Money. We all need it, we all use it. Without money we couldn’t get what we need, or more frequently what we merely desire. As we’ve all learnt over the past few years, the value of any currency bobs about like a dead Gungan in a fast flowing river, so what type of currency you get makes all the difference. What can you buy with it? Is it a silver dollar or a Zimbabwean dollar?
Which brings me to the bright and shiny new currency, Cartel Coins, that are part of BioWare’s new brand of bling to retain existing players and win back some of the jaded masses. By their own admission, they are struggling to keep people’s interest, either because players have become bored with the existing content, the game doesn’t play the way they want or offer the playstyle they like. Even worse, new games like Guild Wars 2 or upcoming expansions for existing games (WoW, Rift) are proving far more enticing.
The idea of rewarding those of us who are sticking with SWTOR with a rapidly increasing pile of virtual dosh is a good one and they’ve given us a rough idea of the sorts of things we can buy, but they’ve given us no idea of our money pile’s relative value.
First of all, lets get a rough idea of how many coins you may have in your pocket when F2P and the new store finally hit. By my admittedly wonky math skills:
SWTOR goes free to play ‘this fall’, that being a period between Sept 22 and Dec 20. Pandaria comes out Sept 25. While I doubt BioWare are thinking that F2P can compete, they may still release it about the same time in order to reduce or mitigate churn. However it may be they wait until after this (perhaps for strategic reasons – or perhaps because they won’t be ready), but at a guess it would be late October when they can get a little more traction in the average gamer’s hummingbird attention span. After all, any uptick in numbers (F2P plus subbed players) they can get in the approach to and during the holiday season would be good news to report in the February Q3 2013 earnings call, since F2P subscriber numbers could be counted as forecastable income through micro-transaction earnings.
Back to my earlier point, assuming that you have been a paid subscriber from Jan 20 2012 (after your free 30 days elapsed) through to say Oct 20 2012 you will have 150 coins per month up to Jul 31 (6×150=900) and 200 per month (3×200=900) after that, until F2P occurs (e.g. Oct 20). If you got the CE there’s an extra 1000. So what will 1800 (or 2800) cartel coins buy you? That’s the big unknown and the septic splinter in my dewback’s foot. Will it buy you a set of orange armour? Half a dozen stims? A vanity pet and a title? A mega awesome 200% mount or a 90% one that looks like a lawnmower and kicks you off whenever a level 10 trash mob gives you a dirty look? -cough- Grand Acquisition Race
Anyone who remembers the fine promises of the Collector’s Edition vendor will recall that not only did they never put anything new or interesting in there (EVER!), they actually took stuff out. Can BioWare be trusted? Not based on previous performance. I’d like to believe them, I’d like to trust them, but I can’t muster the strength anymore. In any case the entire premise is consistent with much of BioWare’s communication lately: broad promises with little detail. Perhaps by the one year anniversary we’ll all look back at the first turbulent year and smile knowing that all is now well and the worst is behind us. I’d like to think so.
To sum up, the real question is this: can something be an incentive when its value or worth is a complete mystery? Is this just a poorly defined carrot offered to those on the fence while the Devs and number crunchers scramble behind the scenes to work out how the hell this is all going to work? Or is this part of a considered strategy?
It’s an impossible question to answer, which is why I’m not going to try, but speculation is fun, it drives Reddit contributors insane and at the very least this is a matter that I think we all need to consider. If you are still playing the game and loving it, the cash donation of Cartel Coins is icing on a delicious cake. If the cake is starting to taste a little stale though, no amount of icing is going to help.