Hello TORWarriors. I have had Cartel Packs on the brain lately and it’s gotten to a point where I need to write down all of my thoughts and put them in front of you guys to see what your thoughts are. As you all know, I have some grievances when it comes to the curent state of the Cartel Pack system and I’m not usually quiet about it either. Anyone who follows me on Twitter, knows this about me. However, it came as somewhat of a surprise that after Cory Butler heard about my need to pen this article, he wanted to talk with me about it. His response to this opinion piece follows but allow me to initiate you into my thought processes. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that these are my thoughts and opinions and in no way reflect the same thoughts and opinions of TORWars or its staff.
My Thoughts On the Current Iteration Of Cartel Packs
I have been mulling over writing something about cartel packs for a while now, ever since players knew that this would become the major way of distributing items from the Cartel Market. The MTX (Micro Transaction Exchange), as BioWare likes to call it, is becoming the focal point of the Cartel Market discussion lately. As we have now seen, there have been four different cartel packs released to the Cartel Market and players have been buying and opening these in bulk, myself included.
The idea of random packs of items in Free to Play MMO’s isn’t anything new. It’s not even a new concept for BioWare, as Mass Effect 3 had different packs that could be purchased with earned in-game currency (or BioWare points). Each pack has different weapons, racial unlocks, and single-use items for multi-player. Put a few rare and exciting items into these packs with filler items to keep consumers buying them. Simple right? But napkin math aside, the idea is for consumers to spend more on random packs than they would if the item was sold outright in the market. Why charge $10 in the Cartel Market for a hover-chair mount when consumers can pay hundreds of dollars in cartel coins with a slim chance of ever owning one? The plan is drastically in favor of BioWare.
This isn’t to say this is a bad thing. It’s obvious they needed to find more lucrative income streams as the game switched to a free to play model. The Cartel Market and packs are not only there for free accounts to upgrade certain parts of the game, but subscribers have been spending money hand over fist on items as well. The new option to purchase character slots with 1.6.2 only increases the avenues for BioWare to make additional money from players. As the idea of micro transactions and real money payment in games becomes more accepted here in the west, this will continue to be the norm in MMO’s.
So what is the problem then? We love this game, we love BioWare – so why wouldn’t we want them to make money?
The answer to this is simple. Products thrive when consumers feel they are getting a good value for the money they put in. Why is World of Warcraft still viable as a subscription based game eight years since its launch? Players feel that there is an incredible amount of content for that $15 a month. The issue with SWTOR‘s Cartel Packs is that the new shiny feeling is wearing off for many players, myself included. The gambling aspect of the packs is starting to become frustrating for a few reasons.
The first reason is this, if I’m going to spend real money in an MMO, I want to know what I’m going to get. This isn’t that strange of a request. The issue with most Cartel Packs now is that all of the common and uncommon items in them are the same across all four kinds of packs. Only rares and super rares are different among them. You end up spending 360 Cartel Coins (between $3-5 USD depending on which coin pack you buy) and end up getting the same items over and over and over. Folks have complained about having cargo bays full of emotes, banners, glowing eyes, pets, etc.
Sure, many of these items can be sold on the GTN, but as the supply continues to build and demand continues to wane, the chances of actually selling the items is close to zero. And, as none of these items are sell-able to vendors (which I can only guess is to keep inflation down from a drastic influx of credits into the economy from the game) these items become junk.
I think the parts of the Cartel Market where you buy individual item sets or unlocks is brilliant. Spend so many coins, get a set of gear. Spend so many coins, get an XP boost. I know what I’m paying, and I know what I’m getting. This is the segment of the market I believe has the most promise. That isn’t to say that it is without issue. The Life Day items were a complete abuse of this part of the market. The Life Day packs were overpriced, over-hyped and overwhelmingly received negatively by the community. Most called it a blatant cash grab. Not the best press for BioWare, as this was the first “limited engagement” pack in the cartel market.
My second reason is the kinds of available items. Recolored and/or reused armor and items. There is no excuse for this. We now have three different variations on the elegant lounge wear which, for the most part, is almost identical to other dancer outfits in game. These items are becoming frustrating, almost insulting to consumers. I have no problem with new weapon models being in the packs. I have no problem with new gear sets being in the packs. I have a problem with the continued reusing of existing models in different colors, the continued usage of crafting mats and companion reputation items as filler and the whole idea that only a few items change from pack to pack.
An analogy was given by Damion Schubert that the packs are equatable to Magic: The Gathering card packs, or any CCG (collectible card game) for that matter. I played an incredible amount of both the Star Wars and Star Trek CCG’s in junior high and high school and learned that system fairly well. Each pack of 15 cards had a majority of common cards, several uncommon, one rare and sometimes, depending on the expansion set, the chance for an ultra rare or foil card. For those of us who were incredible addicts, we would buy whole boxes for hundreds of dollars to open the packs and get the cards we want. We would end up with huge amounts of the common and uncommon cards and hopefully all the rares we wanted.
You can see how this sort of model translates to the packs here in SWTOR. Where the analogy falls apart is in each expansion, the commons and uncommon cards (not counting re-releases as I believe Magic The Gathering did from time to time) were new as well. In the Cartel Packs, for the most part, we get the same common and uncommon items over and over. Even some of the rares that we get persist on through until you’ve received more than you can reasonably sell on the GTN and make any sort of return.
My third reason is the GTN (galactic trade network). One of the reasons my previous two issues should be moot is the fact that all items (for the most part) have a bind cool down on them. Depending on your account status, the items in the packs are initially bound to you and once the timer expires, they are unbound and can be traded or sold. This is a good way for folks who don’t want to spend money on coins to eventually buy the items they want, and those who do want to spend the money on coins to make some in game credits without creating artificial inflation, which would result if BioWare started selling credits outright.
The issue now becomes supply and demand. Low-end items become extremely common and are sold for next to nothing on the GTN. Rare items are sold for extremely high prices that the average player will struggle to be able to afford. It is not uncommon for rarer mounts to sell for four to five million credits a piece and sometimes more (at least on my server). Weapons tend to be somewhat more affordable, but lightsabers can go for one million or more credits depending on supply. So while the items are available in the GTN, to me, the rarity and barrier for the items becomes almost too high for the majority of players looking to get them. Most players won’t pay a million credits or more for a monkey lizard.
This of course opens up the discussion on the issue with the credit limit imposed on free accounts. Players who choose to play for free are limited to having 200,000 credits at a time. Anything extra they earn gets put into an escrow account that is available once their original 200k is spent. This immediately puts anything over 200k credits on the GTN out of the reach of Free players. Of course this doesn’t just affect Free players, Preferred players have a limit of 350k credits. While I understand the need to have things to entice folks to subscribe, it should be exciting and fun things. Telling Free and Preferred players “Well, if you pay us money on a monthly basis, you can then pay in game money for items you want!”, isn’t the way this should be done. That isn’t an incentive.
Since I am not one to throw stones at glass houses (often), I want to offer a suggestion to help correct this, in my opinion, glaring issue. I feel the best way to help players grow confidence in the Cartel Market is to take the rare items from the packs and place them on the market as the primary way to purchase them. Price them at a premium and just let players buy what they want. It’s bad enough that these items can’t be found in game without paying coins for them, let’s give the consumers a choice over what they spend their hard earned money on.
That being said, some folks like the Cartel Packs and want to see them continue. I think that is also fine and it does offer some choice for the consumer and keeping the packs at an appropriate price level compared to the individual items gives those that want to gamble the opportunity to do so. A model where lower cost packs gives the chance to get a rare or super rare versus paying a higher coin cost for the specific item, I believe, would make this market the hit that it truly can be in SWTOR.
Some Insight From BioWare
I tweeted the other day that I had written this piece and Eric Musco, Community Coordinator at BioWare Austin reached out to me and let me know if I would share it with them before it was published. I was told that they would get some feedback on it from Corey Butler, Producer in charge of the Cartel Market in hopes that it would answer some of the concerns stated here and mimicked throughout the fan community. They were very insistent that they would not want us to change our article at all, just wanted to offer some additional insight on my concerns (and many of yours) their views and possible future plans.
Here is the message I received from Mr. Butler
I’m Cory Butler and I’m the Producer in charge of the Cartel Market. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to provide insight for your article before it gets published! Understandably, I can’t go into too many details about certain things but I can respond to a few items from your article.
First of all, I wanted to let you and your readers know that we’re paying very close attention to the feedback that we’ve been getting for our packs (such as the issue that you brought up regarding the reuse of items in each pack). This was our first round of Cartel packs and you can expect us to improve upon these offerings in the future based on a lot of the feedback that we’ve seen from players. As part of this process, we’re going to be experimenting a bit with the Pack offerings and continue to adjust to make sure that our players continue to remain happy.
To address one of your other points, I understand that some players may be frustrated with the credit limits in place for Preferred and Free-to-Play accounts when it comes to purchasing rare Cartel Pack items from the GTN. Please understand that the limits are in place to prevent exploitative actions (such as gold farming), but know that we are aware of this and are pursuing various possible solutions.
The sales from the Cartel Market help us fund other aspects of the game, and as such, we want to make sure that we have successful offerings for all of our players so that we can continue to improve the game as a whole. I appreciate the concerns that you bring up in this piece and I want you to know that my team is actively working on ways to address everything that you have brought up. You can expect more details about our Cartel Pack plans in the near future.
Thanks again, and let me know if there’s anything else I can answer for you.
While there isn’t any overly detailed information on what might be changing, we at least know that they are aware of the player concerns about the packs and the market and are looking to address them. I had no doubt of this, however, he references this as the “first batch” of packs. I am hoping in the future that the packs are constructed more on an individual basis. More packs with the same issues we see now of duplicate and reused items would just be perpetuating the problem.
I appreciate his answer on the credit limits and completely understand the need to regulate and deal with credit farmer accounts. I’m actually one of the more vocal supporters of having the free to play accounts being locked down since I experienced the influx of gold spammers and farmers in World Of Warcraft when they allowed free low level characters. I just believe this is more of an issue of game design that these extremely rare items are selling for so much on the GTN. I look forward to seeing what they do to address this but only time will tell. For now I’m patiently waiting and anticipating what the future of the Cartel Packs and Market have in store for us.
There you have it folks, my two cents. I truly do love SWTOR and I’m the first to tell you that the Cartel system has some really good qualities, but it still needs some ironing out. How do you feel about the packs? Are you still excited to purchase them? Are you burned out on them entirely? Frustrated? Happy? What what what? I must know! Air all of your thoughts and opinions below, TORWarriors, we want to read them.