BioWare and Electronic Arts have announced that Star Wars: The Old Republic will go free-to-play this autumn, allowing players to enjoy all content for all classes up to level 50, with some restrictions that can be circumvented using a new MMO currency called Cartel Coins.
At the same time Funcom's The Secret World has failed to capture the imagination of gamers.
This is a crucial step for a game that launched late during 2011 as the latest and most well established competitor for World of Warcraft, the Blizzard-made MMO that dominates the genre, and it shows how quickly the subscription situation worsened for the game.
It will also add more ammunition for those who look at the massive multiplayer online space and see how subscriptions are disappearing like dinosaurs after a meteor strike, only to be replaced by packs of nimbler and more popular free-to-play games
The Lord of the Rings Online reported increases in both revenue and players since going free, something replicated by the likes of DC Universe Online, while other titles are actually launching without asking for a subscription.
World of Warcraft is the last big title standing that asks for monthly payments, enabled by its huge player base.
This is good news for players and for developers alike, but there’s already a backlash, with gamers requesting clear, long-term prices for a defined world rather than being nickel and dimed for some features while getting others for free.
I don’t think that the subscription-based MMO is set for extinction but those developers who want to persuade gamers to part with their money need to offer a better reason than old mechanics, staled quest design and common social options.
Gamers continue to play EVE Online because that experience is engrossing in ways that are outside of the normal bounds of the genre, most of them created directly by the players and guided by the CCP development team.