When Rise of the Hutt Cartel was turned into a free goodie for subscribers last month, I remember seeing a couple of people comment that this might be a sign of a) another expansion coming out soon, and b) Bioware considering giving away future expansions for free (or at least including them as part of the subscription). Personally I didn't think that either of those sounded particularly likely, but as it turns out these commenters were right. Last night a press release was posted on the official site to announce "Galactic Starfighter", a new expansion that is planned to release as early as December. And unlike Rise of the Hutt Cartel, it's going to be completely free from the start and available to everyone; release will just be staggered so that subscribers get access earlier.
Its main (and only, to be honest) selling point is 12 vs. 12 freeform space combat. Now, this is something that a lot of people have been asking for pretty much since the game's launch, and as a result, overall reactions to the announcement have been very positive from what I've seen. This is good! For me personally however... this whole thing is pretty meh to be honest. I've written about why I don't really do space combat, and it's got nothing to do with the current system being on rails. It's just not my cup of tea. I'll try to keep an open mind of course and will probably give the new space PvP a try at least... but I don't really expect it to grab me.
What I personally found the most interesting about this whole announcement are the semantics. Back when Rise of the Hutt Cartel was announced, I was already very sceptical about calling that an expansion, because it didn't seem to bring enough to the table to really be worthy of the title. (To be fair, in hindsight I feel that it did introduce enough changes to be indeed worthy of being called an expansion... though perhaps an "expansion light".) This Galactic Starfighter thing on the other hand... from everything I've read, the new space PvP is going to be all there is to it. More levels? Nope. Any PvE? Nope. How is that any different from a big patch then? In fact, as someone who isn't into space combat, this "expansion" will likely add less to the game for me than any of the major patches have done so far. Where's the distinction between patch and expansion then, other than semantics, especially if both are free?
I wonder if they are now trying to go for a model along the lines of EVE Online's, which releases free "expansions" all the time as well. (Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong about any of this, as I don't actually play EVE.) The important difference is of course that EVE is a sandbox game so expectations for what qualifies as a significant content addition are very different. I'm not sure that calling a big patch an expansion every now and then is going to do quite the same thing for a theme park MMO.