Star Wars: The Old Republic goes free-to-play up to level 50

UPDATE: EA confirms subscriptions now under 1m, performance "disappointing"

Update: On the investors conference call, Frank Gibeau (head of Labels) confirmed that The Old Republic's subscription base has indeed fallen beneath 1 million and that the company has been "disappointed" with the game's performance. Gibeau noted that 500,000 is the break-even point, and while the game is still well above that, the numbers are not acceptable, he said.

Original story:

Electronic Arts has just confirmed what many in the industry had been expecting: the fledgling Star Wars: The Old Republic title will be going free-to-play this fall [Update: it'll be in November]. It's not 100 percent free, however, as it's for the first 50 levels with some restrictions (which can be unlocked with Cartel Coins).

Gamers will have access to all eight classes as well as storylines all the way up to level 50, which essentially enables players to experience the bulk of the game. To gain full access to the game and to push past level 50, BioWare will be offering incentives to gamers to keep them interested. Microtransactions will still be part of the game.

"Players want flexibility and choice. The subscription-only model presented a major barrier for a lot of people who wanted to become part of The Old Republic universe," said Matthew Bromberg, GM of BioWare Austin. The game will be offered for $15 in August with an added free month to get people playing a bit more, and the subscription model will remain in place. Those who seek access to more advanced parts of the game without paying for a subscription can use Cartel Coins, which can be unlocked or purchased in-game.

"Since launch, we've been listening to feedback from our fans and adding new content and refining The Old Republic at a breakneck pace," said BioWare executive producer Jeff Hickman.

"We believe we are in a position to help improve the service even more, not only by continuing to add new content, but also by expanding the game to many more Star Wars fans, increasing the populations on worlds and the vibrancy of the community."

The Old Republic was facing increasing scrutiny in the analyst and investor community as subscriber numbers had continued to dip. EA is hopeful that going free-to-play and offering up more content will keep buzz high for the game. BioWare noted that it will be increasing the frequency of game content updates, "with the first of many new releases coming in August." Additionally, current subscribers will receive some Cartel Coins and qualify for access to special in-game items, the developer said.

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Latest comments (15)

Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 9 years ago
"Me too" does not work.

This is the wrong product at the wrong time and an immensely expensive one at that.

This whole game must go to free to play to even survive.
Then they must change the business model and base it totally on IAPs, advertising, sponsorship, merchandise etc
Also going cross platform would increase the potential user base.

Otherwise it is like watching a slow motion train crash.

Time for EA to do some realistic SWOT analysis.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 9 years ago
I wouldn't call it a train crash. The times in which a game such as WoW grew year on year are over. Console and MMO genre games mimic the behavior of movies. A big pulse of customers in week one and then sales crash. After a while the business model is downgraded to the second most expensive business model possible and another pulse occurs.

Movies: Theater -> pay per view / rental -> permanent sale -> ad sponsored TV
Games: buy & monthly pay -> free and monthly pay -> free to play

Imo, the long growth phase of a WoW required a broader and broader demographic entering the game. Today, this potential type of customer gets hooked on Facebook and Cellphone games long before an MMO can come along and capture his attention. Since Facebook games usually use the same psychological hooks than MMOs, they have nothing new to offer.
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Dan Howdle Head of Content, Existent9 years ago
For once, I agree with Bruce.

I played this for the first two months post-launch, but even then player numbers were dwindling to the point where attempting to get any party quests done was all but impossible. I remember I was trudging around Hoth one time, the number in the top-left of the screen (showing how many people were also on the planet) was one. I was the only player on that server on that entire planet.

Now, this alone would not have stopped me playing. What stopped me playing was visiting the official forums to find a 300-page thread comprising players with similar problems.

Surely, I thought, surely EA and BioWare will do the sensible thing and merge some servers immediately?

Sadly, however, EA seemed to have made somewhat of a rock for its own back in declaring SWTOR the next big thing, by all but stating that it would be the first serious competitor to WoW. It had bragged and hyped its way into a corner, to the point where, when faced with a compelling need to merge servers and scale down, it had to keep on singing the same tune.

As a player, not a journalist, this made me very angry. Clearly, SWTOR's existing user base was not buying the denials all that finger-in-ear 'everything's fine!'.

So I stopped playing. My friends stopped playing, and everyone I knew in the game stopped playing every single one of them because EA refused to acknowledge there was a problem with server population. To admit defeat to a degree, but in doing so show some measure of respect for its existing users.

In my opinion, when the decision was made to keep up the 'everything's fine!' facade, that was the turning point in SWTOR's resignation to F2P.

And that is all.
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Show all comments (15)
Terence Gage Freelance writer 9 years ago
Good post Dan. I've not played it, but it was obvious to everyone despite EA's typical 'subscribers are in line with expectations'-type comments that the game was hemorrhaging players from as early as month two. Maybe EA should have been a bit less bullish and proud and acted sooner to remedy this and keep players on board. I doubt they'll ever get back to the game's height of 1.7 million subscribers now, no matter what they do or what business model they follow.
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd9 years ago
Great post Dan. I only played the beta, but even then it was REALLY frustrating when you didn't have other people to play with. This is another reason I prefer Guild Wars 2, as it's not only easily playable solo but people are easy to find and you can play with them without grouping up while not losing exp or loot.

For SWTOR, I hope F2P helps them, but it's not addressing the true problem which is a lack of end-game appeal and really content in general. You can blast through the story in no time and then there's simply nothing left.
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I love the logic "the game is losing money, so lets GVIE it away!" This is the great hail-mary play of MMOs and shows the game as has sadly failed.

At a time when Zynga's true (lack of) strength is showing, ( that anyone can still think that going "free to play" is an answer to making money is either blind dogmatism or thinly disguised consumer greed.

Edit: Btw, I AM a paying customer now. if they let me play to 50 for free Ill probably *stop* paying. Thats what I did with DCUO.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Jeffrey Kesselman on 1st August 2012 7:08pm

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Gregore Candalez Journalist and Account Manager, FD Com.9 years ago
Being a huge Star Wars fan, having played Knights of the Old Republic 1 and 2 several times and having played The Old Republic since its launch in December, I must say I am very sad about all this.

Not because it is going Free to Play, mind you; I'm sad because BioWare and Electronic Arts, two of the world's biggest game companies, had all the Star Wars saga potential to create today something as innovative and revolutionary as the Episode IV was in 1977, and yet chose to go with a standard oldschool 2004-World of Warcraft clone.

SWTOR excels tremendously in the single-player gaming, the personal stories, the voice acting, the engine and graphics, but fails miserably on the "massively online" portion of it - the end game is clumsy and repetitive (both PVE and PVP), being just a WoW clone. If they had created something more to the sides of Guild Wars 2 or TERA, we could've had an astonishing great product.

I will continue playing it (still checking out the other personal stories) until Guild Wars 2 comes out, then it's bye-bye. It's for the best so as it not ruins my fandom; the same thing I did with the blu-ray versions of the films, I just didn't watch them.
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Craig Page El Presidente, Awesome Enterprises9 years ago
I played SWTOR for a few months... They should make a Mass Effect MMO, that whole universe and storyline is much cooler than Star Wars.
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game9 years ago
I don't know if the subscription model is over. It may be, like many claim. Certainly free to play has its many advocates, but there still seems to be many people who are turned off buy pay to win.
But one thing is for sure is that anyone willing to pay nearly a tenner a month to play something really similar in gameplay to World of Warcraft, is playing World of Warcraft. Why play a clone with less people around, and without 7 years of extra content and post release polish. The audience were telling Bioware this when it was in development, and Bioware made comments about how WoW had established the language blah blah.
I fear Elder Scrolls online may hit the same hurdle. Whilst some lament that ES is a definitive single player experience, many others love the idea of playing an ES game and meeting others and showing off armour, and raiding a dungeon together. But as soon as it was revealed it was not real time combat, not first person, and looked to touched by WoW.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 9 years ago
As I predicted. I still think that for FAR less money, BioWare should have done a proper KOTOR sequel with a single player focus plus co-op play (online and off) as an option and left it at that. That game would have done better as an "evergreen" title similar to the first two games (even though part II was a bit botched by Obsidian in a few areas).
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Sam Maxted Journalist / Community / Support 9 years ago
Too much is being given away here. I understand wanting to go F2P, but they're in danger of people never needing to pay any extra in order to play the way they want to. If they hadn't ruled it out already, maybe locking off the main story content to subscribers past a certain level - or selling it for micropayments - would've made sense. That way, players would still be able to reach level 50 but would need to pay to carry on with each class's overall storyline once they were invested in it.
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Gregory Keenan9 years ago
Dan really hit it - they missed the chance to merge servers while the population was healthy(ish) and because they didn't numbers dived further.

I still play every now and then (using the 60 day cards) - but it is rather an empty universe...
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 9 years ago
If you got into Star Wars mainly due to the prequels and the TV shows, then does SWTOR even reflect the Star Wars you want?
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David Radd Senior Editor, IndustryGamers9 years ago
Free-to-play works as a business, and assuming that BioWare does this right, this should work too. Getting people to try it, fill out the worlds and hopefully like the end game content (which they're apparently doubling down on) is key - this is assuming everyone doesn't just download this game to play a storyline or two and then drops it.
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee9 years ago
Free to play seems increasingly "necessary" as the main business model in order to have any success in an increasingly competitive MMO market.
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