The Force Is Sorta OK In This One: SWTOR Bucks The Recent Trend Of F2P Failure
Star Wars: The Old Republic seems to be doing well since its switch to a free-to-play model – very well, according to BioWare. But do we have anything besides the company's word to go by?
As we alluded to in last week's F2P Cast, BioWare's claims of doubling their revenue may stem from the game's, shall we say, less-than-friendly free-player restrictions. While I'd imagine that players who do stick around are spending more per person than in most F2P games, the data does seem to indicate a significant boost in the overall player base.
A free-to-play switch is usually like a “second launch.” And we all know how first launches tend to go in the MMORPG world: tons of initial excitement, followed by a rapid drop-off and either a stabilization or a continued plunge, often into irrelevance. While we can't track player numbers explicitly, we can do the next best thing and look at user activity on the game's website, which tends to be a reasonable analog to a game's performance.
Here's the chart from Alexa.com that shows activity on swtor.com over the past six months:
The spike at the far left of the chart dates back to the F2P switch. There's the usual drop-off right after, but then take a look at what happens. The numbers stay rather steady and actually see a notable build-up starting in late February, with the only negative action having occurred very recently.
So maybe most people didn't immediately log in, see how much the F2P implementation sucked, and then immediately logged out. One other possibility is that, even with that large influx right around the F2P switch, maybe people trickled in over the next five months or so, trying and abandoning the game just as quickly – or actually sticking with it.
In any case, the game has been considerably higher over these past few months than it was prior to the F2P transition – a generally good sign.
Take a look at the charts for a couple of other MMO titles that went free-to-play. First TERA (technically www.enmasse.com, as the main TERA site is http://tera.enmasse.com/):
That January jump is from F2P. It's followed by another spike in February, but the game's been in constant decline since then.
Now, The Secret World, which technically isn't free-to-play, but which eliminated sub fees in December:
That fits the standard model of how we expect these things to go: big jump right at the transition, followed by steady decline.
For City of Heroes, we have to use a larger scale:
COH went F2P in September of 2011, which corresponds to the spikes on the chart. There's another spike in November/December, but by the time 2012 rolls around, the game appears to be back down below even what it was prior to the announcement. Other spikes on the chart correspond to the F2P announcement (June 2011), the shutdown announcement (August 2012), and the actual shutdown (November 2012).
Finally, take a look at DC Universe Online, which has been trumpeted by Sony Online Entertainment as a successful title since going free-to-play:
That's not too bad; the game's stayed fairly steady in the period starting about two months after its F2P switch in late 2011.
Again, none of these charts are hard-and-fast indicators of how many players are in a game, but in the absence of any other solid information – which can generally only be provided by a developer, no matter how much we regular players might think we know – they're as good an indicator of a game's health as we're likely to get.
Going by this data, though, none of the other titles we looked at have performed as well as The Old Republic has, growing its traffic numbers for nearly five months following its F2P transition (after the initial, unavoidable drop-off). SWTOR might take years to make good on its initial investment, but at least for the moment, it seems to be doing relatively well, its recent dip notwithstanding. Will that be the new trend, and will the game decline over the next few months? We'll just have to wait and find out.
About the Author
Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.
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It's stories, classes, raids and crafting system might keep you entertained for approximately a month or two, if you are a subscriber, but the game will leave a rather bitter taste for anyone who has played mmorpgs before.
And this is all from a previous subscribers point of view. Add the ridiculous free-to-play restrictions to it, and you have the full picture.
BW had few decent ideas, but messed up big time here. It certainly feels like all the updates from hereon are just for the purpose of softening the blow after spending $200m on it, and that happens by milking players, subscribers and f2p, in every possible way.
It is possible to get most of out of the game without paying a cent, but it takes a lot of grind, planning, and some subscriber friends. Ironically, it may actually make the game more interesting.
i left swtor, because as a F2P player you get bored really fast, literally.
Not worth the time,unless they change their restrictions, they'll probably end up soon dead,as there are so many real "f2p" products that will be released, somewhere arround the upcoming summer we've all been waiting for.
Aside from web traffic, are there any good sources of traffic data? Xfire is one, but that only tracks gaming activity for Xfire users, so I use it as a way to compare activity for games on a relative basis.
The F2P in this game will drain you dry if you want to play the game irritation-free and that is my problem--even other hybrid F2P games don't screw you as hard as this one. So while I applaud your analysis Mr. Winter, to me it shows how many people are absolutely gullible and willing to be bilked for their money by those guys.
Mr. Winter might want to become a politician instead of creating optical illusions.
The game activity =/= working results in F2P models
I would also like to say this have been a very interesting article. Even if those are only site stats, it is still interesting to see the patterns. Good job Jason. The force is strong with this one.
Most likely their big influxes in income came from people having to make that one purchase to get a different account type status and at best for some more critical UI/systems they made you pay for. But I seriously don't see this skinning working in long term. At which point they'll probably downgrade it to a more regular type of F2P model, charging for expansions and whatnot instead, thus getting another player-base boost and possibly another income influx.
TERA had a huge influx of trolls. I was one of them. I only logged in to chat. It was good times. Now the chat is back to normal and only one channel a server populated. But all in all, I find myself focused on the game. I am a sticker, but it is my casual fun and fits the fantasy bill right on. The economy is great and the population steady. Allot of corporations skew their numbers because htey need up and up and up. That is why I Say a .2 could be the bench mark of non up period, but that doesnt mean .2 is a dying game. HEll .1 is a very live community....Business alays look to go up and up and up. So these things have to be taken with a grain of salt. The big question is who si paying what?? I joined the Runes ofMagic craze back in the day and spent more there than any mmorpg...so on a chart, that game has fenaminal spending as a F2P, like Perfect World...but over all, there are "better", and more itneresting games...so those anomolies sort of skew these readings as well. I pay nothing so far in the games I play, but paid allot in older dead games...I Will pay when I Get a job soon and will support the games I play for COSMETIC items, because those are the games I like. Not Star Wars, I uninstalled after level 20 super restriction and nothing cool enough to make me want to support it. I do, however, purchase bioware games. I just threw down 30 bucks for mass effect soooo yeahhhhh////
CBA to search for real stats but I do wonder how they made the comparison 'doubled revenue' since ftp.