Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
 
Pay4Time isn't Pay2Win

So I got a lot of questions why I think that Pay2Win isn't an issue. The reason I think so is that I actually don't know any game where you can actually pay to win. There probably are some Asian games that work like that, but I can't name one Western triple-A game that would qualify. What I know tons of is games that I would call Pay4Time: You can achieve the same result by either applying X hours of play or Y dollars. Card Hunter certainly works like that. And so do all those Free2Play MMORPGs that sell double xp scrolls or similar items.

Even worse: People only ever apply the term Pay2Win to games they dislike. Facts don't matter in the definition. If you point out that for example EVE allows you to buy anything in the game for real money, they come up with a clause that this isn't Pay2Win, because you buy the item not from the game company. As if that would make any difference. But then the same argument for some reason isn't applied to Diablo 3, although there again it is players selling stuff to players. People will complain if some MMORPG sells double xp scrolls and call it Pay2Win, but then will tell you that Riot selling boosts for League of Legends isn't the same thing. In short: People have no clear definition of what Pay2Win is, and just use it as a slur.

Pretty much every Free2Play game I've seen is in the Pay4Time category: You pay money for convenience or to get to some content faster. Not just for getting more xp or currency or whatever points the game is using; something like added inventory slots is also a typical convenience item which saves people time, as they need less time to run back to town to sell their loot if they have a bigger inventory. Besides Pay4Time there is Pay4Content. To use Card Hunter again as an example, you can buy access to the "treasure hunt" maps, giving you more adventures to play through. Lots of MMORPGs sell you additional races or classes, without those being better than the free ones. Cosmetic items are also a form of Pay4Content.

As I said in my previous post, people complain about Pay2Win in general terms, but are unable to make any specific complaints. I'd really like somebody to name ONE example where another player used his wallet to win a MMORPG. I mean, how would that even be possible in a MMORPG? I even have trouble coming up with an example in a multiplayer shooter, because these tend to be team-based, and even if one player could buy an advantage you can't get from playing it would be hard to buy a win. These Pay2Win complaints sound more like a lame excuse from the losers of a match to me, whether their opponents actually spent any money or not.

Comments:
You have a definition deficit. You don't believe it's possible to "win" an MMO, other people think it is. By your definition of course there can be no Pay-to-Win - you don't acknowledge a win condition. If another player does believe the game has a win condition, probably one which he has defined for himself rather than one given by the game designers, of course it's an issue for him if other players can buy their way to that win.

If you can't agree on a common definition of an issue you can hardly have a meaningful discussion about it.
 
Why deficit? Actually I appear to be the only one who HAS a definition of winning: You win if you get a screen in the game telling you that you won. It is everybody else who has a definition deficit, because their win condition isn't even clearly defined.

At the very least complaining about somebody being able to buy his way to your personal win condition is extremely stupid. How could the game company even have known that this was your win condition? If your win condition is that you win if you wear a red hat, should the game company stop selling red hats?
 
Bhag if the term is so broad it basically means personal taste, we're back with Tobold's argument that's it's really just a term for games the individual doesn't like. So you're really agreeing with him.

If the game has unweighted PVP, and the paying player can buy better gear or damage boosts, or whatever, then that would be P2Win. For instance, in World of Tanks, if I were allowed to take my tier 10 Maus into battle against a bunch of Tier 1 Loltraktors, obviously my money has given me an unstoppable advantage. That would without question be Pay 2 Win.


In the real World of Tanks, if I play my Maus I am matched with what is, in theory, a team that is equal or near equal to my own in terms of tanks and extras. That is not Pay2Win.

In most of these games, it is only when one is concerned with their own in game status relative to other players that Pay2Win makes sense. They resent that the cash rich players can achieve what they have achieved, but easier. It both calls their "achievements" into question, and undermines their elite status. I think the ultimate reason so many people viscerally dislike F2P is for the same reason that a French marquis in 1760 disliked the idea of democracy; it threatened his own perception of his place in society.
 
> You don't believe it's possible to "win" an MMO, other people think it is. By your definition of course there can be no Pay-to-Win

This comment has completely turned my opinion around on the entire issue. I've always just dismissed this complaint of pay2win. I've been evaluating store purchases in light of what I consider winning, and everything I've seen has fallen short.

To me, pay2win means there's a game where you are in direct competition with other player(s) where only one side can win, and there's an open ended purchasable item/buff that'll give you an advantage. If you buy six buffs and they only buy two, you've just payed to win.

But other people don't see it that way. They think they're winning because they have a pretty mount to show off in the city. To that kind of thinking, being able to buy prettier mounts is letting other people pay money to beat their in-game accomplishments. To them, the game has become pay2win, even if I don't see it that way.

Calling something pay2win is absolutely a valid complaint and reason for why you do not wish to play it. But that's not true for all players, it's a subjective statement of where you draw the line on a continuum of player investment.

So it isn't binary, a game doesn't just become pay2win or not, it sets its system and aims for an audience that'll accept it.

It does mean that the complaints aren't very helpful. People can complain all they want when they're not in the target audience, and it'll come to no real effect. Saying that they wish a game was less pay2win is about as constructive as me saying that I wish EVE was less pvp-focused, or complaining that Ni no Kuni is too aimed at children for me to enjoy it. I'm not the target audience, who cares what I think?
 
Experience boosts are only going to be 'Pay2Win' if leveling is the key to the game. I played a Facebook game (Galaxy Legion) which had unbounded levels. I would actually consider getting an XP boost in that game to be Pay2Win because someone who pays more money will 'win' more at the primary purpose for the game.

In other games (with an 'easy to reach' level cap) an experience boost is absolutely not Pay2Win. I'd be fine with someone being able to pay Blizzard money for a max level WoW character because getting to max level is neither hard nor the 'winning condition' of the game.

The easy to reach part is the key here. If you could go back in time and pay Square for a character with all max jobs in Final Fantasy XI that would be a huge problem. The primary goal in that game for most of the player base was just to level up and hit max level in one job let alone them all. It was a huge deal when someone finally did it. If you could just pay some money for it then it can no longer be a huge deal and that makes the people striving for it themselves feel worse.

No one feels bad when someone else has a max level WoW character because it's a very common occurrence now.


This is why I have always said LoL has no Pay2Win components. Getting to max level is not a big deal. The xp boost will let people with plenty of money and not as much time get what they want but them doing do doesn't hurt other people in any way. Hence, not Pay2Win. Leveling twice as fast in Galaxy Legion? Totally Pay2Win. And not because people with money and not time will use it to keep up, but because people with money _and_ time will use it to dominate.

For the record, I did pay for energy regenerators in Galaxy Legion. I was paying to win. And then I realized what was going on and stopped playing the game. Either I kept paying them more money, or I gave up on winning. Neither was acceptable to me, so I stopped playing.
 
Companies would know because the items they would be selling would be prestige items or powerful.

To use a common example, if blizzard sold Arthas' mount. I don't think you could argue that they reasonably would be able to say "that isn't a win condition". The entire basis for the mount was "winning".

And it's not as arbitrary as you make it out to be. "Red hats" being a win condition is pretty rare. Pets, or mounts, gear, etc, are fairly common win conditions. I have a feeling you could find a pretty decent amount of mount/pet collectors who have a problem with it.

Most people who complain about cash shops, don't complain about selling "red hats". They complain about selling the shiny mount/hat whatever, which is as shiny or shinier than what you can get in game. And game developers absolutely train players to think shiner gear =better.

It's the same reason i said in the previous post people don't care about xp scrolls. because in most mmo's, hitting level cap isn't really a win condition anymore. It just unlocks the "real content".

I'd argue most (not all) win conditions were either put into the game intentionally, or fostered by developers. How many people had "get exalted with booty bay pirates" as a win condition before blizzard added an achievement. Or ironman? You could probably count 100 people, or less.

you can argue that it's stupid to have a win condition in an MMO, but it's still there, and it's a major driving factor in gameplay, and many of them are there by not so subtle design.
 
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Maybe we need a special new distinction, what I call the "Pay 2 Complete Faster" option. This is what most MMO store purchases amount to: options to speed up the process of getting to the "end," which is defined by two factors: total content vs. player tolerance for the time taken to get there.
 
That is the problem with cash shops in the end. In previous posts, you mention that in order for people to buy them,they need to be useful.

But the vast majority of items are useful because they are, or speed up getting to, a win condition.

Why are you buying an xp boost, if presumably you enjoy the game? You wouldn't want to rush through it. Because it gets you to the (new player win condition) of hitting level cap.

I think the category of items that are not hats, but also aren't pay2win, is small. That's a very narrow sliver, if it exists. The only thing that comes to mind are some convenience items (which i'm not sure would be more financially viable than a cash shop of cosmetics). But they also have to be convenience items that don't make getting to a win condition easier.

A small note regards to people with cognitive dissonance in games they like:

This is either a good thing, or not completely true. You can't say "people" say x is bad and people also say y is good.

It's like balance in wow- no matter how perfect the change, there will always be a crowd who agrees with it, and a crowd who disagrees (on the opposite end of the spectrum). They're not the same crowd. The model in Eve is not the same as the model in D3.

Either people are cherry picking for games they like (which is fine because then they'll just shut up when they find a cash shop game they enjoy and there was nothing to worry about), or the Eve crowd has a different notion of pay2win than D3- which is consistent, because the systems are different between the two games, even if they both fall under the broad umbrella of pay2win.

There's no point trying to debate people using pay2win as another tool to bash a game they inherently dislike, anymore than it's worth trying to talk to an FPS gamer about the merits of MMOs.

-
Pay4content might be a way around it. You aren't paying to get a win condition. This is more like paying for the minutes on your phone, rather than the speed/quality of the connection. This would be a different category entirely, related more to DLC (with all the pros and cons). It's also still relatively rare for mmo's i think (besides DDO). People don't complain about expansions, even though those are pay4content.
 
The only game I've played and stuck with that had active Pay2Win components was Lord of Ultima Online or whatever. The game was pretty playable up to a point for free but once you were controling 20+ cities you really needed to buy "ministers" which amounted to about $7 a month. I viewed that more as a low value subscription and was all that I ever purchased. You could though also buy other items that you could use for a boost in game, all but a couple of those could be obtained through in game means though, and there was a mechanic to limit how many items you could use a day regardless of where you got them. Honestly once you got rolling buying anything but the ministers was a complete waste of money.
 
"Wargaming.net removing 'pay-to-win' options from current and upcoming games."

^ Just to show that P2W is still actually a thing developers worry about.

I think your stance on win conditions (i.e. there needs to be a Victory screen) is a bit myopic, even though I would personally agree that "winning" in terms of mounts and pets is silly. In fact, I would further agree that many people use the P2W tag as a rhetorical shortcut for "I don't like this," just like "clunky" or "bad design." That doesn't diminish the overall concept of P2W though.

My own definition for P2W is: unique, mechanical power/advantage that cannot be obtained through gameplay. Is it subjective? Of course! Most things are. Even your get-a-victory-screen definition can be waved away by any Freshman philosophy student or rookie motivational speaker ("Do we ever actually lose?" "Lost the battle, won the war." Or vice versa).

So my 3-step test is 1) Game company is selling it, 2) Only way to obtain it is through cash shop, and 3) it confers unique, mechanical power/advantage. Even this litmus test fails many games though, as it would term Magic: the Gathering as fair and PlanetSide 2 as P2W since you can only buy camo with Station Cash.

Regardless, I have issues with the F2P structure in general without even touching the P2W bugbear. F2P might be necessary these days, but it always diminishes my fun in these games by its very nature.
 
More often than not, complaints about 'Pay2Win' seem like people complaining about how they fear things will go, rather than how they are actually going.

I'd personally consider EVE a good example of Pay2Win. I've seen detractors scoff that if you don't have skillz, it doesn't matter how much fancy shit you buy, you won't win. But that pretty much holds true of any competitive activity, so if that's a reason for EVE not being Pay2Win, then I can't think of many games which aren't.

Personally for me, if you can earn it with time AND/OR money, I can't consider it pay2win. I bought the rocket pods on the more nimble air vehicle in Planetside 2. They're devastatingly powerful, and it definitely felt like buying power directly. You CAN still buy them by grinding certificates, but I spent several hours using my newfound god-mode (not really - you're still stupidly fragile to Pay2Win surface-to-air guided missiles, AA-emplacements, tanks with good aim, and enemy air-superiority fighters, but the pods are an unholy terror to troops on the ground) and tallied up how many certs I'd earned in that period, and how many similar sessions it would take me to 'earn' these fancy rocket pods.

Several months of daily, multi-hour grind. I don't do ANYTHING with that kind of regularity. If I hadn't been paying, that grind would've seemed almost insurmountably onerous and nowhere near worth the result.


 
Pay4Time is usually viewed as Pay2Win, simply because of tall poppy syndrome. While it's rare that you will find superior long lasting equipment exclusively through the cash shop this isn't usually the case in most lands I've ventured.

Sure pay4time can get you the item faster, but if you slug it out long enough you can get it for free too is usually the case.

Some MMORPGs though have locked dungeon content (pay-gate) that can drop superior gear in comparison to freely available dungeons. I think that instance is closer to Pay2Win. Age of Conan used to use that structure. Not sure if they still do.
 
Forgot to mention that previously mentioned gear acquired behind a pay-gate cannot be traded to other players as it is account bound.

This ensures people who pay for that content to "win" in two ways. Having more content to play with and being superior stat wise to those who can't run the content when it comes to PvP (in which AoC has free open world PvP, so you can get ganked at any time).
 
IMO Azuriel's definitions are much narrower than most people's. If I can buy(RL$) the best gear in the game that only drops from the toughest raid boss, then most every raider would think that is pay to win even though I am getting the same gear anyone else can get with in-game efforts. A PvPer or pet collector might be quite indifferent to mere raid gear being sold.

--

And there are nuances: when the $10 store item is available in game but it starts to take 200 hours of grinding, then perhaps merely available is not sufficient.

--

The EVE defense really breaks down with selling pilots. Even though the seller lost something when you gained it, the fact remains that someone spending $180 per month on pilots in training will have twice as many as the casual only spending $90.
 
A "casual player" spend 90$ per month?! Just whow...

Anyway @topic:
This is a great post in this whole debate.

We are all clear on the fact, that the publisher needs to earn its costs and then some so they need to make money.

Since they don't sell boxes and we don't like ads that means they have to sell ingame stuff.

Your idea to structure this stuff in terms of Pay4 will help to structure this debate.

Pay4time and Pay4content (basically good old shareware, right?) are - when I think about it - the most prevalent.

World of Tanks was pay2win though before gold ammunition was buyable for credits. Running my M4 with (now nerfed) HEAT made a difference of about 6% in win my winrate. And since WoT has a clearly defined win-condititon (it literally says "win") this was pay2win.

Since few players did it, it did not really matter.

They were mostly and are no almost completely pay4time...
 
The reason I think so is that I actually don't know any game where you can actually pay to win. There probably are some Asian games that work like that, but I can't name one Western triple-A game that would qualify.

A bit of survivor bias there though. Do you feel that gamers are just imagining the whole Pay2Win issue, or could it actually be that Western developers have seen the outcry against past Pay2Win games and stayed away from anything that could cause gamers to label their game with that stigma?
 
Do you feel that gamers are just imagining the whole Pay2Win issue

If you can't name a game that does Pay2Win, what exactly *is* "the Pay2Win" issue? That it would be theoretically possible for an ill-advised company to try it?
 
Let's face the reality that some games (not naming names) have P2W as the "unique selling proposition".

It goes like this: your skill fall a lot shorter than a pro soccer player, but for $1M, we'll the other team to play ball and let you score the winning goal in a tournament game. Deal?

Some people don't want fair game because they don't feel comfortable with their skill level. They could be behind because of time not spent playing or just simple reflexes. So they are looking for other ways to get ahead.

Needless to say, as long as there's a market need, someone will rush to supply it.

So P2W is here to stay. Maybe someday it will become so grotesque as to meet Tobold's definition of "seeing the YOU WIN" on your screen, while everyone else sees "YOU LOSE".
 
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If you can't name a game that does Pay2Win, what exactly *is* "the Pay2Win" issue?

I can remember some F2P games offered powerful items that could only be bought and never obtained in game (I believe Free Realms was one of them? I don't know if they continue to do so, but I distinctly remember that this was true at launch.) Then again, F2P games have been around for at least some 10+ years, and my memory fails me.

I would certainly say it's more of a historical specter that has gone away with time rather than an issue with any current triple-A title due to player outcry. This goes back to a statement that you made:

At the very least complaining about somebody being able to buy his way to your personal win condition is extremely stupid. How could the game company even have known that this was your win condition?

*Through* player outcry, gamers make it known which things the vocal community share as a personal win condition. It's not like developers just make a game and have zero idea about the gamer community and their likes and dislikes. I would assume that game companies have researchers of their own that know at the very least what gamers have spoken out against in the past.
 
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