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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
|Same Model, Different Rules|
Can't Be Dyed
|Weird Dye Channels|
I really wanted to like this new system - in other games, particularly
href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/lotro">the Lord of the Rings
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.
href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/lotro">the Lord of the Rings
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...
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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