While most would peg the paid subscription model for MMOs as dead after the release of Star Wars: The Old Republic, the developer behind one said title, BioWare, disagrees. They do acknowledge that the MMO in question -- the premium title after TOR -- needs to hold a strong appeal for the gamer, but it’s still possible for titles to exist outside of this heavily free-to-play world.
In BioWare’s mind, the free-to-play model involves an unknown quantity — an MMO that gamers are unsure of, but would still be willing to check out. Yes, highly touted titles like DC Universe Online have reverted to the free-to-play model out of desperation for users, but, those titles that release as free-to-play from the start are trying to entice gamers with something new.
To warrant a premium subscription model, BioWare feels that a title needs to exceed expectations. The MMO needs to be a game that people are dying to get their hands on, kind of like The Old Republic.
“There's a space for a certain number of premium products that are subscription based or whatever the premium pricing model is. But they have to merit it, they have to earn that from a consumer trust perspective and delivering and exceeding expectations.”
But then, of course, value is relative depending on the property. One would have looked to some of the titles that have gone free-to-play over the past year as enterprising opportunities, but, once faced with a dwindling user base, ones that were willing to adapt. Perhaps adapting now involves coming free-to-play or "freemium" out of the game like Firefall.
Offering unique storylines dependent on class, and a replacement for Knights of the Old Republic 3-9, it’s hard to argue that The Old Republic subscribers aren’t getting their money’s worth. But The Old Republic also has the marketing budget to provide potential players with extensive looks at each class, and trailers that do nothing but hype the title up more. BioWare might not think the premium MMO is “dead,” but they are coming at it from a different perspective than most MMO developers today.
Regardless of their points, it’s kind of hard to take BioWare seriously when they are about to release one of the most anticipated MMOs since World of Warcraft. Obviously they don’t want to call the pricing model they are using dead because they don’t want to put the thought in gamers’ minds that The Old Republic could end up as a free-to-play MMO.
It’s true that a free-to-play game bares no risk, and a premium title needs a strong appeal, but the enticement of a new experience can only take you so far regardless.
Do you think that Star Wars: The Old Republic is the last big MMO of the premium subscription model era? Will we ever see the day where The Old Republic goes free-to-play?
Star Wars: The Old Republic releases December 20, 2011 for the PC.