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'Star Wars: The Old Republic' goes free to play today

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BioWare is announcing that its grandiose MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic is going free-to-play, up to level 50 (the game's ceiling) and for all eight character classes. The news has been expected for months, following an announcement earlier this summer and an admission that the number of players had dropped below one million, from a high of more than 1.7 million closer to its launch in December. The $14.99 monthly subscription fee has been a frequent source of dissatisfaction for players, and an extended free trial with free play up to level 15 was announced in July.

Subscribers get stuff earlier, cheaper, and more frequently

If you’re trying to decide whether to pony up or cancel an existing subscription, BioWare is offering a feature comparison list to clarify exactly who gets what. Generally, subscribers have access to goods and features for less in-game currency, more frequently, or at lower character levels, and have access to some features that other players are locked out of. The choice to go free-to-play is guaranteed to get more casual players on board, and EA has said it will continue to break even as long as subscriber numbers stay over 500,000. The question that remains is whether the freemium model can offer a better return on EA's estimated $150-$200 million development cost.