Hyperspace Beacon The SWTOR F2P experiment, group leveling
With the last bit of Update 2.1: Customization revealed yesterday, I can talk about an item that will change the free-to-play side of Star Wars: The Old Republic. After the next update, F2P players can withdraw credits from escrow with Cartel Coins. Although I will not have a way to find out whether this will actually affect the prices on the Galactic Trade Market until it goes live, I think it's safe to say that prices will initially go up.

Let's talk about this and group leveling in this week's SWTOR free-to-play experiment.

Hyperspace Beacon The SWTOR F2P experiment, group leveling
DC Universe Online already incorporates a system similar to the one SWTOR is implementing. Subscribed members have no credit cap, free players have a 1500-credit cap, and premium members have a 2000-credit limit. Obviously, DCUO's economy is slightly different from SWTOR's, so we will not see the same numbers associated with escrow withdrawals, but correlations can be made. In DCUO, it costs 100 Station Cash to withdraw 1000 credits, 200 SC for 10k credits, and 400 SC for 25k credits. My guess for TOR is that you'll simply see a zero added to those withdrawal amounts (i.e., 10,000 credits for 100 CC).

Currently, the preferred player credit cap is 350,000 credits, and the prices on the GTN reflect this. The majority of unlock items sold are below that number. I took a look this weekend on the Ebon Hawk server, and the only item that sat above 350k was the Cargo Bay unlock. That is the item I should have been looking for last week when I was wondering how to unlock the cargo hold on a free account. The Cargo Bay sells for 400,000 credits right now to unlock it for the whole account. The vast majority of upgrade items are below 78,000 credits. The only expensive one right now is the Artifact Equipment unlock, which understandably sits at 199,000 credits. You can even buy an extra character slot right now for 138,000.

Although I don't think that it will totally throw the GTN out of balance, I can foresee the escrow withdrawals jarring the game's economy. BioWare mentioned that escrow withdrawals can be used to directly pull items off the GTN. With more money available to F2P and preferred players, marketers will begin to sell Cartel Unlocks for more money -- such is life under capitalism.

I don't have a problem with the free market dominating the SWTOR economy. In fact, I think it's interesting from an intellectual standpoint. However, I'm concerned about the overall effect on my experiment. I'm attempting to show that its possible to buy everything via the GTN and not use any real money. However, if prices go up above cap because F2P players now have access to more credits via escrow, then it might compromise the experiment overall. I am keeping a close eye on this to see how it turns out. Do you think my experiment is ruined because of this, or will it have no effect at all?

Hyperspace Beacon The SWTOR F2P experiment, group leveling
I decided last week to just barrel through the inventory issue. I sent Corso out to sell grey items more often, and I sold everything that I possibly could in my inventory. If there was an item I wanted, well, I guess I will just have to wait until I'm max level.

When leveling up on Taris, I had an opportunity to test the waters with group leveling. I sat about 20% into level 17. Laura from my guild joined me on her Republic toon that she had just created the week before. I wasn't planning on leveling with anyone until I was past level 30, but I could use this little test as a way to judge how quickly I leveled versus a subscriber. Laura was also level 17, except she was only 8% into her level. However, we were both a bit over-leveled for the area.

Playing through the planet grouped was (as usual) faster than solo leveling, especially when grouped with someone just as dedicated as you to get through the zone. In the middle of our couple of hours of playing, Laura leveled... before me. We were shooting the same mobs; she didn't jump ahead in content nor did she kill random things as I went AFK. She flat out leveled faster than I did, even though I started ahead of her.

Laura hit level 18 when I was about 90% through level 17. I was a bit disappointed. That speed disparity would really set back my ability to level with a subscriber on a regular basis. Granted, I could pop an experience boost, and it's possible that I would have enough of a jump to equal her experience gain, but I'm not sure. The XP boosters raise my XP rate by only about 25%, and it seems that she is gaining XP about 30% faster than I am. It's distinctly possible that her rest XP added the extra 5%. In that case, I could level with her if I had a constant XP boost and she never stepped into a cantina.

Minor Experience Boosts are selling between 10,000 and 15,000 right now on the Ebon Hawk's GTN. It's possible for me to buy a couple of them, but at my current level, I'm pretty sure that I'm not generating 10 to 15 thousand credits an hour. In the long run, I would be losing credits that I should be saving for things like training and stims. I will have to hold off leveling with another player until I can earn over 10k an hour. Hopefully, that will be shortly after I finish chapter one.

Despite this minor setback, I have been leveling right on track. I've not been running warzones or flashpoints since last week, yet I'm still on par for the quest areas. This might change as my little Smuggler turns into a big boy, but for now, I'm content not running warzones and flashpoints. For me, those instances tend to distract me from the leveling process.

I'm headed to Tatooine this week. Usually, I finish every part of the Tatooine questline, including the bonus quest, so that I can skip Alderaan completely. I'm interested in finding out how my usual plan of action works out under the F2P model. Ugh, let's hope I don't have to play through the entirety of that awful planet.

The Hyperspace Beacon by Larry Everett is your weekly guide to the vast galaxy of Star Wars: The Old Republic, currently in production by BioWare. If you have comments or suggestions for the column, send a transmission to larry@massively.com. Now strap yourself in, kid -- we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!

This article was originally published on Massively.