An exercise in letting go, and in watching players take the game in the direction they enjoy.
This post is not, I admit, really for the community--it's more of a direct proposal to some fairly high decision-making levels at Bioware/EA, with no way of knowing if it goes through. Call it a plea if you will, but it's a suggestion backed by my own observations of great success* under circumstances not unlike those that TOR will be under this Fall. And it has to do with Cartel Tokens
*success here is measured by games with years (8+ in one case) of F2P, employing token-like bonuses for $, with players consistently lining up to cheerfully pay.
Players may sell and trade Cartel Tokens.
I would be willing to discuss this at great length here or in PM with anyone @ Bioware who has some sway in the decision, but I'll paraphrase here:
1) Tokens are paid for, regardless of who and how.
So let the players use them or share them as they wish--the supply is fixed based on hard cash. By allowing a player economy around Cartel Tokens, you shift the burden of paying cash for each token to the players most interested and able to contribute money while allowing the benefits of Tokens to be enjoyed more widely.
2) A F2P gamer may not be able to *ever* buy Cartel Tokens
for cash due to parental restrictions, income, etc. So when such a gamer joins on day one of F2P and realizes that the game's group play features are limited by tokens, a negative reaction is highly likely. This is solved by asserting from the beginning that players may trade tokens. It's a psychological thing.
3) Offering tokens for in-game currency through a vendor at a later time does not solve the perception problem.
In a player-based economy, no blame falls to Bioware if the price in credits for a token is higher than a player wants to pay. By relinquishing control of the in-game price of a token, Bioware creates an opportunity for F2P players to *feel* as though they are getting the paid-for perks for free. But, as per #1, it's not a problem for BW since every Cartel Token was originally paid for via direct purchase or subscription payment. Make the player feel like an entrepreneur, with a choice over what their Tokens really do. Take away the feel--real or imagined--that "corporate" is trying to squeeze them.
4) Get tokens moving.
Players who have been subscribing are due to receive tokens, but remember that their payments do not reflect their desire for tokens--we didn't even know about them until now. So the challenge before you is to get players--particularly the new F2P crowd--to want to acquire and spend
tokens. It's a problem of inertia, really; they come because it's free now, so they will resist for-pay offerings. The best way to ultimately generate a pattern of spending and to establish a mental budget for F2P is to get people spending Tokens, guilt-free
You *could* hand them some tokens to try it out, but this achieves the opposite effect. Players with a free to play mentality will perceive the "starting" Tokens as a one-time free gift and will try to save them for the perceived "best" item, rather than thinking of tokens as something that they can get at any time (granted they play frequently and save credits).
The only way to promote play and create a regular expenditure of Tokens is to allow a player-based economy to develop. You will initially feel alarmed if F2P players are getting full-member benefits for only a couple hundred credits, but remember: You are getting cash for every Token, and players are getting Tokens in a way that satisfies their individual circumstances. The last thing you can afford is to have subscription players having no use for their tokens and hoarding them while F2P players hesitate to commit to paying real cash and leave the game before level 50. Instead of leaving Tokens solely for shop perks, use them as a tool to ramp more F2P into the full game experience, regret-free.
As points of reflection, please consider that to succeed with F2P, it is necessary to cultivate the following emotions among the player base:
1) Players must *want* to pay. They must feel as though there is some "guilty pleasure" benefit to doing so.
2) Players must not *need* to pay. Not only in the literal sense, but also, players must not be made to feel as though failure to pay puts them at a significant competitive disadvantage for long enough that they *feel* obliged to pay even though they could *technically* grind to the same level of competitiveness.
These things should already be obvious to a games dev company--I'm just restating them here for reflection in light of my suggestion.
I have further commentary on creating a successful player-based, want-based economy in game, but I'll write that up in another suggestion a bit later on.
For now, please consider this suggestion, forward it to the folks who are in the "keep cash close to the chest" camp, and discuss! I'd be happy to discuss with you guys, Bioware. There's a lot of ground to cover here.