Reading all the Cartel Coin news going around at the moment made me think of the song "You make me wanna shop" - until I tried to google it and realised that the lyrics are actually "make me wanna shout". D'oh! And all these years I thought... oh well. So much for my mondegreen moment for the day.
But yes, Cartel Coins! They are on the PTS, and while I haven't logged on there myself yet, Darth Hater and Dulfy have some good coverage up already.
The main thing I was relieved to see was that apparently the icon for the shop in-game is only a bright gold $ sign added to the top bar of the UI, with no additional pop-ups or anything that I've heard of (so far). I'm actually generally quite supportive of advertising and don't use an ad-blocker while browsing the internet, but I definitely don't want to get messages along the lines of "buy this" shoved into my face while playing an MMO, especially not one that I'm already paying for.
Looking at the list of things available for purchase with coins, they basically seem to fall into two categories: attempts to squeeze some money out of people that will otherwise be playing for free, and things that could potentially appeal to both free and paying players.
The main thing that struck me about the unlocks purchasable for free players was that they make the free option look extremely unattractive to past or current subscribers. I didn't realise just how many things they were going to restrict: not just major features like species selection at character creation or options for endgame activities, but also really basic things like the hide helmet option or even emotes! When the switch to free to play was first announced and the main point of interest was the fact that you'd still be able to play through your entire class story for free, I noted a considerable amount of current players that said that they were going to switch to playing for free after the change, since they weren't going to use any of the paid features anyway. I know I even considered it myself for a brief while. But looking at all those restrictions... seeing so many things greyed out and finding myself limited and inconvenienced left and right would drive me absolutely batty. I don't think I could stand it, and I can't see it going down very well with former subscribers who were considering a return after the conversion.
However, we'll have to see how well this system works on people who never paid for the game before. They can't miss what they never had to begin with. Then again, seeing other players zoom past on their speeders while they find themselves limited to legging it everywhere could quickly annoy them too. Can you even imagine trying to do the quests on a planet like Hoth on foot? Yikes. The question will then be whether the content has already drawn them in sufficiently that they'd rather pay to remove the inconvenience than stop playing.
The goodies that are designed to appeal to all types of players were a lot more interesting to me. As a subscriber I'll receive a "stipend" of Cartel Coins automatically, so obviously I'd like there to be something to spend those on, even if I never intend to buy any coins separately. I also reckon that this might actually end up being the big money maker for Bioware. I'm no expert economist, but it seems like a no-brainer to me that it's going to be easier to make your already loyal subscribers spend a little more money on a game they already love than to convert sceptical freeloaders that don't want to give you their credit card number.
To me these purchases basically seem to fall into one of three categories: cosmetic stuff, convenience / "power" and gambling.
The cosmetic stuff is pretty straightforward: speeders, pets, outfits. The outfits come with low-level mods in them, which could arguably be described as buying power, but someone getting a level 15 purple chest piece without "working" for it seems pretty inconsequential to me.
The currently available outfits are mostly just recolours of existing stuff, so I can't see them selling amazingly well, but presumably there is a market out there for people who don't want to research things like where to get the equivalent orange item that's available from a drop or a crafting schematic. The only outfits that I think will draw attention are the ones that look the same on both factions and will thus allow a Jedi to look like a Sith and vice versa (if anyone would want that). I have to admit I'm a bit concerned about what that will do to life on the fleet - seeing tons of Sith lookalikes run around on the Republic fleet would be weird.
Rohan attempted a nice breakdown of MMO payment models today, and he admits that the line between power and convenience is kind of fuzzy. In the SWTOR cash shop, you'll be able to buy experience boosters for example. I don't care about that and don't see why anyone would want to level faster in this game anyway, but I don't feel that it will affect me in any way. Still, I could see others already perceiving something as simple as that as "giving others an advantage for money".
Apparently legacy unlocks will be purchasable with Cartel Coins as well, as long as you fulfil the base level requirement. Now that is a funny one for me, because on the surface it's something that should really annoy me, along the lines of "I worked really hard on this / spent a lot of credits on this and you'll just get it for spending a couple of dollars?!" But in reality, I actually like it. I think it's because I always found the credit requirements on legacy perks a bit weird to begin with. "Being allowed to buy something" is not that great of a perk anyway, I thought I was supposed to be rewarded for having reached a certain level, not for making credits! I could happily see myself spending some of my Cartel Coin allowance on unlocking perks that I've shied away from so far simply because I don't have millions of credits burning holes into my pockets. (The actual level requirements were never a problem for me.)
The one case of "power" currently being on sale in the shop that has been raising eyebrows are the colour crystals that come with +41 of a stat on them, yet don't have a level 50 level requirement on them. I hope that there is a bug or typo in there somewhere, because otherwise this is something that could play absolute havoc with low-level PvP. Unless warzone scaling could somehow compensate for it, I guess... and world PvP isn't that common at low levels anyway.
Finally, there is the gambling: the item "packs" that contain an assortment of random items of varying rarity. I have to admit, when I first read about this it immediately made me feel uncomfortable. I'm not a fan of gambling with real money. And you could immediately tell that it works, too, because wherever you look, the contents of the packs are what have players intrigued the most about the new system at the moment.
I definitely see the benefits too though: people are attracted to randomness, and it's something for the player that has already bought everything else they wanted but keeps getting Cartel Coins from their stipend. It's undoubtedly going to make Bioware some good money, and if that helps to keep the game running, that's good, right?
On the whole I've been feeling quite positive about the preview of the item shop. There are some things that I feel kind of meh about, but there are also things in there that I could actually see myself buying, which kind of surprised me to be honest.
I do have some concerns however. What will this stuff do to the economy for example? The random item packs contain companion gifts and crafting materials as "minor" goodies; will we see the GTN get flooded with those? Also, will seeing people in item shop gear break my immersion? In a fantasy game I would have said "yes" to that question without hesitation, but I have to admit that in a setting like Star Wars, the idea of someone buying gear from a shady black market elsewhere doesn't actually strike me as that immersion-breaking. We'll see though.
Still, I do worry a little what this will do to the overall feel of the game. Overall, The Old Republic is a fairly serious game. Humour and silliness have their place in it of course, but seeing female characters run around in bikinis on the fleet always makes me frown for example. It just doesn't fit. Depending on how well the item shop is received, we could soon also see an influx of wannabe Sith speeding around the Republic fleet on mobile thrones and male characters showing off their pecs 24/7 while wearing invisible shirts. I don't want it all to be silly and weird. I still shudder at the memory of Dalaran the day WoW released its "sparkle pony".
And of course, if things like the random item packs take off as big moneymakers, I wouldn't be happy to see development time diverted from actual content and gameplay features towards making more random trinkets for the gamblers.
What has caught your eye in the item shop previews?