Gaming, Revisiting SWTOR, SWTOR — January 28, 2013 at 20:18

Revisiting SWTOR – Thoughts On F2P

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 SWTOR F2P Generic Logo

Does a year make a difference in a game? It should surprise nobody who listens to the CMP Podcast that I’m playing a new MMO this week. Replaying one in fact, one that I might have said I’d never play again. (I say that a lot, and I think it to myself even more.) This past week I hopped into SWTOR again for the first time since January 2012.

This time around I’m treating SWTOR as a single player RPG because that is where the game shines. Being rusty I rolled a new class to relearn how to play. Unlike my initial experience, I’m taking my time, listening to all the quests and in general I’m appreciating the game quite a bit more.

As expected, the RPG portion of SWTOR is truly excellent. The story is compelling and the game is produced to a very high standard. You can see where Bioware spent a lot of time and care on many aspects of the product. It shows in the character animations, worlds, their respective environments and the voice acting.

Bioware seems to have built the entire game with the idea that players will roll alts and replay the content over and over. The legacy system is very much geared to leveling multiple characters. The more characters you play to level cap the more rewards you can obtain, such as species unlocks and some global perks to help as you level more characters. There is an endgame to be sure, but it almost feels like they’d rather I just re-rolled and took a different character through the game over and over and over again.

SWTOR F2P Options

Free-to-play isn’t as bad as I thought, but it has some quirks. As a premium account holder I’m a step between free and full-blown subscriber. SWTOR is quite playable as a free game, but there are many restrictions that I can already tell will be tough to live with if I continue to play. For example, the credit cap is quite low — in fact it is lower than the required amount for many of the unlocks in the Legacy system. Sneaky.

Other limits are even more restrictive. I can only list 5 items for sale on the Trade Network (free players can only list 2). Subscribers can list 50. All of the instanced content has either severe restrictions or requires a paid weekly pass of some sort. Non-subscribers need to purchase an authorization to equip most of the best gear in the game. Speaking of gear, it is disappointing that free players must pay (over $10!) to equip the Artifact gear they obtain as rewards from playing the class story (and pvp). When is a reward not a reward? When you have to pay to use it. Bioware, you can do better than that.

And then there is the odd stuff: Free players get less quickbars. Free players cannot hide their helmet from displaying unless they purchase an unlock. Free players have to wait until level 15 to sprint. I’m used to F2P games putting restrictions on things to entice players to pay for unlocks, but some of the SWTOR restrictions seem designed to annoy rather than entice. And yes, you can pay for unlocks of many of the restrictions, sort of like LOTRO, for those who wish to play à la carte.

Or, you can simply subscribe and have no restrictions at all. And from what I’m seeing this is exactly what Bioware wants you to do. SWTOR feels very much like what it is: a subscription game with a F2P option and cash store tacked on as an afterthought rather than a F2P game with a compelling subscription option. Bioware seemingly has failed to embrace the spirit of F2P, possibly to the detriment of the game down the road.

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The Cartel Market (cash store) is very much what you’d expect in a F2P game. Unlocks, boosts, cosmetic items and random packs of digital goods are a few examples of the offerings. Many (possibly all?) of the Cartel Market goods can be sold on the player market for credits. Unlike some other games there is no way to earn Cartel Coins from playing the game — if you want them you have to buy them (or subscribe and get a monthly grant).

Seeing only eight US and nine EU servers now (plus three or so for the oceanic region) was quite the shock upon logging in. In this case less might be more: on Coruscant this weekend there were over two hundred and fifty players in my instance, with two or three other Coruscant instances available as well. You definitely see lots of other players, with all the good and bad that entails. The game now “feels” quite populated and the market is quite healthy and robust on my server.

So what difference does a year make? On one hand SWTOR is still an excellent game, especially the 1-50 leveling experience. I’m having a lot of fun again — important when you are playing a game. There is an upcoming expansion with a level cap increase and new class storyline to play. There have been consistent updates to the game and many tweaks and fixes. I’m seeing a lot of other players on the server. There is also a new Star Wars movie in production which should put a spotlight on the IP. All good signs.

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On the other hand, the failure to embrace F2P might prove to be a stumbling block down the road as the newness of F2P wears off and the endgame/replaying of content becomes stale. If everyone ends up subscribing (as Bioware seems to desperately want) my question becomes: what has really changed?. As a subscription game SWTOR was losing hundreds of thousands of players so they decided to convert the game to F2P. Now the game is F2P and they seem to be herding players in the direction of a subscription… It appears that SWTOR might be on the edge of an MMO death spiral of sorts unless they make some radical alterations to make F2P more palatable and player-friendly.

Is SWTOR worth (re)playing? In my case the answer looks something like this: fantastic IP + fun game + good story + excellent production values > questionable business model + poor F2P execution + bad reputation.

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4 Comments

  1. Excellent post Brian but I have to disagree with you on a few points but mostly about the f2p aspect of the game now.
    While Bioware have done the stupid part from a money making sense and gave away the entire story for free (which is the strongest part of the game), they have made the game free in the sense that you don’t NEED anything from the store to play the game from 1-50, enjoy the story-line and then start again and experience the next class story.
    I have played the game from launch day and always subscribed. I don’t subscribe because I feel like I need to, but more because I want to make this game a success and wish to keep the game running for as long as possible by lending financial support in the form of a subscription. I could quite happily drop down from the subscription to the preferred status and not feel like I am missing out on anything. I do enjoy running flash-points but I don’t grind instances 24/7 for gear so running the 3 available weekly flash-points is fine for me. PvP I also enjoy but I’m more than happy to spend my time in the open areas for PvP, be it Tatooine or Ilum. If I want to play warzones, I can play 5 per week, which is again quite substantial for my play style.
    With the changes coming to Ilum with the next update, open world PvP will hopefully increase and make the game much better from a PvP point of view.

    Despite our different opinions on the f2p store and restrictions, we both agree that the ip is awesome and the story is fantastic. For me, that’s the most important part.

  2. You can’t seriously expect them to give the game for free when EA is already up Biowares ass to turn some profits. A pure F2P system would have been too big a leap, they’d be kicking out their niche subscriber market which has been their main source of income since release. And to keep the subscription base stable, they had to of course penalize F2P and Preferred enough. As a vigilant subscriber I have been constantly tempted to go Preferred, which is saying something. You can buy EVERYTHING with credits, which are extremely easy to acquire. The only thing keeping me subscribing nowadays is endgame raiding and PvP. The rest of the stuff you complain about is void, it is way too easy to switch to F2P as it is. You can easily make enough credits in a week to pay for your warzone/operation passes, I just went on the GTN and saw 80k credits for unlimited raiding for 7 days, 200k for unlimited PvP for 7 days. 10 PvP matches take 2 hours and will net you 500k credits once you have cybertech. You can also buy unlocks from players with crafting materials (bypassing the credit limit).
    Essentially, you can play the whole damn game for free, the only thing you’re stuck with is the credit and commendation limits (for now).

    • A curious argument. I can “expect” them to follow a pure F2P system as you put it. Turbine managed it with LOTRO and it did not impact upon core subscribers.
      Blanket statements such as “You can buy EVERYTHING with credits, which are extremely easy to acquire.” do not wash. It is dependent on time, the player and a multitude of other factors

  3. I found that the f2P and “preferred” status player that I am, going back to SWTOR was horrific. I feel like EA/Bioware where breathing down my neck saying pay PAY PAY! to enjoy this game you have to PAY.

    I found that this constant struggle to find the game enjoyable as at every turn I was asked to pay more money. The crux came when i was asked to pay for quest rewards Sorry but that is just laughable.

    I laughed and I uninstalled and went to The Secret World where Funcom have changed to a pay once to play model done way better than EA’s condescending, greedy “third class citizen style F2P model” where Funcoms cash shop just “boost pots” and clothes for a couple of points and doesnt ram it down my throat at every turn, even giving me a mass of points FOR FREE at one point in Kingsmouth enough to buy a new outfit or a few boosts pots/permanent buffs. Funcom learned from AoC unchained and I am totally loving TSW bat shit craziness and Guild Wars Style pay once for the game model.

    EA/Bioware – F2P done badly to the detriment of a really decent Single player /Coop RPG.

    Wont be going back to the SWTOR universe

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