5 Ways EA Can Get SWTOR Free-to-Play Right
3. Make Buying Convenient
I fire up a game because I intend to play a game — not because I intend to shell out a lot of money in microtransactions. Players don’t want to be constantly bounced from the experience for which they’ve signed up in order to make purchases, but free-to-play games can fall into this trap really easily. Excessive menus, special locations, extra sign-in and authentication screens: all of them create roadblocks to players doing what they came to do.
Keep the purchases that are available to players convenient. Make it easy for me to buy something I want or need, apply it to the game, and skip off into the world with a new spiffy mount or custom lightsaber. I want those things when I want them, and I don’t want to put in my Origin password three times to get them (Origin has this problem on mobile, I feel like; I find myself re-signing in way too often).
Players are willing to pay for in-game items — just ask Valve, which has made crazy amounts of money on Team Fortress 2 hats; a lot more, in fact, than it made off selling the game. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from Team Fortress 2, but not the least of which is that making it easy to purchase things and continue enjoying the game we came for will make more people more willing to buy.
2. Make the Paying Part Worth It
Free-to-play games can have real trouble with value. Some swing too far one way, nickel-and-diming players for everything and making them pay for minor things just to keep the game going. Others go too far the other way, making the items you’d pay for feel useless or overly expensive — think Diablo 3 Auction House, where you can buy weapons, only to find better ones naturally in the game.
There are some important distinctions here. You don’t want players purchasing things like spiffed-up armors or weapons with real money, because that quickly gets you into pay-to-win territory. But there has to be a middle ground in which the options of things to pay for can be useful or interesting, without ruining the game or feeling like a waste.
Concentrate on making the things that we pay for feel like cool, exclusive bonuses. Not bonuses to our abilities that take the place of skill — bonuses to the experience, like additional, off-the-beaten-path content or faster-moving mounts or whatever. Players will pay for convenience, but that doesn’t mean the game should be inconvenient if you don’t pay. Make us feel cool for paying, and make other people wish they felt cool, and they’ll want to pay, too.
1. It’s All About Community
All these tips have been pointing to a single, very important notion: Without a sense of community, no one will want to play your game. And what’s more, an engaged community will like and enjoy the game much more and they’ll be much more willing to support it financially.
Great examples of this exist in games such as Tribes: Ascend and Team Fortress 2. Tribes manages to deliver a super-fun game and it never really asks you for money — so when you see something worth buying, it has an added positive connotation; I’d like to give back to this game what it has given to me, and I benefit from it.
In terms of TF2, Valve is always very engaged with its players, and even allows them to make stuff and participate in the economy. Valve keeps the in-game currency idea to a minimum, makes buying easy, and doesn’t let players buy stuff to make themselves better at the game.
The people playing Star Wars: The Old Republic like it. That’s pretty much a given. And while they might not want to pay by subscription, they’re largely not looking to rip anyone off. So don’t treat them as such; provide them with good opportunities to buy cool things, but don’t shove it down their throats. Engage with them so they know who you are, because players who know where their money is going and feel connected to the people receiving it are going to be much more on-board with parting with some cash.
I’m confident SWTOR can thrive under the conditions of free-to-play just as other games have, and indeed other MMOs have, like Lord of the Rings Online and DC Universe Online. Those games have learned tough lessons — LOTRO started out by selling armor with stats on it, and abandoned the practice when players voiced their discomfort with the idea. Learn from their examples and their missteps, and more than anything, treat the player like a member of a great club of people who like the game — not like customers on whose skulls you need to repeatedly rap, like desperate door-to-door salesmen.