Since the addition of the Cartel Market and Free to Play option in Game Update 1.5, Star Wars: The Old Republic has seen a resurgence. Servers are full, the game is vibrant and we have gotten reports from BioWare that all their metrics are amazingly good. We hope to find out on January 30th how good, when EA has their latest quarterly financial status call. Until then, all we have to go on are carefully worded statements from the development and leadership team at BioWare Austin.
It’s not that hard to imagine the success however, as there have been many anecdotal stories of folks spending large sums of real world money on Cartel Coins, the in-game currency that is granted monthly as a stipend to Subscribers and can also be purchased through the SWTOR website.
Coins are sold in packs of 450 for $4.99 (USD), 1050 for $9.99 (USD), 2400 for $19.99 (USD) or 5500 for $39.99 (USD). Assuming everyone buys the best deal package of 5500 coins, coins roughly go for 138 per dollar or 90 coins per dollar if bought in packs of 450. These are the two bases I will use for price comparison.
There isn’t a lot known on how items are priced or packaged. In speaking with Corey Butler, Producer of the Cartel Market, he discussed how the cartel packs are packaged in “shipments” together and then staged for release in the Cartel Market store. That makes sense for the Cartel Packs, however, the rest of the market seems ran differently. While packs come out at certain cycles, there have been almost weekly updates to the Cartel Market with new armor sets, items, pets and other items. For the most part, the weekly updates revolve around adaptive armor sets that are not class or level restricted and sell for 1400 coins ($10/$15 USD).
Most of the recent concern has come on the cost of the Life Day Holiday Item Pack which consisted of the following items:
- ● Czerka LD-1 Celebrator
- ● Life Day Attire(Life Day Vestments, Lower Robe, and Boots)
- ● Life Day Holo-Tree
- ● Life Day Orb
- ● Life Day Tinsel Bomb
This pack sold for 2400 coins ($17/$27 USD). You could also buy the items individually but for a higher cost. Buying each item individually added up to 3720 coins ($26/$41 USD). This pack garnered some fairly angry responses from players who felt not only that these items should have been offered for free to celebrate an in-game event or through some form of in-game mission or quest. The items were social in nature, added no real in-game benefit and seemed radically overpriced. The pack was eventually said to be put on sale however, the price never actually changed, further irritating some fans. The pack was removed from the store on January 22nd and hopes grew that Cartel Market pricing issues might be going away.
However in the same patch, BioWare introduced a new mount, the Czerka CR-17 Incendia which is selling for 1800 coins($13/$20 USD). While the mount is impressive, many players seem to be upset again at the pricing of the item. Concern over the costs of items in the cartel market now seems to be growing as we haven’t seen any indication of them adjusting prices based off of player feedback.
How Do Others Do This?
One good barometer of pricing items like this is to look at how other games price their items. While World of Warcraft isn’t a Free-to-Play game like SWTOR is, they do sell some items through their online Blizzard store. They sell mounts, pets and character re-customization and transfers.
A mount bought through Blizzard is $25 USD. While looking at this at face value, one would think that they are charging more than SWTOR. The difference is that mounts in World of Warcraft are account bound, meaning any character you have or any character you create in the future will get this mount in their mail. In SWTOR, each item you purchase, for the most part, is only usable on that one character. There are some account unlocks, but those are mostly for features such as inventory space, cargo bay storage space, etc.
Star Trek Online offers different items that aren’t easy to compare to SWTOR items, however the majority of unlocks in STO are account bound as well. If you unlock ships, you are able to unlock them across all characters. When items are usable across all characters present and future, players feel like they are getting a good value for their money.
One of the issues with SWTOR before it went Free-to-Play is that players didn’t feel like it wasn’t worth the monthly subscription fee. Players had an issue justifying the cost with the value and we might be seeing an issue with this again. It seems that BioWare (and to some extent EA) are looking to see how much people will pay for items by putting them up for higher costs and seeing what the reaction is. I admit, it is impossible for me to know if these items are successes for BioWare since I don’t have access to their metrics, however, I believe there is a silent group who have no issue paying for this. I also believe that there is a fairly vocal group who are unhappy with the costs. The big question ends up being if the complainers have a valid point, or if it is just an issue of people not wanting to spend money on things.
I’m torn with this issue. I have no problem spending money on items in the Cartel Shop when they are a good value. However, there are times I may take a plunge and purchase items I might have concerns with. I did not think the Life Day Pack was priced well. That being said, I did purchase it. I feel the same way about the new mount as well, however this time I will not be purchasing it. I can’t justify spending almost $20 (USD) on a mount for one character. I also have a tough time spending money on armor sets that are in game in other ways and were just added as recolored versions/adaptive sets. Seems to lack creativity on the part of BioWare and points toward content for contents sake.
Where the Pricing Issues Begin To Break Down
One thing that continues to eat away at me is how they are pricing their Cartel Market items in comparison to other aspects of the game. The first digital game expansion, Rise of the Hutt Cartel is currently selling for $9.99 (USD) for Subscribers or $19.99 (USD) for Free and Preferred Players. When I compare the price and the features we are getting from this expansion against the costs of items in the Cartel Market, I begin to scratch my head. Why does a single mount cost more than an entire new planets worth of content that I can access across all my characters? Why is one set of armor worth more than this expansion? What is the reasoning behind this?
One of the common responses from people is “If you don’t like the pricing, don’t buy it”. That argument makes sense in some respects, however without voicing concerns, BioWare will only see a subsection of folks buying an item and assuming that everyone is happy with it. I think we, as a community, owe it to ourselves to bring concerns respectfully to BioWare. Staying quiet or refusing to buy things only proves half a point. I think we, as a community, truly want to make things better.
Where Does It Go From Here?
The future of the market is full of possibilities. I feel that the market is the best addition to the game since launch. It offers a great way to make sure that the game I love stays financially viable in a environment of heavy competition with other MMO’s. As I do when I write about issues like this, I offer some suggestions on things that I believe can be done to help improve.
Make Items Account Unocks – Buy a mount? You unlock it for your account. Buy an armor set? It unlocks for your account and can be retrieved on any character. This would seem at face value that people would spend less money on armor sets, however, I believe that would be offset by folks who wouldn’t usually buy the armor sets or mounts to wade into the pool since they know they will have it across all characters. I also think by doing this, BioWare could increase the cost of the item as well. Charging $25 for a mount, as Blizzard does, is a perfect example.
Offer Unique Items – This week, one of the new market armor sets was Sand Person armor. While it is technically different from the other two versions offered in game, it isn’t different enough to really get people excited. Rare, unique armor that can only be obtained from the store gets people interested. Putting armor that is based on existing armor sets in the game doesn’t generate a lot of buzz.
A Dialogue with the Community – BioWare has a habit of saying “We are listening to feedback” and while I believe it, I also feel that a lot of the time it must be like trying to drink from a fire hose. Sending out surveys, posting specific feedback threads or initiating dialogue with fan sites, much like Eric Musco and Corey Butler did in response to my previous Cartel Market article. Players want to feel like their opinion is valued and that they are being heard. Posting a post in a thread doesn’t really give them that feeling.
I think overall we are seeing good things come from the Cartel Market. My goal for this isn’t to try to constantly pull it apart and complain. My goal is to see this market become an industry leader in western Free-to-Play MMO’s and become the wild success that I believe we, as players, know it can be.
So I ask you loyal reader, what are your thoughts on these items in the market? Do you feel they are overpriced/under priced? As always, we enjoy your thoughts and comments so please leave them in the comments section below!