I want to talk to about the couple of hours I spent trying out Update 1.2 last night and give you my initial impressions of the new Warzone, Novare Coast. But I’m not going to because after logging out of the game and glancing quickly at my Twitter feed, I noticed the announcement about “Thank You” gifts in appreciation of “support of our community throughout the development of the Legacy game update”.
I’ll be blunt – it pissed me off.
I write this at the risk of being hypocritical in sounding like a whining, self-entitled gamer who is throwing his toys out of the pram because he didn’t get something that he wanted. That’s something I’ve always despised about gaming culture and one reason why I rarely interact on official forums. That doesn’t assuage the feeling of annoyance I’ve got.
My beef is with this specific sentence in the press-release (emphasis mine):
As a thanks for being one of our most valued players, every active account with a Level 50 character as of April 12th, 2012 at 12:00PM CDT / 5:00PM GMT, will receive thirty (30) days of game time in appreciation for your support and loyalty.
“Our most valued players.”
I make no bones about the fact that I’m a slow leveller. Last night I got my Trooper to level 39, matching that of my Smuggler and making her, officially, my new main but I’ve still got a way to go before the magic five-oh. I signed up for a six-month subscription from the off and I’m in no rush. As evidenced by this blog, I really enjoy the game – in fact the main reason that I don’t blog more often is because I’d just end up sounding like some gibbering Tellytubby on a roller-coaster, shouting “WOOOO!!!! Again! Again!” with all the constant posts enthusing about how much genuine fun I’m having playing SWTOR.
I recently mentioned that there was some disquiet in my guild about the game and a long thread (based on this post by my GL) about the issues people were having with the game. I ran the risk of becoming the poster child of SWTOR fanboys – sorry, fanbois – everywhere with my exuberant posts. I also agreed with the observation made that those who are still having fun were those still levelling after all this time – and those who weren’t having fun had reached level cap. Perhaps that’s at the heart of what’s happening here.
Psynister wrote about this topic too and in the comments, Liore pointed that this free month is likely to be a “holy crap we need to improve the retention of level 50s” move. (She also blogged about it too). It’s true as well. Update 1.2 is pretty hefty but, at the last minute they cancelled the release of ranked Warzones (only available to level 50s) and sidelined the open-world PvP on Ilum (only available to level 50s) because it’s in need of a rethink and redesign so, in many ways, this can only be seen as a salve to temper the frustrations of those who have already reached level cap.
Level 50s: Bioware’s “most valued” players.
I can see the point. I’m looking forward to trying out ranked warzones myself (have I mentioned how much I adore playing warzones yet? I mean, aside from every other post!) and this delay works in my favour. I can sympathise with the poor level 50s. After all, what have they had to do since the release of the game? I mean, apart from two patches that extended an existing Operation, added a new Operation, added two new level 50 flashpoints and a legacy system that has a lot of rewards for level 50 players?
Obviously level 50s are Bioware’s “most valued” players – look at all this stuff they’ve gotten already.
Would it be churlish to point out that Update 1.2 also removed several items from the game (vehicles and crystals) that were largely unavailable to any player who was not yet level 50? Yeah, I know if I really wanted those items then I should have levelled faster but, hey, in all honesty they weren’t my priorities. Yeah, it probably would be very churlish. Forget I mentioned it.
I can only agree with Liore that, really, the 30 days free reward is a thinly veiled retention bonus that’s targeting players like her – already level 50 and, in her own words, someone who “had kind of wandered away from SWTOR over the past month or so”. That’s the “most valued” player Bioware is rewarding for their “support and loyalty”. It’s sound business acumen – entice those likely to wander off somewhere else by offering them a carrot to stay.
That wording though – well, that, if you haven’t guessed by now, is what really fucks me off the most. By exclusion, I am not “most valued”. My “support and loyalty” is not being rewarded except for a mini taun-taun pet. Oh… wait, that’s not for loyalty because anyone who signs up for a sub in the next 8 days will also get one. It’s not even that I really begrudge anyone like Liore who’s eligible for it – I mean, what are we talking about? A months free access, worth about £7 or £8? If Bioware had said “Here’s a reward for sticking with us even though we really fucked up end-game content and had to delay ranked warzones!” I don’t think I’d even be writing this post.
But they didn’t say that.
Their choice of wording – describing players who’ve reached level 50 as “most valued” – makes me feel like a second-rate citizen. It implies that the metric by which loyalty is determined is based on character level rather than, say, length of subscription. It makes me feel like a sucker for planning to commit to the game long-term, for trying to encourage other players to stay when they had doubts about it – even for starting this blog to share my enthusiasm.
I’m a player who, as Liore rightly surmises, would probably not need much to encourage retention. I’m probably also the sort of player who will pay more by way of subscription fees than the level 50 who subs after a content patch, completes the new raid and then unsubs for a couple of months until the next update. But the message I’m getting here is “Yeah, we don’t really care about you. You’re not our ‘most valued’ player.” Yeah, well, that’s fine – but you’ve now actively discouraged my retention.
I despise the fact that I feel so strongly about this matter. I loathe the fact that I feel hypocritical writing a post that could – correctly and justly – be described as needy and entitled. I’m angry that, through what I think is a poor choice of words, Bioware evoked this response from me.
I will be interested to see how this plays out. Despite an extremely long thread on the forums about this topic (170+ pages when I looked this morning), there has been no direct response to any of the long-term-but-not-yet-50 players (that really needs a better acronym or something but I CBA to work one out) despite some other posts from Stephen “Rockjaw” Reid and others. It makes me wonder if they’re working out how to deal with this and putting together an official response. I’ll wait and see.
Incidentally, Novare Coast is… interesting.