Speaking to GamesTM, BioWare's lead designer Emmanuel Lusinchi has suggested that Star Wars: The Old Republic could, just maybe turn free-to-play in future. This comes in the wake of the MMO dropping from 1.7 million subscribers to 1.3 million between March and May. Which is precisely the sort of thing that forces a re-appraisal of your business model.
Lusinchi doesn't cite the freefalling subscriber base as a reason for considering the move to a free-to-play service, rather he discusses BioWare's position within the competitive MMO marketplace. "I think it’s more than the free-to-play model," he claims. "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," continues the lead designer. “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.”
Can you even imagine what 400,000 subscribers look like? I've done the maths: if all of those subscribers stood on one another's shoulders they would be as tall as 73 Mount Everests, a teetering skyscraper of humans turning its vertiginous back on The Old Republic and wobbling away to a competitor. Can a move to free-to-play entice the fickle (and 400 mile tall) human tower back on-side?