Sep 272012
 

…Forever will it dominate your economy. This is about Pay-to-Win, history, history repeating itself, and temptation. Pay-to-Win (aka P2W) is how several MMO titles in the “lower tiers” make their money – they sell the gear that gives the best chance of success in a cash-shop. It doesn’t mean automatic, surefire victory – just a much better chance at it. Foolishness, carelessness, and (in the case of PvP), other players’ skills have a role to play… just a lesser role. If the content is captivating or competitive enough, a Pay-to-Win model can be very lucrative, and it’s a tactic that BioWare has flatly stated that they will not employ.

This author remains skeptical, but hopeful. BioWare has a history in their single-player games of offering pay-to-win gear packs that help a player steamroll over even top-difficulty content. In Mass Effect 2 there was Firepower pack available online, which included an assault rifle that was simply meat-shredding, along with a lethal sidearm and a plasma shotgun. Mass Effect 3 has the Firefight pack, which is similar. The Dragon Age series also have similar packs and individual items for sale. Star Wars: The Old Republic will likely have “mid-level” blue items available, as mentioned in the same interview linked above. Yes, that would essentially be a nascent version of pay-to-win at mid-level in SWTOR. The existing packs mentioned above generate revenue because they’re inexpensive and highly effective. That’s a huge temptation. If those packs go in, it is very easy for senior management to justify an expansion of the pay-to-win model by pointing to the success of the first offering, the corresponding revenue stream, and then indicating that it could be expanded.  As Jimmy Fallon says in his commercials, “Who wouldn’t like more cash”?

Because history often repeats itself, because BioWare may still, even after free-to-play comes to the game, need the revenue, and because temptation is so very hard to resist (two words: Chocolate. Bacon.), there are very good reasons to be doubtful of what’s said about pay-to-win being avoided in SWTOR. The company has done it in the past in other games. They have only a small MMO history, so they may be unaware of P2W’s game impacts for SWTOR. Further, they’re evasive enough about actual subscriber numbers that there is as good a reason to think SWTOR is dangerously close to going below their break-even line as there is to believe SWTOR still has some comfort-room. In short, there are lots of variables, and tempting reasons for P2W to make its way in, slowly, to SWTOR.

This raises many, many questions. Should BioWare implement a no-gear in the cash-shop policy right from the get-go, and back off the mid-level blues statement to reassure the player base? Should they use P2W as a way to help keep the game afloat? What about new ways to use P2W… Should BioWare offer P2W packs in the cash shop in place of nerfing content towards the end of that content’s lifecycle? For that matter, what are the long term impacts of P2W packs? Will they help build a stronger player base or diminish the number of players who simply don’t want to play a game where you can buy the win?

It is a slippery, slippery slope. History shows us that P2W is in BioWare’s culture. Current events show us that BioWare needs to bolster revenue. How will all of this play out? This author doesn’t know, but, as skeptical as he is, he sure hopes that P2W doesn’t become a part of the SWTOR community.

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