Just a few short months ago SWTOR was my go-to game. I don’t really know when it happened — everything was promising (because I’m no longer an end-game player), I was enjoying my characters’ stories, and in my head I was playing KOTOR3 with a chat client bolted on. And then, seemingly overnight, it all went away. I don’t even really understand how it all went down, for that matter; one day there were eleventy hojillion people on the fleet and I had fun chatting with people while I finished up my Sith Marauder’s story, and then all of a sudden I was struggling with a Class boss, frustrated at being underleveled, and no one was around for a cathartic bitch session.
What the hell?
I think some folks would like to lay blame at the feet of Guild Wars 2, because by definition any time a big new title launches people are going to check it out, even for a little while. There are also the recent WoW expansion and the upcoming RIFT expansion, but I think it’s both more complicated and more simple than just too many games and not enough players.
What I think happened is this:
Relaunching a AAA-title subscription MMO as F2P less than a year after launch is a laughably poor business decision.
When your developer and your publisher obviously have no fucking faith in their game and consider 500k active subs a failure, what the fuck is the point? Why bother giving them your money when they’re not willing to stand behind their product? That’s a terrible statement to present to your customers, and that combined with the constant news of resignations and layoffs meant it’s not really a surprise that after the announcement this summer subscribers started dropping like flies.
For the most part, after I did some raging about how sad it was that EA thought SWTOR was a failure and weren’t intending to support what they’d already built, I was mostly hopeful. People who’d left because they weren’t interested in maintaining subscriptions might come back; I could keep playing without worrying about throwing my money away on an unsupported game. I have defended SWTOR’s gameplay decisions over and over because I believe in the story, I believe in the property, and I really, really want it to succeed.
When the first passel of restrictions were posted, I was unconcerned. Cosmetic things like specific chargen options, cosmetic gear, that kind of thing — totally feasible for-pay options. Removing the fleet pass for f2p players is kind of a dick move, but it doesn’t make the game unplayable. Equally limiting access to operations and warzones: fine, as the real gem in SWTOR is the character class story, and all characters, whether sub or not, have, the FAQ says, unrestricted access to the 1-50 “journey.”
Except it’s not really unrestricted.
This week the Cartel Shop and the F2P version of SWTOR became available for public test, and the results have been less than stellar.
When I say less than stellar, what I mean is that EA is actively punishing f2p users. They assume that being unable to accept mission rewards, being stuck to a limited UI (single hotbar, IE eight slots), and gaining xp at a reduced rate is going to make people pay for game time. I mean why would you even want to play a game where you have to pay actual money to finish a mission? So obvs EA thinks this is the best way to convert free players to subs.
Except … no.
I mean, seriously, in what world would someone who was already uninterested in paying for this game be willing to subject themselves to a punitively limited gameplay experiece? I am not interested in that, and I’m already a paying sub! It’s like they thought about the most horribly annoying, terrible things they could do to make the game suck for free players and then did that. What the fuck? Compare that with GW2 (my only other f2p mmo experience), where the only things available in the cash shop that you can’t get through in-game means are convenience boosters and cosmetic-only armor (and since you can convert game gold to shop gems, even that isn’t really limited). And I know I don’t really have that much experience to compare it to, but that really feels like the way to get it done. I certainly don’t feel punished for not spending any real actual money from my real actual bank account.
Not only do the limitations for f2p players seem oddly punitive, they’re also remarkably petty. You have to pay to unlock the option to hide your helm; you have to pay to reorganize your ui; you have to pay to be able to speak in chat more than once every two minutes; you have to pay to have full and complete use of quick travel, shuttles, or the fleet pass. What the fuck?
This isn’t going to encourage people to spend money, like rare dyes or town clothes might in GW2. What it’s going to do is make players throw up their hands and say “fuck this” the first time they get the alert in Black Talon that they’ve seen their maximum boss drops for the week and uninstall the fucking game.
It sucks so bad because the part of SWTOR that is unquestionably Bioware — the class story — is so, so great and more people should play it. The current f2p model EA is employing isn’t going to do that, and it breaks my heart. I loved this game and the potential it represented; I do still love parts of it. I wish I could keep loving it still.