Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
How do you define "pay to win" in a MMORPG?

Psynister has a great analysis of the Guild Wars 2 item store. You can buy some fluff, some utility stuff like inventory space or easier bank access, and you can buy faster progress and more magic items. The "mystic key" is the kind of item that got Cryptic Studio in trouble with the authorities in the Netherlands, who consider having to pay money for random virtual items to be a form of gambling. And you can buy a 50% better chance to find magic items, as well as faster xp gain.

Now technically you can't win a MMORPG. But in a PvP game like Guild Wars 2, of two players with similar skills and played time, the one who spent more money on mystic keys and magic find is probably going to do better. And if you consider strutting around with a higher level and better gear than the other players a form of "winning" in a MMORPG, the Guild Wars 2 item store certainly allows you to pay to win.

The other side of the argument is that levels and gear don't matter. Certainly you can play the PvE part without taking the level and gear of other players into consideration, so how much faster progress you buy is just a matter of tuning advancement speed to you personal preferences (although weirdly no game ever offers slower advancement for money). And in PvP it all depends on how matchmaking is done. As long as having a higher level and better gear only serves to give you stronger opponents, it isn't really pay to win.

So what do you think about pay to win in MMORPGs? What sort of items in the store would you consider to be "pay to win"? What do you think about the item store in Guild Wars 2 in particular? Fair or not?

Something that's notable about Guild Wars 2 is that gear is basically not a factor at all.

In structured PvP, all players use gear from the same set of PvP gear, which is completely free. No player has access to gear more powerful than anyone else. They might have access to cooler looking gear, but the stats won't be higher.

In large scale World vs. World PvP area, you use the same gear as in PvE, so there might be small power differentials at play, but it should be minimal. The Guild Wars 2 devs have stated that a fresh 80 will be able to get the best gear available really quickly, and after that only pursue cosmetic enhancements.

So when it comes down to it, nothing in the GW2 cash shop has anything to do with success as a player. You can reduce the time it will take you to reach a certain point, but that's it.
The line is not as clearly defined as it may seem. This is because there are different approaches which can be used.
When the store clearly sells items with superior performance which cannot be obtained in any other way then there's not much to discuss: the game is pay to win (example: World of Tank's gold ammo).
When the store sells "boosts" which make it easier to acquire items (be it "increased drops", or upgrades which can also be farmed ingame), then the answer depends on the change brought by the items. A 10000 hour farm for a power upgrade which turns into a 10 min farm is pay to win, something which saves you half an hour is not really pay to win.
For example in LotRO something like a slayer deed accelerator is not really pay to win, while the +5% dps/heal is definitely pay to win.

Thank you for bringing this up Tobold! GW2 is shamelessly p2w, as you can even purchase in game currency...

The big selling point for GW2 is of course the wvwvw. The fact that you can use real money to gain an advantage there? Shameless.

GW2 is NOT a b2p game. That said, ArenaNet's marketing team all deserve raises. I've never seen the gaming community so completely fooled and the post-release backlash is gonna be fierce. So it goes.

Someone buying something I care about is paying to win. Someone buying something I don't care about is fine, even desirable since more company profits mean better game or less they try to extract from me.

The rub is we all care about different things. I could care less about selling OP PvP gear. (Actually I kind of enjoy it; PvP tears best tears) But I would react negatively to perceived injustice in something as important as inventory space.

1) Nothing cosmetic is ever P2W.

2) Extortion is not P2W, just annoying pricing model. If F2P WoW you did not get any mounts or get to ride any taxis unless you spent $5, that is not P2W cause I don't see anyone playing without spending the $5.

3) Competitive advantages that are only purchasable with RL$ are probably P2W.

4) Does it disadvantage me or help him?
Him getting 10% dmage buff is P2W; him getting 10% OOC riding speed or leveling bonus probably is not.

If you think, I could go mine for 85 hours or I could spend $15, that is not P2W. 800 hours would be P2W. It's not just the transaction, it's the scope as well.

I don't consider myself a fangirl in anyway (but I may be), but how would one gain an advantage in wvw through money purchases .
It mat help you buy more siege blueprints but you still have to rely on others for supply.
I didn't think they were that expensive either, and quite easily demolished with the right tactics
Without an endgame, I find it difficult to care about the "P2W" items in the GW2 store. Supposedly there is not going to be any dungeon farming/raiding for stat-based upgrades... so what is the +50% Magic Item drop potion supposed to be for? Same with the super-duper salvage kits. Are the "gems" for armor and weapons especially difficult to get? Who knows?

From my experience in the beta, the Mystic Chests are filled with dyes and noncombat pets, so they felt irrelevant too.

In a more general sense, the P2W line I draw is where someone can purchase items that A) give an advantage, and B) cannot be earned in-game in a reasonable amount of time. If gold ammo could be farmed in WoT, I say go for it; the exclusivity and lack of parity is the problem. Well, that plus the fact the designers have an financial incentive to pervert the design direction of the game into deeper and deeper P2W scenarios.
Guild Wars 2 pay to win? That's just silly, you don't have gear grind, gear upgrades are going to be easy to aquire and those mystic keys... You can get them while playing game geez, i don't even what to say.
The only thing I consider P2W, as mentioned, is stuff you couldn't otherwise grind. Otherwise, buying items that save you time just even the gap between those who can play 10 hours a day, and those that may only be able to fit in an hour or two after work. I've found that most of the people who complain about these time saving items are those with endless hours to play.
I have to agree with what has been said above a few times.
I do not believe, based on what I have seen, that GW2 is P2W.

Most items you can buy are cosmetic, therefore not P2W.

Other items you can buy can be obtained ingame with reasonable time investment, I believe. (Or at least items with equal stats) Therefore not P2W.

Some items may decrease the time required in leveling/gear hunting. However as long as it is not a ridiculous difference (say 5 or 10 percent not 500) then it is not P2W. Just "P2 advance at a slightly faster rate".

I think it is difficult for F2P games to manage their cash shops to make them attractive to players, and also to not step over the P2W line.
To me, it looks like GW2 has it right so far.

I am a pve guy that still consider it pay to win. I don't know, maybe I am a bad person, but I don't want other people get even +1 might if they pay for instead of earn it in game.

I don't play pvp, the only reason to pvp is if there is an awesome looking set that I want for customization. But anything that gives slightly more power to someone, either in pve and pvp, I consider it pay to win
Give me example of something that gives advantage you are talking about in guild wars 2.
As you yourself have pointed out many times, Tobold, the majority of MMO players aren't interested in or even aware of "end game" content. Whether an MMO is Pay-to-win is meaningless for most of the MMO population not just because, as you say, it's not possible to "win" an MMO but because even if it were the vast majority of players would never approach the "win" condition under any circumstance.

Guild Wars 2 looks to me to be an uber-casual game in every respect other than the insane complexity of some of the combat systems. The PvE is structured around wandering about and almost always being rewarded no matter how badly you perform while the PvP is consequence-free, instant-access from level 1. The world is vast, rich and stunningly beautiful and there are plenty of city-based, non-combat things to do.

The kind of folks who actually care about whether an MMO is Pay-to-Win or not are going to fall out of love with GW2 very fast for plenty of reasons of which P2W will be one of the least important. They will swiftly move on, probably making a lot of noise about it, leaving behind a much larger number of people who just play for amusement.

That's my guess and it's as good as anyone's until we all find out for real in a couple of weeks :P
Thanks to ability to freely exchange gems and gold, GW2 doesn't have indisputable pay2win items such as WoT's gold ammo. The question is, which circumstances do we consider saving time a win under?

I think it might depend on whether we chose the payer or non-payer as basic. If it's the latter, then saving time doesn't sound like pay to win - after all, the non-payer just spent money, saved time... On the other hand, if we start with a payer who plays so much they can't play more even if they want to save their money, many timesavers become pay2win.
The amount of over-analysing of GW2 is incredible. Just play the game and have fun!
And Baghpuss echoed my sentiments exactly. ;)
Although not about GW2, I was browsing the Vanguard marketplace last night and noticed that they were selling crafting materials. Crafting in most MMOs is a slight step above worthless, but in VG, you can make houses and boats, big-ticket items that require a lot of "sweat equity" to be invested in the harvesting of materials. When there are only so many plots to build a house upon, or if someone is building and selling boats to "make a living", then being able to jump the line through the use of real money is absolutely P2W.

I equate this with having the option to be able to buy resources in EVE with real money. Actually, I suppose that you CAN do that.
I am somewhat surprised by the recurring comment that states that buying X hours of advancement with 1 dollar is pay to win if X is large, but not pay to win if X is small.

That sort of definition has two major problems: A) We are never going to agree on at what value for X this turns from fair to unfair. And B) if I can buy X hours of advancement for 1 dollar, I can also buy 100 time X hours of advancement for 100 dollars.

They will swiftly move on, probably making a lot of noise about it, leaving behind a much larger number of people who just play for amusement.

I would have said the same about SWTOR. It turned out that the number of people leaving was about 50%. I hope GW2 achieves a better retention rate than that.
There are a lot of misdinformation circulating at internet about GW2:
1- "the holly trinity is not dead, it was substituted by other holly trinity".
2- "GW2 is PvP only".
3-"the cash shop is b2w".

The cash shop have mostly cosmetic items, like glasses. There are too more bank slots, inventory slots, character slots (the game have only 5 character slots at start), xp boosters (only pve), speed booster, transmutation stones (cosmetics) and the famed chest keys.

Fisrt, chest keys too drop from mobs and are rewards from zone completition and from stroy quests, no one need buy them for open the chests. Some players get luck and get more keys than need, while other players find a lot of chests and no key. IMHO, we will find some keys being sold by players at teh trade market, so no one really need buy them at the cash shop.

And the funny thing about the chests is that they drop only cosmetic items, pets, dyes, xp and speed boosters. And, sometimes, more keys...

Moreover, the xp boost affects only the xp gained from killing mobs. But the main resource of XP at GW2 is completing the Dinamic Events. Mobs give very low xp and farming mobs is the slower way to advance level.

That items at cash shop not affect PvP. At sPvP everyone is level 80 and gain free level 80 gear for choose. At WvWvW, everyone is level 80, but uses the gear they have at PvE. But there is no PvE item at the cash shop.

My only doubt is WHY taht misdinformations and pure lies about GW2 are spreading at internet. Who played the betas knows that are lies. Maybe be because the WoWboys know taht GW2 is ral competitor to WoW and that Mesh of Pandamaonion will be a disaster worse than Catcrisis?

Simple. It's P2W if I look at an item that I want for fun, or need for progression, and get irritated that it's available for cash.

That irritation affects immersion, affects my motivation to play, and degrades my personal sense of fairness.

It doesn't really matter exactly why it irritates me. It's a personal and individual viewpoint.

It becomes game destroying when enough players feel that way and stop playing.

I wasn't talking specifically for GW2. I don't know what GW2 going to sell. I was refering generally what I think is P2W. For example in Lotro you can buy stat tomes. You buy for example tomes that give you +50 agility. Now I don't care if it is pve or pvp and maybe I will never see the guy that bought the stat tomes. This ruins my game experience.

Another example is that I need to kill 360 mobs to get a trait that gives me +3 agility. Someone can simple buy that trait from the cash shop. People say, why do you care?you know that you have earned that +3 agility with the "hard" way so why do you care?

Well I CARE. I cannot change my feelings to this. this is my I bad guy?a jealous? maybe both, but this is me

You can find what GW2 gem store will sell here:

It is NOT the same kind of items you see a LOTRO game store, there is not an item that gives + agi or anything like that and they don't sell better stat gear.

Tobold is taking issues with the magical keys, but I do'nt saw any problem with that when playing betas. Chests only drop cosmetic potions, cosmetic items, xp boost, karma boost, speed boost and if you are lucky, other key.

Well, one toon I made had 4 chests, get one key, the first chest gime some items and another key, the second chest give me some items and other key, the third chest give me some items and other key and guess that, the fourth chest give me some items and a key. I ended with my inventory full with transmorphing potions (that morph the player to a chicken, a skritt, or anything that appear be fun, I sincerelly hope someday I gain some fireworks, i will selll that potion if I get them again), some xp and karma boosters, and a key. Basically, it is luck, one day you have it, other day you don't have it, one beta after the other toon I created had 5 chests at bank.

Take note that BOTH chests and key can be sold at player market. Gems too. Players don't need use real life money for buy that items, they can use game money for buy chests, keys or gems.

With relation the xp booster, that really give some reason for raise concerns, they work ONLY for mob killing xp. Now, kill mobs give the lowest xp, the fastest way to gain xp is completing Dynamic Events, the second fastest way to get xp is completing hearts and points of interest, skill points, vistas. Farming mobs is the lowest way to gain xp at GW2, so everytime I see players farming mobs I want say them "you are playing GW2 wrong..."

The magic find booster too are not a problem. Everyone can craft gear that is better than anything that drops from mobs. and you can control what you craft, while you cannnot control if the item droped have the stats you want or if that item is usable by your class. My guess is that that booster will helps to find items that have a nice skin for use for transmutation. For example, a very nice longbow that I am using and reusing for upgrade the skin from the longbows I craft for my ranger...

Players will buy cosmetic items? Problably yes, for example I intend to buy inventor glasses for any asura toon I create. Not sure what to buy for a sylvari toon, but the sunglasses will be nice at a human or a charr. Take note these are "city cloth", so not usable at combat.

Sooner or later I can decide to buy extra toon slots or bank space. So, Anet will make money, but GW2 don't have a gem store that is P2W.

Giannis, if you don't like P2W game stores maybe the best thing you can do is just quit LOTRO and start to play GW2...
@Joao carlos

thanks for the clarification on gw2 store items. I am glad that it only contains vanity items or just xp boosts. Lotro had exactly the same thing. You had chests drop that required a key to open. Both chest and key could be sold at the market and chest could also contain a key :P exactly the same. But inside the chests there was gear pieces, rare mounts and sometimes stat tomes. They also sold the key on their shop. But gw2 chests has only vanity items so thats very good.

I also want to say that lotro shop didn't start that way. At the beggining was mostly vanity items and xp boosts but as time passed by they added all these things. I really hope gw2 don't take that way. I will play GW2 for sure and I really have the best intentions to like it. And as an altoholic I will buy extra character slots for sure :P
I define "Pay2Win" is "providing items on a cash shop you can acquire for an clear advantage over other players."

On Guild Wars 2 PvE, any advantage you can acquire is irrelevant because the game is always cooperative and lacks a gear treadmill. You can't buy better equips, and your guild can't be "better" than mine due to items purchased (or looted/crafted, for that matter).

On Structured PvP gear is absolutely irrelevant as all players are given gear with the same stats, all have access to the exact same skills, and there are no cash-shop buffs you can use.

Finally, on WvW speed buffs and better equips can provide a small edge, but due to the length of combat, to all players being up-leveled to 80, the inclusion of dodge mechanics, and the huge number of players usually involved, that edge is mostly also irrelevant. Being able to hit someone 1 second earlier or 1% stronger doesn't matter if I dodge that attack and make better use of my skills.

I honestly believe that anyone that claims that you can "buy power" on Guild Wars 2 didn't play the game at all, or just failed to notice the basic mechanics of combat. The combat systems simply don't allow for that to happen, and there are not any items on cash shop as of this moment that can break this balance.

Maybe SWTOR f2p game shop will go to the "dark side", but I doubt that GW2 gem store will go to the "dark side".

GW2 is trying the same model they used at GW1 (and worked). Sell most boxes they can, make an expansion at the next 12 months (or less) and sell most boxes they can from that expansion. Rinse and repeat. To have a "dark side" gem store will not help that strategy.

Boxes drop vanity gear and pets and dyes and xp boosters (not so usefull how people imagine, it is boost to kill mob xp). Sincerelly, I never used the transformation potions that droped, I will start to sell them at market, I do'nt think to be transformed at a skritt is funny.

As someone who spends a lot of in-game time (in WoW at least) collecting pets and mounts, running old content for gear sets, crafting and gathering, I consider extra inventory space, teleport stones, and cosmetic items like pets and mounts to be P2W. The Blizzard pet store and TCG stuff annoys me a lot. It really annoys me that most bought pets will be flagged "rare" (higher quality) in the new pet battle system.

Consequently I'm very wary of the GW2 item shop and what effect it might have on my potential enjoyment of the game.
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@ João Carlos: I am very happy for you that you have such enthusiasm for GW2. But if that leads to you insulting people who don't share that enthusiasm, your comments will be deleted.
There will never be an agreed definition of PTW because it depends on the game an indicidual is playing, and MMOs are always many games at once.

Triple Town is not PTW for me because I try to achieve the maximum with the standard items in stores, and I have no risk of needing to buy gold to get them (I have about 70K gold now from free play).

But if I wanted to get the highest score among all players, it would be PTW because I would have to buy real-money items.

In most games you can play to achieve the maximum without putting in any money. If this is a satisfying game (which depends on the game design and on you) then if you ae playing this game it is not PTW, but the same game may support PTW games for others.

That doesn't mean it is not an issue worth talking about, but it is certain that there will neve be complete agreement, because people are playing different games within the game, and because people will often cut a little slack for games and developers they like.

Based on my previous comment and what I consider is P2W I do not consider GW2 to be such game mostly due to one reason: It is possible to buy gems for gold and it is possible to make gold in game. In other words, if someone has unlimited time available, they are able to obtain or work around any advantage the cash shop has. A counterexample to this would be a thing like gold ammo in WoT.

I have to admit this opinion makes pay2win items seem to be quite uncommon.

The other approach and possibly an answer to what Tobold is surprised by is to approach the issue from a point of absolute hardcoreness (hardcority? how do you say the quality of being hardcore in english?) The endgame in GW2 (whether dungeons, sPvP or WvW) seems not to be limited in time (contrary to e. g. WoE in Ragnarok online, which only lasts 4 hours each week I think). Thus, any time spent farming for endgame can be spent playing the endgame which would give a bigger advantage to the player.

However, the inevitable conclusion based on this is that things such as cosmetic cash shop etc. are pay2win if they can be traded with other players for the "usable" items.

I think the questions Tobold asked in his comment are really good and I don't have the answers - however, I don't think it's me who makes the difference.
Defining P2W?

It all depends on whether or not a game was designed from the ground up to include the ability of being able to use real world cash within the game.

In the early days I was very vocal about the ability to use RMT in games like WoW, simply due to the way the game was designed - monthly sub based grind/level treadmill. However, the landscape now is much different than 7-8 years ago, as games are now designed(or have changed to allow) that allow players to open their wallet and spend hard currency on items within the game. I include WoW in this description also.

If a game is designed as a time/grind level treadmill with the subscription model implemented as a revenue generation model, then people have a choice to play said game or not.

The same holds true for these newer games that are allowing players to spend real world money within the game itself. Everyone has a choice of whether or not they will play these games.

The rub with these games, however, is that not all of the details about the implementation are fully given or known at launch time, nor are you likely to find much (accurate) information on any review sites.

I want to play a game where I know the playing field is level in every possible scenario, but sadly MMO developers are causing confusion with these new revenue generation models, and it will only get worse until the day gamers come to the realization that time and money will never be equal in the game space.
I think the best example of Pay to Win can be found in Mabinogi, one of my current MMORPG haunts.

Dying on a field or standard dungeon is no big deal other than the usual annoyances. However there are things called Shadow Missions and dungeons with no res points which means if you or your entire party dies, you have to exit and begin the thing from scratch.

However! If you had chosen to buy some Nao Stones prior to your death (only available with real currency via webshop and not tradable between characters in game) then you can opt to use a stone to be ressurected on the spot with full power and all your items blessed (all for $1 per stone).

This means even in the toughest missions the people who paid money have a better life-line to winning.

Ofcourse, there are a few choice places where nao stones do not work (one of the hardest story line dungeons that also doesn't have res points), and in Mabi most things in the harder places can kill you in 1-3 hits anyway (you have to be skilled in avoiding damage/team work) so chain-deaths are common.

Nice to note too that if you are dead you cannot buy stones at that point. You have to had prepurchased a bundle before death. It's like pixelized life-insurance!
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Pay 2 Win is the ability to buy power. Can I use my credit card to make myself stronger whether that be stat boosts or gear or what not.

When I look at all of the items in the cash shop I don't see anything that lets you buy power. I see cosmetic items and items of convenience which are fine.

It looks very similar to League of Legends and their model. You can buy purely cosmetic skins, extra slots and even xp boosts for convenience.. but you can't buy power. As I was a fairly casual player of League of Legends I made use of the purchasable xp boosts and they helped me catch up to my friend on a more limited play schedule which was very helpful.

But GW2 does one better in that you can convert in game currency to gems so you can access all of these cash shop items without ever spending money if you so choose.

I don't believe GW2 is pay 2 win, I think they did a great job with the implementation of the cash shop.
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