Here’s something interesting about the MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR): If the game had stuck with its original $15/month subscription model, it probably would’ve died a long time ago.
Thankfully, Electronic Arts (EA) — the game’s publisher — saw the writing on the wall as early as 2012, a year after the game’s release, and transitioned SWTOR to a free-to-play business model. Now, anyone can download and play the game without spending a dime, albeit with some restrictions. To supplement earnings, EA also introduced an in-game store where players can buy all sorts of cosmetic and consumable items (clothing, mounts, weapons, etc.) with real-world money.
The switch was highly profitable. Within a year, EA revealed that SWTOR’s monthly earnings had doubled.
Here’s why: Sure, people love the MMORPG gameplay loop of chasing after ever-more-powerful items. But rather than playing the game to earn those items, many players will gladly fork over tens of hundreds of dollars for the same privilege. And EA knows this all too well.
SWTOR’s Cartel Market utilizes many classic buying-psychology tricks of the trade: 24-hour flash sales, randomized loot crates, and discounted bundles. But the main force behind SWTOR’s successful microtransaction model might be the “force” itself.
Star Wars is a megalithic intellectual property, and Disney’s acquisition of the franchise has spawned countless new spin-off shows. There’s The Mandalorian, The Bad Batch, something soon-to-be-released called Ahsoka — I can’t even keep up anymore. Before Disney, alternative Star Wars stories were largely relegated to novels and comics. But due to the mainstream adoption and wealth of new, accessible content, today’s Star Wars fans are being bombarded with all kinds of exciting new characters and locales.
All of this delicious Star Wars brain food is creatively stimulating. And that itch to “imagineer” might lead some fans to SWTOR, where they can create the character of their dreams and find their place in the galaxy. All of the iconic character classes are there, so SWTOR has springboards for all kinds of characters: Watched The Mandalorian and want to be a badass bounty hunter a la Boba Fett? You can. Like The Bad Batch and want to insert yourself into the esteemed Republic Trooper ranks? You can. Want to create a samurai-esque lightsaber-wielder as seen in Star Wars: Visions? You can.
Trouble is, SWTOR is an MMORPG. Fleshing out your character takes time, and piecing together the perfect outfit might mean wading through hundreds of hours of gameplay. That could be a deal-breaker for people with time-intensive jobs and lives.
But thankfully, with SWTOR’s Cartel Market, these players don’t have to wait: All they have to do is fork over some cash for the perfect in-game items, and they’ll be one step closer to having the Star Wars character of their dreams!
It’s an ingenious business model that banks on the creative spirit Star Wars invigorates in so many. In fact, SWTOR character creation is so popular that players often jokingly refer to the game as “Space Barbie.”
Which reminds me, I gotta go buy a skimpy outfit for my character.
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