I just posted this in the Bioware forums, and thought I would extend the discussion to the Darth Hater crowd, to see what everyone else thinks.
A long time ago in a Galaxy far far away, I had the expectation that SWTOR would not allow players to "pay to win".
When Free to Play was announced, I was fine with the idea. Afterall, allowing new players to experience the storyline of SWTOR might very well hook them on the game and increase subscriptions. The Cartel Market never worried me because I had seen similar ideas in other subscription MMOs, and buying from the online cash only store never affected your game play.
What I didn't expect was the ability to purchase items on the cash only store that could be sold on the GTN. In some games, even that would not have had as big an impact as in SWTOR, because in those other games there's an extremely limited amount of gear that is useful in end game content that can be purchased for in game currency.
In SWTOR, PVE content is completed using gear that can be purchased, in its entirety, from crafters selling on the GTN. What about the set bonus? Well, in other games with an armor set bonus, this would be a problem. In SWTOR, you are given commendations enough to purchase a complete set of Tionese gear at level 50, all of which can be upgraded to the latest standard of gear while maintaining the set bonus. Or you could get the same from running a week's worth of flashpoints and operations.
To summarize, in game currency is now sufficient to purchase the highest tier of gear for all PVE content. Since you can sell Cartel Market items for outlandish sums on the GTN, it is very easy for someone to turn real money into in game currency and then into in game items that improve their performance.
This is, of course, what is meant by Pay to Win. The only thing worse, and less subtle than the route Bioware has chosen to follow, would be to include the highest tier mods in the armor they sell on the Cartel Market. Bioware has chosen the smarter route, which is to allow players to handle the exchange themselves, thus avoiding the immediate ire of everyone who hates pay to win.
Bioware understands very well that if they were to make the cash shop items Bind on Pickup, rather than Bind on Equip, their revenue might drop. A significant portion of the purchases made on the Cartel Market go straight to the GTN, and that would no longer be possible. That said, as a counter argument, even more real money purchases might arise, because players in the game wouldn't be able to spend their in game credits to purchase them, and might actually want a lot of what is being offered, and therefore be forced to pay real money for it.
The Pay to Win practice pushes away players who play for the love of the game. It is especially disheartening when you see introductions to the GTN like the new speeder with protection against falling off that exceeds speeder piloting III. Only an incredibly small portion of the SWOTR population can receive a mount with a similar ability by playing the game (the NiM Denova Tank Mount), and even that is a matter of luck, since it is a rare drop.
As it now stands, you can purchase everything used for space content and PVE content using either directly or indirectly purchased goods. Only PVP gear is sacred at this point in time (other than the expertise crystal), and it would not surprise me to see the introduction of a Cartel Market item that allowed players to get around the valor limitation as well.
Furthermore, Cartel Market items tread on the corpse of Legacy, allowing players to purchase Legacy only unlocks using cartel coins instead of credits. I wouldn't mind this particularly if it wasn't for the fact that in doing so they also eliminated the requirement of Legacy Level to use these perks, and have not bothered to introduce any Legacy Level perks over level 25. Nor have they kept any of the Legacy level perks sacrosanct to Legacy. If you have money, rather than time, you can simply purchase them with cash and ignore the effort level normally required to earn such rewards.
This wholesale approach to this game via the Cartel Market has left a bitter taste in my mouth. I'm not ditching my subscription just yet. I've enjoyed previous Bioware games, and respect the quality they normally bring to the table. However, I am becoming more and more certain that the long time players, those who would pay a subscription for 10 years straight in return for quality, are not the players Bioware is currently catering to.
I could go on to list bug fixes left undone since launch, UI features that are so basic that they should never have left Beta without them, etc, but in reality, my chief complaint is the Cartel Market. I'm not interested in Pay to Win. The rest of the stuff, even a ready check, I can improvise around. I'm having difficulty coming to terms with a subscription game where you can simply buy your gear with real money.
What do you think?