A few months ago, EA and BioWare announced that they had lost 400, 000 subscribers from their MMORPG The Old Republic. Then the dev team behind The Old Republic was hit with an undisclosed amount of layoffs. About three weeks after those layoffs, BioWare admitted they were looking into options for making The Old Republic free-to-play. Less than a month later, you could play the game for free until your character reached level 15. Less than a week after that, the game’s executive producer, Rich Vogel, left BioWare amidst rumours of further staff cuts.
Reading that brief synopsis of The Old Republic’s ride since the beginning of this year, it’s kind of hard not to think about that scene in The Matrix. You know, the one where Agent Smith has Neo in a choke-hold on the subway tracks, and a train is hurtling towards both of them. “You hear that Mr. Anderson,” he asks Neo, “That is the sound of inevitability.” Except, in this possibly over-elaborate comparison, the train represents a free-to-play model, and Neo is The Old Republic. And instead of triumphantly leaping away at the last second, it gets smacked full-on in the face by the train –uh– I mean free-to-play model.
The movement to a free-to-play model was announced during Electronic Arts’ first quarter financial reports. During that same report it was also revealed that The Old Republic has less than a million subscribers at present. While the actual number wasn’t given, it was said that the figure is still “well over” 500, 000.
The change to free-to-play will come about sometime in November this year. However, on 7 August, the game’s price will drop to just $15, which is also the new monthly subscription price. People who choose to continue paying a monthly subscription will have complete access to the game with zero limitations. Those opting for free-to-play will have some restrictions, but you can still play the entire game until your character hits level 50.
Further restrictions to the free-to-play model include limitations in character creation – certain species will be off limits for those who don’t pay the monthly sub. Furthermore, Warzones, Flashpoints and Space Missions will only be available in limited amounts each week. Insofar as the game’s Operations go, free-to-play users will have no access to those.
A new currency, called Cartel Coins, will be introduced to the game. Those who have already subscribed will get a monthly allowance of 150 Cartel Coins for each paid month of their subscription. If you bought the Collector’s Edition of the game, you’ll receive 1, 000 Cartel Coins. The new currency will be used “to purchase valuable in-game items including customizable gear and convenience features that will enhance the game play experience.”
It’ll be fascinating to see whether this new approach will be able to breathe new life into The Old Republic.