A new hope: The Old Republic subscriptions “decline” as free-to-play “continues to grow”

The Old Republic subscribers: outnumbered.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a subscriber of an MMO that suddenly goes free-to-play, but it must be pretty galling. Every month, I imagine, it becomes tougher to convince yourself that whatever in-game privileges you might have add up to another $10 your peers aren’t paying.

It must be somewhat easier in The Old Republic, where despite change for the better, free players are still visibly second-class citizens. Even so, as free-to-play numbers climb, subscriber rates are plummeting in the opposite direction.

In an investor call yesterday, EA money men said PC free-to-play and “extra content” had earned the publishers $213 million in the last three months. Sounds like a lot, and it is: 15% more than during the same period last year.

The increase is down to a couple of new FIFAs, say EA, as well as The Old Republic. In March, the company said that the MMO’s free-to-play option brought in thousands of new players “every single day”.

That astonishing sign-up rate has equalled plenty of purchases in the Cartel Store – a fairly regular stop for players unwilling to put up with companion ability restrictions or stunted XP gain rates. Last week, SuperData Research reported that The Old Republic equalled Team Fortress 2’s free-to-play revenue in the rather large Chinese market, making EA $139m last year.

By contrast, EA reckoned subscriptions, lumped in with advertising and other digital revenue, had slipped by 16% since last year to $66 million. That’s thanks to declining interest in EA’s browser game portal POGO, but also “a decline in Star Wars: The Old Republic subscription revenue as the fleet [of] free-to-play offerings continues to grow”.

This despite the fact that SWTOR’s Rise of the Hutt Cartel expansion is free to subscribers, and that some free players are still waiting on the Galactic Starfighter update that subscribers had in December. Most players would prefer to pay bit-by-bit and wait for new features to thaw than fork out once a month, it seems. Is that you?