It was inevitable, right? Star Wars: The Old Republic got off to a great start when it launched last Christmas, picking up a million subscribers in its first week and rising to 1.7 million by February. But having steadily dropped users ever since, and now hitting an all time low of just over 500,000 paying subscribers, EA’s sci-fi MMO will be going free-to-play this August.
Free-to-play gamers will have access to all the game’s story content up to level 50, but will lose access to operations and only have limited access to character creation choices, warzones, flash points, space missions, travel features and the galactic trade network. Those who continue to pay a subscription fee get full access to all the game’s features, but those who chose the free to play option will have to make in-game real-money purchases of “Cartel Coins” in order to access all the game has to offer.
Paid subscribers will also get access to new features and new high-level content, while returning paid subscribers will recieve 150 Cartel Coins for each paid month before July 31st 2012, while anyone who bought the Special Edition will get an additional 1,000 Coins.
Speaking to IGB, BioWare GM Matt Bromberg said that the free-to-play decision is less about falling subscriber numbers as it is changes in the MMO market:
“There has been some decline in our subscriber numbers, but I wouldn’t say that’s what’s driving the decision…what’s happened in the marketplace is that free-to-play has really become the market standard for MMOs and we felt like there were both potentially millions of new players who were Star Wars fans who never tasted the game because the subscription was a barrier. Our research also told us that a lot of the folks who we had earlier on who left the game would like to come back and try some of the new features and content that we’ve put into the game since they’ve left if the subscription wasn’t a barrier. So we feel like the market and our players are telling us that greater access is what they want and so we’re really responding to that.”
We really liked The Old Republic, and it’s a shame to see it struggling so much. Still, the free-to-play offering here seems quite generous for once, at least for those who enjoy PvE gaming the most. Is it enough to tempt you to try the game, and lapsed players to re-open their accounts? To quote Yoda, “Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.”