Balance of content and cosmetics in free to play MMOs

Massively have an interesting post discussing the track record of the free to play conversion of SWTOR. There are some value judgements within the piece. In particular the author notes:

Restricting cosmetic or other shinies works. I know players like to say that cosmetics aren’t important to them when gaming, but I think BioWare would disagree. The weekend after the launch of the Appearance Designer and Cathar, BioWare saw the biggest influx of money from the Cartel Market the game has ever seen. Keep in mind that over that weekend, nothing new hit the game that was not cosmetic. It’s important to players how their characters look, and they are willing to pay for it.

It’s not a big surprise to me that cosmetic changes would sell well, just think of the $25 sparkle-pony example from World of Warcraft. If it weren’t, however, for the SWTOR dev’s statement that the next patch will be content heavy, I would be worried that this sort of positive reception by the playerbase for a cosmetic patch could distort the balance of development in the future. Cosmetic system improvements are nice and all but the game’s longevity surely will live or die by the pace of content releases (and their quality).

With Rift’s free to play conversion coming later this summer I’ll be interested in monitoring the balance Trion strikes between content and cosmetic additions. Will they maintain the very frequent game updates coming and to what extent will these be focused on the aforementioned character cosmetics? I’ll also be interested to see what balance the SWTOR devs will strike on this longer term. If the next patch is content heavy then that is still too early to tell how things will shape-up afterwards.

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