Hemorrhaging subscribers, 'Star Wars: The Old Republic' goes free-to-play

In a move that most saw coming, BioWare will open up its “Star Wars” MMO, “The Old Republic” for free play this fall. Reports over the last six months of the game losing subscribers have been steady, with the company confirming Tuesday that the amount of paying customers has “dipped below one million.”

BioWare has tried to bolster interest in the midst of the falling subscription numbers by offering free trial weekends to new players who may be put off by the notion of subscribing to a game they may stop playing after a few days.

The new plan will not only lower the financial barrier but will also emphasize an added value for those who do pay a full subscription, currently at $14.99 a month. Free account holders will have limited access to certain features of the game and no access to others. Meanwhile, subscribers will get priority login access to the game and receive more rewards for in-game content. BioWare released a rudimentary chart comparing the two plans.

BioWare also notes that it will “increas[e] the frequency of game content updates, with the first of many new releases coming in August.” BioWare has already added a significant amount of content since launching last December, but it appears its strategy is to increase the number of players and hope to cash in on in-game purchases rather than rely on the dwindling number of hardcore subscribers.

While the news of a subscription-free account option may pique the interest of “Star Wars” fans who haven’t been motivated enough to check out “The Old Republic,” another tidbit in the press release may be the tipping point that attracts the type of players BioWare wants.

“Star Wars: The Old Republic’s” actual game software, a necessary one-time purchase, launched at $59.99 for the standard edition. Recently, it has been offered at $39.99 but according to BioWare, “As the first step towards adding the new Free-to-Play option this fall, 'Star Wars: The Old Republic' will go on sale in August for $14.99 USD, including one-month of free subscription.”

The incredibly low price-point may irk early adopters who paid $59.99 or more at launch, plus a monthly $14.99 subscription, but it may just be what “The Old Republic” universe needs to attain an influx of new players and revenue.

For comparison, the world’s most popular MMO, “World of Warcraft,” boasted more 10 million subscribers when “The Old Republic” launched. Free-play may not bring “The Old Republic” anywhere near those numbers, but even just approaching the 2-million mark, where the game was at its apex, could extend the commercial life of the critically embraced title.

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