Opinions

SWTOR's Bad Dye Job

By Jeff Sproul -
SWTOR's Bad Dye Job

The recent update to Star Wars: The Old Republic introduced some character customization options that have long been missing from the game. For some people, myself included, these updates are great news. Some of us have made regrettable errors early on - dumb legacy names that seemed clever at the time, appearance options that made less sense once we saw our characters in certain armors, etc. For others, the new character customization kiosks give us the ability to affect physical character development - new scars earned in important battles, greying hair showing the weight of a lengthy career, changing weight from living lean or indulging in appetites.

SWTOR dye - Customization Kiosk

Before I get onto my main topic, I'd like to point out that I like most of Update 2.1: Customization. I've used the kiosk to tweak a bunch of my toons and spent a bunch of Cartel Coins on it. At the risk of being labeled a Furry, I unlocked the Cathar race and rolled a couple of new Cathar characters (and I may switch a couple of others to this new race later on - I like the roar emote they get). I have some niggling concerns over the kiosk (why is it Cartel Coins only, with no credits option like the legacy stuff?), but I think the overall idea is a good one and is mostly well-implemented. It was a big step in the right direction for SWTOR, and one of the things I was very much looking forward to in this update.

One of the most anticipated changes with the 2.1 update, however, was the addition of armour dyes. Players were promised that we would be able to re-color our outfits to better reflect our personal styles. There are a lot of interesting armour models in the game, many of which I would use if they didn't come in such ugly colours. Personally, this was the one thing I was most looking forward to. It is also the source of my biggest disappointment with SWTOR to date.

Not that BioWare didn't deliver on the promise. Dyes were indeed added in, and most armors are indeed dye-able. The problem is that the system is terribly implemented. It's a familiar tactic with BioWare by now - promise the players something awesome, and then make it available only through gambling or peer-exploitation.

Armor dyes are available a few different ways. A few dyes are available from specialty vendors in exchange for credits. These are more or less reasonable - the cost is not outrageous, but the selection is rather sparse. Dyes are also available through the Artifice crew skill, but again the selection is sparse and the craftable colours are largely unappealing. Obviously, that's an aesthetic concern and not everyone will agree.

SWTOR dye - Dye modules on the GTN

The primary way most players will purchase armor dyes is either through the Cartel Market or through the Galactic Trade Network. This is where things get dodgy and borderline abusive.

Bioware figured out early on that loads of players are willing to gamble real cash money for the promise of desirable "fluff" items. That's the premise behind every Cartel pack so far, and those have been among their best sellers since the Cartel Market first opened - they must be, because BioWare keeps making new ones with nearly every update. Rather than offering the few desirable items for direct sale, even at a premium price, they are packaging the hot items as rare drops in variety packs, buried in an avalanche of junk that the recipients can't even give away. Players who really want the cool stuff will keep buying the variety packs until the item they want drops, or they will pay outrageous prices on the GTN.

This is how the dye modules work. 200 Cartel Coins buys the player a Dye Module Kit containing two random dye modules, usable once each. The odds that any player will get a colour that he actually wants are determined by a random number generator - you might get a coveted black/black or white/white module on your very first purchase, or you might end up buying dozens of the damn things without getting one. 

SWTOR dye - Dye Module Kit on Cartel Market

I'll say that again, because it bears repeating: it costs 200 Cartel Coins for a chance at good armor colours. Most likely, that 2 bucks (roughly) will buy you a couple of ugly colours you don't want, wouldn't use and can't even sell because hundreds of other players are selling the exact same hideous mess. The "standard" result from these things seems to be colour modules that make your character look like a dollar-store action figure, the kind that kids habitually burn with lighters or explode with firecrackers or shoot with pellet guns. There's a very slim chance you'll get something good that you can sell for good money on the GTN, but it's a long-shot gamble. Every time, you're shooting craps and hoping for boxcars.

Of course, this rarity means that the desirable items fetch absurd prices on the GTN. It's certainly easy enough to earn lots of credits if you have loads of time to play the game and/or the cash to sell Cartel Market stuff on the GTN, but 3 million credits for one dye module is - let's face it - kind of ridiculous. But that's what you pay if you want the Johnny Cash look.

SWTOR dye

This isn't an argument about the "ethics" of selling desirable items on the GTN for very high sums - it's supply and demand, and the sellers are only asking what the buyers are willing to pay. The "fair" price for an item is whatever someone is willing to pay for it. 3 million is perfectly fair and reasonable for a rare item that is desirable, and it won't stay that high forever. That's how the economy works - the wealthy set the prices, and the not-wealthy either save up or do without. For the not-wealthy, this may feel unfair or exploitative, and there is always lots of shouting about it. But that's capitalism, baby. That's how player-driven economies work. The leet get leeter, and the noobs stay nooby.

But even if you do luck out and get a black/black module from a random dye pack, or save up enough to buy one from the GTN for whatever ridiculous sum is being currently commanded for one, that's no guarantee it's going to actually make your armor look any better. Some items have been deemed "iconic," and cannot be dyed a different colour. And other items have rather questionable dye channels, with accents that clash with any new colour scheme.

There's one item in particular that I had hope for pre-patch: the Thul Statesman's Coat. In general, I like the long grey overcoat with the sash. It looks nice and lordly and important, something a space-mayor would wear. The thing I don't like about it is the hot pink satin lining and undershirt that comes with it. It's for that reason alone that none of my characters have worn this garment. I have one in storage, and I was waiting for the customization update before I gave it to anyone.

Needless to say, I was quite disappointed to learn that the hot pink satin was not a dye-able feature of this item. The Primary channel is the large exterior areas, and the Secondary colour channel is the barely-visible trim along the collar and hem. So no matter what colour you dye the thing, your character still ends up looking like a semi-powerful person on his way to a 1970s roller-disco.

SWTOR dye - Thul Statesman's Coat with pink satin undershirt

That's not the only garment with terrible dye channels, of course. Here's a little gallery of questionable designs, running through some of the "highlights" I discovered while trying on various adaptable chest pieces. For this gallery, I used a primary green, secondary yellow dye module. This color pack, while eye-bleedingly unattractive, shows strong contrast between the primary and secondary dye channels, and the rest of the colours that are, for whatever reason, native to the armour piece and immutable. 

Same Model, Different Rules
SWTOR dye - Revan's Chest Plate
Revan's Chest Plate - No secondary channel visible, bronze-coloured chest parts don't dye.
SWTOR dye - hooded Inquisitor chest armor
A nearly identical model, but the trim shows secondary colours. Grey parts don't dye.
SWTOR dye - Phantom Chest Guard
Phantom Chest Guard - similar model with clear dye channels, but the glowing red parts stay red.
Undershirts
SWTOR dye - Eradicator's Cuirass
Eradicator's Cuirass - proof that undershirts can act as secondary dye channels...
SWTOR dye - Street Slicer's Longcoat
...but they rarely ever do. Street Slicer's Longcoat plus un-dyeable white t-shirt.
SWTOR dye - Jedi robe from Cartel Market
Three undershirts are ignored as secondary dye channels, in favor of minor trimmings on the shoulder pads.
Parts That Can't Be Dyed
SWTOR dye - CZ-5 Armored Assault Harness
No combination of dyes can make the CZ-5 Armored Assault Harness look good because of those un-dyeable bits.
SWTOR dye - Dire Overlord's Vestments
Dire Overlord's Vestments - the purple trim doesn't dye, no secondary colours visible.
SWTOR dye - Huttsbane's CoatHuttsbane's Coat has puke-orange sleeves that cannot be dyed.
Weird Dye Channels
SWTOR dye - Honored Saberist's Harness
Most of the Honored Saberist's Harness is unaffected by dye. Just the underarmor.
SWTOR dye - Organa Loyalist Chestguard
The secondary dye channel on the Organa Loyalist Chestguard is the tiny highlights on the backpack, rather than the more obvious large parts on the arms and chest.
SWTOR dye - Honored Master's Vestments
In contrast, the Honored Master's Vestments is mostly secondary dye channel.


I really wanted to like this new system - in other games, particularly the Lord of the Rings Online, I've spent plenty of real cash and hours of game time peacocking my characters with the perfect dye and outfit combinations. Way back in the day, I would spend hours farming the five or six neekerbreekers in Angmar that dropped the super-rare ingredient needed to make red dye, and cursed out loud any time I failed to crit either the Red Dye recipe or the Rust Dye recipe to make black. 

Of course, that all changed later on as the game matured. Eventually, the recipe for Red Dye changed from the rare drop of Neeker ichor to Juicy Strawberries, which could be farmed much more easily. And some time after that, with the introduction of crafting guilds, guild recipes allowed for guaranteed success making black dyes, in bulk, once per week. Later still, players could simply buy the dyes they wanted directly from the LotRO store - not so great news for crafters who used to make a killing with dyes, but good news for anyone flush with Turbine Points but poor in silver and gold. 

SWTOR's system of armor dyes is also a mixed blessing of sorts - terrible for all players, who get no real control over what they are buying unless they resort to the peer-extorion of the player-driven marketplace; but great for BioWare, who have become like Vegas casino bosses in a gangster movie, making money hand over fist off of all the suckers gamblers. The game studio always wins.

It is my hope that, some day down the line, BioWare follows Turbine's lead and makes this system more player-friendly. Players would be willing to buy the colours they want, even at a premium price point. It works in any Cryptic/PWE game - the top-demand dyes always sell for more Zen than boring browns and pukey greens and subdued blues. I have no problem with game developers wanting to make money with their new content - they have to, in order to finance future development and to continue maintaining their game. But there's a way to do it that doesn't involve exploiting customers with a transparent cash-grab.

There's an argument that always comes up when anyone complains about shady stuff like this: "It's just for looks. You don't need it, so don't buy it and stop complaining." Sure, armour dye is the very definition of cosmetic fluff. And no, we are not required to buy it to enjoy the game. But there's a reason we aren't playing 8-bit games anymore, either. If looks weren't important to gamers, we wouldn't have DirectX 11 to make water more ripply and tree leaves more leafy. We wouldn't be buying $1000 video cards because it has more "tesselation power" than the $800 one. It's not the necessity of the item that drives the complaints - it's the actual personal value. This type of item holds value to some players, and there is value in allowing these players to make their characters look the way they want them to. There is no value in selling players slot machine tokens that may or may not pay out. We're not getting what we pay for. We're getting a chance to get what we pay for, but more likely ending up with something essentially valueless. Or something so abominably hideous, it's almost appropriate...

SWTOR dye - Gree armour with pink/purple dye

I'm still a fan of the game, and most of the rest of Update 2.1 has been great. But Sam Rothstein and Nicky Santoro can find me at a different game table in their casino until they get the crap-shoot sorted out. I'll be saving my Cartel Coins for other things.

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