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Star Wars: The Old Republic Column: The Slippery Slope of SWTOR’s Cartel Market

By Michael Bitton on December 12, 2012

Star Wars: The Old Republic’s Game Update 1.6 ‘Ancient Hypergate’ went live yesterday and brought with it a number of new content additions, including the eponymous new warzone and a set of heroic space combat missions. Of course, what’s any major game update to a free-to-play MMO without additions to the in-game store? SWTOR’s update 1.6 has these as well, and some of the additions have given me pause.

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And no, it’s not the Life Day stuff.  I don’t know about you, but Life Day just reminds me of the Star Wars Holiday Special and that’s just not an association you want to reinforce. Plus, I’m just not into goofy real-life holiday stuff in MMOs. The new LD-1 snow blower of a speeder may be executive producer Jeff Hickman’s favorite new addition to the Cartel Market, but seeing that monstrosity in-game is an eyesore to say the least.

On to the cool stuff then?

The Cartel Market is now featuring a new ‘Blockade Runner’ Cartel Pack with the potential to reward players with tons of neat goodies. Dulfy’s got a great rundown of the offerings here. The highlight is a new KOTOR-themed item set that allows you to acquire Revan’s full set of armor. At face value, this is a pretty awesome shiny to compile, but once everyone on your server has a set it’s probably going to get ridiculous quickly. The Blockade Runner pack can also contain a number of new blasters and lightsabers and even a cyan-blue color crystal, among other things. My favorite addition is the new Diplomat’s Meditation Hoverchair. I was genuinely impressed by this thing when I first saw it in-game.  It reminds me of Yoda’s floating chair from the prequels and the floating holocrons are pretty awesome.

So, what really concerns me about the Cartel Market? Well, it’s beginning to look like BioWare is on a bit of a slippery slope and I’ve had these reservations since the initial free-to-play launch.  The Cartel Market offers a number of conveniences, for sure, though some come at the expense of marginalizing some of the peripheral activities you can do in the game. For example, Cartel Packs can generate new high level resources and even actual credits from thin air, artificially inflating the supply of credits and resources (or companion gifts) in the game server’s economy at any given time. This negatively impacts the already dismal status of Crew Skills as an activity worth participating in.

 

In Game Update 1.6 in particular, the Cartel Market now features Level 50 ship equipment that when purchased will allow players to essentially jump right into the new Heroic space missions. It’s true, the Market has offered gear for some time now, but the gear on offer is either adaptive gear without any stats, or gear with pre-endgame stats (capping currently at Level 41). Introducing level 50 gear, even if it is just for ships, goes further down that slippery slope. I don’t want to say this is out-and-out ‘Pay to Win’, but this is a concerning trend to say the least.

If BioWare were selling commendations boosts or something to that affect, it would be one thing, but directly selling level 50 gear that must otherwise be earned in game via commendations is not a trend I’d like to see continue. This is especially true since players can use space combat as a viable source of income and even a means to earn Black Hole commendations to spend on other items for your actual character. There are no creditsinks associated with space combat, either. This makes it an attractive option for some players, so even this indirect interaction is quite troubling.

I don’t mind accelerated progression – but it should be done in a way that doesn’t disrupt the actual in-game activities the game features. As I said earlier, Crew Skills are already in a dismal state. It is my opinion that BioWare should be focused on enhancing the interaction of new items and features with things players can actually do in the game (such as Crew Skills) in order to improve their importance and foster a more player-driven economy. Instead, it appears the Cartel Market is being used as a valid means to directly bypass some in-game activities and almost marginalize those who do decide to bother with them.

What do you think of the new items on the market in Update 1.6? Do you feel that BioWare is on a slippery slope here? Why? Why not? Let us know in the comments below!


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