A long time ago in a galaxy free, free to play...
It hasn’t been a year since Star Wars: The Old Republic made its official launch, but the game has lost a considerable amount of subscribers. In addition, Bioware and EA have recently opted to include a free trial period up to level 15 and have considered going free-to-play as a way of keeping up with the dynamic progression of the MMO model. While they may not currently be ready to go free-to-play, the idea isn’t terrible. Far from it, since the two companies can greatly benefit from implementing the free-to-play model; they will be able to deploy microtransactions to make a profit, as well as having the freedom to create content as they please.
Microtransactions are vital when attempting to make money for MMOs and other online games. If The Old Republic wants to succeed,then Bioware needs to create a diverse marketplace filled to the brim with desirable content. One of the greatest items that free-to-play games offer in the market are cosmetic changes. While not an MMO, League of Legends uses alternate champion skins to earn a great amount of profit. These skins don’t change anything about the gameplay and doesn’t hurt the core mechanics of the game. Rather, they are simply cool costumes that players can use to brag to other players.
The Old Republic can do something similar by implementing costume overlays. By buying an outfit off of the cash shop, players can show off their costumes while retaining the stats from their equipment. This isn’t anything new to the genre or industry, but it doesn’t hurt the game at all to do this. Other items can include exclusive lightsaber colors, hilts, and perhaps an aura for bragging rights. None of these items increase stats or anything, so it’s not a gamebreaker. Other cash shop items can include an experience booster so that you’ll level faster, or something to help increase your relationship with companions faster too. Any of these items simply speed up the progress of your game and for those that are impatient, they will buy them instantly.
One last suggestion to make the cash shop successful for The Old Republic is to add boxes that have the ability to give rare items. Taking after Guild Wars 2, Bioware can implement a way for players to purchase keys of some sort that will unlock special boxes that players can loot from monsters. These boxes won’t give anything that wouldn’t be dropped normally from monsters. All it would do is give players the opportunity to receive more rares. For those who are hungry for items and have the money to spare to unlock these special boxes, they’d be willing to plop down their cash.
All of this makes The Old Republic essentially a freemium game. Although there might be an initial cost — like buying the game — everything afterwards would be free unless you opt to buy items from the cash shop. It’s not a bad idea; in fact, it’s quite brilliant. Lord of the Rings Online saw a great increase in profits after it went from pay-to-play to free-to-play. Obviously the strategy works.