Star Wars: The Old Republic turning free as players dwindle

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World of Warcraft rival Star Wars: The Old Republic will become free to play this autumn, as EA attempts to combat dwindling numbers of players engaged in the lightsaber-swinging online roleplaying game.

Initially the long-anticipated open-world game attracted 1.7 million monthly subscribers, but just eight months later, the figures are looking more glum than Han Solo frozen in carbonite, with the BBC reporting that numbers have dropped below 1 million subscribers.

EA says the game will break even if it can hold onto 500,000 paying subscribers, and that its research suggests 40 per cent of people “were turned off by the monthly subscription”.

EA hopes to win those gamers back by making the game free, though I’m not convinced the idea will work — to me the above stat suggests 60 per cent of people were put off the game by something more significant than forking over £9 a month, which isn’t a good sign.

Once the game goes free, you’ll still need to pay in order to access many of the online world’s features, including certain playable species, and unlimited Warzones, Flashpoints and Space Missions. Those who aren’t paying the monthly fee will be unable to journey past level 50.

I had a quick word with CNET UK’s managing editor Nick Hide, who earlier this year was deeply engrossed in the heady business of bullsye-ing womp rats and leveling up his zabrak bounty hunter.

“I thought it became boring and laborious and so did everyone I played it with,” says Nick. “When they stopped, so did I.”

Despite the Harrison Ford connotations, Nick reckons there’s not much joy to be had playing solo. “You need unlimited time and three friends with unlimited time in order to make it any fun,” Nick gloomily stated, going on to note, “I don’t think many Star Wars fans have that time, or those friends.”

I asked Nick whether he was annoyed by Alderaan-dom enemies in the game, and — on the subject of existing players — would Dagobah-k to playing World of Warcraft, but he responded with silent, open-mouthed horror.

Did you try Star Wars: The Old Republic? Are you still playing? Will making the game free make it more popular than Blizzard’s alternative? Let me know in the comments or on our Facebook wall.

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