Hey TORWarriors as you may have heard by now the Star Wars: The Old Republic Public Test Center was updated on Tuesday October 23rd with the Cartel Market. This is our first live look at the new cash shop that’s coming in as part of the Free to Play conversion of SWTOR so I spent some time there dinking around and looking at the shop and how it interacts with the rest of the game.

That burning smell? Those Cartel Coins trying to get out of your pocket!

Before we dive in, a couple of the usual caveats. First this is all currently on the Public Test Server and as always subject to change before it hits the live game. Secondly, I am not going to post an exhaustive list of every item to be found in the Cartel Market, just a general overview and some thoughts.

One key part of this system that has not been announced yet as of this writing is how much Cartel Coins are going to cost us in real dollars. I kicked that around with some other gamers & the consensus was that people are expecting these to work similarly to BioWare points or Xbox Live points which come in at around 800 points per $10. A lot gamers are already used to this price point & there seems to be a sort of built in comfort level around there. It’ll be interesting to see where exactly this lands. I also fired a question over to Joveth Gonzalez (BioWare’s SWTOR Community Manager) about the possibility of seeing “SWTOR Points Cards” similar to game time cards at retailers eventually but haven’t gotten an official response on this yet.

Before I talk about the market I should probably mention what you do get as a subscriber as opposed to playing as a Free to Play player. Fortunately BioWare provides us with a handy splash screen that defines in detail the main differences in the two options. I’ve got a screenshot of that for you so that you can check it out here.

This is what you’ll be receiving as a subscriber. It’s already better than what you have right now.

There’s a few things from that screenshot that I want to address because these questions came up a lot yesterday while I was live tweeting about the new system while checking it out. (If you’re interested I usually try to live tweet and discuss patch notes on the days those are released for those that are stuck behind a work firewall & can’t access the SWTOR site. Over on Twitter I’m @HolyCrapItsLate )

1) “10 additional character slots per server” – Don’t take this to mean that if you’re currently subbing you’re suddenly going to have 22 character slots. What they’re saying here is that as a subscriber you’re going to have 10 more slots than an F2P player. We haven’t heard exactly how many slots F2P players will have but the consensus is around 2 based on what we’ve seen in other similar games.
2) “Acess to all 6 quickbars” – Yes thats right, there are now six quickslot bars available. F2Pers will start with one and buy in for the extras
3) “Full access to Inventory and Cargo Hold” – this is now a buy in for F2P players using Cartel Coins. This means you actually have buy your first Cargo Hold page too. Subscribers have the same access they’ve always had and can upgrade using credits as usual. Former subscribers converting to F2P aren’t going to be too crazy about this but to be honest this is very standard fare for games with F2P/Subscriber options.

On that last point, there are a few items that now require cash shop unlocks that are a bit wonky in my opinion (Hide Headslot and Display Titles being a couple) but for the most part almost everything here is very similar to what I’ve seen in other games that are F2P or offer a Free to Play/Subscribe option. As I mentioned above if you were previously enjoying all of the now paygated features as a subscriber then naturally you’re not going to be too thrilled about some of the changes. On the flip side of that I’ve already had some discussions with players who have not played SWTOR at all previously and they are chomping at the bit for Free to Play to go live so they can check it out. The general tone from these players is that the paygates on SWTOR are very much in line with what they are accustomed to in other games. Your mileage may vary.

So what can you buy?

The Cartel Market in all its glory!

The Cartel Market is accessed by clicking the gold cartel coin symbol that by default is at the top of your screen next to the main menu bar. This opens up a panel that’s divided in to several categories of items. These include Cartel Packs, Cosmetic items, Unlocks, Equipment and Consumables. To the lower left of this pane is an area that shows your current balance of Cartel Coins and an “Add Coins” button that will take you out of the game to a webpage where you can access your SWTOR account and purchase more crack…er, I mean Cartel Coins (I’ll tell you why I said crack in a moment). The middle area shows the items you can buy and if there’s more than one page of items in a category you click at the bottom to access the other pages. On the right is a pane where individual items are described with the buy button. Right below that is the “Unclaimed Items” box.

The way this works is you select an item, click buy and after confirming your purchase the item goes into the unclaimed items box. Items in the unclaimed items box can still be returned for a full refund if you suddenly have a case of buyers remorse or change your mind/buy the wrong item. Once you remove an item from the Unclaimed Items box to your inventory that sale is final and the item is yours.

Cosmetic Items

This category currently includes items like mini pets, speeders and holo statues. It also includes the Carbonite Chamber. Currently a very limited selection but I expect this to greatly expand over time. I’m also wondering if some of the items from Cartel Packs will eventually end up here as newer items come in to the rotation later on.

Unlocks

This is where most of the things that you don’t get as a Free to Play player can be purchased. Items like additional Crew Skills, access to Section X and Legacy unlocks. A quick word on that – you’ll notice in your legacy panel that almost all items can now be unlocked via credits or Cartel Coins provided you meet any requirements. Of interest is the ability to unlock HK-51 on other characters once you’ve completed the quest line on at least one character. This is a Character Perk and must be purchased for each one individually.

Equipment

Coming soon to a Fleet Station near you: Axe wielding maniacs!

Equipment currently comes in two variations, either a single chest piece or a gear set of five items that includes chest, helmet, boots, legs and gloves. These items all appear to be adaptive gear that don’t have faction or class restrictions and share the same appearance on either faction. These items also come pre-loaded with item modifications helpful to specific classes. The gear sets have a level 31 requirement and the single chest pieces have a level 15 requirement. There are also some new color crystals in the usual flavors like Indestructible, Eviscerating, Hawkeye and War Hero. These are +41 to a single stat and have a level 35 requirement. Lastly there’s a Gamorrean Axe that’s modifiable and requires the vibrosword proficiency. (I’d kind of like it if we could buy weapon proficiency unlocks so I could dual wield two of these like a maniac but in terms of game play that probably wouldn’t work out too well on my Sniper).

The big question on gear items in the cash shop is always “is this pay to win?” I can say that at this point that is a resounding no. While one benefit may be that it will possibly make getting mid level gear a bit less grindy and help out with the leveling process I suspect that most folks will buy this gear based on appearance and immediately strip out most of the item mods and customize it to their needs. There is nothing here that is game breaking or comparable to gear that you’d get by grinding level 50 PvP or farming Operations to get BiS gear.

Consumables

This section of the market is where you’ll find things like weekly passes to Warzones, Flashpoints, and Operations along with “Boosts” for Experience and Valor and quick travel passes. The boost items are sold singly or in 5 packs and the 5 packs are currently priced at five for the price of four. A boost typically gives you a 25 percent increase for a designated period of time. Minor boosts last one hour while major boosts last three hours. These are applied like buffs and only tick down while you’re logged in. Boosts do not stack with other similar boosts. For example, an XP boost will not stack on top of another XP boost.

Cartel Packs

She may not look like much but she’s got it where it counts kid

Ok back there where I said something about Cartel Coins being crack? I was referencing these Cartel Packs specifically. There are currently two flavors of Cartel Pack, the Crime Lords Cartel Pack (costs 360 Cartel Coins) and the Black Market Cartel Pack (costs 180 Cartel Coins). The best items come out of these packs and ONLY out of these packs. The rare items are a random drop with a chance for a rare item to roll up to a “Super Rare”. Does this remind you of collectible card games? It should.

The Crime Lord pack has the following description:

An exclusive sample of the finest goods from the Cartel. Each pack contains very rare bonus items found nowhere else!
Two rare bonus items with a chance of  super rare!
Chance for a super rare bonus are greater than from a Black Market Cartel 
Pack
One boost item, for either Experience or Social points
One crafting material of at last prototype quality
One companion gift of at least prototype quality

The Black Market Pack has a 50 percent lower price point and fewer items as well as a lesser chance of getting that super rare.

So let me tell you how this went. I updated my PTS client and jumped into the game with a 50. I spent some time looking at the market and live tweeting about what was available. I wasn’t on the Fleet, I had last logged out on Tatooine so as you can imagine it was me and about 5 other people there and not much talking going on. After a bit I took an EFP up to the Imperial Fleet & bought my first Crime Lord pack.

My first “roll” resulted in the following:

Minor Warzone XP Boost (25% boost to WZ experience for one hour)
Unique Rakata Grenade (purple companion gift item)
A stack of 10 Self Perpetuating Power Cells (level 7 crafting mat)
An item – “Glowing Eyes – Gold” (like an emote but it’s an item in your inventory that makes your eyes glow gold for 60 seconds – this is the Light side version, there’s also a Dark side version that makes your eyes glow red. Interestingly these are not faction restricted.)
A chest armor piece, the “Covert Torso Energy Armor”. This is an orange/adaptive chest piece that makes your male character appear bare chested for those Conan the Barbarian tanking jobs.

I was pretty satisfied with that, not really sure how much use I’ll get out of the chest piece but here’s the cool thing: these items have a “bound item timer”. This means that after the designated period of time this item becomes unbound and you can sell/trade/share with alts after the timer expires as long as you haven’t equipped the item. This will help take the sting out of getting duplicate items and bring items into the economy that can be converted to credits. Currently this is five days for all the items I looked at. Of note, it was stated on the SWTOR Dev Tracker that subscribers will have a “significantly shorter” timer on these items.

So I bought and openend another one of these Crime Lord packs. Right away I noticed something called the “Overlord’s Command Throne” and thought “oh neat a chair, where do I put that”…then as I read the item description and realized this item was actually a speeder I pretty much lost my mind at that point and shouted “I JUST GOT A THRONE THAT’S A FREAKING SPEEDER”…now granted, not every player is going to think that every item is cool as that’s a subjective judgement but in about 30 seconds I was surrounded by players asking questions about it and the saying stuff like “I have to have that”, “holy crap I need more coins” and “ok BioWare take my wallet now plz”.

To be honest, the throne/speeder may not even be the coolest thing to come out of the Cartel Packs but immediately the discussion around me changed to how these packs were going to be like crack and in high demand as long as unique items keep coming out of them. People immediately started buying Cartel Packs and showing off their haul. Most people didn’t seem to care that it was a random drop. In fact some were commenting that they liked the gambling aspect of it all. When I mentioned this to my wife later she laughed and said “reminds me of going to the corner store when I was a kid and getting the mystery goodie bag which always had at least one really awesome thing in it, I loved those damn things!”

Some of the items I saw included other speeders, mini pets, the Darth Nihilus mask, and a life size holo statue of Darth Malgus that’s actually a trainer that can be used by anyone standing around him. Those items are just a tiny sampling of what’s available now on the PTS and I won’t be surprised if the SWTOR team is holding back some suprises for when this goes live.

I remember having a discussion with guildies back when we were playing Star Wars Galaxies and Free to Play with cash shops was really just starting to come on to the gaming scene. We all agreed that having a Star Wars game with a cash shop was probably akin to George Lucas giving you a license to print money and I honestly believe that’s what we’re going to see here.

To sum up I think the SWTOR Cartel Market implementation is really excellent. The shop is easy to use and forgiving if you make a mistake. The items in the shop that you can buy are interesting and exicting without being game breaking. What we’re seeing now is just the tip of the iceberg and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes in as we move forward. I like the Cartel Pack mechanism & you probably will too, particularly if you’re already a fan of buying booster packs for other gaming items like collectible card or minis games. Do I think this cures all of SWTOR’s ills and will make you want to play if you already had issues with the game? No, this doesn’t change that but I think given time it will have a huge mostly positive impact. The bottom line is that the Cartel Market is going to result in a pretty significant influx of cash to SWTOR which can only benefit players in the long run and that’s good for all of us.

As always, leave a constructive comment or question below. If you have specific questions about the mechanics of the Cartel Market or items feel free to ask. I’ll drop in to answer any questions that I can.

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