Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Free to Play: The Withering Effect on Raiding

The second questions is, can SWTOR support raiding as a viable activity at all if they restrict it to subbers?   Yes, there will continue to be a small number of hard-core guilds that focus primarily on raiding, but this model will have a significant impact on casual raiding.  As it is, guilds are having a hard time pulling together people to do sustained endgame content.  With the two-class system, casual people who might like to give operations a try will simply be turned away. 

And not just on raiding night but much earlier, when they try to gear up with flashpoints and commendations.  In a typical WoW raiding situation, gearing up with the Justice point system in heroic dungeons is part of the end game, even if that character never sees the inside of a raid instance.  That means that characters are prepared for raiding through the normal mechanisms of the solo game.  When a raid team has an open slot one evening, fellow guild members are able to fill in.

With the SWTOR system, free players won’t be ready to raid, gear-wise, unless they specifically pay for it. They won’t be able to just hit a button at the game store and unlock raids for the week, because they won’t have the gear to put on.   The system will severely limit the overall pool of potential raiders.

Not to mention the increasingly discouraging attitudes of their fellow endgame players.

Then we have to look down the road a ways and look at long-term implications.  If a declining number of players are able to complete operations, what will be the response when EA focuses an entire 6 week cycle on releasing a new one.  The community will largely yawn when a new bleeding edge operation gets released that only 5% of that community will see as current content. 

That gives EA two options: 

The first option is to continue to push Operations as a primary source of content.  They will do this largely in an effort to prop up their model.  If they really want to promote subscriptions, they will have to push subscription-only content as an incentive.

 The second option is to develop few and fewer operations because they aren’t being played.  EA will find that repeatedly releasing content that their players don’t care about will lead to disillusioned players who gradually stop playing.

SW:TOR Not Really Free to Play

The game cannot sustain itself with subscriptions alone.  We gave the subscription model the best possible chance we could and it couldn’t generate the revenue needed to maintain the game.

The next move is to go free to play, an approach that has been proven by big IP mmos (STO, LOTRO, DDO) to be financially successful.  However, we’re not going to follow the model that has worked for other games, where all aspects of the game are truly free, and the publisher makes money at the game store and by producing new content. 

Instead, EA is going to try a hybrid system where they essentially continue the subscription model but offer a shareware version of the game as well.  The big questions is, will SWTOR experience the same kind of financial benefit from this shareware model that true F2P MMOs are getting from theirs?

Three months after F2P launch, will we see more subscribers or more free players?  This depends on whether the free model is a success or not.  If as EA hopes, the shareware model works for them and results in an influx of new players, then we will have far more free players than subscribers.  I’m seeing 75-25%.  If they have botched the F2P model, and this 2-tier system doesn’t entice free players back, then the ratio will be reversed.  However, this will overall be bad news for the game. 

All players and supporters of the game should want to see a huge bounce in the number of players.  This is the only thing that will maintain EA’s interest the game.  If they don’t see a huge bounce, we’re likely to see less support, less development of new content, less chance of major expansions.  We might eventually see Makeb, and that’s it.

Another way to look at it is to say that EA is firmly committed to the subscription model, but they are willing to lower the subscription fee depending on which features the player wants to regularly access.  While $15 a month gets you everything, maybe $8 a month gets you PvP, and $12 a month gets you raiding, and a mere $4 a month gets you space missions.