by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Or: Pay to Win is a Blanket Term, and it’s unfair.
While we were streaming over on the Official MMOHuts Youtube, someone made a very interesting blanket statement to myself and Colton. They said “All F2P games are P2W”. I don’t really agree with this, but I decided to really give it some thought. How do you define “Pay to win?” Do you think that if you spend any money on it at all, cosmetic or not, it’s pay-to-win? Is it just stat/paid advantages? What about mounts or new characters? Can you opt to unlock them with in-game currency? These are the important questions, and as a game journalism website, it’s our duty to consider this. Whether it’s MOBAs, MMOs, or Mobile titles, popular or not. My personal opinion is that spending money on a free-to-play game is perfectly fine, as long as it’s not to get an advantage over opponents/other players.
Do remember that F2P games have to make a living somehow. I understand that in order to continue being in the business of developing video games, they have to make a living somehow. All F2P games aren’t equal though. Some of them legitimately offer paid advantages, while some only offer cosmetics/unlockable characters that you can gain through other means. Of course, there are always going to be Whales in F2P games. Those Whales spend thousands of dollars and are always in the top 10% of players in PVP. So you have to ask yourself what your goal is going to be in the game. If you want to simply be “relevant”, or if you want to be on top of the game. But “Pay to Win” is the term that a lot of people on the Internet simply lump over the top of any free-to-play game that has a cash shop, because that automatically means that they’re going to try and take your hard-earned money to get good, or get an unfair advantage in their game. There are games that do this, though! Don’t get me wrong: There are pay-to-win games out there, and there’s a whole host of them. And it’s our job to point them out.
Conversely, it’s also our job to point out a fallacy. There are a lot of terms that simply get blanketed under the “Pay to Win” banner, like “Pay to go faster”, or even “Cosmetic Purchases”. Just because they have a shop with skins and cosmetics, that doesn’t make it a pay-to-win game. One of the things I’ve been reading online (some of it jest, some of it serious) that the upcoming “VIP System” for Paladins will be a way to make the game “pay to win”. In what world is a system where you can get exclusive skins a strategetic benefit? Does it give you a stat boost, or increase your dpi or map awareness? Do these skins whisper in your ear, “Maeve is behind you, look out!” No, they don’t. This isn’t limited to mobile games, though many mobiles are F2P to give more people a shot at them. Always remember, that these developers have a family, they have mouths to feed. But there’s a fine line between “needing to make a living” and “literally buying flat power increases”. It’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed but is.
There are titles, like Neverwinter, which require a very long grind to become powerful. The campaigns, once you complete the various objectives, give you Boons, which give great power and boosts to your character. But can you buy your way through? Nope! You have to grind! The content is free, to boot. Can you spend real money to go a little faster in some aspects? Yes. But as to buying flat power boosts? That’s a different matter. This is what I’ve termed pay-to-go-faster. Are you in a rush? Do you want to get there right now or maybe next week? Sure, you can spend some cash. But if you just want to have more time in the game, enjoy it, and aren’t bothered by a bit of a grind? Then absolutely, go for it. But it in no way is a requirement to enjoy the game. That’s fine. There’s no problem there. Or, we can talk about Allods, which will let you invest money for actual power increases. It might not make you better, but it will make you stronger. It’s a great point of contention and ruins the game for a lot of folks.
Most mobile games are pay-to-go-faster. But these are not games I play obsessively anyway, I get the bug to play once a day or every other day … like, let’s take Dragonball Z: Dokkan Battle as an example. They give free dragon stones away all the time, and tons of stuff to help you play. Not to mention, each time you complete a stage for the first time? Free Dragon Stone. You can make wishes on Shenron. Sure, you can buy Dragon Stones, but never have I felt the need to in order to win. I have done so because I like the game, and I want to give back to it. Brave Frontier is a fantastic mobile, and they’re a bit stingier on giving back free stuff, but they do so often enough. And they do give you lots of opportunities for Gems for free summons, and events. So it’s not like they’re throttling you, forcing you to spend money. Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes has characters that are objectively better than others, and are only available through Premium Currency. There are arguments to be made on both side. But let’s look at Pay to Win:
Pay-to-Win: Does the game offer bonuses, benefits, or increases that directly affect your ability to be competitive? Exclusive, only-purchased items, weapons, skins, passive or active buffs/potions/scrolls that make you stronger than those that can’t/won’t spend the money? That is pay to win. And there’s possibly the worst sinner of all: The full-priced retail game that has a pay-to-win mechanic. But no company would do that… right, Warner Bros.?
Pay-to-go-Faster: You don’t have to, and noone will blame you for not! It won’t make you stronger, or better, but it will cut some of the annoying grind out of the game. There might be some weapons/armor on these games, but they aren’t going to be end-game level things. Probably something to help you get started and maybe it levels with you. But the moment you cap out, it sucks, and is only a detriment.
Can you think of some that are pay-to-win, or some that are not? Please let me know below!