SWTOR's Bad Dye Job

Posted Tue, May 21, 2013 by gunky

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.


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.
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.

This article really shows that you never played this game long enough. You do not understand the game, you do not understand how it works. Perhaps next time writing such an extensive wall of text you should try to put things into perspective and evaluate why was it done this way and not differently.

"This article really shows that you never played this game long enough."

Hilarious. I started out in February, 2012, just over a month after launch. Wrote a bunch of guides and such over at SWTORHUB. I like the game, and I understand how it works.

If your assertion is that the current system is flawless or somehow beyond reproach, there is no argument anyone could make that would convince you otherwise. It's a step in the right direction, but it currently feels half-finished, awkward and unfriendly to players. Try just about any other game and you'll see it done better.

Don't see anything hilarious. Considering you're failing to see that this launch is basically a pilot test of waters to something that wasn't even initially planned in the gmae, outright calling it bad, well, you need a hobby other than writing articles. There is so much wrong with this I don't even know where to start.

"... this launch is basically a pilot test ... "

That's what beta testing is for. This update was on the beta server for a while, and this half-finished mess is what made it through that testing.

A step in the right direction, but needs serious refinement.

Technically everything is working fine. That's what beta test was for (I don't even want to discuss how beta tests are done in this game and that's a whole different topic, but you'd know that since you're a long time player right? Kind of suprising to hear words "that's what beta test is for"). Let me explain the meaning of "pilot" in this case: if anything, the current version of dye system is PILOT because prior to making what we have right now there wasn't a techincal basis for this system (pretty much every item in the game which shared design but was of a different color STILL had a separate model file. Kinda silly if you could just flip colors software side, right?) and it had to be developed, if not from scratch, but from some point where it took more than 2 strings of code. This also raises another issue you use to base your "bad" claim on: once developed, you have to adapt the existing equipment to work with the new system, and not all of it designed the way to easily allow a swap of colors. How many items are there in the game right now..? A huge lot of them made by completely different people when this system was not even thought of, not necessarily observing the same protocol and following the same techniques. Do you see where I'm going here? No, I'm not visiting my girlfriend atm, because that'd feel good, and I'm not feeling good reading this article.

Additionally, the current implementation of the dye system pumps up the economy in a way: another gold sink at least to a limit. Artificiers have something to do with the descructible dyes and the gold can be "donated" to a vendor.

You complain on the "color gambling", but hell, what do you think it should be otherwise? 50$ for black/white colors sonds about right. These have always been/always will be the most "unique" colors in any mmorpg to dye, and it's only fair to some extent there is trouble associated getting these, as well as a suitable reward in the form of "gtn abuse" for someone who gets them. Additionally, as a lot of different items in the game are ALREADY the color swapped same gear models, bioware wanted to assure they don't immediately lose ALL of their value thus they left some things out of reach in the dye system.

Once again, in your article you don't even try to look father than your nose, sorry, but it's just weak.

P.S. What I find hilarious is your comparison the Cryptic/PWE products - ones of the brightest representations of Pay2Win games. This might be beside current point, but it's just something that made my mouth freeze in a sad smile.

I won't argue that the system is more complex than it looks - certainly it is. It took a long time to implement and refine the color-matching system, too. But the number of players grumbling about how the dye system works on live servers means that beta testing of this system failed, because the developers did not divine how players would react to it. Either no one in beta complained about it - which seems very unlikely - or BioWare didn't listen and went ahead with the unsatisfying system anyway. The tech works as it's supposed to, but the system needs more refinement and shouldn't have been released in its current state.

A step in the right direction, needs refinement. Should have been delayed.

Say what you will about Cryptic/PWE, but they know how to sell stuff in their cash shop. So does Turbine, who does the same thing. So does ArenaNET, SOE and loads of others. Selling individual colors at a premium price gives players actual control over what they are buying. $50 for black/white seems like hyperbole, but there would be loads of players willing to pay more money for the specific colours they want than what they would spend on gambling with a few mystery packs.

I think we're going to have to agree to disagree here.

I find it ridiculously funny that while Bioware tried very hard to actually allow people use their dye system for free (ingame credits) they are now getting bashed for not letting people purchase the colors they want with money. And not only the "casuals" but also the people who are supposed to be "respected authors" aren't even trying to look deeper into the root of what they're calling an issue.


There is nothing to disagree here, with this article you look like just another one of these haters that would bash Bioware and SWTOR for anything: something this game's been sick of since 1.1. Has Bioware been praised for anything once since the release?

Hello Flavoured, Anajamois here. I signed up for the express purpose of telling you that you're full of shit.

You're defending "chance" packages as "clever marketing ploys", claiming your opinionated arguments as fact (whilst the other guy has done no such thing), not actually used and source, and you're calling him a hater even though he put at the end that he DOESN'T hate the game?

I've spotted a Biodrone! Fascinating creatures.

you're drunk, go home. You have no clue, pretty much like the author. You read his awesome article and you're nodding, not sure on the reason why exactly but... you're nodding.

Dude, you're an idiot. The worst kind of idiot: the kind who thinks that he's smart. Maybe your parents keep telling you that your smart, or your 6th grade teacher, or whatever, but they're wrong. You are an idiot.

I made an account here after reading this pitifully pathetic attempt at validating an opinion as fact made by Flavoured. I did so simply to let you know how incredibly stupid everything you're stating is. I truly hope you can one day re-read this entire conversation and see how single minded you are and how you do a stand up job of representing your fellow blind fan-boys.

In light of the original article I have to say everything was spot on. The investing money and/ or time into this game for a 'chance' at what you are working for is a disgraceful mechanic employed in games as of late. It's a shame that there isn't enough people who value aesthetics because if there were, it would get changed and we would be met with a better system. Just as the original PvP gearing system in this game which was largely based on chance/ RNG was very quickly removed.

Like the others I have created an account here so I could let you know that you are a huge piece of shit. You are so blind that you are not even worth saving from this games obvious redesigns to milk Subscribers as much as possible to the maximum extent they can. You absolutely know nothing of why EA/BioWare does the things they do. Its no accident and its not even hidden. But dumb asses like yourself will never be able to see it. BTW, since this article how do you feel about SWTOR now? You still a dumb ass noob and spend spend spend little boy?
This article is correct. Not only are they nickle and diming subscribers but they now charge 2000 cartel coins for a black/black dye?! Thats about $20 per one consumable item. Greed doesn't even begin to identify their plans. SWTOR is no longer profitable on Subscriptions alone. There arn't enough of them. The gambling packs is what make them the money. That will always come first. Even before customer satisfaction. Everyone knows that the players must come first. but because subscriptions are no longer at the top of the mountain players are also left behind as a result. They made really bad choices and now this game is on life support by way of the Cartel Market. Without it the patient dies.

As someone who's been a member since launch, I agree with this complaint about the way the dye system was carried out. The sad part is, they did not learn from the dye issues that WAR had. Claiming 'Oh It' a beta' is sheer ignorance on the part of the poster above. It shouldn't be. It's not like they have not had time to look at other mmos run by EA to see what works in this and what doesn't.


I really don't understand racism in the real world. People are what people are, regardless of skin pigmentation or where their ancestors came from. There's really only one real-world race - the Human Race - and I loathe everyone equally.

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