No, BioWare hasn't suddenly made a lightspeed jump to F2P, but - speaking with GamesTM - it changed its tune quite a bit from "subscription-based forever." So then, the obvious (in almost every situation ever in the whole of human history) question: why? Well, it's certainly hard to ignore SWTOR's 400,000-person slide into the subscriber Sarlacc Pit, but BioWare contends that there's more to it than that.
First and foremost, lead designer Emmanuel Lusinchi chalked up the sudden interest to changing times:
“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.”
“The MMO market is very dynamic and we need to be dynamic as well. Unless people are happy with what they have, they are constantly demanding updates, new modes and situations. So we are looking at free-to-play, but I can’t tell you in much detail. We have to be flexible and adapt to what is going on.”
So basically, F2P's finally coming of age, and players now demand it instead of recoiling in disgust at thoughts of nickles, dimes, and pay-to-win pyramid schemes. Meanwhile, BioWare's made no bones about the need to evolve to survive - even as it attempted to tell us everything was a-okay mere days before, well, you know.
Honestly, though, free weekends and free months for some players suggest that BioWare's been tentatively prodding F2P with a laser-powered stick since even before things went sour. So maybe it won't make the switch today or tomorrow, but if it does sooner rather than later, you won't see me gawking and declaring it the end of days.
Will it "save" SWTOR, though? Does SWTOR need saving? At this point, there are simply too many factors to consider, and not enough concrete facts to base them on. Is BioWare's galaxy-sized behemoth in dire straits? Are even the most diehard MMO players starting to burn out on the traditional quest-kill-collect MMO formula? Is F2P the magical cure for whatever ails it, or merely a quick bandage over a gaping bullet wound? I honestly can't say, but I'm itching to find out. And, if I had to guess, I imagine BioWare is too.