The failings of the SWTOR free to play conversion
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.