In the months leading up to the holiday 2011 release of BioWare's Star Wars: The Old Republic, most of the MMO community came around to the idea that the WoW killer may have finally arrived. The Jedi vs Sith RPG was produced on one of the biggest budgets the video game world has ever seen and it had already had the enormous Star Wars fanbase as a target audience. Despite sucking in lots of players in the early months thanks to gorgeous cinematic trailers and BioWare's stellar reputation, the hype quickly faded, and the game fell well short of WoW levels of success.
Although BioWare had to abandon the required subscription fee in order to stem the bleeding of players unwilling to pay $14.99 every month, things have stabilized in the SWTOR community. With the support of micro-transactions and an option subscription model (which offers lots of perks, both aesthetic and gameplay-related), SWTOR still manages to maintain over one million users per month.
Moving to an optional subscription fee may not be the profitable decision for a game like WoW just yet, but for SWTOR, it looks like the creators made the right decision, financially-speaking. Polygon reported the following explanation from EA:
"The really interesting thing that's happening inside the service right now is monthly average revenue for the game has more than doubled since we introduced the free-to-play option. And as we look forward, we're going to continually invest in new content for the service and for players every six weeks or so."
To see what all those players have been up to in SWTOR during the last three years, check out this infographic, released to help celebrate the early access launch of the game's long-awaited Galactic Strongholds expansion.
The Galactic Strongholds expansion arrives today as a reward for players who qualify for subscriber status. Preferred early access (for players who have spent money in the game, but aren't currently subscribers) will follow in September 16 and then everyone will be on in the action come October 14. SWTOR has used similar tiered releases with add-on content in the past to help increase motivation to spend a few dollars in-game.
As seen in the trailer above, the Galactic Strongholds expansion offers players the chance to customize their strongholds with trophies, put down roots across the galaxy with homes on multiple planets, and launch their very own Guild Flagship. The Guild Flagship allows players to offer orbital support to guild allies and leverage the power of the flagship to conquer planets.
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Unlike WoW's upcoming Warlords of Draenor, the Galactic Strongholds expansion will be free for all SWTOR players. Although it may not be fair to compare a full Blizzard expansion pack to the new SWTOR content, it is definitely a nice perk for Star Wars players that they do not need to drop an extra $60 (or a subscription fee for that matter) to get their MMO fix.
Following last year's long-awaited Galactic Starfighter expansion (which finally delivered content that was originally promised for the game's launch) and 2013's Rise of the Hutt Cartel, Galactic Strongholds is the third major content addition to SWTOR. If BioWare is able to maintain the annual pace for free major content additions, then it may be able to retain that million player base for quite a long time, despite the game's initial stumbles.
Do you plan to check out the Galactic Strongholds expansion pack? Do you think the early access is worth dropping a few dollars in the game? Let us know in the comments.
Star Wars: The Old Republic is currently available on PC. Early Access for the Galactic Strongholds expansion is available starting today (August 18) for subscribers, starting September 16 for Preferred Access users, and October 14 for everyone else.
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