I’ve been thinking recently about free to play (v subscription) MMOs and leveling groups. In the past I’ve posted a number of times about issues with keeping a group of characters in-step as part of a static leveling group. It’s just not that easy, missing a single session can leave your character languishing just too low to join in on a run of dungeon A or zone B.
If that wasn’t bad enough (and frustrating when you want to play your character but the whole group isn’t available!), then you add in the differences between free to play and subscription experience gain rates and there’s actually a serious issue here for leveling groups.
Certainly with SWTOR experience gain is very much a benefit of subscribing. So if you subscribe you have the XP penalty of being free to play removed (i.e. you can gain rested experience bonus). If anyone in a SWTOR group chooses to not follow the same option (whether the group starts all free to play or all subscriber) then they’ll quickly get out of step. There is an XP boost consumable in SWTOR, but that only muddies the water further; an all subscriber group might want to use these to quickly level to cap, but then one free to play player would fall behind even if using that same consumable (no rested bonus). Does Bioware realise that this causes an actual disincentive for me to ever re-subscribe? I’m playing with two friends, neither of which intends to subscribe. Yet if I did subscribe I’d need a way to slow down XP gain or I’d be getting ahead of them constantly? This same issue of throttling experience gain for non-subscribers affects LOTRO and Tera incidentally.
A similar situation in DDO ended my enthusiasm for a leveling group, but it was related to content rather than rate of experience gain. Subscribers had access to all of the dungeons, but free to play players had to unlock the majority of content per character. So if I’d ever re-subscribed I’d be faced with lots of lovely and interesting dungeons that my two friends couldn’t access – yes I could buy one-off guest passes for them but that was a pretty expensive way of keeping us interested in such a grind-heavy game.
This isn’t about wanting it all for free. I would suggest that one of the best ways for developers to grow their playerbase is to make their games welcoming to “refer a friend” group play. I find it regrettable that playing with friends somehow doesn’t mesh very well with the supposed freedom for a given player to drop in and out of subscription. I don’t think the benefits (a.k.a inducements) to taking a subscription over free to play should include faster leveling progress.