I have been thinking about how different I feel as a subscriber of two games that have both gone to a Free to Play model after their initial releases as subscription games. The way I feel as a customer is very different between Star Wars: The Old Republic and Rift.
In SWTOR, I stay subscribed to avoid the hassle of unlocking content and playing the game without rested XP and other conveniences I have become used to in the game. I don’t stay a subscriber because I feel that they value me as one. In fact, I get the subtle sense that they value their cash shop customers far more than they value me, someone who has subscribed since their game released. While I haven’t harshly lambasted them on Twitter the way others have, I still feel really let down by how they treat their paying customers. There are in-game functions (like mail droid summons or cargo hold expansions) in the Legacy system that could be enabled to add nice convenience features for subscribers with a minimum of fuss, but doing so might cost EA a bit of extra cash. After seeing how they have treated their conversion vs. how Rift has done so, they could take some big lessons from Trion.
In Rift, I actually feel that my subscription is valued. They give me a reason to log in every day and every week with a small gift, not to mention all of the really great gifts I got as a reward for being subscribed to their game for many months. The difference between their rewards and SWTOR’s is night and day. I WANT the Patron abilities that they give us. They are convenience features that make me want to stay a subscriber for more than just avoidance of content unlocks. The value added features in their cash store as well make it really nice for everyone, which is a smart way to tempt players with its offerings. I visit the in game store on a regular basis while questing just to sell trash items. I rarely open the SWTOR cash store, so I’m never tempted to buy stuff in it.
Another lesson that SWTOR could take from Rift is demonstrated by how Trion handled changes to their zones during the F2P conversion. They level gated their new zones to keep out exploiters. I was really worried when they did that because I have a couple of mid 30s characters that I have used to build support crafting skills to high levels. Up to the conversion, those characters, through some pain and help from my husband, managed to open up portals to turn ins for high level crafting quests. I worked hard to get those areas opened up, only to see them closed to me at conversion. But never fear, Trion was thinking ahead when they did this. They moved the NPCs for those quest turn ins to the main city hub that we all can still access. So not only can my low level characters still progress through crafting, none of my crafters have to travel all over the world to turn in these quests.
By contrast, when SWTOR opened up a new tier of crafting with the expansion that I had to buy, they level locked some of the crafting. I put up with having to pay for the expansion because it really is a nice piece of rich content, but I am very annoyed that I can’t fully benefit from the craft skills on some of my low level characters.
My level 41 Treasure Hunting crafter has a bunch of missions that are useless to him, and a bunch of stuff taking up bank space that he can do nothing with, because the rewards he gets from the missions require me to level him to 51 just to open the boxes. None of the prior tiers of missions had that restriction, just the gear you got out of those boxes was level restricted, which was fine. Wow, what a let down. Not only did I as a subscriber have to swallow the bitter pill of not getting their expansion as part of my sub, but they removed some of the value of my time and money spent increasing my craft skills. These were not smart or forward-thinking decisions.
Sorry if this has come across as game bashing. I really do still enjoy SWTOR and I still actively play it. I just wish that they could take some lessons from other game companies in how to treat their customers. I find myself more and more disappointed in them as time goes on and things I’ve been promised, like a free character name change and subscriber-only in game content, have fallen by the wayside. The last thing a company should do is remove incentives from loyal customers. In this regard, Trion has once again shown its quality.
P.S. I’m editing this post to give Kudos to SWTOR’s team for listening to customer requests. The Treasure Hunting boxes were fixed so that they are no longer level capped as of today’s patch. Thanks for listening Bioware! I can finally reclaim my bank slots and share some gear with my alt companions. We also got our free character name change this patch as a “thanks” for subscribing. Happy to see that come through as well.