How SWTOR Can Save its Free-to-Play Model

Star Wars: The Old Republic offers a generous free-to-play model, where you can play all 8 of the game’s original class stories and reach up to level 50 for free. Unlike World of Warcraft and Guild Wars 2 whose convenience restrictions exist to maintain the health of the game’s economy like restricting gold farmers and spammers, Star Wars: The Old Republic’s free-to-play model attempts to force choke credit farmers while simultaneously reminding free-to-play players that they could be playing as a subscriber.

Let’s start with the game’s expansion content.

Expansions

Free-to-play players will not have access to the expansion content for Star Wars: The Old republic, much like Guild Wars 2 players will need purchase its expansions to progress. In Star Wars: The Old republic, the lack of expansion availability for free-to-play players means that once a free-to-play players has finished their main class story, there will no longer be any more progressive quests available to them. They can still go make new characters, and play the other 7 class stories, but if they want to keep playing their main character they will need to subscribe. Free-to-play players are also paused at level 50 and are unable to reach level 51 – but level doesn’t matter too much, and the main reason you’d want to level up is to do the more difficult high level content anyway.

Personally I think this restriction is pretty fair – if you’ve reached the end of your class story, and aren’t speed running it, you’ve probably put in over 50 hours of gameplay and I think it’s more than fair for the developers to request that you subscribe for at least one month after that. I’ll repeat it again because it’s so different compared to other games – you only need to subscribe for at least one month to permanently unlock all the expansions. World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2, Final Fantasy and Elder Scrolls all require you to purchase their expansions, and this seems to be an industry standard.

Restrictions

The restrictions that exist while playing a low-level character on a free-to-play account are what I really want to talk about. Some restrictions that currently exist are meant to prevent gold farmers and gold spammers, while others exist to encourage free-to-play players to subscribe.

I believe that a player who has fun during their free-to-play trial of the game is more likely to subscribe to the game – so let’s go over all of SWTOR’s restrictions and my suggestions about what the game should change. I’ve played over 50 hours on my alternate free account and so far have had a lot of fun – but I’m an experienced player and I went in already knowing what the restrictions would be, and what I was getting myself into. So far I have no major complaints about playing on my free-to-play account, but I think a lot of these restrictions would be surprises to new or returning players and may even discourage them from playing all together.

I believe the goals of the free-to-play system in Star Wars: The Old republic should be to make the levelling experience as enjoyable as possible, but heavily encourage the player to subscribe once they have finished their class story or when they have reached level 50 and would like to try out endgame content like operations and frequent pvp.

Credit Cap, Trade Restrictions, Mail Restrictions and Chat Restrictions

One of the biggest problems for high-level free-to-play players is the credit cap. Free to play players may not hold more than 200,000 credits at a time – any extra credits are locked away in a special escrow and are not available until the player subscribes. This also means that free-to-play players may never buy anything that’s more expensive than 200,000 credits, while many armors, weapons and mounts sold by players cost 500,000 credits or more. There are escrow items available that allow you to withdraw more from your escrow, but they are purchased with Cartel Coins which most free-to-play players won’t have.

While it’s extremely frustrating for free-to-play players being unable to buy most cosmetic items from the GTN, I think the 200,000 credit limit will have to stay until a new alternative method is found to prevent gold farmers and sellers using free to play accounts.

This also goes for free-to-play players being unable to use mail, being unable to trade, being unable to withdraw or deposit credits in guildbanks, and free-to-play players being unable to use general chat until level 25 – these are all counter measures against companies or individuals advertising their gold selling services. These communication and currency restrictions in Star Wars: The Old republic are actually very similar to what other games have for their free-to-play versions, including World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2 and Final Fantasy 14.

Another way I think SWTOR could improve its free-to-play model without jeopardizing their game is by allowing players to purchase character and legacy unlocks with credits from their new legacy bank. The legacy bank is a newer addition to the game that allows players to deposit credits in to their legacy bank which can then be withdrawn by any of their characters on that server. Free-to-play players can take advantage of this by depositing their credits into their legacy bank any time they come close to their credit cap. This is a nice addition, but still does not allow free-to-play players to make large purchases, since they can still only withdraw up to 200,000 credits.

I think it would be fantastic if free-to-play players could use these unlimited legacy credits to buy unlocks for their account, including the expensive convenience unlocks like rocket boost, inventory unlocks, outfit designer slots and stronghold unlocks. This way, free-to-play players still have credit-related goals that they can strive towards, without the risk of those credits being able to enter the economy. An alternate to this plan could be allowing players to hold as many credits as they want, but only being able to spend a limited amount on the GTN, via trading, or via mail, for example only allowing a player to buy, trade or mail up to 200,000 credits.

Another improvement that could be made to the escrow system is to remove the escrow system all together, and instead make all credits earned over the credit cap go directly in to a player’s legacy bank. That way, a player still can’t make GTN purchases over their credit limit, but they will always have access to the credits they have earned via their legacy bank, instead of have them locked away and held for ransom with the escrow system.

I’ve heard many players request that the credit cap simply be raised to a more reasonable amount. I’m not sure if it should be raised, or if it should be, to what amount, due to a raised credit cap making life easier for those who want to take advantage of the gold selling system. If Bioware were to simply raise the credit cap, companies and individuals would have a much easier time selling credits earned on free-to-play accounts. Having to subscribe monthly is a huge deterrent to gold selling, and dropping that deterrent and giving free-to-play players  easier access to their credits without making any additional changes to the game would definitely jeopardize the game’s economy.

If the credit cap can not be safely raised, I think allowing players to at least buy character and legacy unlocks with their credits alone would be a huge improvement. Perhaps there’s a way to safely raise the credit ap just for certain players – maybe players who have reached legendary status, or finished other long-term achievements could have the credit cap removed. Whether or not the credit cap can be safely raised relies on data we as players don’t have, including all the most recent ways gold farmers and sellers take advantage of the game, and statistics about how raising the credit cap might affect the game’s economy. I do know, however, that the credit cap is a major pain point especially for preferred players who have subbed in the past and have high-level characters, and I really hope a better solution can be added to the game for preferred and free-to-play players.

Keep

Now let’s talk about the restrictions I think should be left in place for free-to-play accounts.

  • The Characters Slots Limit: Free-to-play players are limited to 4 characters per server. The original limit was 2, which felt very low, but now you can have a total of 20 characters across all the servers, which is more than enough to try all the classes with plenty of character slots to spare.
  • Operations Restrivtions: When the game became free-to-play, unsubscribed players could buy special access passes from the Cartel Market or from other players that allowed them to play operations, sometimes known as raids, even if they were not paying for a subscription. This option has since been removed from the game, but I’d really like something similar to be re-introduced. I believe it was removed because players decided it was a good alternative to subscribing, so they or other players would buy the pass using free cartel coins, which allowed players to play for free compared to when they were originally subscribing monthly. Instead, I would like some type of token that allows players to purchase a subscription and then sell that token on the GTN – but make sure this token can not be bought with cartel coins, as many cartel coins can be obtained for free via subscritpion, cartel achievements, referral codes and security keys – that way, Bioware still gets paid the full price of that player’s subscription!
    Source: https://wowtoken.info/
  • Credit Cost and Credit Gain: Things bought ingame are more expensive for free-to-play players than subscribed players. Honestly this was a restriction I barely noticed when playing on my free-to-play account and is a nice perk for subscribers. Subscribers also earn 20% more credits from quests than free-to-play players… I also didn’t even realise this until I was making this video, I felt I hit the credit cap of 200,000 at almost every planet from doing all the quests available on my free-to-play account!
  • Support: Email, Phone, and Forum / Email, Phone, Forum, and In-game Ticket
  • Species: The additional species in the game are pretty cool, like the red-skinned Pureblooded Sith and the well-known Twi’lek species. I think this is a fair restriction for free-to-play players. I’d actually even be ok if Free-to-play players were restricted to only humans, right now they can play humans, cyborgs and zabraks. To balance this restriction, I think it would be great if all players had access to all species, instead of the mix-and-match availability that is currently different for each class – for example, new subscribers can’t make a Chiss Jedi, but they can make a Chiss Imperial Agent without having to get any special unlocks. This could even be tied in with the current storyline of the Empire accepting more alien species into its ranks, and the Republic has forged many ties with Imperial characters during the expansions.

Remove

These are restrictions I believe do not encourage players to subscribe, but instead simply discourage them from playing.

(Unfortunately much of this section was done free-form via voice for the video – there’s a lot more information in the video than is available here.)

  • Quickbars
  • XP Gain
  • Artifact Authorization
  • Unify Colors
  • Show/Hide Helmet Toggle
  • Title
  • Personal Bank
  • Crew Skills
  • Flashpoint Rewards
  • GTN Slots
  • Inventory
  • Quick Travel
  • Revives
  • Mounts
  • Sprint
  • Space Missions
  • Dark vs Light


Questions or comments? Feel free to send me a message on Twitter @swtorista, Reddit /u/swtorista, Youtube Swtorista channel or by e-mail at the same name with gmail.com at the end. Have fun out there and may the Force be with you. ~ Swtorista