Well, it’s been known for about a week now, my beloved Old Republic is going Free to Play. The forums are being raided by people saying it’s the end of the game, it’s dying and it’s only a matter of time before the servers are completely shut down. Others are saying that’s ridiculous and F2P means more players and that’s only going to be good, others are... you get the point. Here’s my thoughts on the whole thing, the game that properly got me into the MMO genre going Free to Play.
First I’ll point out I’ve been playing the game since it was physically possible to do so, I beta tested, I pre-ordered and so was in-game with early access before release, and then ever since. I’ve sunk a lot of hours into it and surprisingly, or not for those who know me, I only have one max level character with the rest floating anywhere between levels 10 and 30. I’ve seen heavy populations at the game’s inception, to completely empty servers - no, not an exaggeration, I was the only person on the fleet, the biggest gathering point in the galaxy, at peak times. The only person. Still, the game has soldiered on and more people arrived when the big 1.3 Allies patch hit, and free trials meant more people coming in, even if only briefly. Through all of that though, I’ve been there. Even when I was the only living player on Tatooine, I carried on questing around the more-than-usual barren planet. I’ve heard horror stories of F2P games, or premium games that went F2P, to be more specific, but I’m not concerned, here’s why.
Player base: It’s only going to get bigger. The complaints on the official forums are mostly that free players will just be there for the free ride and thus won’t respect the lore or other players. For a start the game will still need to be bought, the only free part is that there’s no subscription required. Even so, if you’re running around Korriban with your expertly tailored to perfection Sith Inquisitor and you see a fat Twi’lek Warrior called ‘Obi2kenoobi’ why does it matter? Despite what BioWare tell you this isn’t your game. Everyone who plays has the same rights as you, right down to making a ridiculous looking character with a silly name. Get over it. If Obi2 is rude to you in chat, /ignore is your friend. It’s the internet, be strong. Problem solved. Moving on.
Server load: This is actually a genuine worry, the Hero Engine the game is built on is frankly appalling. I don’t have a fantastic PC but it more than does for TOR, but when I group up with 19 other people to take down a world boss and there’s spell effects all over the place the lag can get terrible. The engine simply can’t handle a lot of players on-screen, bad design for an MMO. This has been a problem since launch though and the way it’s been ‘sorted’ ever since is to simply switch shards and hope it’s quieter. If it’s still busy, you’ll still get lag, but it’s an inherent problem with the engine. I won’t stick up for it, but it’s never caused me too much grief and the same will likely be true even with more players.
Micro-transactions: Ah yes, here we are. The big one. People who have been subscribing since a certain date, and those who bought Digital Deluxe and Collector’s Editions will receive a free amount of ‘Cartel Coins,’ differing depending on which edition you bought/how long you’ve been an active sub. This is the currency you buy with real cash to purchase items from the Cartel. Basically, it’s a cash shop. Worrying, very worrying. While F2P games need these to keep making money since they no longer rely exclusively on subscription fees, it may take a dip into the dreaded ‘Pay to Win’ territory. So far it’s been announced it will effectively be a fluff shop where you buy cosmetic gear and the like, as well as some experience boosters that are already available via the Legacy System. No big deal there, but there’s always the risk of things with stats attached going for sale, especially when EA is behind the whole thing. In fact, the day I see items with stats attached, whether it’s day one of the new system or a year from now, is the day I uninstall the game never to play it again.
For now, though, I’ll actually continue to subscribe. Users who do so get a monthly stipend of these Cartel Coins as a thank you of sorts, and in the game itself it’s no different to what I’ve been playing for months now, where free players will have restrictions on PvP, space missions and point blank can not to Operations/Raids. We’ll see what comes of it, but for now, I’m not worried about it. Even if things go pear shaped and I unsubscribe, it’s no big deal. I’m a massive Star Wars nut and an MMO in the Star Wars world is my perfect getaway for a few hours when I want it, but if I lose it I’ll simply find something else to spend my money on. Unlike some I honestly do not care who gets my money, as long as I’m enjoying what I’ve paid for. If the day comes where people can buy power in this game, I’ll spend money on something else.