BioWare's long-awaited MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic finally has a solid release date of December 20, but you won't necessarily get in on that day. The developer has talked about staggering the release, even of online orders, to assure the servers don't get overcrowded.
Now as the game prepares to launch, BioWare heads Dr. Ray Muzyka and Dr. Greg Zeschuk are explaining that decision, and sharing thoughts on the increasing popularity of free-to-play games.
"It comes from a desire to have a high quality service for our fans, really stable and scalable and accessible and really fun, and make sure it's performing well," Muzyka told GamesIndustry.biz. "You have to build the infrastructure to support a certain size launch and we're also thinking really long term at Bioware EA for this, there's going to many many consumers coming to the game over time and we're going to be expanding it out. We want to make sure that the service is really high quality, that's the commitment we have to the launch of The Old Republic."
Zeschuck added that since it's always connected to the servers, "we want to just ensure that we've got a nice smooth, reliable game, everyone can get in when they want." He says the company will "increase it over time, our anticipation of course is to keep selling after that." BioWare hasn't specified how small the pieces will be, but with heavy pre-orders, it's probably a wise choice.
Meanwhile, the doctors are acutely aware of the market trends. One game designer recently predicted that The Old Republic would be the last large-scale subscription-based MMO. More and more games are adopting the free-to-play model, including those that previously relied on subscriptions like DC Universe Online and Star Trek Online. Even World of Warcraft has dabbled in the method, though some call it more of an extended demo than a true F2P model.
Zeschuk seems unphased by the trend. "It's just another option," he said. "It's obviously, from a developer's perspective, really nice because you can create very easy to sample stuff. You kind of rely on the quality of the build because people with stick with you or they won't, and then monetising is a whole other kettle of fish. It's not a threat, it's just part of the reality. Every business model you make, the game has to merit it, in other words a free-to-play game probably has a different standard and different expectation than a subscription based game for example."
"I think the quality of volume and content that we provide I think fans will say 'yeah, this is the kind of game that merits a premium subscription,'" Muzyka added. He says they "believe in the play for free model too" with Wrath of Heroes, but thinks The Old Republic is on "the other end of the spectrum, equally high quality but in a different way."