SWTOR: How Not To Run Your Cash Shop

1) Remind Free2Play players what idiots they are for not subscribing at every juncture

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Treating Free 2 Play customers like they are second class citizens makes it obvious that you want them to subscribe. Some may, just so they don’t have to endure all this nonsense. Others will simply give up, not bother, not feel valued enough and voila, you lose the long tail – those who might have kept buying in small amounts and those who just don’t believe in sub games these days but will spend big money on microtransactions.

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Constructive solution? Instead of bashing F2P people with a stick to tell them how horribly -penalized- they are in -reduced- xp because they aren’t subscribers, sing the praises of a subscription BOOST or BONUS. F2P is the baseline and paying customers get it FASTER, doubled, twice as good and so on.

The hardcore will bite, guaranteed. No matter how fast things are, they’ll always want it faster.

2) Promise things your shop doesn’t deliver

promisethings

Yeah, well, I really don’t see this item in the shop right now, no matter how hard I look.

This one specifically annoys me because SWTOR feels built to be slow and inconvenient to get around at the default sluggish run speed. I do not really approve of the stick and peer pressure method of getting people to pay up, but I was indeed considering making a token payment of 5 or 10 bucks to get Preferred Customer status and sprint at level 1 instead of level 15 – since it is taking eons to get to 15 and I feel bad that my friend is always waiting up for me.

However, if I am going to give them real money in exchange for shop tokens, I’d like to be able to buy something -attractive- and -desirable- in the shop with them.

Since convenience and speed is a priority for me in this game, so as to get to the quest givers and cutscenes more speedily without endless jogging, I asked myself, “What is the thing I would love to unlock the most?” The answer: Faster recharging Quick Travel.

The Free 2 Play default is 2 hours, and it is way too long for me, being used to zipping around maps with Guild Wars 2. Even at a one hour recharge, rather than the 30min cooldown that subscribers get, this would be a desirable item for me.

Except said permanent reduction time item does not exist, despite the website saying it does.

What does exist is a one-off consumable that costs about 90 cents a pop.

qtconsume

Screw that.

I don’t do consumables, unless they’re really really cheap. Permanent unlocks for me.

Constructive solution? Well, the ideal would be to offer said item in the shop. If the design decision was made to not offer this and there’s no way it will ever come in, then… for goodness’ sakes, proofread and edit the marketing copy on your website to reflect reality.

3) Offer bundles that contain the same item so that it is not worth it to buy both

OR Confuse customers with lack of clarity and shady tricks of omission

This one confuses me greatly. I have been looking at the two currently discounted bundles that appear to be designed to tempt new players into dropping some cash.

One of these things is just like the others...

One of these things is just like the others…

The Newcomer’s Bundle includes a Quick Travel Pass (I assume this means the 90 CC single use consumable), a Czerka Cruiser Speeder (that I have serious difficulty researching but appears to be a cheap basic mount that costs 8000 credits in-game), 5 minor XP boosts (60CC x 5 each) and the Legacy Perk: Improved Speeder Piloting I (475CC.) Total Discounted Cost of the Bundle – 405 CC.

One of these things is... exactly the same?

One of these things is… exactly the same?!

The Preferred Access Bundle includes one helping of the Inventory unlock of 10 slots (175 CC), a crew skill unlock (420 CC), Legacy Perk: Improved Speeder Piloting I (475CC), and Customization unlocks of Display Title (100CC), Display Legacy Name (100CC) and Unify Colors (350CC.) Total Discounted Cost of Bundle – 972CC.

I note the repeated Legacy Perk: Improved Speeder Piloting I in both packs.

Now one possibility that occurs to me is that this particular item is not account-wide, but only character-wide. But it is certainly not stated in the shop that way and seems rather like selling stuff under false pretenses or convenient omission.

Which then immediately rings alarm bells and makes me wonder which of the other items are only also character-wide, instead of account-wide? I had -assumed- that the crew skill unlock would apply to all characters. The inventory unlock becomes significantly more questionable then as well.

Which results in universal confusion and worry that one is being cheated somehow, and reluctance to buy anything for fear of it being a lemon, rather than temptation to buy both packs and be done with it and get maximum bonuses that way.

Constructive solution? Consistent clarity in your store descriptions please. State clearly if this applies account-wide or character-wide.

What makes it even more confusing, I have discovered, is that each server’s character slots appear to share one Legacy, so in addition to account-wide and character-wide, we need to stick the term server-wide somewhere in there too.

Finding forum posts like these dating back just three months ago, expressing serious confusion over the Improved Speeder Piloting Legacy and its account-wideness (or lack of), does NOT build confidence or trust.

No, seriously, if I buy this thing, how many characters of mine are going to have this? I need the clarity of information in order to make an informed decision to buy or not to buy.

(I’ve bought character-only stuff before, my main in GW2 has easily got four extra bag slots because I use him for high-level farming and dungeons and got tired of my bags constantly filling before I was done. I just need it made clear. This is clear. Just Google it and the second link confirms it. As for this, every webpage I click on gives me conflicting information on whether it is account-wide, legacy-wide, server-wide, character-wide or whatever.)

Update: On re-logging in to check the store ONCE more, I have JUST noticed two teensy tiny icons in the lower left picture of each respective unlock in the bundle. Mousing over those brings up the tooltips that the item can be bought for one character or for all characters in your account.

Ditto mousing over the actual blue or purple item itself, which brings up another tooltip that states it is for the player character only.

So my rant is not quite accurate, but it took me around eight very long fueled-by-suspicion-and-paranoia scrutinies at the store to finally find the very small print. It’s still very deceptive UI. And confusing to new players.

(Nor do I understand yet how to buy it for all characters should I want to. Clicking on the icons doesn’t seem to change the price around any. I guess I will have to Google again at some point.)

4) Give them problems logging into your website, after they’ve decided they may want to buy something off you anyway

Even after maximum confusion, I was still game enough to convince myself that a smoother game experience for five bucks (despite knowing very well the game was designed to be un-smooth so as to part you from your money just to make it nice-to-play) was not really worth agonizing over, cheap cash shop tactics notwithstanding.

After all, the quality of the cutscenes and entertainment value I was deriving out of SWTOR was worth putting down an initial outlay of a Starbucks coffee.

Except when I tried to click on the Add Coins button in-game, it assured me that it would open a browser window.

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But it didn’t.

I switched to Windowed Fullscreen, thinking that Fullscreen might have given the game some trouble. No go. Browser remained closed.

I helpfully opened the browser (Firefox) and clicked the button again. No new tab. No redirect. No nothing.

Um, okay. Nevermind.

I went to the SWTOR.com website itself and clicked on the “Buy Cartel Coins” option and got looped back to the same page. Nada.

Oh, maybe I have to be logged into my account. Makes sense, right?

So I click on the Log-In and type in my username (I have no email linked to the account, the free-to-play page here never asked for one) and my password and…

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…This happens.

Again and again. I switch browsers and try Chrome. Then Internet Explorer. Still nothing.

I’M TRYING TO GIVE YOU MONEY HERE, GUYS.

Why won’t you let me log in to my account on the website, using the exact same password I just copied and pasted, which worked -fine- in the launcher to get me into the game itself?

No system maintenance or alert messages to suggest the website was under maintenance. The Customer Service FAQ and the forums made no reference of this particular problem I was having, leaving me just staring at the webpage thinking that like it or not, I would remain stuck as an SWTOR free-to-play status player for good.

I got no constructive suggestions for this one – only a semi-snide remark that if you make it difficult for customers to buy anything from you, a good lot of them would be much less persistent than me.

Epilogue

Because I love a good mystery, I sat there trying out various configurations, thinking some of the special characters in my password might have been throwing the website form off.

The irony of this is that when you sign up on their uber-easy free to play page, the tooltip says that some special characters are not allowed, but never tells you which ones. I figured that if I typed in the password and it was accepted, it would be fine. And certainly the launcher accepted my password just fine too.

I did eventually figure out exactly what was perplexing the website.

The sign-up page stated that the password had to be 8-16 characters in length – among other qualifications. Being somewhat paranoid, I entered a pretty long password without counting how many characters were actually in it. I’d assumed that if I exceeded the requirements, it would spit it back out at me as an invalid entry.

Turns out that my password had 18 characters in it.

Sign-up form accepted it just fine. Launcher accepted it just fine. (Perhaps they truncated it automatically.)

Website log-in, on the other hand, was NOT happy.

But typing in the first 16 characters of the password sent me right into the account page.

Go figure.

I just don’t know if I want to give them money anymore.

SWTOR: An Odd Marriage of Singleplayer and MMO

I’ve spent three nights in SWTOR so far.

The launcher did eventually finish, and to give credit where it’s due, it did veer up to around 3 MB/sec download speeds at odd hours for a short while. According to my friend, who is a preferred status player, his takes several minutes at most and certainly wasn’t the pathetic 100-200kb/sec that I was seeing. Which now makes me suspect that it’s simply free-to-play players getting the short shaft of the bandwidth stick priority-wise. Who knows.

Following the advice of those who commented, I made an Imperial Agent (twice, to compare Light/Dark storyline choices) and took them past the Prologue to around level 11. I’ve also started a Sith Warrior and played it in a duo with my friend’s Sith Inquisitor, whom he kindly rolled up to roll along with me.

beginning

Overall, I’ve been…pleasantly surprised, though to be fair, my expectations weren’t at all high to begin with.

Stuff I Liked:

  • Voice acting and Cinematic presentation of Quests

I get the distinct feeling they spent a ton of the budget on voice actors (and not enough on the nuts and bolts of gameplay.) It’s immersive to be given quests via conversation and dialogue options, though once I figured out the spacebar key fast forwards, it’s been tricky to resist the urge when I’m alone and have finished skim reading the subtitles already.

  • Aliens talk in alien speech with English subtitle translations

Immersion again, and it gave me flashbacks to one of my favorite oldschool games – Nomad, whom we’ve mentioned very briefly before.

  • Mob layout vaguely reminiscent of City of Heroes, in packs of 3-4 across the world

One of my guilty pleasures was always street-sweeping in CoH, where I’d just prowl my superhero around the streets and jump villains off doing their own thing. While SWTOR doesn’t have the elaborately posed and scripted mobs of CoH (eg. some mafia thugs giving another one concrete shoes and the victim hopping around with their feet stuck in a bucket,) it did let me jump from spawn to spawn causing mass easy carnage and recreate some of that feeling.

Downside, it’s a little hard to avoid aggroing and not killing anything. The fastest way to a destination seems to be going -through- mob spawns with fancy laser blasts, and that may get tiresome and repetitive after some time.

  • Well done tutorial tips

I liked the clarity and pacing of the early tutorial messages. While strictly speaking, I could have probably survived without them, I appreciate the sparkle and polish that offers help to truly new-to-MMO players. And knowing stuff unique to SWTOR (aka the precise icons used for quests, transportation, etc.) is always handy even to people who have played MMOs before. At around level 8-10, there’s an onslaught of tips that are a little less well paced though.

  • Zone transitions are very ‘open’ and lack loading screens per planet

A feature from the WoW side of the MMO toolbox, I believe. While I’m not as rabid as some about how this helps immersion, I just appreciate the lack of having to sit around waiting for the zone to load.

Stuff I Didn’t:

  • Default camera issues and quirky settings

Nearly threw up when innocently right clicking and mouse looking caused the camera to spin wildly with high sensitivity and lots of jerkiness. Eventually, by lowering the camera rotation speed all the way to zero percent or so, it got tolerable enough – though I was ready to follow a forums post that suggested editing the text file for even lower speeds if that failed to work.

I also spent a while fighting with the settings and having them reset to default before I figured out to hit “apply” and make sure the settings stuck. Autoloot and area loot was off by default – why, why, why? Every new character has to be keybound individually too, apparently, though the general settings do save. I would also kill for a keyboard shortcut to loot corpses – it’s so automatic now to press F to loot stuff (*coughs*) though I’d grant that the radius of area loot in SWTOR is fantastic and that GW2 really needs an area loot option.

  • Combat responsiveness is sluggish

WoW and GW2 are the kings of this. Press a key and you get an instant response. Now I’ve dealt with more quirky MMOs before, you get into a sort of pre-queue up the abilities situation with LOTRO and City of Heroes, Rift had their own global cooldown to get used to, Warhammer and TSW were slightly clunkier with their response times, but something feels quite wrong with SWTOR. I keep tweaking the ability queue times, hoping to get it set to a level I can adjust to, and I still end up pressing keys and having absolutely nothing happen at times. Including the rolling into cover key – which doesn’t help survivability, I can assure you.

It’s not awful unplayable, else I would have stopped. But it’s not anywhere near “good” or “average” either.

  • Hell, even Printscreen goes on vacation

What this thread said. Only about half of my attempted screenshots are coming out, which puts a severe dampener in any plans to take pretty pictures in this game, I can assure you. I got to Kass City, loved its look, and got a total of zero successful screenshots. I have and could FRAPS it, but really, why should I bother if your game can’t function well enough to take its own picture?

The elevators? You go right through them. Though there was that one time I fell through the world while doing it and got the lovely screenshot at the top of this post...

The elevators? You go right through them. Though there was that one time I fell through the world while doing it and got the lovely screenshot at the top of this post…

Stuff That Wasn’t Good Or Bad, Just… Odd or Interesting to Think About:

  • No neutral gear sends my min-max optimzer warring with the immersive roleplaying part of me

Yes, I hear that it is coming. So they say. The fact that it is not -here- makes the optimizer in me scream, “come on, you know Bioware, Paragon or Renegade all the way!” and want to stack the deck one way or another. Yes, I have also heard the real top of the line gear has no alignment requirements. Then what the hell is the point of giving points for this stuff then?

I used to play this MUD, see. It had good, evil AND neutral gear. And neutral was the best because it was so hard in that MUD to maintain a neutral alignment, accidentally killing one too many things of the wrong alignment would skew you one way or the other and all your nice gear would fall off you. Freedom of choice and consequences.

  • Nice single or duo player experience, but MMO bits felt tacked on

I had a decent time playing through the Agent prologue. It was immersive enough, there were some roleplay or at least conversation opportunities, and the story was fairly entertaining.

With a friend, I got the impression that this was -the- way to experience SWTOR, in a duo, where you got to see each others’ class stories (but still be able to keep track of the plot because it’s only two of you) and enjoy some of the random surprise of a group conversation where one might speak before the other. We were also cracking each other up with jokes about dead body disposal in the Sith Academy since between the two of our storylines, we were racking up quite a body count.

Friends don't let friends defy gravity and screw up screenshots

Friends don’t let friends defy gravity and screw up screenshots

And was it really necessary to have all that jogging through empty corridors and long stretches of road though? Standard quest flaw, once you’re done, you gotta run back to the quest-giver. Friend has 35% sprint at level 1, I don’t. He was nice enough to not use it after a while, but this metagame stuff just gets in the way. You’re reminded that you’re a second class F2P citizen, run along and subscribe or buy some Cartel Coins now, eh?

I appreciate it took lots of work to make 8 different class stories winding their branching way all the way up to level 50. I wonder how many people will actually bother to experience all of them, or even some of the twists and turns of Light and Dark side choices… and whether they’d get sick of the standard MMO kill 10 bog-rats grind before they manage that feat.

Flashpoints, Operations, Warzones (or ahem, Dungeons, Raids, Battlegrounds) … I haven’t tried them, so I might be talking out of my ass here, but they strike me as, WoW has them, so we better have them. They’re probably functional, but not, say, spectacular or a unique selling point.

It’s like the MMO stuff gets in the way of what could have been a very nice buy-to-play singleplayer or small group game.

Conclusion:

For what it’s worth, I’d probably still keep playing for the story a little while longer. Until such a point where I either get bored of the combat or simply can’t progress further on my own.

I did enjoy the Mass Effect style conversation aspect of the game. I’m just not sure how long that alone will hold me.

I’d actually rate it closer as a decent substitute to City of Heroes over something like Champions Online, in the sense that there’s a more substantial game here and more of a story. You can still be a hero or villain, even if not literally dressing up in costumes and masks.

I’m vaguely tempted to drop a couple dollars on the microtransaction market, if only for the convenience options, but I’m also rubbed the wrong way by them selling things like hotbars and the ability to color coordinate your clothes and remove your helmet. It strikes me as trying to forcibly push people into buying something from you, kind of similar to restaurants who do not serve tap water, so that there’s significant pressure on you to purchase a drink.

Would I pay for the game itself, up front? Unfortunately, at this point, I think not.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad game. The stories and voice acting seem worth going through. I haven’t had an extreme Star Wars allergy reaction yet. I don’t know if that’s good or bad news for true Star Wars fans, because it may either imply that the story writers did a good job in not unleashing typical Lucas movie absurdity, or that the fluff’s diluted down and generic enough for me to take.

It’s got significant polish for the price of free. Just, not enough if I actually had to pay for it.

SWTOR: Pre-Entry Questions For Those Who Play

So… a friend of mine mentioned that they were playing SWTOR a week or two ago. “You probably wouldn’t like it,” they said, knowing my rabid distaste of the entire Star Wars universe.

But they shared that they were having quite a bit of fun with the Jedi Consular and the singleplayer storyline, because it was a sort of Zen type of balancing diplomacy/politics narrative (or that’s what I kind of gathered anyhow) and what the hey, it’s free-to-play now, right?

Though in the next breath, they admitted that since they were enjoying the game, they put down five or so bucks to get the premium benefits of earlier levels to a mount or something like that.

I said, “Uh huh. Okay” in a noncommital fashion, because I had other games I was in the midst of then, and my hard disk, suffering from a surfeit of Steam games, had only about 1.3 gb free space remaining. (A random Google said give at least oh, 38gb or so for SWTOR. *gulp*)

Here’s the thing, though.

I believe very strongly that Free 2 Play is a good model for MMOs over strictly sub-based, because it lowers the entry barrier for people who might be sitting on the fence.

And I also believe very strongly that one can learn valuable things from any MMO – eg. what you like, what you don’t – as long as you give it a shot and a fair shake, despite how convinced you are beforehand that you probably won’t like it.

So despite my hatred of holy trinity unoriginality, my not-terribly-impressed opinion of binary good/evil alignment systems and rolling-eye “What was George Lucas thinking splooging CGI into every shot of his new movies” viewpoint, I’ve always intended to give SWTOR a try some day.

Even if I think it’s a WoW clone, don’t like raiding as an endgame and have never heard of any other MMO restricting hotbars and UI customization only to paying customers before.

I figure I will at least be informed as to how they handled “story as a fourth pillar,” see how the companions system works, and get a few pretty screenshots while hopefully being pleasantly surprised by one or two unique things once I’m actually in-game.

I just finished all I cared to in Batman: Arkham City, so between removing that, and the brainwave of moving all 30+ gb of World of Warcraft (I’m never repeating that slow-ass download from scratch again, I gotta save my outdated folder somewhere in the blue moon case that I ever get the itch) to an external hard disk, I managed to free up 40 odd gigabytes for SWTOR.

I liked how quickly and effortlessly the website moved me from signing up an account with them (didn’t even need to give them an email) to throwing me the game client to begin the download.

Alas, SWTOR suffers from the same problem as WoW and TSW and frankly, all the humongous MMOs besides the GW franchise, patching takes fucking forever. I don’t get it. I’m staring at it take 100-200kb/s to download 9 gigabytes of some English video, and after that, I still have 12 gb of Main Assets 1 to go. And there’s probably Main Assets 2 and 3 and goodness-knows-how-many more still left.

I download Guild Wars 2 patches at 1 megabyte/sec or more, so it’s not my fibre-optic network slowing things down here.

Why make players wait to play your game? Get them in-game as fast as possible to be hooked. Stream other stuff later if you need to.

Case in point, the last time I tried World of Warcraft during Cataclysm, they did exactly that. Just cross the minimum download requirements, and you’re in, you can get the other non-essential stuff later. Guild Wars 1, just download the areas you’re about to see. Guild Wars 2, no queues, just overflow servers to get players playing the game first.

Anyhow, zeroth impressions rant aside, I’m aware that I won’t have the patience to try all eight classes offered by SWTOR. I might play one or two.

So my question for those who have played SWTOR, is which class(es) and storyline would you recommend for me?

Background: I have a preference of melee over ranged, though I enjoy back-and-forth flexibility. I need a class that can solo well. I gravitate towards and enjoy flipping between tanking and doing damage, though I tend to enjoy tanking very much less if I /need/ a pocket healer to keep me upright. I don’t mind rogue stealth or pure dps, but tend to twitch very uncomfortably playing pure healers.

And I’d like to experience some of the better-written (in general opinion) storylines and companions. In D&D terms, my heroes tend to lean towards a neutral good alignment playstyle – following the law is nice, but doing the right thing is better. I’m also very open to playing evil and badass and monster types, with preferably shades of grey, not so much black-and-white I-am-uber-Jedi-Knight-of-Light or ultimate-Dark-Sith-Lord type of deal.

Thoughts?

Judging by the size of the red bar, it’s going to take DAYS to finish the download, even if I leave the computer on, so feel free to weigh in for a week or so.