For a minute there, it seemed like Star Wars: The Old Republic was going to be the next big MMO that could take on WoW at its own game. Interest in the game quickly wore off, however, and the developers have been scrambling to get updates out as fast as they can to renew interest in the game. One of those updates may be making the game go free-to-play.
In a recent interview with GamesTM, The Old Republic's lead designer, Emmanuel Lusinchi, discussed the challenges of running a subscription-based MMO when there are so many good free-to-play MMOs vying for attention. He acknowledged that their biggest competitor in the market isn't WoW, but rather the free-to-play genre.
So does that mean The Old Republic is going free-to-play anytime soon? When asked of the possibility, Lusinchi only said, "The MMO market is very dynamic and we need to be dynamic as well." He then goes on to directly say that they're looking at free-to-play, but nothing is set in stone.
If you've been following the MMO market over the last few years, you would see that the trend is now free-to-play. Even when a subscription-based MMO comes out, it quickly moves to free-to-play as users can't justify spending a monthly fee. One of the major examples of the last year was DC Universe Online which went free-to-play within six months of its launch.
So would it be a good move for The Old Republic to go free-to-play? Well, we need to look at a number of factors. Going free-to-play is usually a sign of failure and EA obviously doesn't want that. At it's E3 press conference, the publisher was touting its subscription numbers and the amount of work BioWare putting into the game. On the other hand, going free-to-play can increase revenue exponentially since more people are playing the game while buying lots of add-ons via micro-transactions.
It's a complicated issue. The best compromise would be to offer some form of free-to-play to everybody, while giving subscribers special perks. It would get more people playing the game, while retaining the current subscriber base. It's a win-win for everybody.