Inspired by the recent discussion of SWTOR’s move to free-to-play in the blogosphere, I went looking at F2P offerings from other MMORPGs. While implementing F2P is often a good move for an MMO’s revenue, I think Bioware have got the wrong end of the stick with SWTOR’s model, and I’m honestly concerned that it’s going to do more harm than good to the longevity of the game.
(I’m not actually obsessed with F2P MMORPGs, contrary to the recent spate of posts. It’s just a hot topic right now, and there are a lot of interesting discussions happening thanks to SWTOR’s recent announcement.)
If you look at the different games with F2P options (shown in the table below, or neatly formatted on a standalone page), you’ll see a lot of similarities. Almost all games restrict your character creation options, for instance, usually in terms of access to classes and number of character slots. We’ve got no information about SWTOR’s plans in that arena, but there’s been no mention of such limitations yet. And most restrict at least some of their levelling content (which is the meat and potatoes of what a game has to offer to all except the most involved players), yet SWTOR has promised to give all theirs away for free.
Free-to-play, as a concept, exists to get money from customers who aren’t willing to commit to a subscription. A good implementation of F2P will encourage non-subscribers to give you their money. A bad implementation will encourage current subscribers to stop giving you their money. If current subscribers are looking at your upcoming F2P and deciding they can afford to unsubscribe, it rather suggests that you’re giving away the wrong stuff for free. And I’ve heard a lot more people saying they’ll go from subscription to F2P than the other direction.
SWTOR’s publicity and advertising all focused around its impressive quest content, story and character development, and fully-voiced-and-animated NPC dialogues. And yet Bioware has decided that that’s the stuff they’re going to give away for free, while restricting the raiding and PvP endgames (which are, let’s be honest, the parts of the game that are most interchangeable with other MMOs) to those who pay up.
Unless Bioware plans to implement extremely stringent limits on the number of characters a free account can have, 1 I don’t see this ending well for their balance sheet.
Other thoughts from the blogosphere on the same issue:
- The Better Part is Free: Tobold thinks this risks “being the worst planned Free2Play business model of all times”.
- The Old Republic Goes Free-to-Play: Rohan plans to unsub.
- The Free Side of the Force: Green Armadillo “[fails] to see how a payment model that does not charge until players have completed the single player story is going to work out for them”.
- What F2P Means for SWTOR: Psynister plans to go F2P.
- SWTOR Goes Free to Play: less than half of Anexxia’s poll respondents are sure they’ll continue subscribing.
Financial analysts, on the other hand, seem to think this change could make SWTOR more popular than WoW. Good luck with that.
|Company||Bioware/EA||Turbine||Turbine||SOE||SOE||Funcom||Perfect World||Perfect World||NCSoft|
|Premium Level (1)||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||N||N||N||Y|
|Vanity Microtransactions (2)||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|Functional Microtransactions (3)||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|Subscriber Stipend? (4)||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|Restricts character abilities||N||Y||Y||Y|
|Restricts guild creation||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|Restricts cosmetic options||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|Restricts customer support and/or forum access||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|Other restrictions||Restricted space missions, UI, crafting, emotes,||Restricted rest XP, limited crafting options||Shorter AFK logout, restricted buyback history||Restricted quest journal slots||Restricted DLC||Restricted alternative advancement, mounts, veteran rewards||Restricted mission creation, respecs, veteran rewards||Restricted veteran rewards||Restricted guild access, server transfers, mission creation, veteran rewards|
The listed restrictions are in comparison to a full subscription account. If a subscriber doesn’t get the feature for free, I haven’t listed its lack for F2P accounts as a restriction.
- “Premium” options generally apply to players who’ve spent money on the game in the past but who don’t have an active subscription.
- Vanity microtransactions are wardrobe items, non-combat minipets, titles and other non-functional cosmetic items.
- Functional microtransactions are items that have a gameworld effect (eg “experience potions”, equipment, etc) or an effect on your account (eg extra character slots, access to new content, etc.)
- Games with a cash shop for microtransactions almost always offer subscribers a monthly stipend of store currency.
It’s also worth noting that almost all F2P MMOs promise “priority login!” for subscribers, which is pretty much a non-event as login queues are very unusual in almost every game, so I didn’t bother listing it as a real limitation.
- Which will be seen as a bait and switch as any mention of it has been omitted so far, and will thus provoke a lot of unnecessary hostility ↩