SWTOR’s Free-To-Play Pros, Cons, and WTFs


Star Wars: The Old Republic went free-to-play last week in a bid to draw back lapsed subscribers and to entice new ones to sample the game. But in the rush to retrofit the game into a F2P model, BioWare offered returning players a stripped down model of the game that may have doomed this AAA title.

The Haves and Have-nots

What do you get for free? Two character slots, two hotkey bars, an in-game currency cap, and access to the full class quest lines. These kinds of restrictions are fairly standard with other MMO F2P models.

What don’t you get? No ability to send mail, no priority on login queue, reduced crafting capability, inability to equip high-end (Artifact-level) gear, no bank access, restricted chat access, inability to loot high level gear from group instance, slower experience gain, higher vendor costs, no rested exp, and the list goes on. Of course, many of these features can be purchased (some only temporarily) through the Cartel system. Though some of these restrictions are commonplace among other MMOs, all together these leave you with a very confining experience of a game they are trying to get you to pay full price for.

Once you do give in and spend at least $5 on Cartel Coins (SWTOR’s microtransaction currency) you get bumped up to Preferred status. This grants you some banks space, complete chat access, a second crafting profession, a higher credit cap and a few more perks. But all those other restrictions listed above are still firmly in place.

Free-to-Pay Would Be More Accurate

I’m not going to say there is a right or wrong way to do free-to-play. Instead I’m going to say there is a way to make players feel like they are getting value and are inclined to spend a few extra bucks for more and there’s a way to make players feel like second-class citizens unless they pay up. And I think you know which way I feel SWTOR went with last week’s free-to-play conversion.

BioWare chose a F2P model that gives you but a taste of the game, as it should, but instead of leaving you wanting more, it leaves you feeling frustrated and irritated.  Think two hotkey bars are enough? Wait until you hit level 30 and have more abilities than slots. That’s not incentivizing you to play for convenience, that’s crippling your play unless you pay up.

Shouldn’t the studio get paid for the time, money, and effort they put into the game? Of course, but it’s not going to get people to pay by locking them in a straight jacket and insisting they pay to get out. Some of the more successful MMO cash shops sell convenience and content, not critical game features on a temporary basis.

Can SWTOR Be Saved?

The bigger issue BioWare is facing with F2P is one of perception. If you played the game as a subscriber when it launched, coming back to check it out in free-to-play mode delivered double disappointment. All the flaws that drove you from the game still remain and now you experience them again this time with drastically crippled access to critical game features. New free-to-play players may find it more palatable to be without many of the game features, but they are going to hit the wall well before they get through the 50 levels of class quests advertised as free.

SWTOR devs have stated that they are going to tweak the F2p service restrictions in Update 1.6, but I fear it is too late. Those that they had a chance to lure back have already come and gone. Only those who never bought before and are thinking of trying it now will dip their toes in. And whether or not those who do stay and pay can keep the game afloat along with the diehard monthly paid subscribers remains to be seen.

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11 Comments on SWTOR’s Free-To-Play Pros, Cons, and WTFs

Kevin

On November 21, 2012 at 4:54 pm

And this goes back to their fundamental problem: they sold themselves on the idea that the reason people didn’t like the game was that it had a 15 dollar subscription. People didn’t like the game because they judged it to be an inferior product.

The couple million people that bought the game knew they were getting a subscription based service. This wasn’t a case of being surprised, and then saying “if it was F2P I’d be a huge fan.”

That turns out to have been as accurate as Dean Chambers “Unskewed Polls” which predicted a Romney landslide of roughly 380 electoral votes.

Zach

On November 21, 2012 at 8:57 pm

I tried to go back to the game when it went f2p but after all of 10mins i quit again. My 3200 cartel coins were not funded my account it would not let me create my second character (supposed to be able to have two server wide) and i only had one, and the worst part I couldn’t open a ticket in game so made one on the website only to have them tell 48hrs later me i needed to call them. I had a problem back when swtor started (authentication code) and i was on hold on the phone for over an hr before i got my call answered….

Swtor wasn’t even that great to begin with other than the vo, not worth spending an hr of my time just to get to talk to someone who probably wont be able to help me. ill stick with blizzard their customer service is unmatched when it comes to mmos i have had my account hacked before and they were able to get me access to my account and put all the gear/gold i was missing back on my characters within 5 mins of me calling them no didn’t even get put on hold…

MrFlibble

On November 21, 2012 at 9:16 pm

I’d say that if I had the game I bought and played but didn’t have to pay a sub for I’d happily buy all the knick nacks and novelty items to my heart’s content, but the current implementation feels like a slap in the face to anyone who had subscribed at some point in time. As it stands it makes the game harder to enjoy as every few minutes you’re reminded of the fact that you no longer have many of the things you once did, and you’d have to pay more money for things you already had but lost.

Overall It’s turned me off. I might play a few times a week just to eventually complete one character’s story, but there’s no way I’m gonna sink a single dime into the cash shop. They could have done so much better.

Axetwin

On November 21, 2012 at 9:39 pm

I read the article you linked to, Dan. It keeps me cynically hopeful for the future of this game. I found Blaine to be condescending (heh, Blaine is a pain (brownie points if you get the reference)), but there was some stuff in there that suggests a step in the right direction. Of course that step completely hinges on EA listening to the right people. Like I said on a previous article, theres a lot of people on TOR official forums bitc…er….complaining about how the game isnt restrictive enough for free players.

As for the issue of “is the damage done and is it irreparable?”, nah, as long as gaming sites like this continue to write about each new updates, word will get out there if EA get their head on straight, and players will come back. Heck, look at DDO, their initial f2p model was AWFUL and yet they bounced back.

Aids

On November 21, 2012 at 9:54 pm

EA and most companies seem to think people are stupid or can blind side them. Many of us learned back in the days of nintendo or atari if something is good we keep it and we will play it again and again. Just because you can EXTREME advertise tits to nerds on the internet, doesn’t change that cold hard fact that if your product sucks and most feel that way. Many of us still aren’t going to play it.

Get to work you lazy monkeys and stop wasting time and money with this useless videos. Why do you think lot of people haven’t gotten windows 8 either? Hmmm, guess we don’t buy things for the Corporate brand name after all now do we.

Maay

On November 21, 2012 at 10:11 pm

@axetwin
couldn’t agree more

R.J.

On November 21, 2012 at 11:50 pm

@Kevin.

I completely agree. For whatever reason, going into this the company said something like, “price was always a problem.” Unless people that ended their subscriptions actually said in the ‘reason for cancellation’ section that they were waiting for F2P, I can’t see where they got this idea. It’s not like the subscription was a big secret. I really doubt if people would buy a game, pay a fee for a few months, and then quit if it was really the price that was the problem.

When they played up how the whole game was voiced and stuck the Bioware name on it, a lot of people were looking for KOTOR 3 or at least something fairly novel for an MMO, and yet they got another WoW with Star Wars trappings. This seems like a much bigger issue than a subscription fee.

Rhiaden

On November 24, 2012 at 11:39 am

I was actually expecting to come back and stay F2P, but, having spent a few days in it, I decided to resub. The restriction that did it for me was the character limit, I want to play each classes story through, and thats not possible on F2P.

I am pleased I resubbed though, coming back reminded me how much I enjoyed the storylines

Jaco

On November 26, 2012 at 12:39 am

@ Rhiaden

I have never played when it was sucriber based (although alot of my friends that are Star wars fans have) Since it went free-to-play i joined up and the impression i get from the game is exactly what you did.

With free-to-play they are trying to irritate you into subbing. But thats where the problem lies even while subbing everything else still sucks.

Aredyl

On December 20, 2012 at 1:35 am

I played ToR when it launched. It left me with the impression that Bioware and EA did not understand the MMO market at all. It felt like they put most of their energy into the leveling content with very little consideration for “end-game” content.

PvP had the right ideas, but technical hiccups caused it to be unbearable (I could sit in the major hub with zero graphical issues, but once i entered a pvp match, I bogged down whenever someone was nearby).

Group instances were a pain to run, waiting hours for a group to form, especially if you were a dps. Instance mechanics were obscure at times, leading to wipes and frustration.

Space missions were basic vehicle sections that left very little control to the player – point and shoot until the vehicle ran its course.

With the FTP model, Bioware/EA appear to be in a “desperation mode” – trying to drain every little penny out of people or get them to subscribe. Charging for stuff that is commonly found free in other FTP MMOs is a horrible idea – how is it truly a “FTP” if you have to pay for essentials, such as action bars or using higher-end gear (not buying the gear, but using the gear that you find)? After reading quite a few reviews on what they now charge for, I have no reason to try it again, but with significantly less features. Thanks, Bioware and EA, for taking a great franchise, turning it into the largest MMO disappointments over the last couple of years, and then charging for almost everything.

Best thing they could have ever done: reduce the box price on ToR (instead of eliminating it), offer a robust cash shop with various experience perks, drop rate modifiers, vanity items, etc, then give your sub-based players other perks, such as cash shop tokens, first access to servers and new content, a larger variety of in-game vanity items for in-game currency, etc.

houston

On February 13, 2013 at 4:37 pm

f2p sucks