Zabrak Jedi giving up Video Games

The failings of the SWTOR free to play conversion


Zabrak Jedi giving up

That’s it; I’m out!

On November 15, 2012 there was a great disturbance in the Force. It was as if millions of voices suddenly cried out “are you serious” because they had tried to play the new free to play version of Star Wars The Old Republic. The conversion of SWTOR from a subscription model to a free to play (F2P) model should be used as a guideline for how not to grow your player base. What they’ve really done, in my opinion, is tried to further promote the subscription model (which wasn’t working) by allowing people to play through the well crafted stories of SWTOR, but with so many frustrating limitations being placed on players that only subscription in one form or another could alleviate. Microtransactions are being added to supplement subscriptions, not replace them. No matter how much money a person puts into the cash shop of the game, they will never be able to have the same experience as a subscriber.

A matter of perspective

I want to start by offering the best attempt I can think of to counter my own claim. The most positive way to look at this is to approach the completely free version as the base model for the game and to think of everything else as a bonus or luxury that is purchased. To do this, you have to ignore what the game was under a subscription model because subscribers now sit at the top tier of premium service. However, from this perspective the game seems to lack any desire to really hook new players. Their ability to communicate with other players starts out being highly limited. They’re not even  allowed to whisper other players that may be looking to form a group for heroic content on the starting planets which should be their first taste of the social interaction side of the game. All of that interaction must be done in the general chat channel and even then they can only chat a maximum of once per minute. Subscribers and preferred players (those that have spent at least $4.99 in the cash shop as well as former subscribers) get the luxury of chatting freely as a bonus. This is just one example of bonus content for subscribers. Others would include the ability to expand their inventory using in game credits as well as the ability to use a fully unlocked cargo hold (5 tabs of bank storage for extra items), to use up to 6 quickbars, and even the ability to choose to hide the graphic for their head slot item all without additional cost.

The cost of keeping up

Playing as a completely free player is nearly crippling in this game. They have no access to storage, are limited to 2 quickbar slots (mapping a total of 24 abilities), may have 1 crafting skill (i.e. cannot gather and craft), cannot participate in raid content, earn experience points more slowly, are allowed to accrue no more than 200,000 credits in game, and may revive in the field only 5 times among other issues. If they don’t wish to subscribe, but are willing to put some money down, then some of these problems can be fixed through purchasing unlocks in the cash shop. However, the cost of doing so to completely unlock many (yet still not all) features will cost nearly as much as a 6 month subscription. Thankfully just purchasing cartel coins in order to start buying these unlocks in game will confer the status of “preferred” which comes with a second crafting skill, greater access to chat, access to 1 cargo hold tab, higher priority in the log in queue, and an increase in credit limits to 350,000. This still leaves a ridiculous amount of things to buy if you want to reach anything close to a subscriber level of access in the game. Some assumptions have been made in my calculations that may not apply to everyone’s personal tastes, so feel free to modify this to your own needs:

  • Use event equipment (equipment from seasonal or special events)- 175
  • Use artifact equipment (purple or better level) -1200
  • Crew member appearance customization – 325
  • Guild bank access – 600
  • Trade network slots – 125 per 10 slots (5x max)
  • Additional Quickbars – 250 each (4 max)
  • Inventory module – 175 per 10 slots (5 max)
  • Additional Bank tabs – 475 each (4 max)
  • Third crew skill slot – 420
  • Race unlocks 600 each (unlocking only 2 because of character creation limit)
  • Display titles – 100
  • Hide head slot – 350
  • Unify equipment colors – 350
  • Display Legacy name – 100

The total is 9,220 cartel coins. If you are thrifty, you can acquire 9,400 cartel coins for only $74.96 and have an extra 180 coins to play with. Of course, a 6 month subscription can be had for $77.94 and if you use a security key, that subscription will also provide you with 4,200 cartel coins.

Can’t have it all

Even after paying for all of those unlocks a player still cannot match the amount of luxury afforded to a subscriber. Preferred players are still limited to 2 characters (additional character slots cannot be purchased at this time), no ability to mail credits, no rested xp, higher prices from vendors, slower access to vehicles, lower xp and valor gains, and no access to in-game customer service. Other options are limited such as only receiving full rewards from 3 flashpoints per week, only being allowed to play in 5 warzones and 3 space missions per week, and no access to operations (raid content). Of course, those can be mitigated if you buy weekly passes for each. Those only cost 240 cartel coins each per week (so up to 960 per week) for unlimited access to those features. Add to that the option of buying more medical probes (5 probes for 500 cartel coins) and you may end up with a pretty sizable monthly bill.

They hate freeloaders

This is, to put it bluntly, the most idiotic attempt at a free to play game that I have personally played. At no point have I ever played a game that was frustrating and limiting and thought that what I really need to do is give them money. It’s a game I downloaded for free and it isn’t fun, so I’m just going to uninstall it and find something else to play. I give money to free to play games that are fun whether I give them money or not. Taking a game that was having difficulty getting subscribers to stick around to begin with and making it frustrating to new players in hopes that they’ll subscribe seems really counter-intuitive to me. Look, I don’t have a marketing research team working for me, I just write down my opinions and put them on the net. If there’s some grand financial plan, I sure can’t see what it is. If anyone is playing on a free basis and disagrees with me, please comment below and let me know. I would honestly enjoy hearing from someone that has a different take on this because I would really like to stop being disgusted by what they’re trying to pass off as a free to play game.

  • This is disappointing in light of many F2P MMOs (a couple of them actually not terrible) that are pretty liberal with what they let free players do, *because they know that microtransactions are potentially more valuable than subscriptions.* That is the whole point of F2P, to make microtransaction money and encourage people to become invested enough in a game that they would even consider a subscription–something that won’t happen if there is a paywall. If the developer makes the free version of a game absolutely suck, they’re really unlikely to attract this already reluctant user base.

    • That’s actually a large part of my point. They already tried doing a trial version to get people hooked. I don’t have any numbers on the success of that, but I would presume that if it had gone well they wouldn’t have done all of the server consolidation and implemented this f2p hybrid. However, if they were having trouble getting people to subscribe before, I can’t imagine how making a game more limited and frustrating for new players is supposed to encourage subscription. There are far better (at least in terms of player freedom) free to play games out there.

  • rewW

    If the developers do not make money somehow, then we will never receive the support that we want from them. We will not get new content (it takes money to create content geniuses). We will not get the tech support we may need when encountering glitches, or bugs, or maybe even when we are being trolled! The point is, Bioware and EA need money to continually make the game fun, and enjoyable for all. I personally just started playing when it went FTP, and I am having tons of fun. I think it is a wonderful game, very polished, and the only game that I have played that could actually compete with the king (World of Warcraft). Not only is it a great game, but they released it as FTP at the perfect time, with the release of GW2 and MOP (which of my opinion both flopped.
    Simply this whole post annoys me, I feel like if you do not like it you shouldn’t play it. There is nothing to question here, Bioware and EA have done a great job with converting the game to FTP, and have expanded their community, and their pockets ;p; BUT WE NEED THEM TO EXPAND THEIR POCKETS TO GET MORE CONTENT!!!!!!! SO STOP BITCHING, AND EMBRACE THE LOVE!

    • There is an interesting contradiction in your points. You clearly enjoy the game and make a case for how desperately the publisher needs money even though you’re only playing because it went to a free model. However you also say “…I feel like if you do not like it you shouldn’t play it” which is really the problem here. If it doesn’t appeal to a larger audience, then they won’t play. If they’re not playing, then no money is being generated.
      The idea is that this game still isn’t really a free to play model. A free to play model would rely on the ability to make money via microtransactions (in this case the cartel market) instead of continuing to require a monthly subscription to fully access the game.
      I am a bit curious about what your criteria is to say that Guild Wars 2 and the Mists of Pandaria expansions “both flopped”.

  • Kurkina

    First of all, I have nothing against micro-transaction models, where those who spend money have an advantage in an otherwise F2P MMO than those who don’t.

    That said, I believe F2P models should not force one to unlock anything and everything, form group content to bank slots to crew skills to cosmetic features to task bars. The problem with SWTOR in its F2P iteration is that they are crippling the free players so much that they are more likely to walk away than to explore further and perhaps pay something down the line.

    Sure, it’s nice that you can download a game and play through the story for free, no complaints there, but that is not what this game is about, it’s about all the MMO features that are locked from the outset, and I don’t believe that their model offers enough incentive to come on board as a paying player.

  • Kurkina

    “I feel like if you do not like it you shouldn’t play it.”

    This statement has become the standard reply to criticism in the gaming world. But it is a reply that stifles constructive discussion that can make a game better in a growing community. Online games are not static, they evlove and expand and ultimately should reflect the needs of the community. If we adopt a “Love it or Walk Away” criteria, there is no room for growth and discussion.

    • I completely agree that there needs to be discussion if there is to be growth. It is unfortunate that so many promising games that use a free to play model are exceedingly easy to just walk away from. Even more so when supporters of the current state of these games just yell at you to go away and stop criticizing.

  • The only issues I have with F2P is the XP is to slow in being earned and I wish I could use the Crew Skills. When playing the missions by yourself you may have done all the missions you can on your own, but the next story mission might be at too high a level for your character. It also took me forever to figure out the F2P model was the only reason I couldn’t get the Crew Skills to work properly. The STWOR website isn’t all that great when its easier to GOOGLE the answer.

  • The Exile

    Despite all these stupid restrictions, I’m still playing the game F2P for the time being because my love for the game outstrips my annoyance at the restrictions and because my intention always has been to subscribe eventually. I get that you get access to such huge amounts of content basically for free, but at the same time you’re being forced to pay and being punished if you don’t.

    The 5 med probes really angers me. Its very inconvenient especially when I’m doing a HEROIC mission or a flashpoint and i end up dying and i either have to wait to be revived, or go back to a med center which can then make it take ages to get back there.

    Everything is far more expensive but you still only get a cap of 200,000 credits, meaning it can eat huge chunks out of me when i have to just purchase abilities for my character.

    I know its still in its early days, but i really hope to God they wise up and alleviate some of these restrictions, because people are left with the option of either cough up money and/ or subscribe or just quit.

    . As long as they provide worthwhile stuff in the cartel market, people will spend the money to buy.

  • Cymerian

    BE FOREWARNED: I’m an avid role player and my viewpoint comes from that.

    I go back and forth on playing it. Or rather I WENT back and forth. I used to pay so I know what its like to have all the shineys and whatnots, but this article nails it on the head: the ludicrous nature of some of the limitations/restrictions and what it’s like to be a f2p member of this game.

    My latest (perhaps last) experience in SWTOR:
    I expressed my frustration in game about the med probes (one of the stupidest ideas) and I was told “Well subscribe to the game then.” Even after offering up alternative suggestions to the cause of my irritation, that’s the response from the PLAYERS of the game. We both tolerated each others different opinions, but that is just one reflection of the game’s producers/developers/financiers’ attitude towards f2p members of their game. Even on their website you can only post on the forums if you are a subscribing member. F2P members literally can’t express their concerns/opinions/reports of bugs about the game’s official channels. So the point made in another comment is right: I don’t like it, so I will not play it. I also will not suggest others to play it, or try it, or pay for it. Let it close and then try it a better way.

    Just a RPer looking for supportive mmo-RP-gs.

  • DWhite

    Hey i just started playing the game myself. I agree that the F2P module lacks any real value to commit futher. However you have to also look at the MMO community aswell.

    The F2P module was intended to get people to try the story. You’re getting a single player game for free, that’s the idea. It’s to also there to show you the community, and let you see how the mechanic’s are done and behave differently then others. Honestly i think the largest goal here was to get WoW player’s to try the game, and feel at home… only with lightsaber’s.

    NOW… you have to envision what the already exsisting player base would do with a F2P module. It’s no secrete when it come’s to the dedicated, they have MORE then 1 account. So it now become’s important for the developer’s to prevent abuse by these individual’s. If you actually look at the restriction put towards the F2P module, aside from convience, they all lean towards making it difficult to having a second account, without them still getting their due.

    Honestly though, as a MMO player, or even a gamer. The value in a game is the time put into it. I make close to 30 dollar’s an hour, so if something easily engages me for that and plus, I’ll throw them the cash. It’s like old school pirating philosophy… if you liked the product, you bought it. That was before kid’s discovered the internet.

    I don’t know honestly if i’ll play the game for more then 2 month’s though. It’s fun for the time being, and it keep’s me occupied while i wait for thing’s more entertaining to enjoy. Not to mention unlike other MMO’s, I DONT have to do the credit grind just to go faster. I rather trade a minute of my time for convience, then an hour farming. It’s an acceptable practice, we’ve always paid more for convience, granted still new in games.

    That being said…
    I really wish SoE wasn’t a complete mess of a company.
    NOW THAT’S A COMPANY… not to support.
    What a dissappointment PS2 was.

  • Late to the comments here but I agree entirely with your post. I played SWTOR from about April 2012 through about April 2013, so over the f2p transition. I played as a subscriber the entire time because I could thankfully afford it and because I really don’t care for their f2p model. The basic philosophy seems to be to annoy the players enough to subscribe. That’s not a game, that’s some sort of recreational blackmail. I moved to GW2 and while I occasionally pine for the SWTOR universe, I really enjoy both GW2 MMO implementation (great pvp, any zone at any level is a challenge, much better gear and char models, etc.). I also like their model: while I do buy things in the gem store, I feel it is for fun, not to make the game playable.

  • Epyon Moon

    some one said it earlier…..that its Bio-Ware and EA Games need for money…..though it’s more EA than Bio-Ware……the the two games that this MMO is based off of…..Knights of the Old Republic.

    The First games was great….yes some glitch issues but those were easily solved….as a whole it was a great game…..

    THEN came the second game……this one has EA’s stamp all over it…..the game was having a lot of major issues and was already over budget… instead of fixing the issues and making the whole game better; EA tells Bio-Ware to complete the game and send it out…..basically EA just wanted to wash it’s hand of the game, but still wanting to recoup some of the money they put into the game….so they sent the order to ship out a woefully inferior and incomplete game……and the Fans hated it. sure they released an update that was supposed to fix the problems but…..i never did.

    EA has a long and extensive track record of doing this……before SWTOR was released I’m sure many of you remember the Mass Effect 3 debacle.

    for those of you who don’t know….the Mass Effect 3 team was nearing the project launch date, almost everything was done BUT the ending, so instead of pushing the release back; like any fan-centric company would, EA again sent out “Order EA”, so the two Lead developers: not the WHOLE team, locked themselves in a room and spewed out the ended that was at the end of the game…….and again……the Fans hated it… they LOATHED IT. if you want a better explanation look up >Mass Effect 3 “Indoctrination Theory”< on YouTube

    Long after the "Mass Cluster-Fuck" the ME3 Team released the "Extended Ending" which didn't add anything except a 5-10 min picture montage and an audio explanation of what happened after the ending scenes……..basically what a larger percentage of the fans consider a Humongous "FUCK YOU!"

    to Sum up…..because of the conglomerate that EA has become……if it releases a shitty game, 99% of time….it's EA's fault……………….Hell they were sued over one of the NDS soccer games…..the game had the same GUI as the previous year's release of the same title, the ONLY thing that was different was the team rosters.

    so like i said…..Blame EA, cause its most likely their fault, and Bio-ware is just the red-headed computer monkey that gets beaten when it does something that EA doesn't like

    • YYYY

      Did you seriously just claim people hated KOTOR2? Because I don’t know anyone who did.

      Both KOTOR1 and KOTOR2 were solid games, that had a few glitches, but everyone was willing to live with the glitches because the game was otherwise great.

      SWTOR annoys/blackmails you into subscribing. Seriously, when I found out that you couldn’t even WHISPER people in F2P, I was left scratching my head. What bullshit, there is no other MMO on this planet where you can’t whisper people in F2P.