Tobold's Blog
Friday, January 09, 2015
 
Everything is Pay2Win

One of the big lessons of the last years in online gaming is that the business model that works for the market leader does not necessarily work for the average game, because market leader benefits from economies of scale which are not easy to reproduce. Monthly subscriptions work very well for World of Warcraft, but not so well for all other MMORPGs. And the business model of League of Legends, which only requires a very small amount of money from each player because there are so many millions of them, isn't recommended for other games. That poses a problem for many online game companies. How exactly are they supposed to make money? Quote from SOE's John Smedley on Twitter (via Azuriel) about a Planetside 2 monetization feature: "sorry but we are actually trying to make money. I don't consider it a money grab.".

The discussion about game monetization is full of loaded terms like this "money grab", and "Pay2Win". But as there are no clear definitions, every attempt to make money can be called a "money grab", and everything sold in an online game can be called Pay2Win. I mean, World of Warcraft is obviously a Pay2Win game. If my goal in life is to collect the maximum number of mounts and pets and get the achievements for that, the fact that many mounts and pets can only be had for real money gives a clear advantage to the "wallet warriors" of the mount collecting community. Even clearly cosmetic items can turn an online shooter game into a Pay2Win Hat Fortress 2.

This has to do with the fact that games don't have unique win conditions any more. A clear win conditions implies that there is a way to lose a game, and because people hate losing game developers have been removing clear win conditions from games for quite a while now. Only 1.3% of Wildstar players have killed even just one raid boss last year. Even World of Warcraft's casual-friendly LFR raids didn't turn a majority of WoW players into raiders. So as much as people discuss it, raiding and gear progression clearly is just "a" win condition among many others, and games are full of "achievements" for pretty much any possible activity in an online games these days.

Economics tell us that players maximize utility as a consumer, that is they spend money on what is of utility for them. A sparkly pony is of more utility to a mount collector, which makes a mount collector more likely to buy one. But if everything in a game can be a win condition, then everything you can buy in a virtual item shop can be Pay2Win. If looking great is your win condition, buying cosmetic fluff items is Pay2Win.

People saying "online games should only sell cosmetic items" are in fact saying two things: That their personal win condition doesn't involve cosmetic items, and that they don't want their personal win condition to depend on real money. The hat collector with the same attitude might say that he prefers the item shop to sell guns instead of hats. The WoW mount collector would prefer Blizzard to sell epics instead of mounts, and so on. Ultimately what everybody is saying is that they want somebody else to pay for the game they are playing. And obviously that can't possibly work.

Comments:
The subscription model is "everyone plays for the game equally".

However there is a clear definition of "cosmetic": "others owning it have no effect on my gameplay". Even if I'm a mount collector, other people having mounts have no effect on my collection or the fun I have while collecting.

On the other hand other players having gold ammo definitely have effect on my World of Tanks experience (namely I'll get pwned).

Now there is a catch: group players will recruit the best equipped teammates. So while others buying Sword of Uberness shouldn't change MY encounter with the boss, it does, because no team will let me in without Sword of Uberness.

This brings us to the conclusion: "cosmetic" items are strictly solo-play related items. In the moment a group activity requires or rewards having specific mounts, selling mounts become P2W. On the other hand if Sword of Uberness can't be used in a group setting, it's OK to sell it, even if it gives you power.
 
Hmmm your title should have been "Everything can be Pay2Win".

But anyway, believe this or not, I agree with what Gevlon says :). Pay2Win effect is stronger when it affects people in a group setting.

This does not mean it doesn't exist in (semi-)single player games. If you look at Anno Online, any complexity or difficulty that the game can provide can be removed/skipped simply by paying. This makes it P2W in my eyes, the win condition being "high population / lotsa monuments".
 
Tobold,

Win conditions do not exist if there is no option to lose.

There are clear win/lose states in WoW, but mount/pet collecting via one's wallet does not provide someone with an "omg I won!" moment. What you describe in your second paragraph with your "wallet warrior" statement is purely physchological in nature and nothing more than a Metagame activity.

Someone else doesn't "win" anything if they have 101 mounts and I only have 100, nor do I "win" anything if I whip out my wallet and buy two more mounts with real money. I'm simply a sucker who has been parted with my hard earned money by allowing myself to be brainwashed to think that having 102 pets would mean something.

Also, achievements are only metagames in nature as well, and are earned for the completion of activities that may, or may not have a clear win/loss condition. I don't "lose" to another player because they have an achievement that I don't, and any notion that I do is preposterous.

Pay2Win can only be considered Pay2Win if it has the ability to to affect the outcome of a clear win/lose state.

But if everything in a game can be a win condition,...

It can't, so stop saying this.

People saying "online games should only sell cosmetic items" are in fact saying two things:..

No, we're not. We're smart enough to know the difference between buying fluff in metagame collecting activities versus buying an advantage in clearly defined "win/lose" situations.

Also, who gave John Smedley permission to redefine the term "moneygrab"?
 
Someone else doesn't "win" anything if they have 101 mounts and I only have 100, nor do I "win" anything if I whip out my wallet and buy two more mounts with real money. I'm simply a sucker who has been parted with my hard earned money by allowing myself to be brainwashed to think that having 102 pets would mean something.

Replace "mounts" in that statement with "raid epics", and you come to exactly the same conclusion. As it is PvE, I am not really affected if somebody else can buy epics with real money. Nevertheless people constantly complain about "welfare epics" that they think somebody else got too easily.

The subscription model is "everyone plays for the game equally".

First of all, I assume that in that phrase you mean "pay", and not "play". Second, even with "pay" the phrase is incomplete and thus wrong. The subscription model is "everyone pays for the OPPORTUNITY TO PLAY the game equally". As other factors result in some people then being able to use that opportunity far more than others, that still results in some people paying much more per hour played than others. If you wanted to make a game with a completely fair payment model, you would have to charge people per hour played (many games in Asia work like that). Only then would everybody pay equally (per unit of consumption) for the game. Most real world business models work like that, you pay per unit of consumption, not for the opportunity to consume.
 
Tobold: But if everything in a game can be a win condition,...

Chris: It can't, so stop saying this."


I will stop saying this as soon as you can name the one universally acknowledged win condition of World of Warcraft.

Win conditions do not exist if there is no option to lose.

Welcome to the 21st century, where this is no longer true. If your child today in day care participates in an egg race and finishes 10th out of 10 participants, he'll get a plaque congratulating him to his 10th place "win". Most games reward you for losing. And all MMORPGs contain options for activities that are not just level / gear progression.

People set themselves goals. They want to collect 100 mounts in WoW, they want to decorate an awesome house in Wildstar, they want to finish some storyline in SWTOR. Reaching a goal always feels like a win, and game developers are only too happy to pretend that you did in fact "win". Recently I noticed that the outhouse in my garrison was clickable, so naturally I *did* click on it, and what happened? WoW gave me an achievement! If one click is an "achievement", then I dare you to find a lose condition.
 
I have a growing feeling that Steam has sneakily transformed itself into the biggest pay to win game of them all. Watching the wave of hype and hysteria over every Steam sale and Humble bundle I have come to realise that there is a growing cohort of folks for whom adding more games, any games, to the their Steam library has become a goal in itself with its own milestones (Steam levels) and achievements (badges) and a whole host of microtransaction options available to support this habit.
 
I never said there was only "one" clear win/lose state in WoW. I said there were clear "win/lose" states, which is plural, and I can provide several.


and game developers are only too happy to pretend that you did in fact "win"

What?

Are you suggesting that game developers are to be held to a higher standard than the event organizers of the preschool race where 10th place plaques are being handed out for coming in dead last? Or is this statement a stab at gamers by insinuating that they don't know the difference?

Recently I noticed that the outhouse in my garrison was clickable, so naturally I *did* click on it, and what happened? WoW gave me an achievement! If one click is an "achievement", then I dare you to find a lose condition.

The burden of proof is on you, as this is your blog and post. I challenge you to explain how there exists a "win" condition with your outhouse example.
 
I never said there was only "one" clear win/lose state in WoW. I said there were clear "win/lose" states, which is plural, and I can provide several.

Please do! Either there is no win condition at all in World of Warcraft, or everything you want is a win condition in World of Warcraft.

Can you name me even one example for a "clear win/lose state" which isn't debatable? Because I can't. Why would you say for example that "I received an epic" vs. "I did not receive an epic" is a clearer win/lose state than "I received an achievement" vs. "I did not receive an achievement"?

Shouldn't a "clear win/lose state" necessarily include that the game is over? How do you win or lose a race that never ends? Is "I didn't kill Arthas during Cataclysm" a clear loss state, if I can now solo him?

I challenge you to explain how there exists a "win" condition with your outhouse example.

See above. Receiving a reward / plaque / recognition / achievement for an action to me pretty clearly is indicative for a win condition. It is the game's way of telling you "Congratulations, you won!". Receiving a reward is a win state in itself.

Of course the game hands out tons of those rewards. And you personally value some more than others. I assume you would be happier about an epic than you are about receiving an achievement or a mount. But that is your personal point of view, and isn't shared by everybody. Several people in my guild are currently soloing old raids for the achievements, while the epics are obviously worthless to them now. Why would your point of view be more valid than theirs?
 
Clear cut win/lose situations in WoW:

1. Duels. You either challenge, or accept. You either win, or you lose.

Shouldn't a "clear win/lose state" necessarily include that the game is over?

Yes, and this brings me to the 2nd and 3rd clearly defined win/lose in WoW:

2. PvP events(Wintergrasp, WSG..ect). You become part of a team that battles an opposing team. Your team either wins, or it loses. Either way, that instance of the game is over the instant a win/lose state is reached.

3. PVE against Mobs. Either I wander into their aggro range and they attack, or I purposefully attack them. The win/lose condition in this case stems around survival, as I can survive and kill the mob and -win- the "fight", or I can die and -lose- the "fight".

Now, dungeons and group encounters are a bit different in regards to PVE against Mobs, as one or more players can die during the "fight", yet the other surviving players can -win- the "fight" if they are able to kill the Mob. However, it -can- be argued that the members who died did -lose- the fight on an individual basis, but seeing as how the encounter was designed as a "group" event, the -win- condition is still attained and the entire group benefits. And yes, a wipe where all party/group members die is considered a -lose- condition.

It should be noted that since WoW is a levelling treadmill, that PVE "fights" are designed to be "level appropriate", meaning that I can kill a level 50 mob at level 100, and -win- the fight, but I'm lucid and knowledgeable enough to realize that I shouldn't pat myself on the back for winning such a fight.

And to bring this all back around to the subject of Pay2Win, if I pulled out my wallet and bought the sword of uberness, and possessed it during all of my above 3 listed situations, where it gave me an obvious advantage to reach the -win- condition of said situations, then that would qualify as a bonafide example of Pay2Win.

Mounts, pets, cosmetic items or other fluff...not so much.
 
Clear cut win/lose situations in WoW

Your examples are only different versions of a fight with a start and a finish. Nobody cares about the outcome of a single fight. There are so many of them in each session of playing that the micro-win of having killed a mob is completely irrelevant. Nobody says "I won World of Warcraft, because I killed this level-adequate monster".

Players tend think in larger terms. They set themselves goals for the short term and the long term. They want to kill raid boss X tonight, and reach iLevel Y by the end of the month. If you ask them why they PvP, they'll tell you about the reward they'll get after so and so many fights. And their goals often include things that have nothing to do with your limited win/lose mini-games, because they want to upgrade their garrison, or reach a certain hard achievement, or experience the story of a zone, or finish some collection. It is achieving those larger goals that make a player feel like "winning". And those larger goals are highly individual.
 
Gevlon, I assume you mean everyone pays for the game equally, which is in itself unfair.

The guy who plays for 5 hours a month subsidizes the person who plays 160 hours a month.

So the casual is paying for the hardcores server time so the hardcore guy can get all the loot and then exclude the casual from those groups because he wasn't willing to spend 50 hours grinding for that sword of uberness.

Point being that while the sub model has been around long enough that it's considered the baseline option and isn't subject to as much criticism as the cash model, it is itself inherently unfair. Especially since the casuals spend so much time getting stomped by the hardcore in PVP or treated like second class citizens by raiders.

The fairest billing method, IMO, would be to charge .10 cents an hour, but nobody does that because reminding people how much time they're wasting is a really bad idea.
 
Apparently there is a character limit in the comments so a lot of what I wanted to say can't be included. I'll probably clean it up a little and post it on my own blog. But I think I can get the point across...


Please do! Either there is no win condition at all in World of Warcraft, or everything you want is a win condition in World of Warcraft.

This is a false dichotomy. You're making the claim that it has to be A or B when it should be pretty clear that a spectrum of possibilities has to at least be an option.

What could be more accurate is that anything _could_ be a win condition in World of Warcraft. As essentially an open world game with a plethora of things to do any given person is certainly free to feel good about accomplishing whatever they think is cool.

I feel like what you're missing here is the difference in how you buying an item impacts me. In a world where the other players or the game itself will exclude you then purely PvE items do impact my gameplay and are pay to win. In a world where I don't interact with the other players in this aspect it isn't pay to win. If you could buy outhouses to get more easy achievements that could be pay to win if your achievement score impacts my game. If it doesn't then it probably wouldn't be.

Basically... I don't care about your win condition. I care about mine. If you spending a lot of money makes it easier for you to win, and that makes you happy, and it doesn't change mine then that's awesome. The developer should make money and this setup probably results in me paying less. But if you paying money hurts me then I'm not happy.

Some people will care about relative status and therefore the outhouse achievement thing would impact them. There we need to consider how many people actually fit in that category. If it's a very small subset of the player base then it sucks to be them. But if it's a game explicitly designed around an achievement ladder then your outhouses would be pay to win.
 
Yep.

"cosmetic" and "fluff" just mean that the author does not care about them.

I would have zero problem if the best PvP gear in the game were $old and very little if the best raid gear were sold but could be annoyed if the best profession recipes were sold. Because I care about professions and do not about pvp and little about raiding. If it is a competitive group activity I don't care about, then I am also indifferent to how much p2w is involved.

----

Subscription gets you everything is an argument that has been outdated for many years. In SWTOR, all the cool mounts/pets from the cash shop were BoE and thus could be purchased with in-game currency from in-game efforts on the GTN (AH). But when WoW went through 14 months with no new content, they were putting many of the coolest items as BoP in the cash only shop. Regardless of how quickly the fanbois can say they earn PLEX, someone who buys a sub and spends an extra $30 a month has an advantage over someone who doesn't in EVE. I.e., all the AAA sub and b2p games I know of also sell stuff in the cash shop.


----

Does the argument involve directly affecting? E.g., if they sell something that gets you gold/ISK (PLEX or WoW's upcoming) or even just helps at end game (say mount speed) or XP boost items to get to end game.

---

Just to quibble, but personally, I really don't see a win condition in a duel. It can be for really elite players honing their skills, but usually I see it as for players insecure about their abilities but without the attention span to go do pvp with consequences and rewards. E.g., I would respect, in a detached way, someone who was 40 of 50 in arenas but think someone who was 800 of 1000 duels probably could have spent their time more productively.
 
There are so many of them in each session of playing that the micro-win of having killed a mob is completely irrelevant. Nobody says "I won World of Warcraft, because I killed this level-adequate monster"

Are you forgetting that WoW is a DIKU model progression game? You discount one of the most fundamental win/lose conditions as if it has no bearing on the game whatsoever. You kill "X" mob to get "Y" gear so you can kill "Z" mob. It's no different in PVP, where you kill "X" players to earn "Y" gear so you can kill player "Z".

Without the fight mechanic there would be no PvE, no PVP, no pet battles, no levelling, no raids or dungeons. Seriously, strip all that I just mentioned out of the game...what's left to do in the game?

Go click on an outhouse for a hollow achievement?...sheesh.
 
I have an island in the sky in netherstorm. And I sit on my internet dragon on my floaty island (the very best floaty island there could be) and chat with my friends a bit.

Sometimes my flower sings that there's a zombie on my lawn.

That's how I beat WoW.
 
Perhaps my play style is odd, but to me mounts very much are P2W in WoW. One of my major goals the last time I played was to hit the 50 and 100 mount achievements to get the free unique mounts they unlock. I rolled several Deathknights, leveled a Pandaran to 40, and spent weeks on several long rep grinds just to get the mounts. The five or six mounts you can buy in the Item Shop sure as heck would have saved me some time.

Past a certain point, getting new mounts in WoW becomes a serious time investment. When you hit certain thresholds, you "win" a new mount that relatively few players have access to. It's even been speculated that the primary reason certain mount achievements exist is to encourage players to use the item shop.

Mount collecting may be a meta game relatively few players care about, but it's certainly one you can P2W.
 
Heh, in BC I used to ride around sometimes on my L40 horse. It was my first horse and I loved it!
 
There's a mistaken assumption here that needing to pay for x item if collecting or doing = pay2win. P2W has a very clear meaning, paying for an advantage in terms of GAMEPLAY over another person for money. Buying a flask that increases all your stats for 50% for 1 hour is p2w because it gives you an advantage over those who didnt buy it.

If your goal is collecting mounts, and the game has a large number of mounts you can find in game, and some mounts you can only buy in the shop, that doesnt make it p2w. If your goal is to get EVERY MOUNT in the game, you have to pay to do it, but as that is a personal goal you are not in direct competition with anyone and therefore it cannot be p2w. Lets say Wow had an achievment: "Collect EVERY mount in the game" and it included the paid mounts, well now it IS p2w because you have suddenly created an in game gameplay "reward" for an action that requires you paying real life money for an object. Unless you are forced to be in conflict with others, the P2W scenario does not apply, your personal goals do not change this.

This is why the clearest win/lose scenarios tend to involve combat, because it puts you in directo pposition and provides a clear win/lose condition. Payments for things that are "quality of life" is not pay2win until it has a significant impact that NOT having them impedes your quality of life (or gameplay in this case).

COsmetic items are usually the culprits as the most common action in any of these games is combat, and cosmetic items do not have an effect on combat and therefore are more "okay" to sell in F2P games. Selling a combat item forces the game to adjust and to suddenly force players to either buy similar advantages or be shunned by their peers or slow progression to a halt. Combat affects MULTIPLE areas, gathering resources, collecting gear, collecting mounts, xp progression, wheras a payfor mount ONLY affects that area and only for a limited number of individuals, and nor does it create a pay2win situation.

Regarding Yeebo for example, I got well over 100 mounts in my time at wow, on 2 seperate accounts, just doing stuff. I never bought a mount. Therefore hitting those achievements is not a pay2win scenario, but it might be a pay for CONVENIENCE, which is not the same thing.
 
The great Bob Dylan predicted P2W games back in the '60s:

"An' here I sit so patiently
Waiting to find out what price
You have to pay to get out of
Going through all these things twice."

- Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again
 
I'm sure I pointed out the difference between toys and games to you, last year, Tobold. Yet you persist in seeing virtual worlds as games, rather than as toys with with many different games can be played.
 
Isn't this just completely, factually wrong? I mean, if the hat seekers want there to be epic gear in the store, isn't that because *they* want to buy the epic gear so they can use it farm hats? Don't the hardcore players want cosmetic only items so that *they* can buy the fancy hats without feeling like they are cheating? I know that lots of people don't buy the cosmetic items, but lots of people do, including raiders.

Look at Path of Exile. That's a cosmetic (and stash tab) only model where no purchases affect gameplay. It's a pretty hardcore game that doesn't have nearly the level of social interaction that WoW does. But you see people in their funny hats.

If that funny hat cost $5, is someone really getting $5 worth of hat, or are they buying it because they actually want to support the game they like? If those $5 were going to the CEO of Walmart instead of to the game makers, do you think they'd sell as many hats? I think that there are lots of people who want to pay for games they like, but people mostly do not want to pay for a "You Win" screen because then they wouldn't get to play the game.
 
If my goal in life is to collect the maximum number of mounts and pets and get the achievements for that, the fact that many mounts and pets can only be had for real money gives a clear advantage to the "wallet warriors" of the mount collecting community.

Check out Lord of the Rings Online. Anything you can buy w/money (including expansions), you can buy with Turbine Points earned through free2play gameplay. It might take some time, it might take some effort, but nothing is money-only.
 
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