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BioWare docs defend subscription model, tease free-to-play iteration of classic IP


Understandably, BioWare heads Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk seem tired of beating the drum for Star Wars: The Old Republic's subscription-based business model. I didn't actually bother asking them about their thoughts on subscription vs free-to-play gaming during an interview early last week, but Zeschuk launched into a spirited defense nonetheless, perhaps conditioned by being asked over and over in the run up to SW: TOR's launch last Monday.

"You look at the online space in general and it's fragmenting into all these different areas, but the core still works. The subscription model still works," Zeschuk said. "We know a lot of people say, 'Oh, everything's just going free-to-play.' But that's just one slice. There's one slice that's free-to-play, there's one slice that's social, there's traditional subscription still going." He was also quick to point out that, "it's obviously been the free-to-play guys trumpeting this," though his own company certainly isn't above working in the free-to-play space, as evidenced by Warhammer: Wrath of Heroes.

"I'm not saying it's better or worse. It just doesn't supplant the other things. 'Cause we can do some things no one else can," Zeschuk added. In his eyes, a free-to-play dev isn't able to throw the same amount of resources and time at an MMO project, and that marks a big differentiation between the two business models. "The free-to-play people can't invest to the level we can invest, and can't create something of the size and scale of something we can create," he said. The idea that free-to-play will take over all other MMO business models, he said is, "from a business perspective, ridiculous."

Beyond SW: TOR, BioWare's Mythic branch is also operating Warhammer Online and Dark Age of Camelot, among others, so I asked how many MMOs BioWare - now a label itself under the EA name, encompassing eight studios around the world - could sustain. "I think it's the kinda thing that you can adjust the size of the business and what you're doing with it to make it a good investment," Zeschuk told me. While he admitted that "you don't want to be making a whole bunch of them [MMOs] at the same time," his view is that MMOs are a scalable business - this attitude is exemplified by BioWare's use of multiple studios to piece together The Old Republic, rather than massively scaling up a single location and potentially facing massive layoffs down the road.

Before moving off the subject, Muzyka managed to sneak in a bit of a tease regarding BioWare's future work in the free-to-play space. "You can re-imagine things and kinda envision them in different ways," he said of the business model's advantages. "We have some other stuff we haven't announced yet coming from our play-for-free team that I'm really excited about. It's gonna bring back some IP that people have a lot of fond memories around." As with most of our BioWare speculation, we're gonna go ahead and hope for some form of a Jade Empire "re-imagining." Pretty much anything Jade Empire, is what we're saying.

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