I have been skeptical of SWTOR's F2P model myself. I continue to despise the leveling process when a player has to start from scratch at level 1 and then attempt to level up a brand-new free character. However, I have a guildie who had existing characters at max level when he quit playing many months back. He recently returned to the game as a preferred member, and in the two months since his return, he has every unlock and about 3 million credits not in escrow, and he PvPs without buying a weekly pass with Cartel Coins. When I asked him how he did it, he jokingly replied, "Masochism." But then when he realized that I was seriously curious, he began to break down some of his methods and why they work for him.
The first thing you should know about Thallahan is that he is a student. However, he is an educated man and well-spoken man. He worked as a pharmacist for many years and is going back to school full-time because apparently knowing how the body reacts to every chemical on the planet wasn't enough for him. Before playing SWTOR, Thallahan played EVE Online for years. He has an acute understanding of how in-game trade-markets work.
Lesson number one: Time is of the essence
He will be the first to admit that the way he plays is not for everyone. Not everyone has the time or the dedication to play the game as he does; he is able to play while doing other work around his house or while studying for school. Most people simply cannot commit to that. However, just because some individuals do not have the time doesn't mean the model fails.
Lesson number two: Sell something
I freely admit that crafting does not fit my style of gameplay, but that doesn't mean I don't know the importance of a good crafting system. Some of my personal favorite games house a wonderful and complex crafting system that is central to those games' success. Unfortunately, SWTOR is not one of those games. But it does have a very interesting dynamic built into its auction house that can satisfy those players who like to "play the market."
Thallahan crafts armor that is no longer available from the NPC vendors. Before he left the first time, he bought the schematics for the Battlemaster Bounty Hunter gear. This happy accident allows him to craft a rare item for steady income. However, he's quick to admit that this method is not the only way to create a steady income for yourself.
For those without the longing to craft, Thallahan suggests that you look no further than planetary comms. The premium artifact box from the Corellian vendor sells for 38 planetary coms, which means that you can get two of those boxes before capping out on comms. Plus, planetary comms are not difficult to come by. If you don't get enough comms from just doing the daily quests, then most of the repeatable heroics (even on the lowbie planets) give planetary comms as quest rewards.
Lesson number three: Shop other servers
I know creating new characters on other servers is unthinkable for many gamers, but if you have time and are interested in making your F2P experience successful, it's in your best interest to have at least a mid-ranged character on another server because all servers have their own trade market and some items can sell for vastly different prices. Thallahan placed his alternate character on The Bastion. The account-wide unlock sold for 440k on the Ebon Hawk, our home server, but on The Bastion, it cost 120k. Guess which one he bought.
Lesson number four: Buy account-wide unlocks
This one is a no-brainer really. Although character unlocks are extremely cheap sometimes, Thallahan argues that grinding credits for the same item over and over is rage-worthy and should be avoided if at all possible. On top of that, the account-wide unlocks allow you to shop around on other servers for the items that you need on your primary server. A good seller knows the limitations of his buyer. If there is no way for a buyer to make more than 350k, then he will never sell that hide-head-slot unlock for 440k. Unfortunately, not everyone understands this, but if you have patience and check often, you'll eventually find someone with an actual brain in his head. If not, then try lesson number three.
Lesson number five: Watch for bargains on weekly passes
Weekly passes do not drop from Cartel Packs like some of the other unlock items, but players looking to trade Cartel Coins for in-game money will often put those on the GTN because they're almost guaranteed to sell. Thallahan suggests to pass on them unless they are under 70k, but then stockpile them when they are cheap. Obviously, these weekly passes will allow you to experience more of the game, but they also allow you to make more in-game credits. And since these passes are account-wide, they can help you level up alternate characters.
I still believe that SWTOR's free-to-play still needs some work, but Thallahan's experience really opened my eyes to the possibilities. As I said at the beginning, this experience is not for everyone, but I think it means that SWTOR's model shouldn't be easily written off as garbage.
I'm in the midst of closing out my free-to-play experiment. I will have my final review next week, but in the meantime, what do you think of Thallahan's lessons? I will attempt to get him in the Mumble channel this Wednesday during our raid night, so if you have any questions, you will be able to get the answers directly from the source. I'll see you then.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Now strap yourself in, kid -- we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!