When MMOs first burst into the gaming mainstream, the monthly fees associated with them were accepted by players. In recent times however, the MMO landscape has seen a subtle shift from a full-blown subscription-based model towards a free-to-play model supported by micro-transactions. Facing competition from the growing genre, it appears that Star Wars: The Old Republic may be joining that trend in the future, potentially even switching over to EA’s Play4Free.

After announcing at E3 2012 that Star Wars: The Old Republic would be offering a limited free-to-play trial beginning in July, BioWare and Electronic Arts are currently exploring what other options exist to grow their MMO. The current free-to-play plan for The Old Republic will allow players to progress their characters up to level 15 and then begin to pay the regular subscription fees to continue further in the game. According to a recent interview with lead designer Emmanuel Lusinchi however, that may only be the first step towards more free-to-play options for the game.

In an interview that was posted by GamesTM last week and subsequently removed, Lusinchi alluded to the quality that some current free-to-play MMOs offer to players and the competition that they create within the genre.

“I think it’s more than the free-to-play model — it’s more that there is a lot of competitive offers. If it was just free-to-play games and they weren’t very good it wouldn’t even be a question but there are definitely good games out there and good games coming out, so of course all of this competition impacts your plan with what you want to do.”

Additionally, publisher Electronic Arts has spoken out about the possibility of free to play models coming to the BioWare developed MMO. While speaking with GamesIndustry International, Frank Gibeau, president of EA Games Label explained that the long-term success of SWTOR may require them to embrace the more accessible subscription model, adding that any switch to a free-to-play model will not be happening anytime soon and that the overall goal is to open up the game to those who are ready to give the game a shot but not yet ready to pay full price.

“We’re going to be in the business from a long term standpoint so absolutely we’re going to embrace free access, free trial, ultimately some day we can move in and embrace that model. It’s all a matter of timing and thinking things through.”

Even though Lusinchi cites competition from free-to-play MMOs as a possible reason for looking in to potentially dropping subscriptions, there may be a few underlying reasons driving BioWare towards a F2P
model for SWTOR. While competition from free-to-play MMOs is certainly a factor, The Old Republic has seen a 25% drop in its subscription base since launch and it also has to deal with the ever-looming shadow of MMO juggernaut World of Warcraft and its upcoming expansion. With a drop in population and one of the world’s biggest games as its main competitor, EA and BioWare may
have to take some drastic steps to draw players back in to the fight for the galaxy.

Ranters, do you think a switch to free to play will give The Old Republic a new hope or will the MMO fall to the dark side?

Star Wars: The Old Republic is available now for the PC.

Source: GamesIndustry International, GamesTM via Massively