Summer 2098: There is no more oil and armed gangs roam the desert to fight for supplies. The MMO Bloggers still fight about payment models.
— Jessica Cook (@heyitsliore) May 30, 2015
There was a pretty vibrant discussion between MMO bloggers on Twitter over the weekend on the subject of pay-to-win. I know I’ve already delivered my final word on MMO payment systems and I really intended to keep to that because, let’s be honest, F2P has won as the dominant model. But you guys, people are being so wrong on the internet.
To be fair the current discussion is less about free-to-play in general and more about the concept of “pay-to-win”. Specifically, I recently learned that to a growing number of people the P2W model is totally acceptable now. I dislike this.
What is best in life
I think some of the conflict between bloggers on this topic comes from the fact that MMOs don’t have a consistent win condition. It varies wildly from game to game, and from player to player. Perhaps you feel that you’ve won an MMO by completing the hardest group content, or maybe you’re an ArcheAge player and you “win” by being dominant in PvP.
I like collecting cosmetic items, and I evaluate my gaming success by getting the “best” hats and mounts and such. For me, the common practice of locking the premium cosmetic items in a cash shop is already “pay-to-win”. RIFT did this shortly after going free-to-play, and it was the primary reason I quit playing. The game went from having quest chains and reputation grinds and time-sensitive holiday events to .. lockboxes. It wasn’t even pay to win, it was “pay to gamble and maybe win”. Ugh.
And I guess that’s my underlying problem with the P2W model: it encourages predatory shenanigans by publishers to separate us from our money without us even noticing. I mean, that’s the fundamental principle of free to play, right? We’re supposed to make so many little payments that we don’t notice that we’re spending more than we would with a subscription. Over the entire playerbase, free to play is more expensive than subscription. If it wasn’t, then these huge companies with very well-educated finance departments would look at the numbers and go back to the subscription model.
A common reply at this point is something like, “well I don’t pay anything so who cares if that player over there pays twice what I do”. And I guess that’s fine, but .. for me personally I just am not comfortable knowing that some of my fellow players are getting screwed over by lockboxes so I can play a game for free. That doesn’t seem very neighborly, and being neighborly is one of the reasons I like the MMO genre in the first place.
(Amusingly enough I saw one supporter of pay-to-win say that those against it border on.. GAMING SOCIALISM. Check under your bed, folks!)
“Who gives a shit?”
The “who gives a shit” counter-argument seems to come up a lot in these discussions, and I’m not sure why.
I mean first, I’m an MMO blogger. Having opinions about game mechanics is kind of my gig. Not caring about stuff sounds cool I guess, but it doesn’t make for a very interesting post.
But primarily I care about this topic because what we do now will influence the games of the future. The audience is not the sole pilot of the game industry, but we do get to contribute to its trajectory. Think about this: three years ago when people were talking about Guild Wars 2’s F2P model the dominant line of thought was “free to play is fine as long as it’s not pay to win”. Now it’s changed to “pay to win is fine as long as I can pay”. What a difference a few years makes, huh? I wonder what we’ll be so accepting of next year.
And listen, I’m not saying that I want to burst through the walls of anyone who likes pay to win, Koolaid Man style, and smash their computer or something. Have fun, play your games, rock out. There is room for different opinions here, on both sides of the aisle.