with anything “Star Wars related” aside from “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.”

I don’t care if the game is good or not, I really want a holocommunicator.

While no one can turn back the tide now on the model changing, I think this is a very important example of the current market to look at and examine. Is this is a sign that gamers don’t have patience anymore to wait for things to get better and progress? That they want immediate gratification for their concerns and displeasure?

Possibly.

This mindset hurts MMOs the most as their entire model is built off of the marathon idea, not the sprint. There are so many people who rush to finish a game and get on to the next one, that the idea of waiting a game out for the long haul might seem silly.

This could have to do with anything from interest in the game to the financial constraints of the player. Not everyone is able to afford a subscription to an MMO these days, and if someone was to get into a game like that, they have to be convinced it’s worth the money.

Does this mean that game companies aren’t giving us games with staying power that catch our interest?

That is entirely possible, but with a “Star Wars” game there is such a large fan base that it is almost guaranteed there will be a lot of people buying it. Clearly, that doesn’t mean they’ll stick with it.

As Bioware and LucasArts prepare for the shift to free-to-play, gamers and aspiring developerss alike should take this as a lesson and really take a good hard look at the industry, and just what exactly is causing a once-successful game model of subscription-based gaming become obsolete and unsustainable.