In my previous post, I spent some time rethinking being “salty” toward SWTOR as is the sentiment of many in the player community right now. I acknowledged that the point of view had merit because of Bioware’s emphasis as of 4.0 on story content at the cost of new operations, PVP and other repeatable content -particularly in the end-game. I spent some time exploring the unintended consequences of complaining on the public forums and unsubscribing for the purpose of punishing Bioware/EA, and argued that those who truly want change in SWTOR might want to rethink their strategy: Stay “invested” in the game, offer feedback in a more positive, upbeat, cooperative spirit, and change where time is spent in-game so as to communicate to Bioware in a language they understand -namely metrics.
Once the article was posted I shared the link on the public forums and on Reddit, and received the gamut of responses I was expecting. Along the way, I noticed some responders tripping up on my use of the word “invest”, (which admittedly I used numerous times without defining), so I thought for this post I would further explore the concept of “investment” in a game like SWTOR from the point of view of the player community, and then demonstrate how I believe this paradigm is what actually has so many upset at SWTOR right now.
To begin, let me share a screenshot or two from the referenced forum conversation on Reddit that I believe outlines the misunderstanding very well:
Nonsvch is completely right in pointing out that on a very fundamentally economic level, Bioware is the provider of a service and we as the playerbase are the customers. It would be nonsense to argue that we as the player community should reap some kind of “greater windfall down the line” as if we were EA shareholders. So far so good. Nonsvch went on to quote me and say the following:
Fair enough, but I believe Nonsvch missed my point. Though I believe there is a subtle kind of financial investment players are making as they subscribe (more on that in a moment), my article wholly advocated more of a time-centric point of view. Here, the_ecstasy_of_anime took issue with my language too. (Notice how I mentioned time in association with investment in most of the quotes in the screenshot):
I believe my language was clear enough in portraying that I believe a player invests time in a game at least in these examples. (And, Ecstasy, nowhere did I make the assumption that investment must be unpleasant or work). That said, the way I define investment is as follows:
An investment is the expenditure of a resource in a joint effort of some kind, with the expectation that having done so will eventually have a return. The return is expected to be something of greater value to me than the initial resource investment.
Essentially, I have something of value that I put into some joint effort, and I expect that what I get out of it will be worth what I put into it.
Along these lines, (and permit me here to make a quick foray into my apparent money-centric obsession), there is a sense in which any transaction is an “investment”. I buy a hairbrush, for instance, because the use I will get out of a hairbrush is more valuable to me than retaining the money. I cannot very well brush my hair with money. Plus, I can brush my hair countless times with a hairbrush, so I consider “investing” in a hairbrush worth it for the ongoing return -i.e. it will continue to pay dividends even if those dividends are not financial units like dollars and cents. (That last part is important).
I hope I am making sense so far.
I consider time to be a valuable resource, and I expect anyone in their right mind would. (“Time is money”, or so they say). And a player who -and I mean it this time- invests countless hours in a video game expects a return. They expect both the time and the money they have put into the game to be worth it -whether that means they acquire higher tiers of gear, they build a guild, they manage to win the Nightmare operations race, they achieve the right look for their character, or they experience an epic story. Everyone expects something they personally consider to be valuable for the time and the money they put into the game.
I believe this assumption -whether players are aware of it or not- undergirds why so many people are currently upset with Bioware. So many have spent countless hours recruiting capable group members for progression operations teams, training them on the mechanics, pushing them through the content and min-maxing their gear, only to see their raid teams fall apart as members move on to other games. In this sense, the return on investment has been greatly devalued and people are rightly upset as a result.
The same can be said of Nightmare loot, which thankfully has been addressed recently by Bioware. If Nightmare mode operations bosses are expected to have only a chance to drop gear (read that only a chance of return), then Nightmare raiders are left asking whether Nightmare operations are worth the investment of time and energy. Before the fix, many felt was not, and so Nightmare operations in SWTOR were greatly devalued -again resulting in a player community upset at the loss of value.
The reverse is also true. Consider the increase in value we are about to receive with the release of 4.1 as a result of being able to stack 9,999 items per item stack instead of the current 99. The player community will be able to conserve cost (slot space in inventories) and net a greater return (retention of more crafting materials). The community is therefore happy.
This investment-return paradigm is the deep undercurrent that sets the scene for all incentivization in SWTOR, which in my estimation has been a troubling problem throughout the history of the game, especially since the advent of the Cartel Market. Players engage content for the rewards. If there are no rewards and all the best items are available on the Cartel Market, why spend the time engaging the content? The return on investment is simply too low and the content is therefore devalued. Some may argue -and I among them- that engaging the content is a reward in itself, but many feel that content should be further incentivized.
The Wings of the Architect is a perfect example of properly-incentivized content. Many players have invested time and credits progressing through Nightmare Dread Fortress for the return of getting a something that is unique, eye-catching, and most importantly, unavailable any other way.
This paradigm is also the master flaw that continues to plague Bioware’s one-chapter-per-month story-release retention strategy between now and August. One KotFE chapter represents approximately an hour to two hours of game play. Many are asking if that return is worth the investment of $15 per month. Of course it makes perfect economic sense to minimize the cost of investment (sit out for now and then make a single subscription payment of $15 in August) and maximize the return (experiencing all the rest of the KotFE chapters at once). At least in recognizing the threat, Bioware is attempting to offset this subscription-killer with its subscriber rewards program. The thinking is that if they increase the return (by incentivizing subscription), more players will consider the investment of time and money worth it.
The fact is, there is absolutely an ongoing economic partnership between Bioware as the provider of a service and the player community as the customer. We need Bioware to continue providing a game we all enjoy playing together and Bioware needs us to fund the adventure and provide return for the massive investment cost they paid developing the game. The relationship between Bioware and the player community is a symbiotic relationship much like the shark and the Remora fish, and in this economic partnership, although there is certainly no “greater windfall down the line” financially for players, our investment of time and money (even if it is just a transaction) does return something of value as we continue to engage in the Star Wars universe that is SWTOR. My hope is it will continue to be worth it.
Tags: 4.1 Bioware Cartel Market Crafting Materials EA Forums Incentivization Invest Investment KotFE Money Nightmare Nightmare Mode Nonsvch Operations Public Forums Reddit Return Return on Investment Stackable Items Stacks Story Chapters SWTOR The_Ecstasy_Of_Anime Time Wings of the Architect