The Lost Ark release, being a free to play game, has prompted discussion (again) about pay to win mechanics. First, let’s define pay to win:
The ability to buy in game items with money that gives a player an advantage over other players (who do not buy the items).
Simple definition, yes? Discussions on the internet will take the above definition and try to change it to fit into their ethics. Why? They do not want to admit they’ve embraced pay to win mechanics. Let’s look at some examples.
A new MMORPG released in February 2022, Lost Ark is free to play with an optional subscription. The subscription gives players quality of life benefits like reducing costs, cool downs, and pets being able to sell or repair items. There are also cosmetic items, stronghold decorations, and character slot unlocks.
Can a player buy items to speed up progression? Yes. Is there a limit on how much a player can spend to “win”? No. Can a player reach the same goals without spending money? Yes, but it takes longer. Does that mean Lost Ark is not pay to win? Nope, it’s pay to win using the definition stated above.
Path of Exile
Path of Exile (PoE) is a free to play game where the players do not feel the game is pay to win. PoE’s store has cosmetics and quality of life items. The game has to make money, right?
It is pay to win using the definition above. Why is it pay to win? For example, PoE has the option to buy tabs that will increase inventory space. These cannot be earned in game. Indirectly, it gives players who buy the tabs the ability to have more wealth and flexibility with their characters. The game is almost unplayable without some tabs. The game has so many items, standard inventory space isn’t enough.
Warframe is another free to play game where, for the most part, players do not feel the game is pay to win. Instead, they call it pay to progress, which is pay to win using the definition I stated above.
There is an in-game currency called Platinum, players can buy with real money or trade for free in game. Platinum gives access to speeding up the time to complete tasks in game. Don’t feel like grinding to get Warframes? Players can also use Platinum to buy both the regular and the more powerful Prime Warframes. Prime Access gives immediate access to Platinum, select Prime Warframes, weapons and skins.
Using the definition about, Warframe is pay to win.
Most Online and Single Players Games Are Pay to Win
I’m trying to think of an online game that isn’t pay to win. Off-hand, I cannot think of one. I’ve played World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy 14, Guild Wars 2, Star Wars: The Old Republic and Elder Scrolls Online. They are, of course, pay to win because they have character boosts and/or the ability to use money to use money to buy in-game items. League of Legends allows a player to buy champions. I haven’t played Smite in years, but I bought a deal that gave me all the gods for life. I logged in last year and I yes, I have all the gods. The Ultimate God Pack still exists.
Paying to progress is “okay” by many gamers. Gaming developers responded by adding it to their games. They created games with a grind and added the ability to reduce it by paying money. Back in the day, games respected a player’s time. Today, not so much.
There are pay to win benefits in single player games too. How many games released with a deal that, if you pre-order, you get powerful weapons or armor only available via the pre-order? Or, if you pre-order, you get access to resources for a limited time. An example, Total War: War Hammer III gives players who pre-order or buy the game within a week of release the Orge Kingdom expansion for free. After that week, if players want the Orge faction, they will have to pay for it. If a player missed the deal, they are at a disadvantage.
Once it is accepted most games have pay to win mechanics in them, the conversation can change from “Is it pay to win?” to “Has the company gone too far?” More importantly, the question should be, “Do whales (players with a lot of money) get too much of an advantage?”. Pay to win mechanics being in the game makes the game pay to win. It doesn’t matter if a player can opt not to use pay to win mechanics.
Wouldn’t it be nice to play a game, especially if a player paid for it, that respected their time? That didn’t add unnecessary grinds to the game players feel the need to pay to skip?
The goal “should” be: finding the sweet spot of the gaming company making money and the players not getting ripped off.