Soon, everyone will be able to play Star Wars: The Old Republic*. Oh, that asterisk? Sorry, my entire-one-to-one-scale-replica-of-The-Death-Star key is broken. Still though, the point remains: SWTOR's gearing up for a F2P relaunch, but there are some nearly moon-sized restrictions keeping it grounded. Fortunately, after initial complaints and some time on test servers, BioWare's seen fit to scale them back - if only just a bit.
Lead systems designer Damion Schubert took to the forums to outline not only the changes, but the overarching mentality behind them. First up, he noted that free (read: non-"preferred") players will now gain access to a second quickslot bar, the option to do five Warzones per week instead of three, and a shorter temporary bind on Cartel Coin items. Perhaps even more significant, however, is BioWare's stance on potential future tweaks:
"One of our golden rules is that the Free-to-Play experience should not cheapen the experience for paying subscribers. If it turns out that the Free-to-Play conversion results in a degraded Warzone experience once we go live for subscribers, you can rest assured that we will quickly make adjustments to the system to ensure that subscribers have an optimal experience."
"That being said, it is important conversely that the subscription offers subscribers strong, tangible benefits over the Free-to-Play experience. We value our subscribers greatly, and they are crucial to the success of Star Wars: the Old Republic."
And while it's good to hear that BioWare's open to more change, this also paints a pretty clear picture of the problem at hand. SWTOR was designed as a subscription-based MMO. Subscribers are its backbone, and I've heard of very few surgeries that involved tearing out something's spine that went well. As a result, though, we're talking about a Star Wars MMO that will actively prevent people from having wars among the stars.
And that's just the beginning. Free players also have chat restrictions, lack the ability to sprint until they reach level 15, and get cut off from flashpoints, operations, and things of that nature after only a few per week. Sure, they still get all the questing content, but here's my question: how will a giant fissure in the audience not hurt everybody - subscriber or not? If the activities most players are able to perform aren't conducive to forming a strong, lasting community, then odds are, one won't form.
Clearly, though, it's a system that favors subscribers. I mean, Schubert said as much himself. But that's extremely problematic in this day and age - not to mention potentially damaging to community cohesion. Don't get me wrong: this much free story content is a huge deal, but I'm not so sure it's what's best for SWTOR as a whole.