The Free-to-play Conundrum: To Play or Not to Play

As I’m sure by now you are all aware, probably one of the biggest MMORPG titles since World of Warcraft, EA and BioWare’s Star Wars: The Old Republic, is going to a free-to-play (or, more specifically, a “freemium”) model this fall. The news, announced officially yesterday, has inevitably brought a mixed reaction from the game’s current subscriber base.

It may be a conundrum for many who get caught up in the hype and mis-information: Should I continue to play after the F2P model goes into effect? Won’t the game get worse? Will I have to pay money to make myself competitive in Warzones and wanted in Flashpoints? Should I just move on to the next big thing?

All these questions may be running through people’s heads. Some are mature and think things through, being reasonable about it, regardless of their stance. Some go into massive nerd rage mode and will listen to reason about as well as a newborn baby (they certainly cry as often).

I understand where some people are coming from. Most are concerned that either SWTOR will turn into a “play to win” game or the only new content added will be added to the pay-to-use item shop, dubbed the “cartel shop” in this particular instance.

From what BioWare laid out yesterday, I will tell you up front that if you’re enjoying the game now, as is, you will lose nothing if you keep paying to play the game. In fact, you’ll actually get more stuff, and all MMO players like stuff, right?

As far as the game getting worse when it goes to this “freemium” model, that’s up to EA and BioWare, however many games have actually gotten better after the change, including what could be considered a “freemium” success story – The Lord of the Rings Online. That MMO adopted a model very similar to what EA is looking to do with SWTOR and has benefited greatly from it. They still release fairly frequent content for both their premium and free subscribers, and the amount of players has increased dramatically, thus benefiting the community as a whole.

Other games which have started out as free-to-play, such as Allods Online, have and continue to doll out new content to its players, and, in my opinion, might even rival the ultimate pay-to-play MMO, World of Warcraft, in content and simple fun factor.

The general idea here is to not jump to conclusions. There is a lot of misinformation and unneeded ire being tossed out there when anyone mentions even the slightest possibility of an MMO going to this model, and, as much as I’ve been around MMOs and this industry in general, I’m unsure why this is. In the non-MMO online gaming world, customers balk at having to pay for online passes and DLC, yet in the world of MMOs they seem to almost welcome handing out their money to these companies on a monthly basis.

Should you move on to the next big thing? That’s up to you, however keep in mind if you’re paying to play SWTOR now, not a whole lot will change for you if you continue to pay that premium subscription. In fact, as I mentioned, you’ll get more stuff. But, if you are going to move on to the next big thing, just remember that the next big thing is a game that was built to be free-to-play from the ground up. Good luck with that.

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Chad Awkerman

Chad joined the DualShockers staff in mid 2009 and since then has put much of his time into covering RPGs, with a focus on the Japanese side of the genre, from the obscure to the mainstream. He's a huge fan of iconic games like Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy VI and Persona 4 yet enjoys the smaller niche titles, as well. In his spare time he enjoys experiencing new beer, new foods and keeping up with just about every sci-fi show on television. He's married to an intelligent, beautiful Southern Belle who keeps his life interesting with witty banter and spicy Cajun cooking.

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