Hello dear readers. Welcome to my first featured article here at TORWars. You may have seen this posted originally on my blog here, but after much begging and tears from Deirdre, I finally relented and said yes to being one more addition to this illustrious crew of scoundrels. Yay me!
So, all that being said, allow me to present to you my first feature!
Today, November 15th, Star Wars: the Old Republic went Free-to-Play (aka F2P, not FTP, which is Food Transfer Protocol, where you order a pizza through the internet). Most of the commentary I’ve seen on the transition is mostly a bit of QQ about people ‘losing’ things, the new ‘massive’ amount of restrictions, the prices of the Cartel Coins, and the Preferred Status Player (PSP) accounts, and how it all works. However, if all you look at is only what TOR is doing, you lose sight of the fact that other games are also F2P and have their own way of doing things.
I’d like to provide an illustration and comparison to allow TOR players to realize they may actually have a better deal than they think. Other games have gone F2P in the past or have always been F2P. I’ll focus on three other games with a substantial player-base that made a transition, since the sheer amount of angst about F2P doesn’t tend to happen if a game was F2P to begin with. These games I’ll compare TOR’s F2P model against are the two EverQuest franchises and Lord of the Rings Online. EQ2 went F2P in November 2011, EQ1 just switched in March of this year, and LotRO switched in the fall of 2010. Not too surprisingly, they’re all doing well, and LotRO’s Sapience (aka my friend Rick Heaton) once advised me that LotRO was doing better now that it was F2P than it had been doing as a subscription model. To be fair, none of the trio of other games had a bit of a hole to dig out of in terms of PR and hemorrhaging subscribers, but their transitions seemed to go smoothly.
Now, let’s do some honest comparison about what is going on here.
All three of these games have cash or currency stores where you can buy stuff for your toons or your whole account. The two EQs have Station Cash, whereas LotRO has Turbine Points. You can buy more mock-currency with real money, and depending on your subscription level, you can get a monthly allotment. Same basic model that TOR is going to cheerfully use (sometimes, there really is no sense in reinventing the wheel).
EQ1’s F2P comparison chart can be found here.
EQ2’s F2P comparison chart can be found here.
LotRO’s F2P comparison chart can be found here. (click on the tabs to check out the options)
TOR’s F2P comparison chart can be found here.
Let’s break this down, shall we?
- • All four games allow players to play up to level cap for free, but there are footnotes. EQ1 requires the purchase of at least 1 expansion to get their last 5 levels. EQ2 and LotRO claim level cap access, but you have to buy expansions to get all of the content and higher-level areas where you can grind to the cap. To be fair, I fully expect TOR to follow this same method whenever they have their first full-on expansion.
- • All four games have a median level account status. EQ1 & 2 calls theirs a ‘Silver’ subscription and they cost 5 bucks (USD) a month, LotRO’s call theirs a ‘Premium Player’, TOR has ‘Preferred Status Players’. Both LotRO and TOR’s middle tier account are free and acquire this status if a full-on Freeper makes one purchase in the in-game store. Additionally, TOR will grandfather all lapsed and future-lapsed subscriptions to PSP status without a purchase.
- • LotRO is the only one that doesn’t restrict races (but then it only has 4 to start with anyway). EQ1 and 2 allow 4 races, TOR allows 3. The latter three games allow for the purchasing of races in their store. And yes, generally it’s the cooler races that are locked away.
- • EQ, EQ2, and LotRO all restrict classes to non-subscribers. EQ1 only gives you a choice of 4 classes, EQ2 lets you play 8 classes. LotRO lets you play 7 of their 9 total as F2P (and in fact you have to buy the last 2 even as a VIP/monthly subscriber via buying an expansion). Naturally, they restrict all the really cool ones. TOR lets you play all 8 classes. To be fair, there really wasn’t a way to restrict them, since it’s really 4 mirrored classes (more or less).
- • All of the games restrict bag/vault/bank/cargo slots with varying numbers based on their games’ methodology. EQ1 and 2 don’t allow for shared bank access unless you’re a subscriber.
- • All of the games limit in-game currency. LotRO has a cap removal purchase available, the two EQs do not. TOR will have an unlock available.
- • All of the games offer a monthly allotment of mock/store currency for full-on subscribers. EQs 1 & 2 require an auto-pay for theirs. There was no backdated reward for former subscribers. LotRO offered an up-front reward for subscribers when they converted but does not require an auto-pay to keep getting their monthly allotment. TOR’s going to reward past subscribers as long as they’re actively subscribed at the time F2P goes live, and all subscribers after F2P will get a monthly allotment of cartel coins. BioWare has also recently stated that subscribers who are on multi-month subscriptions (3, 6, 9 months) will get a larger allotment every month than 1-month subs.
- • There are equivalent limits on the use of mail and guild functions on all but LotRO, where they make no mention of guild restrictions.
- • Rest XP is only mentioned in LotRO’s commentary, and it’s only available to subscribers. I recall from TOR’s PTS that rest XP was not available when the accounts were set to F2P, and BioWare’s already stated that F2P will not gain XP as quickly as subscribers. Don’t recall the specifics of PSP XP.
- • All of the games limit character slots. EQ1’s three tiers are 2/4/8 per server respectively. EQ2 is 2/4/7 per account. LotRO is 1/3/5 for their three tiers per server. TOR will go with 2/2/12, although there is confirmation from Joveth Gonzalez that subscribers will eventually get more than 12 toons per server. All of the games allow for the purchase of slots for non-subs.
- • All of the games lock out alts for former subscribers if they’re over the limit for their new account type. EQ1 and 2 didn’t let you pick which alt(s) you got to keep and use (at least, EQ2 didn’t let me pick and choose, it just locked out >5 and I couldn’t access the neater ones at the bottom of the list until I deleted the less-liked ones on top). Not sure how LotRO did it. TOR will not initially restrict former subs from their toons even if they’re over the character slot limit, but Joveth did confirm recently that in a future patch, this will change and players will have to choose which toons to play or to resubscribe to keep playing them all.
- • Customer service is limited on all of the games, although LotRO does offer tech support to all three tiers, just not in-game support. EQ1 and 2 only offer support beyond transactional stuff to subscribers.
- • Forum access is limited for LotRO non-subs.
- • Both EQs and LotRO limit trait/alternate ability use. Both EQs limit what kind of spell ranks you can use and also how many quests you can have going at the same time.
- • TOR doesn’t (yet) have proper housing, but both EQs limit it, while LotRO just lets everyone have it for in-game coin regardless of account type.
- • All four games limit use of the auction house and the use of higher-tier equipment. LotRO has unlocks available for listing items for sale (Freepers can’t even list anything without an unlock). TOR will have unlocks reasonably-priced that will allow raiders to stay competitive. Interestingly enough, all PSPs will be able to retain any purples they’ve currently got equipped, but they just won’t be able to equip new ones until they purchase the unlock or resub.
- • For you crafters out there, LotRO doesn’t restrict crafting other than by which expansion(s) you have. However, to join the crafting guilds (and thus get access to additional cool recipes) requires a store purchase or subscription. The two EQs don’t mention crafting, but TOR severely limits crafting (crew skills) in that you have fewer slots for skills if you’re PSP or F2P.
- • The two EQs don’t mention priority in queue (I’ve never been in queue for either of them), but LotRO and TOR both cite that subscribers will get priority, and median tiers will get secondary priority, with full F2Ps getting lowest priority.
- • LotRO has instanced repeatable content called skirmishes, similar to TOR’s warzones, ops, and flashpoints. Freepers and Premium players have limits, but can purchase more opportunities. TOR’s going to have passes that can be bought to let Freepers have a higher allotment of this content per week or month.
- • LotRO also has ‘Monster Play’, where you play one of Sauron’s forces (affectionately referred to as ‘Creeps’) and PVP against regular players. This is also limited for non-subscribers, but unlocks are available to purchase.
- • All four games have an in-game store you can buy stuff in. Right now, there’s a huuuuuge amount of grief going on in the LotRO forums/community about the prices of warsteeds, their gear, and dye packs for them. Those of us playing on TOR’s PTS checking out the Cartel Packs you can buy and get random stuff in have been generally positive in response to what kind of stuff you get out of them. My sister spazzed out and demanded to know how she could have a Pink-Purple lightsaber when I showed her a screenie of the Pink-Purple Indestructible Crystal in action. LotRO sure doesn’t offer a portable generic class trainer in their store, nor a throne that doubles as a mount (I’m totally going to run over Jawas on Tatooine with it when I get one). Most of their stuff is geared toward augmenting accounts and cosmetic gear, and even their subscribers have to buy stuff like added space in the bank or shared storage. Where TOR will totally clean up is in the pricing of items to buy and how cheap buying coins will be. They’ve given us a few price points already, and they’re pretty generous compared to LotRO’s price points, and we’ll get more information in the future, I’m sure.
So, at the end of the day, if you really think about it and the various limits that will be imposed on TOR players when F2P launches on the 15th, the overall model is equivalent to three other games out there who have successfully transitioned from subscription-only to a choice of play models. Each game offers unlocks based on which non-sub tier one is on, and all the major stuff is covered. As you can see, the overall methodology isn’t freakishly restrictive compared to other games, and in fact, TOR’s F2P accounts will still be competitive against other games in terms of what a player gets to keep.
When TOR converts, it will have the advantage of more options for its F2P players than the other games. One big point here is that LotRO never grandfathered old subscriber accounts into their median tier that I’m aware of. TOR’s PSP program is very generous as well. The fact that they’re automatically grandfathering all former subs into this rather than asking for a purchase first, sure, it’s obviously a means to retain folks or entice former players into coming back, but the fact that they offered it up front rather than adding it after going live is pretty cool of BioWare. The pricing of items and buying more cartel coins is actually very reasonable and improves on the model the other games provide, so I suspect BioWare and EA will be doing brisk business. Just as I occasionally buy Turbine Points to buy a new mount for LotRO on my main, I fully expect to buy cartel coins even though I intend to stay a subscriber. I’m really excited at the kinds of stuff they’re putting in the cartel store and with promises that they’re gonna rotate the stock as it were and add new items to the store periodically, I’m looking forward to seeing it in all of its glory.
The devs have said recently in posts, tweets, and whatever that they’re going to keep an eye on things and see how this all pans out. If things aren’t working right, they’re going to tweak it to try and fix it. They know they have a PR problem, and it’s clear that some of the options feel more like EA trying to nickel and dime people (i.e. paying to unlock hiding the head slot, really?), but when it all boils down, we have a solid game that is trying to survive in a saturated market. Some of their choices aren’t popular or might feel like F2P players are getting the shaft, but if you really look at how other games do the same thing… no, we’re not. BioWare’s actually making an honest effort to be competitive.
I wish them well.
Let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below. Always remember to be nice, we’re all gamers here and we’re all unique, so no flaming people out.