“Pay to Win” in Online Gaming Discussion

by Jason Parker (Ragachak)

Or: Pay to Win is a Blanket Term, and it’s unfair.

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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.

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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.

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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!



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  • Eric Marsh

    Sometimes the Pay-to-Win threshold is different for some people. I know in Secret World Legends, many people are lambasting the game for its “P2W” qualities which, when observed objectively, are inherently Pay-to-go-Faster.

    However, players that are tossing around acronyms like a well-versed jackass paralegal and complaining about monetization systems are most certainly talking about the options to pay for power increases, despite there being an established method to gain those increases through normal play. To them, they’re only concerned with the immediate future, the next week or month of gameplay. For their interests, Pay-to-go-Faster effectively *is* Pay-to-Win.

    Are they right? Not objectively, but these kinds of players rarely deal with objectivity unless it supports their subjective viewpoints. They never look at big-picture plans, roadmaps, roll-out schedules, etc and only deal with the game as it is when they’re playing it. These kinds of players, these wannabe-whales, need to figure out a way they can enjoy a title without partaking in the monetization they’re railing against or just simply find a different game that more closely matches their expectations.

    If they can’t find it, that’s on them; but as it stands, they’re more often more toxic players and only serve to make a social game anti-social.

    • darkfyra

      Left SWL because of the fear mongering of those people,getting criticized because I played SWL(supposedly the most pay2win mmo of all time/uh Archeage,many mobile mmos with top ups for big spenders?Those are far worse and really pay2win)So there is a way to get all you really need by simply playing(is there some guides on the best way to level up and play as a free player?)Might come back.Also was not wrong to consider coming back to Neverwinter,this feel more in my way,story lover,so if the story is good,the game is fun,don’t mind the grind.

  • darkfyra

    I mind far less pay to go faster…except if it’s 100% boosts in the cash shop and other things like that,small boosts are fine…but I never seen a free2play coresponding to my expectations,mostly cosmetics,convenient stuff with nothing gamebreaking,I like having the ability of getting even paid stuff with in game money but if I can’t if it’s not pay2win I can live without.I did not grew up with free2play stuff so my opinion of them is from a console/handhelds/pc player that still buy games.

  • Jones

    Dokkan Battle has completely taken over whatever little free time I have. I’m actually thankful you need do spend DS to play continually or, alternatively, wait for some hours for your STA bar to fill up again.

    Haven’t spent a dime in the game, love, love, love it. I can always take one of the (not actually P2W) OP cards as a friend to boost my lowly deck of misfits and underachievers lol

    Of course, I’m eternally thankful for all the DBZ fans and Dokkan Battle players that spend hundreds of dollars to collect all their favorite cards that allow me to play this wonderful game for free. It’s a win win situation for me.