Friday, 7 December 2012

Guest Article: Free to Play

But at what cost?

Editor's note: My own experiences with MMOs have been limited. My friend Radixius has played both World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic. He still plays one of them even now, after reading this article try to take a guess which one. If you enjoyed Rad's article, then you can find more of his written work at Rageblog: The Blog, or his podcast Ragecast, which I've appeared on from time to time as well.

P.S. Have I mentioned lately that I FUCKING HATE Blogger's stupid formatting issues? No? Well I do. With that out of the way, onto the actual article.

I don't think I've ever been so offended by a game company then when I finally got back into the Free to Play version of Star Wars the Old Republic.  I don't know who pisses in EA's cereal, but they are incredibly irked at their player base for not supporting their game that they reportedly spent the better part of a decade and millions of dollars into.  Like, I don't get it, why are they mad at me?

I received the game as a gift from my wife for my birthday, I subscribed to the game for four months, I tried everything I could to wring at least an iota of fun out of their product and I just couldn't take it after a while.  The game is absolute dreck on the surface, but a veritable treasure underneath.  Everything about it is either sub-par or outstanding.  It is, at once, both the best thing I've experienced and the worst thing I have ever had to put up with in my life.  Hell, I even spent about three hundred dollars to upgrade my system, keeping the colors red and black, like my Sith character, so I could play the game better only to learn that the graphics were choppy because the engine was poorly optimized. 

I was a booster for them early on. I've even supported them while not playing, by attempting to cheer them on from the sidelines.  I'd like this game to succeed, not on the same level as WoW mind you, but at least somewhere above its current standing.  SWTOR deserves recognition for what it does so incredibly well, but the flaws sully it to such an extent that it's hard for the good things to shine through and actually make an impression.

About six months ago I added the security key program to my phone to up the security of my account, because that makes sense, right?  Two months later I upgrade my phone, and had to download the security key program again so I could access all my information and log into the game, as one is wont to do when they have such a device.  I was even smart and wrote down the serial and activation codes for the program just in case something got wiggy with my new hand-held.  Lo and behold I was not smart enough as the serial and activation codes are non-transferable between devices, and there is no way to deactivate security keys unless you call the account management guys, which makes me think they're either really lonely or their system is so draconian and poorly built that someone there has to wave a magic wand after hearing the power word that stokes their interest to do so.

Whichever was the case, I eventually got everything sorted out, the key is gone, I can log in again.  Funny note, I got my security question wrong three times, told the dude that I was having trouble and he gave me the answer because, quote, he believed that I was the proper account holder; There was no validation other than I said my name and email address.  But I digress.  I put in my information and then have to download about three to four gigabytes worth of new data in the form of patches, which makes sense until you realize that I was only gone for eight months and this game is now two thirds the size of World of Warcraft.  I guess eight years and eight months isn't that much of a difference.

After all of this rigamarole, I can finally play this game.  And I'll declare that, before all of this hectic bullshit I was really excited to see what the changes were to the game.  Was it improved?  Does it play any different?  Did they possibly take any of the notes I left them? But at this point I just want to log in and see this thing crash and burn.  I don't want to see anything be different or new or better.  I want it to be the same festering pile of garbage I left back in April or May.  But, nope.  Not quite yet.

It turns out that the opening cinematic is rendered in such a way that it forces your display to go to a 120Hz refresh rate.  Which should work fine with a 60Hz display, they should sync in such a way that it shouldn't be an issue.  But no, it doesn't quite reach 120Hz and instead stalls out at 119.8Hz, which does not sync well with a 60Hz display and instead makes your monitor scream "Out Of Range" at you and then, when you try all the button combinations possible, at least on my system, I was forced into a hard restart.  Which I hate as it's one of the worst things you can do to a machine, and I respect my rig enough to coddle it in most possible ways.  So the wife and I go out and get me a new monitor for a hundred bucks.  That should clear things up, right?

Well, after about a day and a half of wrestling with .ini files and control panel toggles and switches, I can say that I finally got everything working enough to log in, see my character (at least my main, I have to decide which of my other ones to delete as I only have two slots open), respec my talent points, and look at the new cartel coin system or whatever mindfuckingly stupid thing EA and BioWare agreed was the best idea ever.  They are incredibly incorrect on that front.

Unlike say, a Nexon game where there is a real incentive for people to buy their cruddy little game currency nonsense to make their characters pretty or whatever it is people do on Maple Story, EA chose, as I'm sure most people have seen by now, to kneecap the core game, disabling things that at face value seem like vanity or extraneous options.  They are gimping the game itself to get people to pony up cash to buy cartel coins to unlock base "features", and I use the term loosely here, like the ability to take your mask off, the ability to display your Legacy name, color coordination on your gear, hell, even extra quickbars for spells and abilities.

Yes, that's right, you can only have one hotbar for the entirety of your 50 levels if you're playing for free unless you pay EA and BioWare five bucks otherwise.  This isn't how you fucking do things, guys!  You're supposed to entice us with neat looking shit, or just dollar drops for double XP, or permanently unlockable character slots, and start us out with more than two, I mean, seriously.  What you're not supposed to do is go through the code, find a thing that is pretty close to a staple and go, oh, they'll need this later, and at that point they're going to pay us because that's the easy way.  That's almost monstrous and shows a complete disregard for the player-base as a whole, not to mention that people find workarounds like keeping their spell-book open at all times.  Like, they assume that we're just walking bags of cash and that they can reach into us whenever they need to balance out their bottom line.

So, I'm thinking, fine, whatever, I have cartel coins because they had a rewards program for all those nice folk that had subscriptions before they went free to play.  I can unlock my options that I want because I have about 650 fakedollars to plunk down on stuff that I feel is integral to my character, and since that's the most important part of the game to me, as the story is quite good, and my character means something to me, that's not a problem.  Little Xuluj, we'll be back in the saddle again in no time at all.  But, no, EA and BioWare are holding my cartel coins hostage until I become a subscribed member of their little cadre.

No, EA.  I'm not playing your little game.  Fuck you.  This is unacceptable on basically all fronts.  Why should I pay you more to give me things that I basically already paid you for?  In what law abiding realm of this universe does that make sense?  That's like going to a Chipotle, buying a burrito, then paying the cashier again for the eventual diarrhea.  Please get your fucking heads in the game and treat people like they're not complete idiots.  Especially not the people that actually wanted to see your product take off.

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