One thing I neglected to mention in my last post (mainly because until about 5 o’clock the night of my post, I was completely unaware of it) is that Star Wars: The Old Republic’s patch 2.0 hit yesterday at midnight.
I expect that’s big news for the community, but unfortunately today’s post is going to focus on some of the disappointing monetization choices that the game makes.
Yesterday’s post included a link to a related article: GDC 2013: James Ohlen on how F2P saved SWTOR. The article’s title is a bit misleading, as the article really addresses how SWTOR took a disappointing launch and salvaged itself to become the western world’s “second biggest subscription MMO”. It does talk about the decision to head to a free-to-play (F2P) model; but only at the end of the article.
Now, I’m getting ready to rip SWTOR a proverbial “new one,” which has taken me some warming up to for a couple reasons. The first is that, for all I’m going to say about this game, I do genuinely enjoy playing it. Heck, there is a good – a VERY good – chance that I’ll end up dumping some money on this game. The second is that I’m generally an optimist (especially when coming to games). I don’t play games in my leisure time that I don’t like, and for the games that I don’t enjoy, it’s rare that I’d go out of my way to blast it.
All that said, I’m supremely disappointed by SWTOR’s “Free-to-Play” model. If you’re like me SWTOR dropped off your radar a couple months after it launched, and then re-emerged in your interest when it announced it was going free-to-play, and you cared about that for a little while, and then gave up on it again. I didn’t know exactly what “free-to-play” meant.
So the way SWTOR made their game free-to-play is by implementing a new currency called “Cartel Coins.” Except for a few minor non-repeatable exceptions, the only way of generating this currency in game is to pay real life money. Subscribers get a monthly ‘allowance’ of the coins based on their subscription preferences, and subscribers and non-subscribers alike can go to SWTOR’s online store and straight up buy Cartel Coins for money. Players cannot trade or sell their Cartel Coins with each other directly in-game, however, they can sell, trade and gift items purchased by these coins in-game.
Now for what you can use these coins for (and this is what really gets me).
As you can see they don’t mince words.
Cartel Coins give the player a distinct advantage. This goes far and beyond the Blizzard store selling cosmetics rewards such as vanity pets and mounts (though these are Cartel Coin purchases as well). The Cartel Coins gives players direct access to both sped up leveling and gear.
They even require Cartel Coins for access to more than 1 ‘quickbar’ (or bar to put abilities on) at a time…
What’s worse is that every step of the line, the game reminds you of how as a ‘free-to-player’, you’re missing out on experience from quests, mounts, and more. Every quest that you complete past level 10, the game reminds you that experience is being withheld (you still do get some experience from quests though), and nudges you to buy a subscription (removing the XP hamper) or pay some money to take off your experience parking boot.
Here’s a quote from James Ohlen at GDC 2013 (from the article I mentioned earlier):
“We had to come up with a system that made subscribers the core of the business,” Ohlen explained. “But we also had to have an option that brought in new players.”
Now, it’s not hard to see what they’re doing here. SWTOR is catering to their subscribers. Part of making sure their subscribers are happy is getting more people into the world. More people make for a better experience. Faster LFG queues, removing the ‘ghost town’ feeling, better server economies, etc. Basically, an MMO needs to be MM. Then, they do whatever they can to push their new F2P’ers into subscriber status. It’s not a bad business model – in fact I imagine it’s a fairly basic good business model.
But it’s not going to win SWTOR the gaming good-will it needs.
Which is a shame. My friends who have been playing this game in end-game content like the game – enough to subscribe. As someone new to the game though, with my highest character in the low teens, I can’t say that I’m sold. Like I said, I can see myself dropping some money on this game. It’s fun, and me and my kids really liked playing it together (they were sitting in my lap, glued to the screen the last couple times I played).
But, if I ever do give in and pay, it will be accompanied by a dirty shameful feeling of regret that I paid money for a virtual reward. I would much prefer to be enjoying the game so much that I decided – hey, I really like this game. I’ll help these guys out by paying for a cool lightsaber design or mount. (For a cool read on F2P done RIGHT, check out this PAR article).
That’s my unfortunate take on it all.