27/09/2014

F2Pers, the Unknown Entity

The other night I ran a random level 50 hardmode with two guildies, and we got into Kaon Under Siege with a level 50 Commando as our fourth. He promptly asked us if we could trade him any trooper drops - since he was "loot locked" - and outed himself as a non-subscriber that way. We said sure, why not (it's not as if we were there for the gear at level 55), but there was some confusion about how exactly this loot lock thing worked. I was on TeamSpeak with my guildies and explained as much as I knew, but ended up questioning myself in the end as our trooper friend seemed to be able to roll on everything as normal anyway (plus his request ended up being kind of irrelevant because no trooper gear dropped). Maybe he was just trying to get ahead of the game by "saving" his need rolls if possible.

Either way it got my guildies and me talking about free-to-play in general, and we realised that we actually knew very little about it. I've said it before and I'll say it again: people like to bash SWTOR's F2P system (and I definitely agree with some of the criticisms levelled at it), but if you're a subscriber it plays pretty much like a subscription game with a cash shop and it's easy to forget that "free" is even a thing. My guildies and I couldn't even agree on whether free players were able to level to 55 or not. I still think that they are capped at fifty unless they bought the expansion or were subscribed for at least one month in the past year - ever since Rise of the Hutt Cartel became a free goodie given to all subscribers.

It seems to me that there is relatively little information out there on how exactly SWTOR's free-to play-system works... or rather, there is a lot of misinformation that muddies the waters. In pretty much any discussion thread on the matter you're bound to find people claiming things like that you can only do three flashpoints per week (which is flat out not true). Even the page on the official website has some debatable bits of information on it, such as that you can buy an unlock to permanently lower your quick travel cooldown without subscribing (which is technically true, but subscribers can buy the same unlock and will therefore always have a lower cooldown on the ability than a non-subscriber can possibly achieve). There is no mention of some of the more ridiculous annoyances such as restrictions on emotes, quest rewards and and the ability to hide your helmet. And didn't they remove the whole concept of an event item authorisation altogether? I also have to admit that until I read through that official feature page just now, I didn't even realise that "free-to-play guilds" were a thing.

While there are some good guides out there on how to circumvent specific restrictions that people face when they are not subscribed, it can be hard to get a good idea of what it "feels" like to be F2P when you're a subscriber. My own experiences are pretty much limited to what I saw back when I tried out the PTS before the free-to-play transition went live and the issues I observed when my ex-boyfriend dropped down to preferred. I've seen several players talk about "free-to-play experiments" on blogs, where they usually create a new account just to explore the F2P experience, but those always seem to fizzle out pretty quickly because people either want to focus on playing on their main account or get fed up with the restrictions.

Looking at voices in the community, SWTOR's F2P population as a whole seems to be a strangely silent crowd, though I guess that's not really surprising. The game's business model strongly pushes you towards subscribing if you actually enjoy the game, so people who are active in fan circles without also being subscribed are bound to be a rare minority. Without an active subscription you also can't post on the official forums.

At Gamescom earlier this year EA boasted about SWTOR having more than a million active players each month. I reckon that a sizeable percentage of these must still be subscribers, however even if we optimistically assume that the game still has 500k subs (the last number they reported before the F2P transition), that would still leave another 500k silent non-subscribers playing the game as well.

If I had to guess, I would say that most of the game's free and preferred players must be levellers, because I see so few obvious non-subscribers at the level cap that people like our Commando pug in Kaon are notable exceptions. I wonder how they experience the game, and what their thoughts on it are. Are any of my readers dedicated players who don't subscribe?

9 comments :

  1. I have subscribed 2 months this year for the GSH expansion, and 2 months last year for the GSF expansion. Otherwise, I'm preferred all the way. I probably play 30 hours a week of SWTOR on average. Admittedly, all I do is PvP content. Ranked is a joke, so I don't even want to participate in that. I'm perfectly content with preferred status. True F2P is probably a blurry line.

    As for the F2P rolls in Flashpoints, it only counts on the final boss as I understand it.

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    1. Really? That's cool. :) I guess I shouldn't be surprised considering that you're one of the people I thought of when I mentioned guides on how to deal with F2P restrictions. I guess if you mainly do PvP and GSF, many of the more annoying restrictions wouldn't even be on your radar most of the time.

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  2. I think that everybody has access to L55, and now the F2P people can get to the latest content, it's only that subscribers and preferred get earlier access.

    From what I've seen watching the kids play, swapping out mods/enhancements/etc is where a lot of money is spent in game. If you get a good set of gear early because you ran a few low level flashpoints, you could be in a constant state of having to keep your money up in addition to your commendations because of the swapping out every planet or so.

    That said, it's pretty much worth it to go to the store and buy a cartel coins card (in the US, anyway) and add those CCs to your account, bumping you from baseline to preferred. That opens up additional character slots and the bank and frees up some breathing room for a player.

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    1. I still don't think that level 55 is automatically accessible to everyone, or they wouldn't still be advertising the expansion as free to subscribers. They might change that once level 60 becomes the new hotness though.

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    2. This is correct, you need to subscribe or buy the expansion to have access to levels 51-55.

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    3. Of course you would know, Ernost. :) You need to start posting again!

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  3. The f2p restrictions are probably quite annoyong, but preferred is not that bad a deal. I too have been preferred for most of my time in SWTOR, it just takes some planing and dedication. The GTN is your friend; from it I've been able to get most unlocks, including cosmetic ones. With the few Cartel Coins I got I went for the artifact gear upgrade, so ended up with unrestricted access to gear. With that, leveling was a breeze, and the unrestricted access to GSF resulted in me overleveling, actually. The most annoying restrictions as preferred/f2p are at endgame, as you're locked out of operations and pvp warzones and you NEED the passes. Again, the GTN is useful for this, but you need to farm the credits for them, and that can get tedious. I'll probably subscribe for good when I get a couple more toons to endgame, when the credits farming for the GTN will be more trouble than it's worth. If you have or focus only on one edgame toon, preferred is a decent option.

    And yes, the f2p restriction in flashpoints is for final boss loot only. Mid-bosses can be rolled normally.

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  4. Hey there Shintar and everyone else, been a long time since I commented but I've also been inactive game-wise.

    I started out as F2P and relatively soon made the transition to preferred. For the 5 bucks it gives nice benefits.
    I basically played SWTOR as singleplayer with my first character to level 50. Then I started to do group content, make alts etc.
    Once I subbed for 2 months my world changed, operations became my primary thing to do and I loved them.
    Now I have less time again and subbing is not an option for me atm.
    I tried playing the game but immediately the lack of enough Quickbars annoyed me a lot. I have to say F2P/Preferred is ok, but once you have been subbed it just feels horrible. I will hopefully sub again for some months in the future, but I'll probably need a new PC first as well.

    Greetings!

    Tundarak

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    1. Hey, nice to hear from you!

      I can understand not wanting to go back to preferred after being used to subbing. It's okay for a certain kind of play style, but if you actually make use of all the subscriber perks it would feel very restricting to have to unlock all those things separately.

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