How we pay is pretty much up to Bioware


SW:TOR is an important game. Not only is it the next entry in a long list of Star Wars titles, but its even got non-MMO players eager to log in. It’s lofty aspirations for full voicing and deep, mutable, story aim to shape the genre and push it into the next generation of development.

If it succeeds, that is. But, for the sake of discussion, let’s assume it lives up to all the hype and buzz currently surrounding it.

We’ve all heard about the fourth pillar and all the neat little things Bioware plans to do, but what rarely gets mentioned is the payment model. By most indications, SW:TOR won’t be based on normal subscriptions. We first heard about this way back in December of ’08, when EA let it “slip” that the game would be microtransaction and subscription based, instead of the normal $14.99 fee. Of course, at the time, item shops were still a hot button issue for most gamers, so they were quick to recant the statement. More recently though, the subject arose again, this time supporting the RMT model with the use of “points.”

What’s different about this second time? The lack of outrage. The climate has changed and most players can accept the use of item malls as long as it doesn’t cut them out of the loop. By the time SW:TOR releases, the idea of a AAA MMO that doesn’t require a monthly fee will probably be greeted with open arms.

And Bioware is all about setting precedent. From the start, they’ve been out to make waves with this game. The hype machine has been in constant motion for the greater part of a year now, and, even though we probably won’t see the game for another year, people have already marked this as the game to watch. It’s the WAR of 2010, flush with a great development studio behind it and lots of money to make it the “next big thing.”

So, the payment model is important. If Bioware does release a game to rival WoW, and even come close to their goal, it’s going to change the rules for the games that follow it. Companies are starting to recognize that we don’t enjoy being tethered to a monthly sub, and if TOR shows that the next generation of games doesn’t need them, those fees might just find themselves relics of the past alongside 3 day spawns and 20 hour AV matches. And honestly, we’re all better for it.

A simple fact of our genre is that the subscription fee stops people from joining. Unless you’re friends with someone who’s already “in-deep” with an MMO, the idea of paying by the month for seems ludicrous. Console gamers scoff at it and, frankly, there’s more of them than us. Why? Because gaming is a casual hobby and casual doesn’t mean putting it in the same class as your utility bills. We accept it, and justify it (rightfully, to some extent), but they are, and always will be, the first and biggest barrier to entry for non-MMO gamers. To these players, dropping the fee moves the game from “dumb” to “cool” in as long as it takes to read the back of the box.

If Bioware hits the big one with this, and decides they don’t need to charge every month to do it, we’re going to see games with subscriptions become the minority in new titles. We’re heading that way now and all it takes is one rock to make a big splash in a little pond. Personally, I welcome it, and, if I have a way to earn money for their shop in-game, I’ll be all the happier for it. The future is coming and its name is TOR.

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