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The Burning of Star Wars: The Old Republic

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The Burning of Star Wars: The Old Republic

December 14, 2012 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next
 

In its quest to quickly push out a free-to-play model for its flagship MMO, has BioWare burned all players -- both subscribers and the new free crowd? MMO consultant Simon Ludgate takes a look at what the developer has really wrought with its adaptation of the game.

When BioWare created Star Wars: The Old Republic, the developer intended for it to be a huge blockbuster MMORPG, with millions of subscribers dutifully paying their fees for years and years. However, BioWare spent most of its money on single player story content, wrapped up in all the worst time-sink tropes that pervade the MMORPG genre. Design elements that players suffer through in order to get to the parts of the game they really enjoy: the coveted "end-game."

SWTOR's "end-game" was anemic at best, especially compared to the well-received storyline content. Surprise, surprise; most of the people who paid for the game didn't continue subscribing after playing through the story once or twice. Between the annoying grind and the recycled content -- another one of those annoying MMORPG tropes -- the game's single player content ended up being even less fun than a normal single player game, never mind the subscription fee to keep replaying it.

Faced with hefty costs to recoup, and dwindling subscription numbers, BioWare did what everyone else does with a failing MMORPG: alter the game to be free-to-play (F2P), which lets players download and log in to the game without buying it or paying a subscription. These games usually impose some restrictions on free players and try to sell them items in-game or convince them to upgrade to a subscription.

This article analyzes the effectiveness of the current SWTOR F2P model and contrasts it with general principles of F2P design and the specific issues with SWTOR that led to its downfall as a subscription-based game.

To begin with, I logged in to my old account and checked the in-game market to find out for myself what it would cost to have a subscription-like game experience without a subscription.

Fifty-Six Dollars per Month

That's what it costs to play Star Wars: The Old Republic as a free player.

And that's assuming you're going to plunk down $180 to unlock everything (including hotbars to put your abilities on so you can actually use those abilities) on only two characters. You can't actually get more than two characters (as far as I can tell), and there's plenty else you can't unlock, like getting quest rewards from completing quests or carrying more than a handful of credits.

This is what they're expecting free players to pay. And those players are "free players" because $60 for a boxed game and $15 for a subscription was ridiculously overpriced and not something they were willing to pay for. That's why they're in SWOTR now that it's F2P, as a free player, spending Cartel Coins like they're Zimbabwe's 100 trillion dollar bills.

The unlocks totaling $180 are a bit of back-of-the-envelope calculations, which weren't made any easier by the buggy in-game Cartel store, which refused to show me the price for most account unlocks vs. individual unlocks. But since you only get two characters anyway, we'll just take the individuals and double the values; close enough.

The real shiv-to-the-gut is the ongoing weekly cost to play SWTOR. SWTOR has five main content avenues: the single player story, the single player space missions, the group Flashpoints (four-player dungeons), the Warzones (PvP battlegrounds), and Ops (20-person raids).

You have to pay for four different passes to unlock four of the game's five content avenues (all but the story) and each weekly pass is 240 cartel coins. As each cartel coin costs a little over 0.727 cents USD each, 240 per pass, four passes per character, two characters, four passes a month = 7680CC, or $55.84.

Now obviously, no sane person is going to actually pay $56 a month for SWTOR. They're going to pay the $15 subscription fee, or they're not going to pay at all. Which makes one thing very painfully obvious: SWTOR's F2P isn't meant to be a free-to-play MMORPG; it's meant to be an excessively contrived demo to get people to sign up for subscriptions.

F2P! What Is It Good For? Absolutely Nuthin'! Huh!

Now, F2P games aren't really meant to be totally free. Duh. They're there to make a profit, like any other monetization scheme. But there's a right way and a wrong way to design an F2P/subscription hybrid game: You are either building a separate and meaningful way to play the game with the hope of turning a large profit from a small subset of paying players to offset the large number of non-paying players, or you are building an extended demo with the hope of turning F2P players into subscribers.

BioWare plainly went the wrong way with SWTOR. You don't have to go any further than the comments about how special and important subscribers are and how BioWare wants subscribers to feel special, even in the F2P environment. F2P is clearly just a demo; it's just that BioWare is changing the limit from "level cap 15" (the old trial, which also doesn't work) and instead applying every form of hindrance and impairment it can come up with, putting the Handicapper Generals to shame.

One has to question whether this makes any sense at all. The game was failing because people didn't want to pay for subscriptions. The choice was paying subscriptions or not playing at all, and people were choosing "not at all" over subs. How, then, does replacing "not at all" with "kneecapped" change things? How does that help net new subscribers, and how does that help keep existing subscribers?


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Comments


Paul Tozour
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I've never played SWTOR and I don't have any opinions on it, but the level of anger and sarcasm in this piece was really totally unnecessary and detracted a lot from the quality of the article. I would have preferred to read a more unbiased and professional discussion of the issues than something that sounds like one side of a bitter and juvenile flame war. After all the millions that were spent and the endless sacrifices on the part of so many developers to bring the best possible experience to their users, I think they deserve more respect than this.

Michael Kerney
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I HAVE played SWTOR and do have an opinion of it. I found the level of anger and sarcasm in this piece to be a bit muted myself. After what EA/Bioware sold to us at a profit (not a sacrifice) I think they got more respect than they deserved in this.

Michael Joseph
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"After all the millions that were spent and the endless sacrifices on the part of so many developers to bring the best possible experience to their users..."

It is truly a shame and a missed opportunity because after all that, Bioware only winds up adding to the string of disappointing Star Wars episodes, and made alot of fans angry.

there's also a sense that the game's design is just too heavily influenced by the wrong types of people. As the article hints at, at one point, why was this single player story driven game even made into a MMO?

A MMO set in SW seems to me should focus more on things like cantinas, smuggling, bounty hunting that actually takes investigation and tracking over time to complete, pod racing, free roaming adventure, droid slaving, and less on heavy internal Jedi/Sith politics. Make it more of a GTA set in SW with many worlds to discover, puzzles to solve, businesses to run, princesses to rescue.

The essence of SW is not Jedis and Siths and massive scale wars. Bioware seemed to forget all that just as George Lucas had. SW was basically fantasy in space that used a small "party" of allies. Jedi and Sith "powers" were mostly just plot devices and should never have become the central focus of the films.

But you can't build a living SW universe where the player can choose his\her own path if you're so comitted to storyline driven gameplay.

The breadth of this Star Wars Universe Massively Multiplayer Online game is shockingly small and lacking in imagination and originality.

ian stansbury
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"I've never played SWTOR"

and

"level of anger and sarcasm in this piece was really totally unnecessary"

Are actually diametrically opposed statements. Source: I played it.

It wasn't a terrible game but it wasn't a good game either. Too many compromises were made, too much money was involved. While I agree that getting pissed at company for trying to make some money off an IP is a bit silly, there is a sense of betrayal felt by not just SW fans but also those who built a relationship with Bioware.

The game was hyped and promises were made, none of which was kept. Thats the reason for most of the anger you see in peoples responses. Going f2p was a chance for the IP to attract old and new players, to apologize and make amends. This however feels like a money grubbing act to try and break even and then cast aside both the game and the player base.

Shameless Plug: Go play Secret World. it went F2P this week as well and its a much better game.

Camille Martel
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I definitely agree on the tone of this article. I used to frequent an unofficial SWTOR community but decided to leave precisely because there were just incessant flame wars over how bad the F2P model is. So I was hoping a featured article on Gamasutra would have a more mature tone. I suppose the subject polarises people just that much.

Pat Frank
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I agree about the anger and sarcasm detracting from this article. It suggests that objectivity is not present.

Having played the game extensively, before and after F2P, I think Ludgate raises some interesting points, but they appear to be undermined by his lack of objectivity. The suggestions he makes for an alternative approach would have raised objections as well. Story is what attracts most frequent-MMOers to SWTOR, so locking part of it behind a pay wall would be just as self-defeating as locking away parts of the limited end-game content. One suggestion, alternate ships, would require major *structural* changes to every planet and station on the game, and is thus unrealistic, at least until a major expansion.

This review does inform us how angry some of the players are, and about what. But as an objective, intellectual analysis of SWTOR's failings, it does not succeed.

Paul Tozour
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ian: No, they are not diametrically opposed statements. There's no justification for the contemptuous tone of this article. NONE. The idea that you might think there is, is disappointing.

Simon Ludgate
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The last thing I was expecting after writing this article was having to defend its tone. Sarcasm and satire are powerful tools in a writer's repertoire, and I have found sarcastic humour to be an excellent mode for public web writing. The articles I write for Gamasutra are intended for a very broad audience and are created with the hope of both educating and entertaining. The use of sarcasm is not a disrespectful one, but one meant to stimulate and maintain the interest of the reader.

The reception to this piece has forced me to re-think my style of delivery. I am particularly fond of the satirical styles of Rick Mercer, Brent Butt, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert, though I am clearly ill suited to emulate them.

This article is a comparative analysis of the factors that led to diminishing subscription revenues versus the revenue-generating tactics of the current Free 2 Play implementation. It is overlaid with a tone satirizing common F2P practices as a means of citation-free reference to a plethora of recent articles on the topic and to evoke a certain degree of frustration and exasperation with their continual misuse. The objective of the article is to suggest that the current F2P implementation is not the one that ought to have been chosen in order to maximize revenues for SWTOR and, by examining reasons I identified in my analysis of the game and its community, tries to determine which, if any, implementation could turn SWTOR around to profitability.

I am hopeful that if you re-read the article with a critical eye, you will find it as compelling to read as I found it to write.

Javier Arevalo
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Simon,

"Sarcasm and satire are powerful tools in a writer's repertoire, and I have found sarcastic humour to be an excellent mode for public web writing"

Your article, despite touching on very interesting and relevant topics, has too many holes, blanket statements and simplistic humor and memes, to aspire for sarcasm and satire that can be intellectually satisfying.

Sarcasm and satire are powerful when they stand on clear and indisputable facts and logic, subtle connections, and interplay between ambiguity and mischief. Otherwise, they become simple mockery which is disrespectful. You may have found them excellent for web writing because the web-at-large lives and thrives on linkbait, trolling and sensationalism. But Gamasutra, at least to me, is meant to be a professional community, where that stuff should have no place.

Pat Frank
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@Maciej Bacal

Storytelling is what differentiated SWTOR from other MMOs.

@Simon Ludgate

There's nothing wrong with sarcasm, IMO -- it has a place. But there's a reason it's left out of objective analysis. Any web site can post geeky rants from game fans; Gamasutra is seen as a step up from that level. If you don't believe me, look at this comment posted by a reader at Massively after Shawn Schuster linked your piece over there:

"Gamasutra is a pretty well respected gaming new outlet, and they post a number of opinion based articles like this one, so it's not like it's just some random guy at some random no-name place."

http://massively.joystiq.com/2012/12/14/did-swtor-make-things-wor
se-by-going-f2p/#comments

Indeed. Don't get me wrong, I'm not expecting peer review and dry, academic papers. But I do expect unemotional analysis. Unemotional analysis of critical factors is hard to find in this industry. I think you should build on that as much as possible, and avoid undermining it.

Thanks.

Adam Bishop
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Other than the silly subtitles, I didn't see much in this piece that wasn't calmly and rationally written, and I thought the subtitles fit the piece just fine.

Also, I see this a lot and it really bothers me:

"After all the millions that were spent and the endless sacrifices on the part of so many developers to bring the best possible experience to their users, I think they deserve more respect than this."

We all understand that making a video game requires a lot of hard work. But at the end of the day, if that hard work produces an experience that is poor for end users, we need to talk about that. Working hard on something does not entitle you to be free from honest, legitimate criticisms of the work that you have done. For one thing, users have a right to know what kind of experience they're getting into. Deceiving them about the quality of the product to protect the feelings of the people who made the game is a poor way to treat potential customers.

Secondly, if a game isn't good we need to talk about that so that developers of other games don't risk making the same mistakes. If we care about the people who work in this industry then we ought to care about whether the games they make are at a high enough quality that users will want to pay for them. That means talking openly and honestly about why users don't want to pay for the games they don't want to pay for.

Edit:
Also, the decisions that this article are critical of seem to primarily be business decisions rather than design decisions. If the business decisions are keeping people from enjoying the game, isn't being critical of those decisions actually taking the side of the developers? It's saying "There's an interesting game here if the suits would just let people play it!"

John Tessin
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It's a rant. I especially enjoyed the page three parts about how to be successful at free to play. One thing I have noticed is that everyone who plays a game just "knows" how to make it profitable. I suppose the questions I would have asked are: 1) Who that really knew how to make successful MMOs was on the team from the inception of the game. 2) Who, in an environment where ALL MMOs are moving to the FTP model did they have that believed they were special? To be fair I do hold a bit of a animosity to the project. I wished the best for them but the arrogance and hubris they showed at the beginning was downright cocky. Further the choices that were made ultimately hurt the players. Perhaps that is what is wrong with the industry. The belief that creating these games is so easy it is almost trivial. (What ever happened to Herve Kahn?) There are enough MMOs out there that have succeeded and also have failed to learn from. If you just take the time to do it.
"Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it," -- George santayana

Kellam Templeton-Smith
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The author seems contemptuous of the gross mismanagement that went into this, and the fact that the "F2P" experience is anything but. This isn't a restrained display of journalism, it's an opinion piece, and carries the authors voice with it.

He spent several pages devoted to breaking down the various aspects of why the game is disappointing-that in of itself is the respect necessary, rather than tossing off a couple hundred words deriding it.

Past a point, "Effort was put into this so don't criticize it" is a weak argument that is trotted out any time someone disagrees with the tone or content of a review, article, opinion piece etc.

Alpha Diop
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Although I can agree the tone was less than ideal, the author does have a lot of good points.

I just regret he didn't dig deeper on the whole topic of the flaws of Bioware's plan. Trying to convert people solely through frustration and not through having them to enjoy more WZs, FPs, OPs, and Stories, now I would to see that discuss in an academic way!

Tankor Smash
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@paul tozour

I agree, I would have preferred to read something that looks less like a blog post, and more like a professional article. I come to Gamasutra for in-depth pieces, and while this post may have been something similar, I was too put off by the usage of the low quality Picard image and the exaggerated tone of the subtitles (see "MOAR!"). I can appreciate trying to appeal to a broader audience, but you have to remember the publication you're writing for, which comes with a set of expectations.

As far as the article goes, I don't see a problem with having to pay 56 bucks for the full package because if you would want all those features you're better of paying 15 bucks a month instead. What this F2P model is is a way for you to tailor your experience as thin as you want.

Paul Tozour
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@Kellam: Past a point, "Effort was put into this so don't criticize it" is a weak argument

That's not even my argument, Kellam. You're mischaracterizing my comment. Criticism is always acceptable; it's things like Picard "double facepalm" pics and imaginary conversations between the developers intentionally written to make them sound as stupid as possible that cross the line from professional criticism into "juvenile rant" territory.

Sean Monica
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Remember this is a blog post, not a professional article. And the sarcasm? Actually he was spot on every bit of it and he was being light. You want to see how the players felt? I dare you to run over to the forums and check out the vault of rage how people were feeling while this was going on it was a mad house. I remember going through them and just being afraid behind my desk at the level of rage I was reading. This guy kept things light because this war about this game has been going on. Sitting here reading this with a few people who played it with me our first comments were, "this feels like a nice way to wrap this chapter of our gaming life up". Because it is. It shares the facts of what happened with a nice little twist. The game was a large money grab at best while it was burning down, so no they do not deserve more respect. The players are the ones who should have been respected and they were not. I think this article is great actually because of the wit he put into it.

Paul Nelson
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Perhaps respect should be earned, and the bungling mess they've made of SWTOR certainly doesn't deserve respect, even as, to be fair, the economy is still bad and some or all of their problems seem to have been created (or exacerbated by) financial problems e.g. the layoffs this piece comments on.

Denzil Long
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From what I understand most F2P MMOs have a cost model where "free" will cost more than subscribing if you buy everything a la carte that the subscription gets you. Why is this a surprise to anyone? Just look at the menu of almost any restaurant and you will see the bundled meal is cheaper than ordering each item individually.

I get the feeling that there is a sense of entitlement by the author here. Free 2 play doesn't mean play for free.

Rob B
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I see no sense of entitlement, quite the opposite in fact.

The author has made the point that they are already giving away the best content for free while crippling it in such a way as to make that content much less enjoyable. So it means people can see everything they want in such a fashion that will make it unlikely they will sign up to get any more.

The article doesnt actually suggest everything should be made free, indeed it says that much of the best content, most of the single player campaign and all of the perks of playing for any length of time should be locked off, while still leaving a solid gaming experience for free players.

Which is a good plan. It means that free to play players will enjoy there time and with any luck will be left wanting more so that they fork out to get more perks and see the story unfold. Thats in stark contrast to the current system which lets people see everything but cripples the gameplay so seeing it all just isnt that fun.

I agree with Paul Tozour, its a fairly smug and at times childish article (Meme images? Really?) but many of the points made do make sense.

Denzil Long
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My comments are directed at the sub heading "Fifty-Six Dollars per Month"

TC Weidner
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Free 2 play doesn't mean play for free.

-------------------------------------------

and that's my big problem. We need to change the moniker, to free to try, or something else. Free to Play smacks of a con-mans play on words. A bait and switch scheme all to common in way too many american industries these days.

Alpha Diop
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Actually Free 2 Play *does* mean play for free :/

That is when the whole business model isn't transfigured into a glorified Free 2 Try.

Peter Ebbesen
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If you sell something to the public as "free to play", it isn't much of a sense of entitlement to expect being able to play for free, is it?

Successful F2P revenue models in MMOs have until now meant making enough things free to play that most players have a fun time playing together whether they are F2P players who genuinely never pay anything, F2P players who occasionally or often buy stuff, or subscribers. You graciously let players pay extra for having even more fun in a multiplayer environment where they are already having fun and contributing positively to the society.

Point being, you don't impose a F2P model where the F2P player is and feels crippled in playing options unless he pays and the subscriber hates him for being *mechanically* not good enough to play with in the first place unless he pays. You piss off all players that way.

Or at least that is the conventional wisdom, which Bioware seems intent on challenging. I just don't understand their strategy.

As an example, compare with Turbine's F2P model. All players, whether free or subscribers, earn F2P currency by playing. F2P players can genuinely play for free and achieve just about anything that paying players can and all players, The only cost is time and, for many young people, time is worth less than money. For others it is not, and the temptation will always be there to pay just a bit of real world money to unlock some content faster than if they had to acquire it by spending time. And for those with considerably more money than time, a subscription shortcuts the unlocking process and regardless of whether you subscribe or not, there's a huge variety of vanity and convenience items to spend F2P currency on.

In this model every single player is a useful contributing member of the realm society and grouping up regardless of whether he is a F2P player or subscriber.

In Bioware's implementation, you don't START becoming a valuable or contributing member to the player-society until you either subscribe or start paying, on a weekly basis, an amount of money that is significant for anybody wanting to play F2P in the first place.

Eric Bedaw
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I know you're just trying to stick up for the developers Paul but you really should play the game before you comment about the article. I'd say it was kind considering the final product, and especially considering all the changes they've made to make it f2p. The developers promised many things and delivered on almost none of them. One of the games main selling points was "game changing world PvP". Unfortunately the engine the game was built on had trouble supporting more than 20 players on the screen at one time causing the game to become quite literally unplayable due to excessive lag. I know you were just trying to stick up for them, but you should have some sort of knowledge about the topic before you go around picking sides.

Paul Tozour
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Eric: No, I don't need to play the game before commenting about the article. The idea that I would need to do so is absolutely ludicrous. The article is unnecessary sarcastic and contemptuous and NOTHING can justify that. We are on Gamasutra, not a random hate-filled troll-infested Internet comment thread, and this is supposed to be a "feature" rather than an opinion piece. Also, the fact that you'd claim I was "picking sides" based on my comment is silly. You'll notice that I neither agreed nor disagreed with any of the author's points. Criticizing the article's style is completely different from criticizing its substance.

Mark Venturelli
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I agree the author should have been a lot classier in his delivery (even though I agree with the opinions represented in the article), but as far as I know most Gamasutra features are in fact opinion pieces.

Howard Lang
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@Paul Trozour. People such as yourself are responsible for so many bad decisions and poor quality of software produced by many companies today. Too concerned with tone to pay any attention whatsoever to the message and content.

It's no secret that frustration seeing the same mistakes made over and over builds frustration. Especially when you have people telling you what is wrong. I have no problem with the tone of this piece. It's not a sugar coated world out there. Often the truth isn't comfortable and is that bad decisions are made, and are still being made. There are many incompetent people doing tasks they should not, while too many good developers are being ignored, and when the good have had enough and speak their minds... people like you berate them for it, taking all the focus away from the issues. In my mind, NOTHING can justify that.

Katheryn Phillips
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I'm not seeing the viewpoint of an MMO consultant here, but I do see the veiwpoint of a player who would want a game to be completly free. Comments that display such contempt for story/grindy stuff that he doesn't like anyway, lead this 'consultant' to this: "Conclusion? Lock out parts of the story and give free players unlimited access to multiplayer content." And the shameless self promotion, "BioWare could still hire someone who knows what they're doing and give them enough power to make the decisions that need to be made (P.S.: I'm available)", are real eye-rollers.

Honestly, I think that more than a few of us could remodel the SWTOR F2P model to make both BioWare/EA and the F2P community happy...The Green Side (money grab) of the Force is dominant in SWTOR, and the balance must be struck for the community and the health of the game. F2P is considered a demo or sorts in nearly every game, but what made it different with SWTOR is that they crippled the demo beyond what is traditionally considered acceptable by the gaming community as a whole...and they ruined the try before you buy path teken by many free 2 play players. Full access to multiplayer features would be as illogical a suggestion as the removal of shot bars was in BioWare/EAs conversion, and I doubt that the suggester of such a scheme can be taken seriously as an 'MMO consultant' by anyone other than themselves and some friends. You put your foot into it Simon...look before you leap. Throwing out three pages of grief with a self-serving 4-point solution is not doing the community, the game, or you, any favors.

BioWare/EA must strike a balance with the Force...or the Green-Side will suck the life from a game many of us WANT to like, but cannot for one or more reasons. A true try-before you buy demo path needs to exist alongside a viable F2P option. A better solution is probably for the game to offer more expansive PVP permissions to F2P and much of the current F2P, while keeping the full game behind a P1PF solution like Guild Wars (and now The Secret World), with a cash store supporting the game through non-P2W perks and frills. Personally, I think the game should provide access to PVP ladders and raid/opertation content through the use of micro transactions and subscriptions...who wouldn't pay a quarter to run a raid in an otherwise F2P model?

K Gadd
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He's less qualified to write about it because he actually did the research of playing the game some? Or is it just because you don't like his conclusion? Why the scare quotes on consultant?

Ardney Carter
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"Full access to multiplayer features would be as illogical a suggestion as the removal of shot bars was in BioWare/EAs conversion, and I doubt that the suggester of such a scheme can be taken seriously"

Disagree strongly! The idea that F2P is code for 'demo' is a common thing for western devs. But if you look at a lot of the Asian F2P games they are actually fully functional products for ALL users with F2P purchases being almost exclusively convenience perks or cosmetic changes for player personalization.

Better to look to Nexon for solid F2P concepts than Zynga, IMO.

Hunter Curren
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"I'm not seeing the viewpoint of an MMO consultant here, but I do see the veiwpoint of a player who would want a game to be completly free."

From this alone I'm not seeing the viewpoint of someone who actually read the article, but rather someone who looked at it and made a conclusion based off the general fact that there was criticism on having to pay for things.

He clearly indicates that he doesn't expect everything for free, and even provides examples of how he would monetize it. The way it is currently implemented in SWTOR makes the game painful to play, which isn't going to convince people to spend money on it. If you want people to spend money on your game, make sure they have a good experience so that they want more, and charge for that 'more'. It can be cosmetics (allowing players to further customize their characters, similar to what Star Trek does), or it could be in content (sell content patches instead of giving them away for free, just make sure people actually enjoy the content), or even in passive bonuses (faster XP gain, bonus in game currency for use on the shops, etc). That way someone enjoys the game and has an incentive to pay a subscription.

You don't have to only look at MMOs for ideas on creating a good free to play model either. League of Legends is massively successful and you can get everything in the game for free with the exception of cosmetic items, yet people still spend tons of money on it. They enjoy the game play so they are willing to drop cash to get heroes faster, or to customize the characters they like to play. Chances are the game wouldn't be where it is now if they limited the actual game play itself behind the pay wall.

World of Warcraft has shown that players will spend a lot of money buying cosmetic things like non-combat pets and mount, but you need to have a player base that wants to play your game before something like that can work.

Ultimately, you can write off the article because of how some things are worded, but it doesn't change how frustrating the model is for a player, and that's where it matters since they're the ones who have to support the game. I agree with the poster in that BioWare would be better off taking the short term hit to rebuild their player base while they implement better monetization options so that they have more people around to take advantage of them.

Thom Q
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Having to pay to use hot bars??? * Good Day*!

Michael Joseph
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Debating how to tweak SWTOR's F2P model at this stage seems a bit funny. Because whatever they do.... it's really NOT going to make the game fundamentally better.

But on bizarro earth, instead of working to improve our products...

Jeremiah Bond
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The problem is that there is too much business to attend to. Too much top heavy decisions. Too many chiefs and not enough Indians.

The "single player" aspect is very much single player and I wouldn't spend an ounce of my time trying to 'enjoy' multiplayer content in a world of childish adults and mindless youth. Enjoying Star Wars the Old Republic for myself I find myself quite happy with its current offerings. I do wish for a true sand-box Star Wars the Old Republic but they promoted Story and that is precisely what they delivered. They may have suggested and even said there would be 200+ hours of independent story per character class and was certainly not delivered but I find that the game itself was extremely enjoyable.

For the MMO aspect, they have absolutely no clue how to build an economy nor generate features for players to self develop their own economy.

One way to look at it: EA, BioWare and/or LucasArts (I'd suggest EA) really promoted greed and pride before corporate sustainability. They wanted a game that was great but was overwhelmed with the idea of a quick buck. They played the lottery with their own money and didn't win.

It's probably more like this: EA was in a rush to acquire something BIG from BioWare. BioWare was overwhelmed / consumed by perfect responsibility to deadlines and aggressive, if not "relaxed" schedules which lead them to focus on their greatest talents and left to that demise. They produced an "MMO" that wasn't supported with AAA corporate assets but mediocre designs lead by leaders who didn't quite produce the products that people wanted. More than likely due to very similar constraints in previous situations.

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Michael Wenk
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How did EA kill SWG, which was a Sony game ? I'm confused. And if they were working on MMOs on SWG, how can you say they are amateurs?

SOE/LA are the guys that killed SWG. I know very little about Warhammer the MMO, its not the kind of Warhammer I have any interest in. So I won't comment on it being dead or not. However, the fact that EA is still running it today makes me not consider it a failure. EA's pretty good at pulling the plug, when the plug needs to be pulled.

Matt Robb
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It was a bit hard to read his post, but I think by "same developers" he meant "the same kind of developers".

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Erin OConnor
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There are plenty of examples on how to make an excellent F2P/Hybrid/Subscription model for a game.
DDO (Dungeons and Dragons Onlines) is by far considered to be the best example of how to run a MMO. LotRO (Lord of the Rings Online) is a close second.

EA (big suprise here) and Bioware (sadpandaface) missed the mark completly. This is more an example on how NOT to run a F2P MMO.

Its not hard to find examples of what works, and then emulate them.


"Having to pay to use hot bars??? *Good Day*!
+infinity.

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Erin OConnor
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I play a lot of LotRO and DDO.
I never felt screwed by either game.
In DDO I Am not sure what content you are refering to that you have to re-pay for though, could you be a bit more specific?

Michael Wenk
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Well, LOTRO is likely thought of as a vehicle to market LOTR stuff, as opposed to a stand alone property.

Now EA/LA could have done this, but they either didn't consider it, or do not need it. Who knows. I do wonder what Disney will do with it now, they strike me as more marketing savvy than LA...

And the hotbars thing. You do realize you don't *need* and really cannot effectively use more than the number of bars given til you are fair decent way thru the story, 3-4 planets in. And I'm sorry if you disagree, by that point you have spent enough time where you should be paying for the game. Now were it up to me, I would have charged for the story content itself, instead of the hotbars. However, I'd be kidding myself if that would cause less whining, likely would have caused more.

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Jake Young
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Agree DDO is the best example of F2P for an MMORPG. I was mildly interested in the game when it first came out, but didn't want to end my Wow subscription. Paying 15 bucks a month for more than one game feels a waste of cash to me. When they later went F2P I snapped it right up, dumped 100 bucks into it. Unlocking dungeons or quests in packs is the best route. Lets me as a player choose the content that I want, and gives me unlimited access to it when bought. Past couple years I'll play for a few months, stop, return for a few weeks, stop, return a few weeks later. Because there is no monthly fee, I don't burn out on the game, when I want a new raid or dungeon, I just pay 5 bucks and unlock it.

SWTOR has a fantastic single player journey, if they really want to make money they really should shave each class into it's own downloadable single player game. The online bit is completely lack luster . Charging for PVP or their Raids is laughable each time you want to run one. Charging for action bars is INSANE bank space is one thing, but you NEED actionbars for skills.

Michael Wenk
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I completely disagree with this article. The projected user was a Bioware RPG player, and for that player the single player story *was* the part they wanted. And that story had better replay value than most single player RPGs out there. Did it have tropes, sure. But guess what, we have already had all the stories we will ever see.

As for timeline, it doesn't appear rushed to me. There were around 4-5 months (quite possibly longer, when you consider internal work) between when they announced it and when they released it.

This article is in my opinion just thinly veiled EA bashing.

Lewis Wakeford
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The stupid thing about SWTOR going F2P is that they don't actually charge you for anything you'd want to have. The story content is the best part, and it's free. No one cares about all the PvP and raiding, because... well it's just WoW raiding and PvP. Which is just bad. Sure they encumber you with painful stuff like the lack of hotbars and slower leveling but very few people are going to PAY just for that.

Seriously, why did they make an MMO? They could have turned a profit by making a proper $60 singleplayer/co-op RPG with maybe 1/3 the content. Everyone plays it like that anyway and they wouldn't be ridiculously in debt from all the voice acting and server upkeep.

Bart Stewart
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It's worth comparing this to today's other Gamasutra story on EVE Online still growing.

With one well-known exception, MMORPGs that have high development costs (including marketing) and high-visibility launches immediately begin a downward spiral after the first month or so. These games will never have more players than they do then, so they're forced to try to squeeze as much money as possible as quickly as possible from their current players.

That philosophy dictates the pricing mechanics. And it sounds like it might be the thinking that has determined the way that F2P has been implemented for SWTOR: get it while you can.

Maybe the saddest part for me, though, is that we've been here before. There was another Star Wars MMORPG whose operators made the decision to "sacrifice existing subscribers in the hope of getting new subscribers." That wasn't a complete failure. But it did antagonize a lot of customers. That doesn't seem like good strategic thinking to me, either for that publisher or for the MMORPG and gaming industries as a whole.

Edward Franks
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:sigh: So many inaccuracies in this article. They are *warzones*, not 'warfronts'. You can use quest rewards. The only thing you would need to buy is the unlock if you want to equip the purple quality gear (and that is a one time unlock). etc.

Yes, Bioware has made mistakes. One quickbar went to two, now is going to four for f2p folks with a refund for those that bought quickbars. The number of characters for f2p is going from two to six. So, as with any conversion Bioware is trying something and if it doesn't work they are willing to change their stance which is refreshing.

The cost of unlocking everything in f2p versus a subscription is a strawman. Everyone has always said if you want to do that a subscription is much cheaper. However, those folks that have actually run the numbers have found that *if* you like _one_ area in Swtor you can get by paying less than a subscription each month. (Say, you just want to do warzones, or just flashpoints, and on.)

This 'feature' really should have been an opinion piece or letter to the editor (especially the dig buy the author at the end "hire me" -- totally unprofessional.)

Simon Ludgate
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I apologize for the inaccuracies. The use of the term warfront rather than warzone was a lazy slip-up on my part.

The changes you mention, from 2 to 4 quickbars and six character slots for paid premium users were both announced after the article was submitted for publication. I am not yet sure how much of an overall change those will have on the success of SWTOR's F2P platform; I will continue to investigate and would be happy to write a follow-up once those changes have rippled through the game.

The argument about F2P unlocks isn't a strawman specifically because, as you point out, subscription is much cheaper. And yet, subscription was too expensive to keep users. The entire point of my article was that, if a game cannot maintain its subscription base on subscriptions alone, the F2P alternative to that subscription must be less expensive than the subscription.

While it may be true that a very limited gameplay experience can be had at a lower price, I have doubts that a sustainable "mini-subscription" through the current F2P implementation will offer the radical alternative to full subscription needed to turn SWTOR around with a sufficient number of users. That is to say that if the game required 500,000 subscriptions to be profitable, I remain dubious that it will now find 2,000,000 F2P mini-subscribers playing a small fraction of the game for just as long.

Matt Robb
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"Yes, Bioware has made mistakes."

And once you've pissed off potential customers, they're lost. Fixing those mistakes isn't going to make any of them come back. I'm willing to bet the vast majority of people that didn't want the subscription model and might have gotten onboard with a F2P option have already been driven off, never to return.

John Trauger
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What I find strange is contrasting this with the Gamastra video of a talk given by SWTOR's two chief devs. What sticks in my head is they said "it's easier to retain players than get new ones", and that they designed the game to retain players.

The game's implementation seems the exact opposite of this core goal.

I remember watching the video thinking "If you designed to retain players, why has your subscriber base dropped below half its peak in less than a year."

Well, it has been noted that Bioware was inexperienced at MMOs. This is very expensive tuition they're paying to the school of life.

Raymond Ortgiesen
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I started playing SWTOR a month ago. I've had dozens of hours of fun since then for free, thanks Bioware. :)

Chad Spiegel
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I was an original subscriber who let my sub slip after I had beaten through the story a couple times. Was hoping to get back into it when it went F2P but this is a terrible implementation of that model. All they had to do was follow Turbine's example with DDO and LoTRO. Read more about this game at thebestgamesyouneverplayed.com/2012/10/star-wars-old-republic.html

Mike Jenkins
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My understanding is that games go "free to play" not only to attract new potential paying customers, but to populate the game worlds so the paying customers feel like they are in a real virtual world.

The problem is, SWTOR at its base level does its very best to ensure you never forget you are playing a video game. You warp constantly from area to area, instance to instance. There is no feeling of connection between these areas, no sense of the world. There is no incentive to group with other players. There is no player economy to speak of. There simply was too much thought put into making TOR "accessible," and none put into making it immersive. Populating the world with these F2P players, each running from point to point plaything through their own little story (1 of 8 available), will add absolutely nothing to enhance TOR as a game.

Jeremy Reaban
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Games go F2P not to attract more people, but to extract more money from the people who do stick with the game.

Any additional players is nice, I'm sure, but the real money in F2P seems to come from "whales" or very big spenders.

While I think many new players are like me and spending $10 to get preferred status, the big money is coming from existing players who are buying stuff from gambling boxes, aptly called cartel boxes. Judging by how much of that is on the market in the game, that seems to be a success at first. But will it keep up?

Jeremiah Bond
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I do believe they are testing that proof of concept. I used up all my cartel points to get some really decent, but worthless, items. I don't have plans on getting more cartel points for anything. Yes, the gambling mechanism works but only if you do not renege (at least for me) the design after huge player investment. There are millions of people who would rather gamble their money away for worthless items.. oh where are you my SWG investments! Never to be seen again.

Rik Spruitenburg
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If Mike Jenkins is correct, that moving to F2P was in the hopes of increasing population for existing players (so they would have people to play with instead of playing in a ghost town) then SWTOR's implementation is flawed as they restrict non-subscribers from doing 4 or 8 player content. If Jeremy Reban is correct and they want to get more money from subscribers then they have also failed. They give subscribers some cash shop money every month, and you can buy boxes-of-random stuff. Most of the stuff for sale is just a repaint (or class-restrictions removed) version of something that already existed. After about a week most of the stuff is available on the auction house for in-game pennies (in part because they failed to let you vendor the items from the random boxes. ) Yes, I'm sure someone kept opening boxes looking for that epic mount the first day but he's an outlier. Since they use social-reinforcement of having a visual and audio ques when someone else opens a box, I can state that pretty strongly as a not something that's happening all over.

Jeremy Reaban
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Just to clarify, you still get quest rewards when you are F2P, you just don't get to pick certain rewards, which seem to be lootboxes of some kind (not sure what they are, since I haven't been able to pick them). But gear, xp, money, etc, you still get. From the numerous inaccuracies in your article, I have to wonder just how much you did play SWTOR before writing this article.

Beyond that, based on other of your articles, you seem to be one of those people that only likes grouping with others, doing raids and PvP and such, and MMORPGs should only revolve around that. Therefore, clearly you think those should be free. Maybe so.

But at the same time, that's not what SWTOR is all about. What they did is essentially make several KOTOR games. Sure, they padded it out with grinding and a slower moving story. But the story is the only real reason to play SWTOR.

If people weren't subbing to play SWTOR for the story, its main draw, they sure as heck weren't going to pay more for it via F2P.

That's really the problem with SWTOR's design - by trying to mimic KOTOR, they've had to dramatically reduce the amount of content in the game compared to other theme park style MMORPGs, because everything has to be voice acted and animated, not just a text box with the same NPC copy and pasted all over the world. It also means it's very slow to add new PvE content.

So was it a mistake to design a MMORPG that way? Probably - it would likely have been better to simply make several more KOTORs. But what's done is done.

Anyway, my ultimate point is, the main draw of the game is the story, by making it free it lures people in who weren't willing to sub, and hopefully they will spend some money on the game.

People likely aren't ever going to pick SWTOR as their choice of a PvP or Raiding game. It was never the game's focus.

Brandon S
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Well , I think that will not be a problem in the future design of the game. I believe Bioware mythic might of solved this particular design issue. Newer daily quest areas such as Section X and the Blackhole have dramatically reduced voice content in a good way , daily are essentially generic daily quest that player want to get done quickly as possible . Generic MMO Fetch quest are mostly done via non-voiced terminals now ,since there very little meaningful content in them for someone coming for story.In comparison more dynamic thought out quest are given full voice overs . The rest of the game should of been like this to be honest from the beginning , would of solved some financial problem and vastly improve the overall depth and execution of cinematic aspect of the game .(Some class quest are done poorly while others are excellent , Imperial agent vs the Jedi consular) .

Planetary quest and Class quest should be heavily voiced over and cinematic even more so than now (That the bread and butter and most expensive to create) , while the generic MMO aspect should be non-voiced and not waste that many resources , there simply a grind there to get gear or time waster . The only thing that should be done about this is to make them more addictive without investing tons of resources into them revamping them , Addictive in the way LOL and DOTA or Diablo are addictive. Think one early problem with TOR was they tried to please everyone , instead understanding the market . Areanet understand that better , There not trying to pander to people who will never enjoy the type of experience there selling with Guild wars 2 and bio-ware had to learn this lesson the hard way .

Selling the Endgame features actually make alot of sense at least in the early stages of there F2P model ,going against the grain of the article . Bio-ware is planning chapter 4 ,Rise of the Hutt Cartel .If Allow someone to play from 1-50 for free this will get them emotionally addicted to there characters and companions and story . Then you release your next DLC and charge money for it and a perk of a subscriber is getting these DLC for free or heavily discounted . If DLC is free for subscriber ,bit like COD elite , then it increases the value of there overall Freemium plan.

. This wouldn't silence critic of TOR to be honest ,the game isn't trying to appeal to the typical hardcore mmo endgame demographic that space bars through story and rushes to the endgame activity focused on "Massive group interaction". a-lot of games are moving away from that ,Same way Guild wars 2 wasn't trying to appeal to that , both games gained alot of hate for there lack of longevity from various player bases while being simultaneously being called "WoW clones. When player mention that meme"wow clone" "Mostly trolls " I think there referring to the fact MMOs do not invest time and energy into massively seemeless worlds with time-syncs since there a much larger audience that simply has no interest in it . They want a game that can pick up and play Single player , or do co-op when they want to Leave/come back

One of the most common complaints is that the games feel like I am playing a single player games with Multi-player. Well I think there simply more money to be made in these types of games and they should focus on making it the best damn mufti-player lobby co-op game imaginable

These are the types of games online who are growing new fan bases with the expectation of the hardcore niche of EVE and it multiple accounts .It is the games like LOL , and DOTA . The reason why is simple , there very easy to get into via a multi-player lobby .Easy to pick up and play while addictive enough to drive you to keep coming back and spend a little cash. Guild wars 2 main praise was ( I don't have to gear grind to get into the game , I can leave for a month pick up and play , Buy a DLC /expansion, leave come back). I believe Bio ware need to focus more on these strengths and less on trying to cater to the old guard of MMO-endgame content locus demographic.

Nicholas Blaes
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I personally can't believe some of these comments... really criticizing the guy who wrote this article gotta be kidding me don't like his opinion ask anyone. Bioware pulled probably the worst F2P model in the history of F2P and it solved nothing in fact it is hurt the game.
Read any article on any gaming site no one is applauding this solution.

I played SWTOR I even finished it multiple times when subscription play was the only choice. The truth is the game came out to early and started loosing people from day 1. Now if finally tanked to the point they had to go free to play to get people back. IF biowares goal was to get people to subscribe they failed.

Even I wouldn't subscribe if F2P people i group with are handicapped as badly as they are and I wouldn't want to play through the story with so many limitations imposed. They don't even let you create more then 2 races if your F2P.

Overall I gotta say F2P for SWTOR should have look more closely at what works for other F2P models for instance the secret world or star trek online they understand all you have to limit people on is nothing just give people who sub bonuses more storage more bag space more exp more stuff for sub make people WANT to sub not forced to because the alternative is to be severely limited and hurt those who sub.

Brandon S
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Fact of the matter is it a gaming industry site . The Criticism of the writer is simple and correct this is not Troll-land Kotaku. He should write like a journalist and not risk being received as an angry nerd ranting on the internet . There has to be objectivity in how something is presented . There no need for snark and what not , We've got kotaku for that and countless other site . One of the main criticism of Video Game journalism is most of it barely investigative journalism and is worse than Tabloids talking about how bigfoot married Brittney spears . No need to spread that image here to gamasutra .

Muir Freeland
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Brandon -- I strongly disagree with the notion that snark, and personality in writing in general, are at odds with objectivity.

Jeremiah Bond
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Muir, depends on if they are paid for it or not.

Harlan Sumgui
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@nicholas: agree totally. Its a very enjoyable article to read. People asking for an 'objective opinion' piece are dullards. Good job Simon.

Pat Frank
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@Harlan Sumgui

Why are people who ask for an objective piece "dullards"?

This is not an unusual position that Harlan Sumgui espouses. It's become the norm for video game fans to have expectations of extreme reactions from journalists. If you stick to the facts then you're wimpy and disappointing. It's either bash hard or sing praises from the heavens -- nothing else will do. Such a shame -- objective journalism used to actually mean something.

Rik Spruitenburg
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I do agree that criticizing the author is bad form. If you don't like Gamasutra's decision to run this article, or don't like that it's not clear if it's opinion or fact, say it that way. That's valid. I was happy to read it. Happy to see someone else connect these dots almost the same way (even if there were some fact-checking details missing like the new rules about the UI Skill bars and even with exaggerating how much it would cost to buy a normal account if you order a-la-carte .)

The main point is the same: SWTOR's free-to-play system does not work the way successful free-to-play MMOs have done it. They don't look to have reviewed this model past "Oh, and we should have a random box that could have anything in it" and "Players like pets". They also don't seem to have any budget for putting things in the shop. It's filled with existing items in new colors or without class-restrictions. Now Gunslingers can wear robes like Jedi. The second wave of items in the shop is also without a single new piece of art. And that's why it can't excite. Most popular item from the first run? A chair that functions as a mount and females cross their legs when sitting in it. Too soon to guess, but I don't think the new set will have anything that popular. And the old boxes? Still for sale.

I mean, before launching a Free to Play MMO, I suggest you research games like Atlantica Online. It's not a "demo mode", free players aren't treated differently from paying ones. Yes, it's going to be near impossible to be at the top of the pvp ladder without someone somewhere buying things from the shop, but you could buy them all with in-game currency.
The game doesn't just have money sinks, it has item sinks. Again, you could learn a lot from Atlantica Online. The guys that did SWTOR don't seem to have researched Neopets.

I see a lot of people who haven't played the game hear the tone of the article. I suspect that their thought process sounds something like this: "Man, this is why I don't want to go free to play. This guys is clearly angry about something, and since he's angry about f2p it must be that he wants to enjoy someone's hard work for free."

That's not why the fans of SWTOR are unhappy about the F2P system. They are unhappy because they had a chance to save the game and they blew it. Fifteen dollars US is not a lot of money to pay for a game you play for more than 15 hours a week. They were hoping for both new friends to play with and a revenue stream to support the game for years to come. This is neither. Expect the announcement that SWTOR is going to close to be made in February.

William Johnson
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I knew it was going to be terrible. EA just doesn't know how to do Free to Play.

You have pay walls that segregate players in their Need for Speed MMO and pay to be viable (like an extreme version of pay to win) in Battlefield Heroes. And it sounds like they took the worst of both worlds and put it in to SWTOR, which doesn't surprise me but still disappoints me.

With how much success as there is with F2P you'd think EA would be willing to copy these success stories to keep players playing.

I use to have this conspiracy theory that EA was actively trying to spite their competitors by doing very illogical things that in the long term hurt themselves and the industry as a whole. Examples being online passes, flooding the market with modern shooters, intrusive DRM and data collecting, and Origin. But now I'm thinking, maybe they're just incompetent and really can't see more then 5 inches in front of their noses. I liked the idea of them being evil masterminds, because it made them easier to hate. But if they're just incompetent that just makes me pity them.

kailee miyamoto
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Just like the other F2P games that EA didn't know what to do with, SWTOR will wind up being published by Aeria Games...

Olorunsegun Adewumi
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1. What was “anemic” about the endgame? They had operations (raids). Warzone PVP (battlegrounds) and open-world PVP. It was pretty standard

2. Annoying grind and recycled content. You had two completely different storylines at the very least, one republic and one empire. How was that not twice as much as any other MMO released in the last year (TSW, Tera, and GW 2)?

3. This article was posted 12/14 and as such the complaint about the UI is no longer valid with regards to skill bars. Character slots are going to be changed from 2 to 6 (or are already not sure about that) and will be buyable on the cash shop. He complains about quest rewards and how much money you can have. Quest rewards are not locked, and a couple hundred thousand is more than enough for anything on the auction house not ludicrously priced. [Note: It was submitted before patch 1.6 was announced]

4. It costs $180 for unlocks but he doesn’t say one way or another, what he’s talking about.

5. He says it cost $55.84 (4 passes*4 weeks*2 characters) for 4 different passes using a $.72/ cartel coin, the lowest rate possible. Beyond the point of why you’d buy all the passes and not get a subscription he conveniently believes that you’d buy the $5 cartel coin pack 11 times rather than buy the largest cartel pack which has a rate of about 137 coins/dollar or $39.99 for 5500 cartel coins. [Darth Hater and Dulfy].

Author’s Note: Frankly as I read what I’ve written I’m going to assume general incompetence rather than maliciousness. The inaccuracies and fallacies are generalized and opinionated rather than specific, showing a basic lack of knowledge rather than purposeful attack.

6. BioWare’s comments can obviously be taken in a number of ways, but I believe that they were pointed toward subscribers wary that there dedication would be overlooked and ignored. They had sustained BioWare through tough times and they were simply mentioning they wouldn’t be shunted to the side in the new era.

7. The game was failing. It’s a statement I always see when a sub game goes F2P. From a business standpoint, the desire to have larger profits is a correct one. Thus calling it a failure that precipitated a move from Sub to F2P is an opinion. Back in September the CEO of Funcom was quoted as saying that the game was poised to go F2P whenever they wanted [gameindustry.biz]. Is it a failure if they move to that or is it a simple business decision. That’s a larger discussion.

8. The fee to do only operations, PVP, or flashpoints is manageable even preferable to subscriptions at high level. I refer again to Darth Hater because the site is an established and well thought of site. Not only do they have a well written article that refutes the point this author has made, it was written weeks ago. Not only is a leveling character unlikely to need more than five warzones, space missions, flashpoints; often most players won’t bother with them. While I agree that the warzone limit could and should be raised, I believe that the others are fine right as they are. If a player is a heavy PVP player than of course BioWare wants them to pay for weekly passes. Not only is it better than a subscription, many avid PVP players distain PVE content.

9. The cartel coins were put with a caveat. Subscribe for one month or don’t get them. Not only was this information freely available, it was first reported in late August/early September. This again is a reward to current subscribers rather than a slap in the face to former subscribers. As far as I know BioWare is the first company to give any reward for months previously subscribed, but as is often the case form rather than function is most important.

10. This is a murky point. Frankly I’ve never cared about whether or not someone was F2P, preferred, or subbed when I partied with them but I am not necessarily the majority. Whether or not the lion’s share of subscribers is in accordance with me is unknowable. Frankly I think the revive is a bit of nitpicking, but I’m subbed so it doesn’t affect me one way or the other. Hopefully BioWare comes back and takes a look whether or not they are making money there/hurting the goodwill.

11. If someone is at endgame with a preferred status the artifact unlock is 1200 points and a onetime cost. That comes down to less than $10 to get deep into endgame. Artifact equipment is completely unnecessary unless at endgame. Unless a player is very lucky or diligent they are unlikely to get more than a handful of artifact pieces before endgame.

12. Frankly story is what makes The Old Republic different. Their story content is better than 95% of everything else on the market. Giving it away for free was genius and frankly surprising. Give them the razor and sell them the blades is an old maxim, but no one really expected it here.

Simon Ludgate
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1) The conclusion that the end-game is anemic is largely extrapolated from the fact that subscribers bailed en masse from the game after reaching the end-game. In this case, I jumped the conclusion based on objective figures (rapidly dropping subscription numbers) rather than subjective opinions (my or others feelings about the "goodness" of the end-game content).

2) The annoying grind refers to the way the story is presented rather than the content of the story. Having to run around and kill 10 rats between important story segments add to the "grindy" feel of the story. Recycled content refers to the re-used planets and planet storylines that cross over the 8 unique class storylines. The "grindy" aspect (having to level up to complete the next step in the story quest) forces players into the repetitive aspect (having to re-play the same XP-generating quests from one character to another). I suppose I could have explained this in more detail, but it was tangential to the main topic of discussion so I left it brief with the hopes that people could connect the dots themselves.

3) The article was submitted 3 weeks before it was published. I did not know which day it would be published until the day it showed up. Like articles published in print magazines, you have to accept for a certain degree of delay between date written and date published.

4) No, I left it to the reader to find out what those unlocks were. I suppose I could have linked to the comparison table on SWTOR.com that lists all the features locked from F2P players. Again, tangential.

5) The calculations I did were based on the 5500 largest cartel coin offer. 3999/5500=0.727

7) The game was intended to "succeed" as a subscription-based game; in other words, it was intended to be more profitable as a subscription-only game than a F2P game. It failed in so far as it failed to be maximally profitable with only subscriptions.

8) Even a single pass for a single character for a whole month costs $7. Although this is only conjecture, I strongly believe that players who would refuse to pay a $15 subscription for access to the whole game will also refuse to pay a $7 subscription for access to a small fraction of the game.

12) Except they're not giving the razor and selling the blades. It's more like giving someone a brand new car but first smashing all the windows and slashing all the tires and ripping out the stereo, then selling the repair service. Giving away the story was indeed surprising, but is it genius? Is it the best way to make a profit from the game?

Pat Frank
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@Olorunsegun Adewumi

Most of your points I agree with, but two things:

"1. What was “anemic” about the endgame? They had operations (raids). Warzone PVP (battlegrounds) and open-world PVP. It was pretty standard"

The operations were thin and light, with easy bosses (with a couple of exceptions -- Soa might take a PUG group a few rounds to figure out, for example).

"2. Annoying grind and recycled content. You had two completely different storylines at the very least, one republic and one empire. How was that not twice as much as any other MMO released in the last year (TSW, Tera, and GW 2)?"

Actually there were eight unique storylines (four on each side). But storyline content was only 1 quest in maybe 10. So if you decide you want to play through a second story on the same side you had to repeat 9 out of 10 quests, which got old really quick.

Jeffrey Smith
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Lot of back and forth on this. Played the game- disappointing. Felt like a single player RPG with more grind and a monthly subscription. Tone of the article was in sync with how I felt about the game and the direction it headed in. Others may feel the tone was off base, but a lot of fans and professionals have waited a long time to see a Star Wars MMO, and to see it handled poorly for the second time means a very long wait until the next attempt.

Rik Spruitenburg
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Olorunsegun Adewumi
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@ Simon Ludgate

1. 2. Reading your response confused me. I’m not certain if you don’t like Themepark games or if you are calling for changes in the industry with regards to subscription based games. Either way your complaints about The Old Republic are so broad and generalized that I must assume both. In which case, for the sake of openness it would have behooved you to make it plain from the beginning. If you don’t like Themepark games you were not going to like The Old Republic, so it should come as no surprise that you did not.

First of all, subscription numbers traditionally drop after a three month period in the MMO industry. Even in the behemoth of World of Warcraft, numbers traditional slide the longer you get from launch/expansion. While the numbers aren’t as well-known in the sandbox or open world genre of the business; the numbers for Themepark games are well-known.

The ‘grind’ as you called it is normal. Pick any MMO out a hat and it plays exactly like The Old Republic. In fact I’d say especially if you play republic and then empire or vice versa, that TOR hides it better than most. Every quest on the empire side is exclusive to empire, and every quest on republic is exclusive to republic. Case in point, every character in TSW plays the same quests over and over again; every quest is a daily or eternally repeatable. In Guild Wars 2 while the starting areas are different, most of the content must be replayed for each character (unless experience is gained from other sources namely PVP, crafting, exploring, etc.). In Tera Online, every player goes the same route.

It is the way of all Themepark games to control access to content. Only open world games, single player (Skyrim, GTA IV, Fallout 3, etc) or multiplayer (Eve Online, Wurm Online, Day Z, etc) offer any real freedom in how the content is accessed. The problem with open world games is in a single word, bugs. Because of their massive size and scope open world games are notoriously difficult to bug test and have to jump enormous hurdles to launch as bug free as their Themepark counterparts; couple this with the difficulty of completing even the most ordinary tasks (especially in MMO’s) and most gamers won’t even bother with a Sandbox game.


4. 5. That’s not good enough; a statement made without references is worth very little. Trust but verify my boss always says. Without even a basic breakdown of the costs, the number appears too large to be taken seriously (We had the same calculations but were using dollar/coins versus coins/dollars). Darth Hater has a break down of costs. Here’s the link:
http://www.darthhater.com/articles/feature/22357-the-real-cost-of
-cartel-market-items


7. There are many reasons why I company takes subscriptions over F2P, not the least being that the revenue stream tends stay even from month to month. Consider the difference between working for tips and working an office job. All other things being equal, there are some people who like the dependability of the office job pay check over the highs of good tip days and the lows of bad ones. A subscription based business gives a feeling of safety because the bottom rarely drops out suddenly in your revenue stream, which is not the case of a cash shop based game.


8. This point is murky and is based on opinion. Thus I was reluctant to respond to what was essentially an opinion in the first place. A pass really only has worth at endgame, before then it’s mostly worthless from a monetary standpoint. So let’s look at that scenario. Essentially if you are coming back to The Old Republic it would cost you just over $7/month to raid with your guild. With Incidental costs (artifact unlock, future operations, etc), lets say the costs go up to $10 a month. All of that assumes that you are buying a pass every week.

A 33% discount is fairly significant. Because quite frankly if $15/month was a lot of money to spend, then any cost is likely to be too high. However, if you felt that the game was only being played for operations a 33% or more drop in cost to stick around for only one feature is a fair price.


12. This is an opinion colored by whatever experience or thoughts you have about the game, genre, or industry as a whole. As such I have no real response to this statement, only to say that BioWare gave their best stuff away for free and then said we’ll nickel and dime on anything after that.

In what world does one get a car for free and then complain about having to pay for power windows? Your way is to give people a free car with all the perks, and then have it stall, shutdown, and lock you out every 5000 miles asking for your credit card number, with a sign saying ‘hey we’ll let you put sweet decals on the car though… for a price of course’.

Simon Ludgate
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"subscription numbers traditionally drop after a three month period in the MMO industry."

I disagree. This seems to be a relatively recent trend, fueled primarily by "hyped" games that deliver below expectations.

Launched in 1997, Ultima Online showed sustained continuous subscription growth for 4 years, followed by relatively stable subscription numbers for another 3 years before decline.

Lineage grew for 3 years and sustained for 2 years.

Everquest also had sustained growth for 4 years.

Dark Age of Camelot grew for 1 year and sustained for 2 years.

Final Fantasy XI grew for 2 years and sustained for 4 years.

EVE Online has grown for 10 years and continues to grow.

World of Warcraft had continuous sustained subscription growth for 4 years and sustained those values for 2 more years before beginning to decline.

(source: http://mmodata.blogspot.ca/)

The three-month boom and bust cycle, such as SWTOR experienced, is relatively recent; the trend really only started in the late 2000s with titles like Vanguard, Age of Conan, Warhammer Online, and Tabula Rasa (this ignores games that never even reached 50k users). Even troubled launches like Everquest II were able to retain half their initial subscribers for many years and even The Sims Online showed continuous growth for a year before collapsing.

A good subscription-based game can and will grow for many years. The problem isn't that subscriptions are dead or that a boom and bust cycle is inevitable: the problem is that the expectations of players have continued to grow whilst the development of MMORPGs have largely failed to meet those growing expectations.

Olorunsegun Adewumi
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Ultima Online, Lineage, Everquest, DAoC, FFXI, and Eve Online would have killed to have the numbers that TOR has right now let alone the peak numbers. Back in those days 300k was king, now that number is considered a failure. Frankly as game costs have spiraled revenues have not increased at the same rate. And yes even WoW had issues with sub loss, though it is much harder to see which such huge numbers. It wasn't such a long time ago that game journalists were pointing at the below 10 million mark as a sign of decline.

It's a recent trend yes. That doesn't make it any less valid in today's market. You say expectations I call it, a singular lack of long term vision by gamers. Whereas it was fine for games to release expansions every 18 months now gamers want content much quicker than that. When the content inevitably fails to appear they leave in droves.

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Stock Watcher66
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@Simon: First, don't change your tact on articles like this. The industry desperately needs more reporters to "tell it like it is" so to speak. Regardless of the tone of delivery, it hit on the salient points.

Second, as to SWTOR F2P. EA/BioWare has repeatedly shown, over the course of the last year, just how out of touch they are with the market and their customers. They continue to function as if building single-player games, where they can design what they want instead of the active development paths of MMO titles that derive their direction from the player base once released. In fact, this can be attributed to most of the industry.

From an outside perspective, as I commented in another article, try being an investor interested in the space and hearing pitch after pitch that all sound the same. I will state it again, the MMO industry is ripe for disruption, customer satisfaction is at an all time low, and the companies in this space are primarily driven by prima-donnas who think they are much better than they are at what they do. The numbers don't lie as almost every MMO is struggling shortly after coming out of the gate. Here's a hint for those that may be reading: The F2P micro-transaction model is NOT the business model you are all going to succeed with. It is the most unfriendly, customer exploitative business model out there and it is hamstringing the entire industry. SWTOR is just the epitome of all that is wrong with the industry right now.

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Stock Watcher66
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@Joshua: Since the context of this article and this site is the video gaming industry, it is not appropriate to consider other industries outside the scope of this topic.

That being said, within the video game industry, or more specifically the MMO industry, F2P micro-transactions are exploitative of customers. Anytime you can engineer a "problem" to offer a "solution" (for example, building in excessive end game grinds, or absorbent gold prices, or extremely limited chances at obtaining things through RNG items, etc.) for real money, your are exploiting your customers. Funny thing is, most of them know it. So while the model has some temporary long term gains, it has more serious long term damage and thus decreases revenue potential.

As an example, there are many customers I have surveyed in my research that have sworn off any EA products all together as a result of their aggressive moves with DLC. So while it had a short term boost for EA, the rooster is coming home to roost now as every single title they released in 2012 fell short of expectations. Is it any surprise they have now dropped out of the top 100 list? This is the same fate that awaits many MMO companies who continue to purse the same path with fervour. Mark my words, NCSoft, and other like them, will be feeling the pain soon (in fact, NCSoft is already starting to feel it).

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Stock Watcher66
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@Joshua Regarding the subject at hand, I have to respectively disagree.

Fact is, the MMO industry is struggling overall. So no, the business model is NOT being accepted whole heartily. What is happening, is a certain arrogance, in general, that is blaming a change in the consumer for the lack of success, rather than cookie cutter stale game design and piss poor F2P MT business models.

As I stated before, as a potential investor interested in this space, I have done extensive market research. Everytime I see a pitch, I am constantly amazed how absolutely clueless MMO companies are about their customers. I have yet to see one - even so much as one - who has actually taken the time to understand their customers.

Unlike the industries you cited, which are critical to survival in the modern world, video games are a luxury - competing on many different levels for disposable income.

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Charles Battersby
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What about loyal Bioware and Star Wars fans who are happy to buy a few dollars worth premium content just to support the developer? Is the industry discounting the notion of the honor system, or the old "Freeware" model of letting customers pay what they want in exchange for enjoying the game (This works great for the Humble Bundle)? I played it in beta test, and wouldn't mind throwing a few bucks at Bioware as a thank you for letting me play the single-player story content some more. Am I the only one?

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David Paris
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The negative feelings expressed in this article merely match the same sort of feelings expressed by friends of mine when I asked them about the new F2P option on the game. Having not played it originally when it came out, I was wondering if this might be the time to pick it up and start. ALL of them wholeheartedly said No, No, and more No, and regaled me with horror stories of the implementation choices.
rn
rnF2P models can be built with multiple intents in mind. Some games are lackluster below a certain population level for activities. Some are just trying to squeeze out every last cent they can from their whales. Some are hoping for more exposure on the market, and an ideal set of candidates to constantly advertise their paid options to. All of these are reasonable goals. The question is merely whether this implementation meets any of these, and whether there is any reason a current non-player would consider picking it up and trying it now.
rn
rnUnfortunately, the answer seems to be no on pretty much all of the above.

Ian Welsh
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They had to figure out how to get out story content on a regular basis. That's their selling proposition, that's what Bioware does well, and what SWTOR does well. If they couldn't streamline it (I do not believe it is instrinsically impossible) then the game was always going to fail. They should have the voice actors on permanent contract, the story writers pumping out new stories in a stream, and the necessary tools to make creating new levels to put the stories in easy.

Too late now, I expect, I can't imagine EA wanting to upfront the necessary money, and it would take time to get it going (and it sounds like the game engine is not at all set up to do this), but it's what had to be done.

This is Business 101 - what is your unique value proposition? Bioware and SWTORs is STORY. I'd be happy to keep paying if they were producing new, class, story ever 6 weeks or so. So would many other people.

That said, if you haven't played SWTOR, and you did play and like KOTOR, you should play it for a few months and play some of the class stories. More than worth the money.

But the game, beyond the stories, is just WOW in space, and not worth it beyond the stories, sadly.

Paul Peak
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Complete agreement, the funny thing I feel like they have a lot of this in place for Mass Effect. They have good turn over with DLC with 2 teams working on it and the reusable nature of much of the level furnishings makes the building easier. I feel like 6 weeks is a little fast though, Funcom barely manages to pull off monthly updates and they are much less story intensive. Three months feels like the right number to me but the trick to that is the rest of the game has to keep you busy in the interim. That leads me to think such a heavy story focus needs a sandbox world to augment it, and accordingly the story needs to incorporate players in to that world.

I also think the subscription model needs a bit of a rethink. Treat f2p as a baseline with a mostly cosmetic and convenience based monetization and incentivize players to pay a subscription by giving them currency with it. I'd take it a step further and give them options on the monthly cost, breaking the $15 a month in to tiers($5,$10,$15) along with the multi-month pay periods(and discounts).

Ian Welsh
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@Paul

I'm not a dev, and not in the industry, so I don't know. I do know that soap operas can create story very fast, and get it acted very fast. The story and the VA I'm sure can be done fast enough (whether it can be done for the price, I don't know). Whether the game assets that must go with that story can be done, I don't know (I'd assume they'd have to be heavily instanced, but you could drop new quest NPCs etc... into the already existing world maps). But, from the bottom up, imo, the game should have been built for fast story expansion. I mean, it sort of stuns me, because they clearly spent most of their money on story, and yet they don't seem to have thought about what people would do when the story runs out... I may not be a game dev, but I'm a writer, and I've done business consulting and what seems clear to me (at a distance) is that they didn't really understand their own unique value proposition.

It makes me sad, because I really did enjoy the stories, both the class stories and the planet stories. The game had a ton of potential, but not in doing WOW style raids.

Still, there are small simple things they could do. For example, many players complained that once the story is over you get only a few mails from your love interest, and then it's over. Having a writer write a new one for each love interest every 2 weeks is absolutely doable and it requires no VA, no in game assets. Small things like that can go a long way.

Brenda Nichols
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Except for the "I am available" remark, I think Simon hit the nail on the head. Even that remark I took as 'tongue in cheek' as meaning, 'even I (Simon) could come up with something better.'

There is more to this story than just the F2P vs P2P. Even if they allow 6 characters and more quick bars, the game still lacks in other areas. Character transfer for one, and it is a big one, payed or not. I have played since Beta, have 4 level 50 characters. Two of them consulars, because I could not transfer a character I had already leveled to 50. Much griping about this. Also replay value. The individual stories are interesting, but the repetive side quests are well, repetitive. They all center around, kill x, slice this, get some data cores, rinse and repeat.

The rakghoul event was fun, the Chevin one, not so much. It smacked of desparation and too quickly thrown together.

SWTOR has a long or short rocky road ahead. The grind is part of any MMO, but this is a bit overdone. I did the new daily once, won't do it again. And daily grinds for commendations, is not the way to go long term. New Operations and Warzones are not going to keep people playing. They need to continue the story which is what they are good at. I don't see that happening with the same voice over venue they started with. They set a very high mark for themselves and I doubt that they will be able to keep the pace.

I am a subscriber. I don't mind paying for 'sparkle pones' once in a while, WoW does that why not SWTOR? I just don't see the game surviving in its present state. It goes beyond nickel and diming, the game itself has to grow. Case in point, Felix sent me 4 stinking emails and now I don't hear from him? It is a small thing, but I notice. I see a divorce in the future.

BTW, I tried GW2 and TSW, disliked both.

Ron Dippold
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I would say that as F2P it is worth playing as the single player KotOR 3 we never got - there's a huge amount of content and some of the storylines are quite good. If you like it enough to do twice, one Republic and one Empire to get the minimum amount of content retread. Personally I enjoyed the Inquisitor and the Smuggler.

I certainly have no interest in re-subscribing, though. Once I reached the end of my character stories, there just wasn't much left - so I left. And they haven't done much to convince me to resubscribe. Ignoring the flamewars about tone, I felt the substance of Simon's article was spot on - they've angered everyone except the people who want to play the story for free and then leave. Well, I'm not angry, since I already left - but certainly disappointed.

Matthew DeLuca
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I will start by saying I enjoyed the time I spent in SWTOR, I looked forward to spending years in the game, I spent one month in the game and was extremely disappointed in Bioware after that.

I would have to say I agree with the OP and the level of sarcasm and anger is justified. I am a long time fan of Star Wars and had high hopes for SWTOR. I believed in Bioware as a long time supporter as well as a fan of Lucasarts. I also have enjoyed many of the titles EA has brought out. The development team at Bioware were told throughout beta of the problems that the game had, the developers did nothing about the voice of the community. It's understandable that game creators have vision, but vision isn't enough in the world of gaming. The people who support the game are what truly matter and the SWTOR developers along with many other failed games dismiss the voice of the community. Extremely successful games will use the intelligible cries of a community (I'm not talking about the people that just complain to get what they want) and use them to create a more pleasurable experience for their supporters/ Look at Eve Online, very successful and very interested in what their supporters have to say. When a gaming company makes promises of what a game can accomplish and provide for the player base they need to be realistic with themselves and follow through otherwise they deserve to have their users angry, among other feelings. When users spend hours, weeks, and months of their lives investing time and money into a game they ARE ENTITLED to a certain degree.

I didn't get a feeling at all that the OP thought a F2P game was going to be completely free but the game has already failed in a subscription model due to false promises and failed features. Most F2P models are successful in the sales of cosmetics and items because the gameplay and world are enjoyable. SWTOR attempts to capitalize on failure. This was proven by the massive population decreases before F2P and the multitude of posts EVERYWHERE after F2P went live. I understand the game needs to make money, I also understand that MYself and every other person I know that played the game during beta/release will never pay another cent into F2P SWTOR.

As for Paul Tozour, I would love tell you what I really think about your words but that would be rude and hurt your feelings. Games are subjective, it's all about opinion, the OP is simply stating how he feels, which is completely legitimate. The feelings people have about a game are what determine the games success. If many people are angry about a game, it will ultimately fail. If Bioware heeded the opinions and feelings of beta testers and players they would not be in the situation they are in. They have made many poor choices that has led to failure, in my opinion. SWTOR could have been hugely successful if they took their supporters voices into consideration instead of completely focusing on their own vision. To have an opinion about something you must partake in it. If a restaurant serves soup that tastes like cardboard and someone states that the soup tastes terrible and they wouldn't feed it to their dog, they are completely within in their right to state that opinion. If someone comes along and states that their opinion is angry and the restaurant has been around for 75 years and they shouldn't word their opinion in such a way, well they don't know jack. They have never tried the soup, so how can they possibly have any opinion? Some people just like to hear their own voices. The restaurant may serve the best steak in town, but the soup can still taste like S***, and people can still voice their opinion on how it tastes, and maybe the restaurant will change the soup and instead of having the best steak in town and crummy soup, they will have the best steak in town and palatable soup. Bioware has undeniably made some of the best games out, doesn't mean we have to eat their crappy soup and not let others know not to eat it.

Alan Rimkeit
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Man, I touted this game as being a no brainer and a can't lose as it is Star Wars and Bioware. Can you serve me my huge helping of crow pie please? With a fat side of PWND maybe?

Bioware should have made KOTOR 3 as a single player game. Such is the nature of hindsight I guess. TOR felt like a huge co-op single player game and not an MMO in any real sense. It was a good experiment but it fail as far as I am concerned. What a waste of time and resources.

They only way that I can see this getting saved is by opening the game up. Opening it up wide like Star Wars Galaxies was. Letting people craft, build on their own land, ect.

Tom Neff
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It doesn't matter how badly they did F2P, because the entire business model for the game was based on a multimillion-player Star Wars MMO market that simply doesn't exist, never has existed, never will exist. There are at most half a million players worldwide who will keep paying to play a well-run Star Wars MMO - under any model. That's the footprint of the IP in teen-to-adult massive online gaming. You can distort the picture with box sales, but eventually the true market size is going to show. Everything that has happened since SWTOR's release has been a progression towards its true size. Which would not be a problem except that the true size is wildly at odds with EA's investment in, and expectations for, the title.

I hope F2P goes well and the game stays open for a long time, but anyone at EA or elsewhere who is thinking that *just the right tweak* to F2P will open the floodgates and boom, 3-4 million players, needs to have their midichlorians examined.

Brandon S
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Yeah sound about right , people have given alot of explanation and talks about game quality , But honestly when it comes to economics. Games do not have to be wildly creative , or even remotely creative to be successful (Same with movies to be honest the formula rarely change within the same generation and they sale consistently to a specific profit margin ).The only quality is the game has to function and be structurally sufficient to the target audience. Most innovative games never see the light of day or sale modestly to a very highly devoted audience. Games have to fit a market , Call of duty supports the 1 billion dollars it made . Tomb raider on the other hand does not ,you can slap as much grime and AAA cliches and it won't come close to CALL of duty the market simply isn't there.

And as you said that audience for star wars MMO simply didn't exist and that was the main failure. (Not to the size EA wants) .Under F2P the game has stabilized (well it stabilized before f2p) but it will never reach the Goal EA set at the beginning of the game .

Daniel Stahl
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Anyone remember the old Disneyland "Ticket" System?

From Wikipedia...
"The coupon system was gradually phased out with the introduction of unlimited use tickets beginning in the late 1970s. This was largely due to competition from Magic Mountain, which, when it opened in 1971, allowed its visitors unlimited use of its attractions after paying the admission fee. By June 1982 coupons vanished entirely and were replaced by the present-day system where main gate admission entitles visitors to all rides and attractions, excluding coin-operated arcades."

When you then look at Disneyland Resorts today and their year over year increase in park revenue, it seems like the increase "was driven by increased guest spending and attendance, partially offset by increased costs. Increased guest spending reflected higher average ticket prices, daily hotel room rates and food, beverage and merchandise spending." (as per Q2 2012 earnings report)

Seems like today Disneyland is driving Revenue at their resorts, not by charging for specific rides, but by increasing the retail business once you are inside the gate - concessions, merchandise stores once you are off the ride, balloons, lodging, and memorabilia. It makes me wonder what would happen if they tried to go back to an "E-Ticket" system? In some ways "Fast Pass" is an odd throwback to that model...

This seems like an interesting analogy for the F2P MMO business these days... but that is my own personal opinion. If you exclude the price of admission (or say that having internet access is the price of admission) then there is something to be said for how theme parks compete for revenue in today's market...

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Mike Henley
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This is the first game that I have ever played that I immediately regretted purchasing. After my first hour of playing, I complained to my wife that it felt like a single player game with other players sprinkled in. None of my friends agreed with me at the time. It was too late for a refund, but I regretted purchasing this game more than any other in the 22 years I've been gaming.

People play online games for interaction and long term story growth. I need to start shorting stocks of companies releasing MMOs with no end game.

Lee Zhi Fei
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Still waiting for a Mac port... but at this rate, I don't think it's possible anymore~ :(

Rhys Yorke
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Given that the game was developed on the HeroEngine code that requires DirectX, you're probably correct.

Kevin White
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Simon,

I enjoyed reading your article and hearing your perspective. Always love a good Picard Meme.

Pay no mind to the critiques, you'll go insane trying to homogenize your writing to please everyone.

William Hillard
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I started off as a F2P player soon after that option went live. I hit level 50 with my Trooper Vanguard as of the 15th of this month. So I have a few insights into just how bad this F2P model is.

First, it's not true that you don't get quest rewards. You do, it's just certain quest rewards you cannot choose. These are usually boxes of credits. Not always, but usually.

A lot of the restrictions on F2P can be gotten around by shopping wisely at the Galactic Trade Network. A lot of subscribers have been putting unlocks and authorizations for sale there. I've been able to buy hotbars, inventory space and even access to Section X through the GTN. A guildmate of mine snagged the Artifact Gear authorization for me there (and my first hotbar). Granted, this doesn't actually do EA/Bioware much good, but it's something.

The worst thing about this model that I've found is the XP restriction. Couple that with the restriction on Space Combat and I eventually found myself four levels behind the quests I was on. This was about the time I reached Corellia. My advice to F2P players here is to go back to Hoth. There's a bonus series there that you wont be told about. It's the same level as Corellia (47) but it's a bit more forgiving. This will at least get you within 2 levels of your quests and make Corellia more manageable.

After that, I found myself at a loss as I didn't even really have any reason to grind the dailies. Most of the gear rewards are Artifact level, which left me out in the cold until my guildmate mailed me the authorization.

All that being said, even though I stuck it through to level 50, I don't see a whole lot of Free tier players or even "Preferred" players sticking it out with this game. Just the XP and Hotbar restrictions alone will be enough to drive a lot of people out. What I'd like to see is the option to buy access to things like Space Combat on a more permanent basis. (Think LOTRO's Quest Packs.) I'd sooner buy that than a "weekly pass" that's just going to cost me more money in the end. I can already hear some of you saying "Why don't you just subscribe?" Because I'm not interested in Operations or Warzones. While I am interested in Flashpoints, most of my grouping needs can be handled through Heroics.

I think the upcoming Hutt Cartel expansion is a move in the right direction. It's on my list of things to buy. I'm just hoping it's not too late in coming.

John Owens
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I think with Free To Play you have to go "all in" and make a game that isn't locked out in any way but gives the player the ability to customize and power up more quickly. I hate to say it but Zynga have shown how it's done.

Some people say this is Pay to Win (especiallly with powerups, that then can unlock areas) and I agree but ultimately that is the only solution. It's the nature of the beast.

It's a bit like giving the player a cheat system that he pays for.

Ironically this means that you pay to play for less time but still get to the same place as some kid who has hours of his time to play your game especially the filler/grind parts.

It's a hell of a gamble though, and you need a lot of content. Some of which you need to design to be a bit crap and repetitive. You also need to make sure that the game is to some degree balanced even if you have all the powerups etc (maybe using zones that require or forbid them.)

The problem with SWTOW it seems is that they tried to change business model after it was out, I haven't played it but it seems like it was a very tight story driven game and I'm not sure if it was even possible to make it F2P without spending a lot of time to do what I've suggested.

Perhaps they would have been better off playing around with pricing models instead.

Ardney Carter
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I get what you're attempting to say but Zynga is a horrible example. You acknowledge this yourself in your opening statement where you say Devs should 'make a game that isn't locked out in any way'. Putting aside the argument (which I subscribe to) that Zynga titles don't have much more 'gameplay' in them than a Cow Clicker there is still the undeniable fact that they don't want you to play their game without forking over cash. What could possibly make this more blatantly obvious than their Energy mechanic which literally prevents you from playing the game! It is not at all 'Free to Play'.

Contrast this with Nexon's* Maplestory where any and all players can play every part of the game for as long as they want regardless of whether they've paid any money. Nexon WANTS you to play Maplestory. Even if you're a free player you are helping them to monetize simply by playing the game. How? Well much of the monetization in MS comes from cosmetic items purchased for player characters. The base options for character appearance has some variety, but the more people play the game the more identical many of the players look. This increases the urge on all players to differentiate themselves and they can do this by making purchases. See where we're going with this?

To summarize:

If you don't pay, you don't play a Zynga game (not at your own pace, at any rate). They show they don't want you to by their energy mechanic. This is NOT (good) F2P.

If you don't pay you can still play a Nexon game. In fact they want you to and they show this by making every part of the gameplay available to you for as long as you want. This IS (good) F2P.

Be like Nexon. Don''t copy Zynga.

*(yes, Wizet originally developed the game but we're talking about the business model which Nexon has perpetuated in the other titles they manage so cut me some slack)

Simon Ludgate
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What about a comparison to Riot's League of Legends, which is blatantly free with no real monetization beyond rapid access to more champions and cosmetic skins?

I wonder if SWTOR could do it similarly, like a weekly TV show: you automatically unlock each planet one week after you set foot on the previous one, but if you want planets faster you can unlock them sooner. Like watching 24 a week at a time vs buying the boxed set. Though then maybe BioWare would have to add advertisements to the cutscenes ;)

Ardney Carter
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Well, that's better than Zynga, sure. But if you must choose an example along those lines I'd much rather go with S2's Heroes of Newerth as they make all Heroes available to everyone from the start and therefore ALL the gameplay really is free.

Not that Riot's model can't work. Because it does. Nor am I saying it's as disrespectful of the player as Zynga's model. Because it isn't. But several times throughout this thread the notion that "Free to Play, isn't" has been implicitly or explicitly floated. I wanted to specifically cite examples to disprove that notion. While obviously you have to get paid at some point it is not at all necessary to lock up the gameplay of your game to do so nor is it mandatory to ensure that there are no truly Free players in your population.


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