In a move that should come to a surprise to pretty much no one that pays attention, EA announced this afternoon that Star Wars the Old Republic will be transitioning from a subscription based model to a free to play one.  I say it should come as no surprise, because while the game had an amazing number of people that played it when it first was released, the subscription numbers have dwindled to a mere fraction of what they were.  Top that with the constant layoffs that have been hitting the development team, and the writing was on the wall for this to happen.  Not that this is a bad thing mind you – in this editor’s opinion, Star Wars the Old Republic has some of the best stories of any MMORPG out there, and now everyone will be able to experience them all without worrying about the time commitment.

The problem with The Old Republic was that they made the massively multiplayer part of it seem like an afterthought.  Pretty much the entire game could be played without ever getting into a group with another player – yes, you would miss out on some of the group zones, but those weren’t integral to the  story lines anyways.  While it is always somewhat sad to see a MMO that had promise to be something turn to the free to play route, I’m hopeful that it will still end up being supported as well as it has been with regular content updates and game fixes.

In this new free to play model, every character story line will be available to play, and you can take any and all character to level 50 with no worries, but any new content and some of the more advanced features will be locked out or otherwise restricted.  You can remove said restrictions by either using what will be the new “premium” currency – Cartel Coins, or by setting up a subscription plan.  According to Matthew Broomberg (BioWare’s GM), “Players want flexibility and choice. The subscription-only model presented a major barrier for a lot of people who wanted to become part of The Old Republic universe”.  I know at least from my end, this will cause me to return to the universe to play some of the story lines that I passed up earlier due to time restraints.

BioWare executive producer Jeff Hickman had this to say: “Since launch, we’ve been listening to feedback from our fans and adding new content and refining The Old Republic at a breakneck pace. We believe we are in a position to help improve the service even more, not only by continuing to add new content, but also by expanding the game to many more Star Wars fans, increasing the populations on worlds and the vibrancy of the community.”  They have also promised to increase the frequency of game updates until the game goes free to play this fall, but have not said anything past that.  Whether that means that content will then turn to a trickle after the change over or not remains to be seen.

In August the next major update will happen adding Cartel Coins to the game for current subscribers to use (a list of what they will be able to be used on is available on The Old Republic’s website).  One of the big deals for endgame players is that if you are a free player, you will not be able to complete Operations, and are limited as to how many Flashpoints you can perform per week, that might just be enough to get a number of people to subscribe.  In preparation for the switch, in August the game will go on sale for only $14.99, and if you haven’t gotten to play it yet, I can not stress enough how much I recommend everyone pick it up at that price – you won’t be disappointed.