In Defense of The Old Republic's Subscription Launch

Arguing that a free-to-play launch might have been more harmful than beneficial for BioWare and EA, Simon Ludgate has penned a small editorial on Gamasutra's blog section. Considering how many "what went wrong" pieces and opinions we've read, I thought you might be interested in it:
I think there are two very different issues at hand here: could Star Wars: The Old Republic have been designed to be a good game worthy of a subscription, and is the version of SWTOR that actually exists worthy of a subscription. I'm not going to tackle the first issue in this article: I'm not going to talk about game design flaws or how things might have been. Instead, I'm going to take a marketing viewpoint: if this is the product I have in my hands, how do I make the most money from it?

Launching as a subscription game means selling lots of boxes and profit-boosting collector's editions and it means 100% monetization rate in terms of required subscription fees. That is to say that everyone playing the game is giving you some money; and arguably pretty decent money at that. Even if people are just curious and want to try out the game, you're getting that boxed game sale or digital download edition, which is more than a month's subscription.

On the one hand, you could see people buying the game and not continuing to subscribe as a big negative. On the other hand, you could see this as a positive: (at least we got the game sale.)

So what would the landscape have looked like if the game had launched F2P? All those hundreds of thousands of people who bought the game and never subscribed wouldn't have bought the game and never subscribed. In other words, the subscription launch monetized people who probably wouldn't have been monetized in any way from a F2P launch.

I'd also be willing to argue that a lot of those million-plus people who did subscribe wouldn't have in the hybrid-freemium F2P model currently proposed for SWTOR.

Launching as a paid-box-and-subscription game means a lot of extra income up front, followed by potentially dwindling revenue as people figure out whether or not your game is worth paying a subscription to play. So here's the kicker: if you already know your game isn't going to be worth paying a subscription and you already know you'll have to switch to a F2P life support system, you may still be better off launching as a subscription game.

The trick is whether or not you have a license people will buy. And SWTOR has that.