While I anxiously wait on The Secret World to patch in the background, I thought I would take a few minutes to respond to today’s big “un-news” story. Pretty much every news source from IGN to Forbes is reporting that Star Wars: The Old Republic will be going to the free to play model by this fall. I am not really sure if this was any surprise, since in mid-june there was another similarly placed article hinting that Bioware was looking at the model.
Roar of the Crowd
What is also fairly unsurprising is the immediate upwell in the gaming community, including much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth. This really should shock no one at this point, and is really deserving nothing more than a polite “I wish them well”. I know for me personally, the subscription fee was no barrier, and had nothing at all to do with my reasons for leaving the game. I completely believe in the concept of voting with my dollar, and I have no problem supporting the causes I believe in.
By that token, I guess you can state that I just stopped believing in Star Wars: The Old Republic. It was an amazing rollercoaster ride of riveting story. But at the end of the day, there just was not enough content to hold my attention. By the same token, I don’t feel a need to “Rage against the machine” and try and bring the game down. I still have several friends playing it, and reportedly they are still enjoying themselves.
Enter the Pundits
I find it annoying that this move is being treated like the sign of something bigger. On one side we have groups of players that are mad at the game, feel betrayed by it, and are already signaling this as the desperate act of a dying game. On the other side you have groups chanting “death to subscriptions”, and ushering this move in as the beginning of a brave new era. I tend to think this is the act of a company, doing what they feel is best for their product. While this might be the highest profile conversion, it is far from the first, and likely will not be the last.
While I personally find the subscriptions a much more honest business model, Free to Play is not necessarily a bad thing. I know at least in the case of the games I have played, the free to play status has done a lot to lower the barrier of entry. I’ve seen the server populations bolster in Everquest 2 since the conversion. While there are a lot more ruffians on my roleplaying server, the vast majority have been seemingly well mannered. The only thing I am uncertain of, is whether or not these players actually stick around for the long haul.
Negativity and Zealotry
I think one of my biggest frustrations with this whole situation is that there will be so much negativity in the coming days from all the camps. I realize this makes me seem like a hypocrite, because I’ve ranted about more than my fair share of games in the past. If you look back through my archives you can see many an angry tale featuring my favorite boogeyman, the dreaded Blizzard. I would like to think that over time I have mellowed.
I’ve reached a point where I am just tired of both the rampant negativity and zealotry in the community. Do we have to hate all other games just because we are playing something different? If we love a game, do we have to shove it in everyone else’s faces until they accept our choice as the “one true game”? I guess I have reached a place where I am happy to play the games I like, but equally happy to hope the other games succeed as well.
We Need More Success
We have built a zero sum climate in massively multiplayer gaming, that really doesn’t need to exist. While every game is in essence competing with the games that came before it, when did we start having to tear the others down? I feel like in order to keep the MMO culture thriving, we need each one of these games to find their own niche, and their own kind of success. Ultimately we have to redefine what success means, because there will likely never be another 10 million subscriber game.
I know personally I have stopped looking for a WoW Killer that will never exist. So long as we keep using that as the bar for success, we are setting every game up for a failure. Maybe I have grown up a bit, but right now I am just looking for some enjoyment in whatever I play. Currently that happens to be a mixture of The Secret World, Everquest 2, and World of Warcraft.
While I have joked that “If you don’t like TSW, you have no soul”, I do not literally mean that. Not every game, has to appeal to every player. I think part of what has had me so excited about The Secret World for example, is that it is a very niche game, and seems to be happy with that fact. We need more games that are OK with catering to a specific niche. We as players, need to be okay with not winning the subscription race and playing the game with the most people.
No Free Ride
So I think this announcement heralds neither the doom of Bioware or the subscription model for that matter. Players will always be willing to pay good money for good content. Free to play, simply means that these companies are giving us the game, and hoping we like it enough to give them money in return. Ultimately we the players have to fulfill that social contract and give them that hard earned money in one form or another. If you don’t then honestly you are just a drain on that games community. At the end of the day someone has to pay for it, because there is no such thing as a free ride.