Tuesday, July 31, 2012

SWTOR Going Free to Play

** UPDATE: The F2P option will run on 'Cartel Coins', a virtual currency similar to LOTRO and DDO's Turbine Points.  The points will be used to purchase content, customization options, and convenience features.  Current subs, as well as CE owners, will start accumulating points immediately.  I'll break it down once I read the FAQ. **

** UPDATE TWO - CARTEL COINS: Here's the breakdown; 150 coins per month you've paid since launch, 200 coins from August to November (supposed F2P launch), 1000 coins for CE owners, 250 extra for F2P launch players in good standing.  Essentially, a Day 1 CE Owner can expect to have (6*150)+1000+250+(200*3) = 2750 at F2P launch.  Remember not to add your first month (free with game) as well as the free month you earned (if you earned it) a couple of months ago for 'veteran rewards').  So, CE owners can expect ~ 2750 Cartel Coins if they have been active since Day 1, non-CE owners can expect ~ 1750 Cartel Coins. **

** UPDATE THREE - F2P CHART: See the screenshot below for the F2P restrictions. **

On today's EA earnings call, SWTOR was announced as going 'Free to Play' as of this fall.  Here's the SEC filing.

EA Expands Award-Winning MMO Star Wars(TM): The Old Republic(TM) with Free-to-Play Option This Fall

New Free-to-Play Option Will Open Up the Critically-Acclaimed MMO from BioWare and LucasArts to Millions of Additional Star Wars™ Fans and Gamers Worldwide
AUSTIN, Texas--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- BioWare™, a Label of Electronic Arts (NASDAQ: EA), announced today that it will be expanding the story-driven, massively multiplayer online game Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ by 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.
"Players want flexibility and choice. The subscription-only model presented a major barrier for a lot of people who wanted to become part of The Old Republic™ universe," said Matthew Bromberg, GM of BioWare Austin.
Jeff Hickman, Executive Producer of Star Wars: The Old Republic added, "Since launch, we've been listening to feedback from our fans and adding new content and refining The Old Republic at a breakneck pace. We believe we are in a position to help improve the service even more, not only by continuing to add new content, but also by expanding the game to many more Star Wars fans, increasing the populations on worlds and the vibrancy of the community."
Starting this fall, there will be two different ways to play Star Wars: The Old Republic:
  • Subscription — A service designed for players who want unrestricted access to all the game features via ongoing subscription or by redeeming a Game Time Card. In addition to gaining access to all game content as our current subscribers do now, subscribers will receive ongoing monthly grants of Cartel Coins, the new virtual currency that will be introduced later this fall. Cartel Coins can be used to purchase valuable in-game items including customizable gear and convenience features that will enhance the game play experience.
  • Free-To-Play — The first 50 levels will be Free-to-Play, with restrictions on access to new content and advanced player features. Some restrictions can be "unlocked" with Cartel Coins.
As the first step towards adding the new Free-to-Play option this fall, Star Wars: The Old Republic will go on sale in August for $14.99 USD, including one-month of free subscription.
Current and former players will also find additional benefits as part of this program. BioWare will be increasing the frequency of game content updates, with the first of many new releases coming in August. In addition, current subscribers will receive Cartel Coin grants and qualify for access to special in-game items. Even former players who re-activate now will qualify for special benefits. To learn more about these rewards, please visit www.StarWarstheOldRepublic.com/FREE.
Star Wars: The Old Republic is one of the most critically acclaimed MMOs of all time, having won MSNBC's "Game of the Year" award in 2011, "Editor's Choice" awards from IGN, PC Gamer and "Best MMO of 2011" awards from Game Informer, GameSpy, AOL Massively, Ten Ton Hammer and more. The game is set thousands of years before the classic Star Wars movies, with the Galactic Republic and Sith Empire locked in the middle of an epic, galactic war. Players choose one of eight iconic Star Wars character classes, including the Jedi Knight, Jedi Consular, Smuggler, Trooper, Sith Warrior, Sith Inquisitor, Bounty Hunter and Imperial Agent, becoming the hero or villain of their own personal Star Wars saga.

Here's the chart of F2P options; basically, subscribers will be unaffected.  F2P folks will have limited access like limits on Warzones, Flashpoints, Space Missions, no access to Operations, etc etc.

Hey look, Bioware's hubris pays off!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Powering Down

Agent, why are we in Mos Isla?  Where's your rifle?  Why are you in a hammock!

I'm relaxing, Kaliyo.  Please get out of my sun.  Oh, and hand me that drink.

That thing smells like freighter coolant.  On fire.

It's called a Tatooine Sunburn.  Be a dear and grab that lotion too.

If you even think about asking me to lather you, I'll stab you in the crotch.

In sharp contrast to Spinks, who seems to be winding up to enter the operations game in SWTOR, I'm shuttin' 'er down.  That's right; I'm hanging up my operatin' shoes and going full-on casual.  Not casual in the bad sense of the word (lolbadz casualz ruinin da gamez!) but in the good way; consuming content casually, on my own schedule, at my own pace.  Workin' on nobody's time but my own.  Because, you see ... I have a lot of spare time now.  After all, I've stepped away from my GMing duties and Scum and Villainy is essentially shutting down.  It's an ignoble yet inevitable end to my little guild, the baby I built from the ground up and nurtured for a year and a half before the game even launched, but as all things in life, eventually you must let go.  My guild really died on Shien and that's what I'll concentrate on ... the good times we had on our old server, the excitement of discovering a new game, and the slow, steady decline to oblivion as friend after friend left the game.

My guild dying slowly isn't really an indictment of the game; it's the dawning realization on some of the playerbase that TOR simply isn't for them.  The hardcore grinders who labor endlessly on a brutal gear curve, the obsessive gatherers who fill reputation bars for long-lost factions, the crafting gestapo who hunt down years-old recipes for obscure items that no one will ever use, the fanatical roleplayers who seek to shape their own stories completely separate of the main game ... this game isn't really for you.  At least, not yet it isn't.

And you know what?  That's ok.

TOR is its own wacky beast.  Its got a smattering of raiding here, a bit of story there, a smidgen of collector stuff (datacrons) over there, some wonky space combat, and some beautiful graphics all around.  Call it what you want: a single-player game wrapped in an MMO, space-WoW, KOTOR 3 through 10 ... call it anything you like.  What I'll call it is my favorite MMO of all time.  And for folks like me, TOR is a god-send, a shot in the dark, a clarion call for everything we could have wanted in an MMO and some things we didn't even know we wanted but got anyways.  It's so great simply for this one fact; it makes no demands of you.  There aren't crushing daily grinds at level cap for reputation gear.  There aren't back-breaking raids that require months of strategy and wipes.  There aren't brutally hard instances that punish singular mistakes with complete party death.  There's none of that.  None.

What is there is a game that makes no demands on my time.  I don't have to log in every day so I don't miss my dailies.  I don't grind rep.  Gear is relatively easy to come by.  Operations are fun and story-driven.  The leveling experience ... well the leveling is outstanding.  Truly the only time I've played an MMO where I've wanted to see more than one character at a time.  It's fantastic.

In short, it's the perfect MMO for those of us who can't log in every day.  Who need to do other stuff occasionally.

And don't think of this as a snarky send-up of those who enjoy the progression curve of MMOs or hardcore collecting.  Those things will come in time to TOR, I truly believe it.  But for right now, for a certain section of the MMO fanbase, TOR's hitting all the right buttons.  And it feels amazing.

Edit: Shintar rightfully pointed out that grinding for PVP gear is pretty horrendous.  I concur!

Monday, July 16, 2012

HK-51 is Coming ...

Proclamation: Organic meatbags should be very concerned.  This one's assassination protocols are now upgraded.  Tell me who we should kill, Master.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Fly Kurtob ... Fly the best.

It's like a Space Mercedes for my agent who already flies a Space Jaguar starship.  Also, the Kurtob Alliance + level 10 + Rank 1 Speeder Piloting perk = pure win.

Don't hate me because I'm beautiful
Oh Force won't ya buy me a Kurtob Alliance, my friends all drive Aratechs, I must make amends!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Georg Zoeller Leaves Bioware

The shakeup at Bioware-Austin continues.  Georg Zoeller, Principle Lead Combat Designer (and who some believe are responsible for the early failures in PVP) has left Bioware for a job in Singapore.  I never really had a problem with him or his decisions, even if he came off a little sarcastic or abrupt in his exchanges with beta testers.  Best of luck, Georg!  It looks like Austin Peckinpaugh has taken over his duties.  Let's hope this new direction culminates in a healthier game.

Monday, July 9, 2012


Edit: I'm not alone!  Our favorite warlock feels the same way.

You ever love to play a game but never log in?  That's where I am right now with TOR.  Oh, I'm not quitting or anything so dramatic, I just kinda feel like ... blah.  Maybe it's the summer, maybe it's what's going on right now in my personal life, maybe I'm just burned out.  Maybe my guild woes have sapped me dry.  I dunno.  Perhaps I need that proverbial break, a chance to recharge my TOR batteries?

This was brought home to me over the weekend when my wife said, "I'd thought you'd be on The Old Republic."  I was playing a game I picked up on Steam over the weekend called Endless Space (a fantastic 4x turn-based strategy game) and was having a blast when she asked me why I wasn't on TOR.  To be honest, I couldn't quite tell her why ... I love playing TOR and I love the stories and whatnot, but I just couldn't be assed to log in.  I think a lot of it has to do with the commitment that TOR demands of me and the rather carefree nature of summer.  You know what, MMO?  I don' WANNA carve out a huge block of time to play ya!  WHATCHA SAY 'BOUT DAT!  I wanna play what I wanna play and I don't give a toot-rootin' damn 'bout whatchoo think!

To be fair, this is sort of a pattern with me.  Occasionally I'll just drift out for a bit and play another game.  Like lately I've been on Battlefield 3 and Mass Effect 3 (since they released the Extended Cut DLC).  I had my dalliances with Skyrim and ME3 before, as well as Minecraft too.  Like all things, this too will pass but for the moment I'm leaving folks holding the bag on TOR.  That's the part I hate the most, really.

It may also have a lot to do with the fact that sometimes TOR pulls me in too many directions at once.  I've got severe altitis on that game and the pressure of playing so many different dudes gets to me!  I know it sounds dumb, but hopefully a few of you understand.

I don't know what I'll do; maybe I'll just log into TOR and play anyways, maybe I'll declare a 'Summer of Gaming' and go an odyssey through my backlog of titles, or maybe I'll just go outside and stare at the sun.  Who knows?  Blegh.

Fly safe, shoot straight!  For the glory of the Empire ... and summer!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Things SWTOR Did Right

This agent is recharged after a rather mellow holiday week; I hope you all had a safe and fun holiday.  Today we'll talk about something that's been bugging me for a while now ...

Star Wars: The Old Republic ... it's a game that's very, very, very popular to bash right now.  On one hand, you've got BioWare, former golden child developer who literally could do no wrong.  They are now tarnished by Dragon Age 2 and the debacle of the Mass Effect 3 endings, as well as being gobbled up by EA.  On the other hand, you have corporate whipping boy Electronic Arts.  People seem to hate EA just because they are EA and for no other reason; sure there was some stuff in the early 2000s about working conditions (that have been rectified), but for the most part it seems that EA is rather hands-off on its teams.  It reminds me of the Microsoft hate of the 90s and the current Apple hate (but the folks who hate Apple are totally right and Apple is a terrible company that needs to die a horrible, agonizing death.  Steve Jobs was also a pompous asshole bully and a jerk to everyone with a pulse, so fuck him too).  Mix in some first time MMO developers, a few missteps here and there (features missing at launch, some antagonizing from devs in the forums) and viola!  An instant cockstorm of hatred for the game other people called 'the WoW-Killarz' even though BioWare stayed far, far away from any such talk.  But for all the perceived 'failures' of TOR, let's admit it folks ... BioWare did a lot of things right.  Let's take a look at a few.

Fellow agents, let's admit some things.  Questing in 'that other game' really, really sucks.  Questing in MMOs, generally speaking, sucks so hard it could star in its own pornographic film.  TOR forever changed the paradigm of the themepark MMO when they introduced auto-completing questing, holocalls, and cutscenes.  The impact of this cannot be stated enough!  Before TOR, in order to complete a quest, you had to mount up and head back to town to talk to the individual quest giver.  How antiquated.  TOR has obliterated that model completely by offering self-completing missions, holocalls that allow a buddy to head to town and turn in a mess of quests without you having to go anywhere, and cutscenes during questing that pull you into the story.  Some folks like to downplay this, but really.  Guys.  You don't have to go back to town all the damn time.  This, if nothing else, should be reason to celebrate like a loon.

Permanent pets, anyone?  Not just regular pets; pets with stories and goals and interesting dialogue, even potential romance.  Try having a conversation with a Barrens Raptor or a Hyjal Moth.  The companion systems is so completely integral to gameplay, so completely new, and at the same time a throwback to TOR's KOTOR roots.

Class Stories
Not since the heady days of The Burning Crusade had the idea of class-only quests reared their head in a mainstream MMO (with the exception of LOTRO).  Most games were moving toward a bland, generalized experience peppered only with same-size-fits-all stories.  Not TOR.  TOR completely blows the lid off of the 'general consensus' by offering a personalized, class-based storyand making it the main feature of the game.  It's a gamble as it will drive some players away (they won't be able to get 'into' their character), ultimately it is the game's strength.

Game Systems
AOE looting.  Companion crafting.  Crafting from your bank.  Companion missions.  Space mission mini-games.  Need I go on?  I pity any MMO that doesn't feature these systems in the future.  The ability to craft items from materials in your bank ... I mean, I don't know if there's been a more important change.

Knights of the Old Republic came out in 2003, and for many fans that was the defining RPG of the decade.  Never before had we seen such a fleshed-out, personal story told in the Star Wars universe, one that was arguably better than the prequel movies and on par with Zahn's fantastic Heir to the Empire trilogy.  It oozed the Star Wars feeling from every pore and absolutely gobsmacked you with a fantastic twist.  TOR features the same feel, the same world(s).  TOR strives hard to emulate that same awe and wonder we had in 2003, and for large swathes of the game, succeeds brilliantly.  I mean, who didn't grin like a loon when fighting HK-47 during The Foundry?

Non-Bracketed PVP
SWTOR may not have been the first to do this (Warhammer featured a bolster mechanic), but the choice to eliminate brackets in PVP was inspired.  Not only did it open wide the gates of organized PVP, it also introduced PVP to the masses using a very friendly, quick system.  Look, I've not been a major PVPer before; sure I did Wintergrasp and some battlegrounds in WoW, but frankly it wasn't my thing.  Now though ... now I'm a low-level PVPer on a couple of characters and absolutely loving it.  Huttball is equal parts brilliant and frustrating, Novare and Alderaan are supremely balanced, and Voidstar is a hellaciously tough place to assault or defend.  And deciding to remove all the restrictions was a masterstroke.

Story-Mode Operations
The LFR tool may have been released in WoW in November, 2011, but idea was firmly placed in the SWTOR beta since 2010.  The lowest level of raiding (called 'normal' back then) was designed to allow almost everyone access to the continuing story in SWTOR, no matter their talent level.  Now certainly gear requirements to get into the operation were in place, but for the vast majority of players, Eternity Vault and Karagga's Palace were accessible.  And that's a good thing.

All in all, TOR's had its missteps.  It's not been all roses and blowjobs.  But let's also not lose sight of what TOR has done so incredibly well.  Fly safe, shoot straight!  For the glory of the Empire!