While listening to this week’s TOROCast – Episode 234 – An Offer to Consider just after the 49:00 minute mark, @swtor_miner, @ThatRoadGuy, and @Maebeebuzz began discussing the recent addition of Gold Tokens into World of Warcraft and whether or not Star Wars: The Old Republic should implement a similar option. The core mechanic is the introduction of an item which is convertible into subscription time and allows players to buy it out of game to sell in game to other players for credits. I love this idea and hope it comes to SWTOR, here are some of the reasons why…
There is an intrinsic desire in any MMO population to convert out of game cash, in game currency, and game access (subscription). Too many games just avoid this realm entirely because they fear the “pay-to-win” description attaching to their game, but this is a feeble and impotent stance for a developer like BioWare Austin to take on the topic. The result of the developer not offering a balanced mechanic to fill this need is the proliferation of things like gold spammers, because a black market will always form when there is sufficient demand for something the normal market is not offering.
The existence of gold spammers in SWTOR indicates that there are many, many players who are willing to spend their out of game cash to acquire in game credits. There is no doubt that there are advantages to having millions of credits in the SWTOR universe, but I do not see credits as a “pay-to-win” issue because gear is relatively easy to acquire in SWTOR, so the primary differentiation when clearing PVE content or competing in PVP matches is player skill and understanding your class. This is evident in the current Cartel Market structure already because Cartel Packs can be purchased with out of game cash and sold in game for credits. This has not wrecked the in game economy, if anything the addition of Cartel Packs, Strongholds, and Conquests are the three most additive game features to the SWTOR economy that have been added since launch.
So we already have the ability to convert out of game currency to in game currency through the Cartel Market, but it is very inefficient. Listing items on the GTN requires demand for the listed item and anyone that has ever listed items from a Cartel Pack knows that many do not provide much return. The most important part of the definition of a currency is that it is an efficient medium of exchange among parties and in this regard the Cartel Market is lacking as the conversion mechanic between out of game currency and in game currency. A dedicated item could be much more useful in this role and allow the developers to focus on a single item if issues arise. For instance, if a bug were to affect the mechanic or a server showed questionable transactions in the item, BioWare would be able to isolate their tracking to a single and somewhat rare item rather than all of the Cartel Market items.
The final piece of the puzzle is the subscription equivalency. There is no doubt that a lot of players exist that are ready and willing to spend out of game cash to receive in game credits as discussed above, but if they are the sellers in this mechanic we still need buyers. There are a lot of players, specifically the most loyal players who have consistently been a part of the SWTOR community since launch, that have millions of credits and would be voraciously willing to use credits to buy this exchange item off the GTN to redeem it for subscription time. This is the biggest argument for the mechanic in my opinion, for a game that has a subscriber base that has been paying out of game cash for years already it offers an alternative. BioWare would be doing the game a great benefit by increasing their retention rate of long-term subscribers through a mechanic that rewards the millions of credits that the player has earned while grinding out alts and content since launch.
For the new player coming to SWTOR, the system offers the chance to “pay-to-catch-up” which is different than “play-to-win” and actually helps the game overall. Issues like low population or long queue times for end-game content are aided by an influx of new players that can get a main character to that end-game content as quickly as possible which access to credits such as this mechanic would offer significantly accelerates. Demand for Cartel Market items ebbs and flows, but the demand for subscription time for in game credits would be much more stable over time than selling cosmetic gear and decorations as those systems mature and buyers dry up, so the new player would have a reliable way to accelerate their early leveling process with less variability in returns.
An important factor is how this system would impact the subscription revenue for the developers, but in my evaluation it would be at worst revenue neutral, but more likely revenue would increase significantly for BioWare. Even though the person redeeming the subscription token would have bought it with in game credits, someone paid out of game cash for it, so it functions much like a gift card at any business. Someone is paying up front for a redeemable item, a certain percentage of which will always go unclaimed to the benefit of the business. By aligning the interest of different segments of the player base, BioWare would be expanding their population through both addition and retention increases. They would also control the pricing model, for instance if a token exchanged for one month of subscription time they could price the token at a premium to the monthly direct subscription initially and conservatively reduce the premium as needed to stimulate the market for it.
Imagine a current subscriber like myself that is paying annually for the discount, but begins using in game credits to purchase tokens. The player is happier because they’re saving real world cash and using their surplus credits to pay for the subscription, say 1,000,000 credits per month. The seller buys the token at a premium to the monthly subscription cost, which is also higher than my previous annual cost, because the seller does not care about that price relationship, they will base their actions on the amount of in game credits they can receive for the token relative to its out of game cost. The mechanic offers significant opportunities for BioWare’s bottom line, long-term subscribers, and new players while probably shutting down the black market spammers by offering a legitimate conduit for players to convert out of game cash to in game credits, literally everyone wins!
Thank you for reading as always and hopefully we can stimulate discussion and push BioWare toward this mechanic. If anyone from BioWare happens to read this, consider this an open-ended offer for game economics consulting work on any topic at any time, just email me!
– Andrew | SWTOR Economics