It’s now November, 2013. Almost two years since the highly-anticipated launch of EA and Bioware’s Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO, to fanfares and wild cheering. And almost one year since it went free-to-play, with embarrassed shuffling of feet and a nervous cough.
One of the first eyebrow-raising features of SWTOR’s F2P model was the feature list detailing… well, take a look. Mind you, that wasn’t some angry-fan infographic. That was direct from their own marketing website. A year later, it hasn’t changed much at all.
This month, Bioware’s come up with an even more innovative way to get players to log into the game: come back to your toons now or we’ll take their names.
No, really. I recently received this email (oddly, they don’t have this on their website, so here’s the text I got):
We wanted to let you know that on November 12, 2013, we will be initiating a “Character Name Renewal” program which could affect some of your characters.
If you are a Free-to-Play player:
- If your character is below level 10, and you have not played that character in the last 60 days, your character will be flagged for rename.
- If your character is below level 30, and you have not played that character in the last 120 days, your character will be flagged for rename.
- Characters level 30 and above will be unaffected.
If you are a Preferred Status player:
- If your character is below level 10, and you have not played that character in the last 90 days, your character will be flagged for rename
- If your character is below level 30, and you have not played that character in the last 180 days, your character will be flagged for rename.
- Characters level 30 and above will be unaffected.
If you are or become a Subscriber:
- You will be unaffected by this Character Name Renewal program.
So no, this will not affect most “main” toons. But Bioware was always telling us how they envisioned endgame content to be “go back and play alts!” Trying new classes and storylines was part of the appeal. I’d imagine many players, like myself, had a number of alts they started, enjoyed, and rather liked the names of.
Never have I seen a program that threatens a player to return to the game now or else. Incentives are, ah, somewhat more common. But as of this writing, all my alts’ names are gone.
When they first went free-to-play, I decided to return and take a look around. I had a few million credits on my main character. After logging in, I noticed that I had 300,000. Apparently, they’d instituted a credit cap of 300k for all free – or even “preferred” – accounts. They just truncated my credits to the limit, which was buried in their interminable F2P FAQ somewhere. Who the hell would have suspected such a thing?
When I got this “all your names are belong to us” email, I reached out to customer service via email and asked them, if I returned, would I get my swiped credits back? I never received a response of any kind.
This is the core of the EA / Bioware MMO philosophy. Elsewhere, all over the Interwebz, game companies are attempting to build engaging reasons to stay in the game and make it part of your online home. To draw you in; to provide a fun setting that makes you say, yes, I want to come here with some of my valuable and limited free time!
But BWEA laughs at such silly notions. Their concept seems to revolve around: if we make playing an annoying experience, the player will be forced to buy addons to make it less annoying. This was absolutely in-line with everything we ever heard from Riccitello, prior to his departure.
If you navigate to the Support section of the website and scroll down the “Free to Play FAQ,” you’ll see a long list of questions with no answers. Each answer is found only when following the link.
Why is this important? Because a FAQ is meant to be an at-a-glance resource for quickly gaining the info you want. It’s for fast answers to simple questions. This exploded view requiring back-and-forth navigation is designed to prevent precisely that. It’s meant to discourage learning the gritty details.
Also buried in a maze of FAQ and Support links is the current version of that laughable chart. I said it hadn’t changed much; judge for yourself. And it doesn’t even tell the whole story of just how annoying all those neutered features really are.
For example, a primary feature of the crafting system in swtor was the ability to queue up a number of items at once; crafting is time-consuming but essentially a non-action. You pick what you want from your menu, and time passes, and then it’s done, provided you had the materials. As the system can take real-time hours, its saving grace is the ability to queue up a bunch of stuff and then go do something else for a OH GOD
Please note that Preferred Status and Free-to-Play Players will be able to send fewer Companions on Missions and may not craft more than one item per Companion at a time.
I could go on (oh COULD I EVER) with specific examples – sprint is a good one, let’s make the free players WALK REAL SLOW for 10 levels, that’s sure to make them want to give you money – but it’s not a matter of a few features to be tweaked, a few mechanics to be fixed. The issues with SWTOR go right to their core philosophy, their entire style and approach to F2P.
A good start would be ditching all the outdated systems it stole directly from World of Warcraft. Blizzard had, itself, around the same time as the SWTOR launch, been dumping those systems as outdated and not very fun. Microtransactions, pay to be less annoyed, cheap plastic versions of other companies’ systems… all these are the legacy of Riccitello’s reign. This makes his recent rant against poorly placed micro and copycats especially ironic… or perhaps simply delusional. Whatever the real source of these terrible design decisions, it’s not something that can be fixed with any patch or update. It needs a complete rebuild from the ground up.