Thursday, November 29, 2012

Punishment or Gameplay?

"In an earlier draft of F2P, we had it so that F2Pers couldn’t use spacebar inside cutscenes and we almost had a riot inside this building. So we being listening to feedbacks the whole way."
 - Dulfy's transcript of a Bioware Q+A
As context for those who have never played SWTOR, the space bar is used in cut scenes to interrupt the NPC who is talking and make them start their next line of dialog.  This can be used when you have to repeat a conversation - for example if you do a quest over (either an alt or as a repeatable quest) or cancel out of a dialog because you were unhappy with the results.  However, the main association that SWTOR players have for "spacebar" as a verb is for the equivalent of refusing to read quest text.  The only difference is that in SWTOR, that "text" is the result of expensive voice acting that had a huge impact on the game's budget.

Having explained that, I have absolutely no idea what Bioware's business people - who unlike myself are presumably paid a decent salary to know what they are doing on this front - could be thinking.  The very idea of using the hallowed "fourth pillar", Bioware's epic story, as a punishment that non-subscribers would have been forced to endure boggles my mind. Bioware has not been afraid to think outside the box for good or for ill - and more often (e.g. restrictions on hotbars) for ill - but this one is absurd. 

During the past week, including the Q+A, Bioware has relaxed more of the restrictions imposed on preferred non-subscribers (i.e. lapsed players and those who have spent money in the cash shop).  Preferred players will now have four hotbars - the number the game launched with - and six character slots (up from two currently, and close to the eight that subscribers had at launch, though this limit is supposedly per account rather than per server).  

On the one hand, they're willing to give away a tremendous amount of stuff that would have been worth paying for.  However, they're on the record as unwilling to budge on things like credit caps, mail restrictions, and content pass pricing that greatly reduce how attractive it is to pay for anything as a non-subscriber.  I get that Bioware is very afraid of being dependent on creating new content for revenue, and would prefer for players to subscribe.  It just seems strange that every change they make shifts the game away from a state where people who won't subscribe are still paying for the game and closer to a state where a single one-time payment is all most players will ever need, want, or have the opportunity to make. 

7 comments:

Azuriel said...

It is completely absurd, really. I was sorta looking forward to the F2P conversion, but selling hotbars crossed a line I didn't realize I had.

Between that and the Spacebar thing, it just demonstrates a deep-set antagonism towards the potential customer. I mean, Bioware realizes that that is what players are, right?

Clockwork said...

I'd second Azuriel; the number of things you have to pay for is beyond absurd. They gutted the entire game and are nickel-and-diming you for every single thing. It's a blatant cash grab in an attempt to force players to pay to even enjoy the game. The F2P success stories all make payment benefit you without making it required (LoL, World of Tanks)...TOR as it is F2P is barely "playable" without putting money down.

Building on the previous comment...it shows, so transparently, so cynically, that the developers asked themselves "How much can we strip down this game and still have people play it?" I hope they are confident in their decision, but I for one, will not be giving F2PTOR any further shot.

Bernard said...

I have to disagree with you all and yes, I am wearing my 'Official SWTOR Apologist' hat...

There is nothing right now that will stop you from playing 1-50 without spending any money.

There are even guides out there that detail how to undertake end-game content whilst only use 2 hotbars.

Green, in the OP you are outraged at something that was considered and not implemented. As players, we often describe taking a 'slap to the face'. This slap never happened, so you are outraged at an idea that was dismissed. Should we never have been told?

Azuriel, 'deep set antagonism' is bit strong. There is no play-book for FTP and data regarding the success/failure of LOTRO and others is hard to come by. I think Bioware is wondering around in the dark, blindly clasping at anything that looks like a revenue earner. The game has failed to meet investors' expectations, so can you blame them?

If anything, their biggest failure is their inability to generate the kind of word-of-mouth that GW2 and TSW have benefited from.

Shintar said...

I just thought that it was a funny anecdote about a bad idea that they quickly dismissed. I hardly think it's a heinous crime that they even dared to think about this while figuring out what they could charge people for.

I also don't see why so many people think that a system where people run into content paywalls is supposed to be more generous than having a limited amount of quickbars.

Green Armadillo said...

Here's why the story matters even though it was never implemented - Bioware made the deliberate decision, despite all their rhetoric about how the subscription model was wrong for the game, that their goal was to preserve subscriptions at all costs. As a consequence of their decision, their smartest people are stuck in a room brainstorming ways to make the game less fun for non-subscribers without instead of improving the game for everyone. A status quo where you either tolerate the stuff they came up with and freeload or are forced to subscribe may be "generous", but it's not a model to aspire to.

Anonymous said...

@Shintar "I also don't see why so many people think that a system where people run into content paywalls is supposed to be more generous than having a limited amount of quickbars."

For me, it's a matter of scale. Content pay walls are more acceptable because it takes more development time and money to make content. But it doesn't really take much time or money to implement four hotbars vs two.

Azuriel said...

@Bernard

It's not so much they are wandering around in the dark that's an issue, the issue is that they're in the wrong room entirely. The hotbar and Spacebar thing is purely a meta play at making the free players feel inconvenienced enough to want to spend money. That angle is antagonistic, IMO. They should be creating features that make you want to buy them.

I will admit that sometimes it comes down to completely subjective lines. For example, I am fine with games selling additional bag/bank space and character slots. Even if the game is set up to give me a lot of junk (nudging me towards additional bag space purchases), my gameplay is not particularly effected; maybe I lose some vendor coin or make more frequent trips back to the base or whatever. Conversely, less hotbars just feels like playing with handcuffs on - it impacts the core gameplay experience itself, even if it can be mitigated by simply using less abilities.

I dunno. I guess it comes down to what you consider a baseline "Normal" experience. These aren't "extra" hotbars, these are stolen hotbars being held for ransom. I think even if SWTOR launched with just 2 hotbars, I would still cry foul though. Like I said, paying for UI elements crosses a line I didn't realize I had.