SWTOR Free To Play: Our Verdict

To coincide with the launch of SWTOR’s Free To Play (F2P) option, I thought it would be worth getting some thoughts from each of our writers who play the game. For a game that’s only been available for less than a year, the switch to F2P is one of the bigger milestones and one not necessarily driven by success. That said, it could be a game-changer (sorry I had to do that), so let’s get the gamut of opinions from the team here:

Simon Potter

If ever there was an issue that sets the internet wolves baying at the moon it’s this one. And who can blame them? If it’s done well, F2P can save a game, or at least slow its decline to a respectable flatline. Done badly and it scares off the few paying subs you managed to hang on to.

So will this be the saving grace for SWTOR? I hope so, but we’ll have to wait a month or two to find out. If past travellers down this road are anything to go by, there will be a large influx of returning players, both the curious and hopeful. More significantly will be the mass of new players looking to get their Star Wars on. That should be exciting for all of us, especially those who have hung on hoping for the best.

All of these new players will, for the first month or so inject energy and a pretty good chunk of real world currency through micro transactions. Things will be looking pretty rosy for BioWare and I hope that continues because if the F2P implementation is done well, many people will stick around, enjoy the game and spread the good word. However, if it’s done poorly then ensuing flood of negative opinions may drown any long term future the game has, at least as we currently know it.

We all know that the game came out before it was ready and arguably was never really conceived as a true MMO. It’s the complaints generated by those issues that filled the sack of doorknobs which Bioware/EA have subsequently been thrashed with. Those of us who have been watching things closely are also painfully aware of the number of problems that have not been fixed and I’m not just talking about the game.

Even if they get F2P out the gate without a hitch they still have to keep the cash shop fed with a flow of desirable vanity items. More importantly they need to keep their six week update schedule. In my opinion the true test is whether the next update (1.6) has Makeb, the Cathars and other items previously promised or if they instead eke them out across several separate updates. If it’s the first option, we should be able to look forward to some great new treats coming down the line. If it’s the latter, it indicates they have very little up their sleeves which begs the question, who is going to come up with the new content, and when?

While BioWare have been content to gloss over or ignore concerns for the long term viability of SWTOR we’ve reached the point where they need to start delivering the goods in a substantial and consistent manner, especially with so many more people watching.

Personally I’m looking forward to F2P. I hope we get “Jedi’s” party at the Ewok village and not “Empire’s Tea with Vader”
.

Kristy Green:

When I heard the announcement that SWTOR was going to go free to play and how the story part of the game will be available to everyone, I was more excited than when the game was first released. Well, I was at first. Then they released more information about how the free to play will work and I went from yes to maybe to no, although floating around ‘maybe casually’ right now.

I admit that I am not a fan of free-to-play models with a subscription. I feel that it should be one or the other. There is always a chance of tension building between those that pay and those that don’t. Also, you have the added difficulty of finding the balance between rewarding the subscribers without punishing the free-to-players.

When I look at SWTOR’s new free-to-play plans, one thing sticks out to me – it seems to be all about getting you back to paying a full subscription. They seem to offer no reward for subscribing but instead lay all the punishment (or restriction) on the rest of the player base.

I admit I can’t see this working; the whole point of going free-to-play is getting people back playing your game and getting them to spend money because they want to, not because they have to.  People shouldn’t feel like their game play is affected because they aren’t paying a subscription.

Matthew ‘Scope’ Pearce:

After testing out the Cartel Coin Shop on the PTS it left me with a really bad taste in my mouth.

To be frank I think the switch to free to play might push me further away from the game than I already am due to the “Lucky Dip” and “gambling” aspect of the Cartel Coin Shop. I hated that about Star Wars Galaxies when they added the digital card game almost 90% or more of the new content and items being added to the game was all luck based drops from real cash purchases of card packs much like what EA/Bioware are doing to the Cartel Coin Shop in SWTOR with the Crime Lord Packs.

Now that SWTOR is going the same way as Star Wars Galaxies I feel cheated that If I want an Imperial throne vehicle I will have to buy packs over and over until it drops instead of just buying it out right like it should be. I’m also worried that even if I was to remain a subscriber that most of the new content being added to the game would only be added to the Cartel Coin Shop and require an “additional payments” alongside my monthly sub which would really piss me off.

With that in mind it is interesting to see that we can sell the items from the Cartel Coin Shop on the GTN which just makes credits earned in game less valuable now that we can just buy cartel items with real life cash and sell them on the GTN for credits.

I am Hopeful that the transition to F2P will improve the active player base numbers on the Oceanic servers as lately I have just lost interest in the game due to the empty lifeless and barren worlds on these servers but only time will tell if Oceanic servers will continue or fade away.

All in all I will return to SWTOR when more story content has been added to the game as this is the reason I got SWTOR in the first place and the only reason I will continue to play SWTOR.

Luke Le Page:

The closer we get to SWTOR’s F2P launch the more excited I am becoming. Looking back, I can’t really give you an accurate reason for why I stopped playing in the first place (I’m leaning towards the fact that my friends also left).

As some readers may be aware I also played DC Universe and experienced its transition to the F2P model and it is this experience that has me excited for SWTOR. I still have high hopes for this game and it will rely heavily on how they treat the F2P system. There are still a number of questions that need to be answered, the biggest one being how powerful will future cartel market items become?

If BioWare and by extension EA can maintain a balance between players who invest in the market and those who do not, I see nothing but a bright future for the game.

 David Holloway:

One of the downsides of being the editor is I usually have the last word and in this case I haven’t got much to say that hasn’t been covered by my colleagues above. Overall I’m probably on the pessimistic side in that I see SWTOR being crowded out in a now very busy MMO space, with too many people unforgiving for mistakes of the past year and a parent organisation (EA) that is not likely to put in the funds to make this game what it should be. It’s an issue I passionately hope I’m wrong on – but I just can’t see F2P causing the upward momentum the game needs.

I’m a subscriber and will continue to be, although each month that passes makes me wonder why I don’t go F2P – that’s the challenge BioWare face – making me and others like me wanting to pay a subscription. Here’s hoping they manage to do that.

And now the most important opinion: yours. Post your thoughts in comments!

  • hitler

    hitler did nothing wrong

  • kazzerith4200

    I read this, and can’t help but be completely confused. I mean, oceanic servers are dead. Well, if oceanic players actually played on oceanic servers, that might be different. They have the right to play on NA servers like anyone else. Should swtor not allow oceanic players from creating / having toons on NA servers? That’s the only way they can influence where people create their toons.

    “Each month that passes I wonder why I dont go f2p”. Considering f2p comes out today, and servers aren’t even up yet, I’m wondering why you don’t share your time machine with the rest of the world.

    ” Seems to be all about getting you back to paying a full subscription.
    They seem to offer no reward for subscribing but instead lay all the
    punishment (or restriction) on the rest of the player base.”

    f2p option – are none of you reading that? f2p is a gift, a way to get in and play 1-50 to decide if you want to continue or not. everyone likes to compare this game to mmo’s that had no real competition when they started, so lets compare wows f2p option. 1-20. no mail. no bg’s. no trade. no auction house. no nothing, pretty much, and you only go to 20. with tor’s f2p option, you can spend 15 bucks worth of cartel coins and unlock everything you need to play 1-50 with nearly no restrictions what so ever. so yeah, the people that DIDNT pay 60 bucks for the basic game and 15 bucks a month for nearly a year will have some restrictions. how is that not fair?

    I seem to remember alot of these “arguements” with lotr f2p transition. It was actually quite successful for them. And you can play for free on that game, but have to pay subscription, or unlock quite a bit thru turbine points ( their equiv of cartel coins, also paid for with RL money) to get a decent gaming experience from start to level cap. How is swtor’s f2p model any different, other then it only takes about 2000 cartel coints ( bout 15 bucks or so ) to unlock everything you need to play start to level cap with almost no restrictions?

    Also, I see no mention of the preferred player status. Buy 5 bucks worth of stuff, you get quite a few of the restrictions perm lifted from your account. That covers all toons on that account.

    I heartily agree that this is a troubled time for swtor, but all the “the sky is falling” responses are getting old. Here we are a year later, game is still profitable, and they are trying to help make the game more appealing to more people. While I agree alot of things have been bungled, I’ve also been there for the launch of almost every major mmo to launch since DAOC. This first year HAS seen some growing pains, for sure. But it hasn’t been the ” year of malcontent ” that some people are claiming. Again, look to wow’s first year . Better yet, it’s first 90 days. it was a complete disaster. I still have faith that BW can bring this thing back on track. The ONLY question is, will EA pull their heads out so to speak, and stop tying the dev’s hands, when they aren’t completely lopping them off instead.

    Lil advice :start a brand new account, log in, and see how far you go from 1-50 on 15 bucks of cartel coins, making sure to get your free preferred player status for the first 5 dollar purchase before you start. I truly think you will be quite surprised, and pleased, to see how unrestricted your gaming experience will be.

    Not to mention, does no one over stop and thing, ” a brand new player coming for f2p isn’t spoiled on all the stuff we sub players have been taking for granted.” I mean, c’mon, do we really need 6 action bars to level? Do we really need extra auction house slots, or things of that nature to level? game is f2p 1-50. End game content isn’t, and should not be, free. But even those things you can open up once you hit 50 for pretty darned cheap. Cheaper then a sub cost in the medium to long runs.

    Just my opinions of course, coming from actually testing f2p, not just logging in and spending all the coins on packs.

    • http://twitter.com/Roebiggs Luke le Page

      I agree with you for the most part, i thought my opinion made it clear i thought it was a good change. The only concern i have is in regards to what they put on the market and how powerful it will be ie will you HAVE to have items from there to be competitive etc.

    • Kristy Green

      Unfortunately you took my quote completely out on context. I can understand why, you are seeing the game as a subscriber where SWTOR is now allowing people to play for free. Your comment about WoW being free to play was a huge dead giveaway. WoW isn’t F2P, it never has been. They simply offer an unlimited time trial. And see this is where we separate.

      When I wrote my piece on SWTOR going F2P, I was never thinking about it from a players point of view but from a companies. F2P should never be about making money on the cash shop, it should be about getting people to play and once people start playing then they will spend money. The more pressure you put on people to pay (especially for what people would consider stuff that should be part of the game), the more you are going to get into trouble.

      I have no problems with cash shops, I’ve spent over $250 in TSW, over $150 in GW2 and well, sadly I have all the mounts and pets in WoW. I will pay a lot more than a sub if I think a game is good enough but I will never pay for what I think should be part of the game.

      I also have no problems with the F2P tier (as in never paid anything) and the Sub tier (as in paying monthly), it’s the middle tier I feel they have headed in the wrong direction.

      So instead of thinking about it from a sub point of view, where they are giving people a chance to play for free. Let’s for a moment think about it from an every day MMO players point of view. Someone who has or hasn’t played SWTOR before, someone that probably doesn’t pay a sub or maybe they would but can’t afford it. In other words, a larger number of players than those that are currently paying.

      So the tier system in this scenario should work as following. The first tier, the completely F2P one, should seem more like a trial. It’s for those that want to get a feel for the game before they buy or maybe play so rarely that it’s simply more accessible. I actually keep a WoW trial account for these purposes. For when I’m not subbed but sometimes need a WoW fix. I play for a couple of hours and then if the itch is still there, I sub on my main account. This tier is an awesome way to allow people to continually remember and experience SWTOR without having to ‘start’ over every time.

      The second tier is for the more casual players but those that are playing often enough to want to spend money. This is for those that play a few hours a week, probably mainly for the PvE or Story and just want their Force fix. This is the tier that I feel has broken. This tier should allow access to the full game and by that I mean all classes, UI options and other things. This person shouldn’t ever feel the restrictions placed on them otherwise they will rebel and stop playing or drop back to tier one style of play (as in, not paying). Many of the F2P features fit this like the restricted auction house and such but many don’t like the UI restriction and race (I don’t mean all races should be unlocked, but not all races were unlocked to begin with, so why lock it further). In no place should someone ever have to pay to unlock action bars and hide helm. I admit that my play style will fit into this tier and thus why I feel a little yucky reading all the restrictions.

      The third tier is the sub tier, created for those that play every day and are what one might consider hard-core. I won’t go into this one because this is very long now and we all know what it means. They giving subs extra like discount is good, nothing wrong with that.

      I know that I can’t change anything but this isn’t the first analysis I’ve done on SWTOR and sadly I can see this pushing older/newer players away instead of bringing new/old players in. Some of the restriction will frustrate the average gamer. For example, I use three action bars in any MMO I play from the moment I log in. I’ve very organised with my skills and like to keep them separate till the skills start to mould together. This way I always know where my skills are. Do I think other gamers are as organised as I am? No, but I know that it’s going to cause frustration to enough gamers and when gamers get frustrated they stop playing and when they stop playing, then they stop giving money to the company.

      City of Heroes has shown us that sadly no MMO is immune, even those making profits. So the fact that it’s still making a profit isn’t a sign of a game being healthy. Going F2P in less than a year after saying they would never go is either a sign of trouble or a sign they want to cash in on F2P success.

      TLDR: You can call myself and the other naysayer and alarmist but we all want SWTOR to succeed, we all want old players to return and new ones to start playing. Just because our comments might seem overly negative doesn’t mean we want to laugh and dance on SWTOR grave.

      At the moment everything is academic, only time will tell and what you read in my comments isn’t negative bashing, it’s concern.

      • kazzerith4200

        They seem to offer no reward for subscribing but instead lay all the punishment (or restriction) on the rest of the player base. OP quote.

        who exactly is the “rest of the player base” if not f2p? preferred player is still F2P.

        and as long as wow keeps toting the thing as free to play, i will call it that. its a free way to create an account and log in without paying. just has more level restrictions then anything else. still f2p. a trial ends, f2p doesnt.

        “This is for those that play a few hours a week, probably mainly for the PvE or Story and just want their Force fix”

        Thats a huge upside in swtor. you get all the story line, the whole danged thing, for absolutely 0. no other f2p game gives near as much story / leveling content for free. So for the casual couple hours per week person, thats just there for some good ol’ starwars gameplay, its a complete win win.

        no need to get personal, or get insulted, i didn’t mean to insult anyone, but there were some contradictions in that op, and also alot of ” facts” that we all know are conjecture. the really nice thing so far is, everyone i’ve talked to that’s playing this game first time as f2p absolutely loves it. its like a free single player kotor 3 if nothing else, with 16 variations on the story line. and you dont even have to read ….

  • Zhe Blitz

    Normally I hate F2P mmos because the itemshops always have me second guessing myself. Especially when one exists in conjunction with a subscription… as Matthew Pearce said, how can I rest easy when I have to worry about content being added to the item mall instead of for ‘free’ as part of my subscription fee?! In the case of SWTOR however, this is all irrelevant. I couldn’t care less about item balance or credit caps. Why? Because unlike other MMOs where I actually care about the ‘MMO’ aspect, in SWTOR it’s all about the singleplayer. Guess what? The story part is 100% intact for F2P players and all these changes they’re making with cartel coins and special shops doesn’t change that singleplayer experience one bit. The story is the reason I played SWTOR during launch month and that is the reason I’ll play SWTOR again now that it is F2P (I beat one storyline when I was a subscriber but couldn’t be bothered to pay for another month to play the game again with a different class). This probably isn’t what Bioware wants to hear. Well, Bioware, that’s what you get for taking a gamble on an MMO instead of releasing the guaranteed success that KotOR 3 would have been.

    • http://twitter.com/Roebiggs Luke le Page

      I’ve seen a lot of people on the origin worlds with this attitude and i very much agree with you. The major selling point of the game ie story is completely free for players now. Hopefully we see an increase in players of this type and hopefully keep a decent number of them long term. Even if they only decide to play through class stories and move on we should still see a signifficant increase in traffic

  • DFTGamer

    All I can say so far is that I’m impressed that they allowed you to remove the cartel market link from the user interface and that to me it looks rather subdued in it’s advertising for using the market, I’ll probably stay subbed till the end of the year but as a casual player I suspect that my requirements will be meet by the F2P content, although I’ll probably try for HK before I drop the sub.

    • http://www.oceanicgamer.com/ David H

      Yep that’s the thing that keeps playing on my mind – is there enough to keep me from moving from sub to F2P

  • Pingback: The Naked Gamer: What Does Free-To-Play Mean? - The Oceanic Gamer

  • upset with SWTOR

    Trust me, you don’t want F2P, take it from someone who WAS F2P and it sucked! You don’t even have the basic of options like color coordination without having to pay coins for unlocking it! You are screwed out of the bars, you can have 2 characters, thats it, complete game wide! not server wide! It is so not worth going f2p if you were once a subscriber.

  • Reaperwolf

    Still waiting for the CE store to be updated with items… No I’m not, I actually unsubscribed and uninstalled. Shame on them for writing off their loyal subscribers with this F2P/Cartel Coin money grab scheme.

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