SWTOR F2P: Game On, BioWare!

As promised, key members of our team are going to give their thoughts on the announcement SWTOR has gone free-to-play. It’s Jemima Moore’s turn.

I love SWTOR and when I awoke to the news that my current passion was going F2P, I will admit, I got that sinking feeling most long-time gamers get when they hear that phrase.  F2P = MMO death, or at least it used to.

My immediate reaction was one of sheer outrage at the blatantly misleading marketing language.

“…adding a new Free-to-Play option this fall. This option will give players access to each of the eight iconic Star Wars character class storylines, all the way up to level 50, with certain restrictions*. Unlimited game access, including new higher-level game content and new features will be made available through individual purchases or through a subscription option.”

What? Let me re-read that a couple of times and take out all the bits designed to confuse…

“a new Free-to-Play option… will give players access to … new higher-level game content and new features through individual purchases or through a subscription option.”

So… um… the F2P option doesn’t give you access to higher-level content and new features – you have to purchase them or take up the subscription option.

“Subscribers will retain unrestricted access to all game features”

Except you won’t. Some game features require Cartel Coins to access and subscribers get a restricted amount for their monthly fee.

Even the name of the option is misleading. I remember when Free-to-Play actually meant it was free to play. Without spending a dime you could experience every aspect of the game.  Real money was only required if you want to look different, get around more quickly or skip a grind fest to min/max your gear.

Pay-to-Win meant the game was mostly free but to get the best gear, experience late end-game content and be competitive at the highest level you had to pay.

BioWare, and many other developers, are calling their incoming model free-to-play, but it’s actually Pay-to-Win or a Super-extended-free-trial or some other marketing lingo yet to be developed. Somewhere along the lines the meaning of F2P got hijacked and twisted around to mean any model that isn’t strictly and solely subscription-based. From a developer’s point of view it makes sense. Any catch-phrase with the word FREE in it is number one with a bullet when it comes to advertising. So what if it isn’t true? Gamers are addicts – we just have to suck them in.

Well, we may have let them twist around definitions and use them for evil and not good – but most gamers are pretty picky about their drug, er… MMO of choice and value-for-money remains King.

In this regard, BioWare’s new Pay-as-you-Play option is the greatest blessing we could have hoped for. Subscription models don’t tend to force players to assess the worth of their fun every time they log-in and play. For most the financial commitment to a game happens once and then continues unmonitored until you tell it to stop.

Split those decisions into many little parts and shift them to the here and now and people get a lot more picky. Subscribers may be willing to spend $15 per month on buggy unfinished content, riding elevators, staring at loading screens, and basic MMO services that are unintuitive and clunky like the GTN or crafting window. But spending 50 cents on a Warzone that may or may not count as a win will only happen once.

Bioware haven’t always demonstrated the best sense in this regard, but I’m keeping the faith that the instantaneous money-talks feedback they’re about to introduce into the game will drive faster bug fixes, better QA, more content and a few sackings in the Crafting Department.

I’ve got money in my pocket, Bioware, so it’s Game On!

/gchat: The Good, The Bad And The Guildy

/gchat is our new and ongoing column on guilds and the fun, conflicts, laughs and rage-quits they contain. If you have a topic you’d like covered, drop Jemima a line!

By far the two most common causes of grief surrounding your whole guild experience are absent leadership and being in the wrong guild.

Absent leadership is pretty easy to spot, unless you live in Poland and rolled on Gav Daragon because you thought it sounded like a tasty sausage, but that is an article for another day.

Being in the wrong guild is often much more difficult to recognise.

Like most made-for-TV-movie relationships, you don’t want to see the problems. You’ve already invested a lot into the guild: made great friends, had great times, gone for long walks through the rakghoul-infested swamps of Taris at sunset and stopped for a romantic dinner at Karagga’s Palace.

Problems start as minor annoyances, but like a frog being slow-boiled, they can quickly escalate into train wrecks without you even being conscious of it. Bargains that should be made out loud and with other people are made silently and with yourself. “I’ll give them one more week to pick me for the team and if they don’t…  I’m leaving!! I swear to god!”

Next thing you know you’re throwing chairs and saucepans at walls and the police are asking you to sit in separate rooms – well, replace chairs and saucepans with mice and keyboards at monitors… and there’s no police – but you get my drift.

Assuming your leadership is present and does care about the guild, unhappiness with your current guild is more likely a symptom of the fact that they don’t care about you.

So how do you recognise the warning signs that you’re in the wrong guild?

If you’re in a social guild, but constantly frustrated that they can’t organise their way out of a paper bag – you’re in the wrong guild.

Social guilds are great for new players still trying to figure out the game, their class and what they want to do at end-game. They’re also fantastic for the lone-wolf or the family guy who logs in on Tuesday evenings, when the wife is at book-club, and are happy to PUG on the rare occasions when they feel like participating in structured activities.

But raids and ranked warzones are not like all-night movie cinemas – you can’t just buy a ticket for the next showing. You need rules, level and gear requirements. You need a fixed number and mix of classes to commit and then actually show to even give it a try, let alone succeed.

But the lack of these rules, requirements and obligations is the very thing that fundamentally defines a social guild. If you’re frustrated at your guild’s inability to provide enough structured content for you, it sounds like it’s time for you to specialise and move on.

If you’re in a raiding guild but find yourself too often benched, you’re in the wrong guild.

Casual, hardcore, semi-hardcore, decaf-halfcore with a twist of lemon – there’s a million different kinds of raiding guilds out there from absolute beginner to sponsored professional. But the devil is in the detail and when you start adding in rules and requirements, you have to make sure they work for you. You can generally liken the officers of raiding guilds to a hot chip on a beach of seagulls – trying to keep everyone happy with not quite enough to go around. So the key here is to make sure that you don’t want special treatment.

If you want the flexibility to raid as and when you choose on a moment’s notice, make sure you’re in a casual raiding guild and be prepared to sit out when you don’t necessarily want to. If you want a known schedule: min/max your gear; don’t stand in stuff; find a guild that guarantees positions to core raiders or works on a fixed rotating schedule; and show up when you say you will even when you don’t want to. Find out how they distribute loot and be honest with yourself – will you still be happy with that system once your ‘probation’ period is over?

Above all, make sure the raid team you’re on matches your experience level. Gear is easy to acquire – developing skills take time. If you’re constantly frustrated by the clown-show around you, it’s time to move on. If you’re too frequently the one wiping the team, you’re likely to find yourself having long conversations with Mr Bench.

If you’re in a PvP guild and you’re not getting matches, you probably suck at PvP.

Unlike PvE, in PvP there are no do-overs, there’s no we’ll get ‘em next week, and every win and loss gets recorded in the indelible ‘inspect player’ scorecard. Your performance is measured by the numbers and published to all those present at the end of the match. By necessity, PvPers live on the ruthless side of life and PvP team leaders have to be cut-throat to win. There’s still a requirement for some class balance but not to the same extent as raiding so if you’re getting benched, chances are you’re just not as good as the other people wanting to go.

Practice more and get better. Stop clicking or find out what that means. Roll a class or respec to one that’s more suited to PvP. Find a lower ranked team so you look good by comparison or turn that toon into the most formidable crafter on the Fleet.

Whatever your problems are there is a guild out there for you!

The Third Edge: Mercenary/Commando Interrupts & Utility

It’s always great to welcome a new writer on board, particularly one with the passion of Jemima Moore. She’ll actually be writing two columns – more on that soon. The Third Edge is devoted to everything Bounty Hunter and Trooper. As you’ll see from the article below, Jemima knows her stuff and what she doesn’t know she knows where to find it. Welcome Jem!

On March 23rd, Lead Combat Designer, George Zoeller lit a bonfire when he claimed that giving Mercenaries and Commandos an interrupt would, “increase their combat utility, especially in PvP, beyond what we are comfortable with.”

Since then I doubt few debates have raged more fiercely. Interrupts are useless against 50% of classes. Interrupts are essential for stopping burst and increasing survivability. Lack of an interrupt is the cause of TracerGravSpam. A well-named interrupt could be the next Pope.

So in this, the first edition of The Third Edge, I’d like to take the wahhhmbulance out of the argument and put Georg’s claim to the most judicial test of all – mathematics.

How much utility do Mercenaries and Commandos actually have? On a scale of 1 to 10 where do we rate compared to other classes? What’s an interrupt worth in terms of utility? And the question I think BurdoThePious should have asked – is giving us an interrupt going to stop most of us from sucking at PvP?

I have to admit, when I first approached this task I thought it would be easy – a simple 4-step process:

1) Define utility.
2) Determine which abilities fit the definition and group them into categories.
3) Allocate a point score to each of them.
4) Add up the numbers and see who has the most.

It turned out to be far, far more complicated than that. I did stick to that basic methodology, but as usual the devil is in the detail. Do I compare specific builds? What optional talents come into play? Is a stun better than a slow? What’s a longer lock-out worth compared to a shorter cool-down? What about when one ability can do three different things?

The task was behemoth and labyrinthine, but with optimism in my heart and a Prozac in my pocket,
I decided to compare 15 different common tank and dps trees (not builds) and included talents only from the bottom two rows of other trees.

Abilities were divided into categories and within each category I defined a baseline that would score 5 points.  A good example of this is in the Release category. Every advanced class has the ability to free themselves from all incapacitating effects once every 2 minutes – this the baseline worth 5 points. Additional points are added and subtracted based on modifiers like range, cast time, duration of effect, length of cool-down.

I made very few distinctions about whether one ability category held more value than another. Given any and all situations one can’t objectively make the claim that, say, a stun is better than a slow, so each ability category holds the same 5-point baseline with one exception – ‘special’ abilities or those tricks that are unique to one class or a few classes. Stealth is clearly more useful than Stealth Scan.  Group Stealth is cool and kooky but not as useful as a Combat Res. To give you an indication of the differential – Stealth is worth 10 points, Combat Res is worth 5 and Stealth Scan and Group Stealth are worth 4.

When it comes to modifiers – what’s a longer lock-out worth compared to a shorter cool-down – there’s a lot of room for debate and I hope there’s going to be! But the important thing to remember is that the same modifiers were applied to ALL classes and, for the most part, across all categories. So, even if you don’t agree with the reality of the numbers, at least everyone was tarred with the same brush.

A full list of baseline definitions, modifiers and my calculation sheets are available at the end of the article for all the seagulls to swarm over like a hot chip at the beach, but in the meantime and without further ado…

How do Mercenaries and Commandos rate in the utility stakes?

We’re 10! 10? C’mon I knew it was low… but 10? Operatives and Marauders have DOUBLE our utility and all four of the Bounty Hunter’s trees modelled place in the LAST six on the ladder.

The only category Mercs and Commando’s score highest in is the Arsenal Mercenary/Gunnery Commando specced into Afterburners/Concussive Force for knockbacks.

What good is that? If you’re not a Sniper, Gunslinger, Sorcerer, Sage at range; an Assassin, Shadow, Smuggler or Operative in stealth; or a Warrior or Knight in a window of immunity to movement impairing effects we’ll punt you across the map every 9 secs (or 13,500 damage taken @1500dps)! Watch out Galaxy – Boo-ya!! … not.

Alright, with the shaking of fists and indignance of scoring lower than a Jedi, on any scale, slowing fading it’s time to draw some objective conclusions. After all, this exercise was supposed to test Georg’s March 23 bombshell and shine a light on utility and interrupts as they pertain to PvP.

Mercenaries and Commandos score across less categories than most: we have no interrupt, no speed boost, pull, push or leap and we retain only baseline talents in the CC, Stun, Slow, Mitigation, Release and Cleanse categories. Our heals score the lowest of all advanced classes by a substantial amount. But more importantly the majority of our abilities are watered-down versions of things other classes can do more of or do better.

Electro Dart/Cryo Grenade  stuns for 4 secs, but Electrocute/Force Stun , Backhand/Hilt Strike and Debilitate/Dirty Kick all stun for 4 seconds and do damage as well.

Jet Boost/Concussion Charge gives an aoe knockback with slow but Sorcerers/Sages can knockback and immobilise.

Unload/Full Auto slows our targets for 3 secs with talents but a Marauder’s Ravage/Master Strike with talents immobilises AND they can perma-slow with two additional abilities.

On the other side of the coin…

Concealment Ops/Scrappers score highest and are commonly regarded as the pariahs of PvP. Powertechs/Vanguards are akin to gods in Ranked at the moment and they are dead last. They both score reasonably well in the interrupt category but Juggs/Guardians with 3 true interrupts lead that category are not generally considered to be formidable, terrifying or unstoppable in PvP. Even if we were given a 5 point baseline interrupt, it wouldn’t make a dent in that 60 point gap and if it did it wouldn’t make us Powertechs/Vanguards.

One can only conclude that the hero factor in PvP lies somewhere other than utility.

The kings of PvP: Powertechs and Vanguards, Marauders and Sentinels burst away unfettered by mobility issues and they scoff at interrupts no matter how many of them you have. PT/Vanguard dots and delayed explosions keep killing you even after they’re dead and Maras/Sentinels off-the-chart mitigation makes them close to immortal for us ‘Jedi Killers’.

Bestowing us an interrupt is not going overcome this problem but then nor is it going to upset class balance beyond all reckoning. It would be nice to have one in PvE but if it only works at 4m or 10m range like the rest them then that’s about as reverse on a lawn mower.

It’s claimed that Mercenaries and Commandos have some of the best burst in the game but we’re also one of the few Advanced Classes that relies heavily on casted damaged. Snipers and Gunslingers are immune to interrupts while in cover and Sorcerers/Sages have a stellar combination of mitigation and heals to keep them alive through a lock-out.

If we’re to truly become Jedi Killers, we need a way to protect our burst without asking Bioware to completely redesign the class. A decent window of immunity to movement impairing effects; better releases, speed boosts and leaps; improved damage mitigation or one of the better suggestions I’ve heard: Make Tracer Missiles/Grav Rounds instant cast but give it a cool-down.

I’d love to hear your ideas below.

As promised earlier, here are the full calculations in PDF format for you to digest or dissect: Advanced Class Utility Calculations