Greedy Goblin

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"skipping the grind" is "being overpowered"

As I wrote yesterday, the free to play - microtransaction model is rising, because it allows the paying players to win over the non-payers or less payers. I also wrote that in successful pay-to-win systems the scheme is non-obvious, and the payers are allowed to believe that they are winning due to their superior skills, so keep thinking high about themselves.

One of these schemes is "skipping the grind". The paying ones are not getting any exclusive or even rare item, they just get the items or stats fast, while non-payers have to grind for it. To see how is it clear overpower, let's check World of Tanks.

In this game, tanks are gathered in tiers. You "progress" in two ways, first by getting new tank tiers, and by upgrading your current tier tank. The game is instanced PvP, where tanks from +-2 tiers are matched together. You can end up being in the lowest tier tank, but also in the highest in the match. On average you meet with equal tier tanks. Due to the good matchmaking you win around 50% of the matches. No one is overpowered, right?

The trick lies in two things: the power of the tanks within the same tier varies a lot by upgrades, and your rewards depend more on individual kills than game win. So if you have a fully upgraded tank, you will have much more kills than someone in a freshly bought tank. To upgrade a tank, you either need to get tank-bound XP, farmed by that tank, or free XP, farmed by any tank. Most of the XP is tank-bound, so the normal course of action is buying a tank from the free XP you gathered earlier and start playing with your fresh and seriously underpowered tank to gather tank-bound XP to upgrade it, and also to gather free XP for your next tank.

Paying players on the other hand can convert tank-bound XP to free XP. So they are allowed to play with their fully upgraded tier n tank, which is one of the strongest on the map, gather the XP, convert it via RMT, and start playing with their tier n+1 tank only when it's nearly fully upgraded. Of course then it will be one of the strongest on the map, farming kills.

The same could be told in WoW if one could skip the "boring grind" of honor for PvP. When you are fresh lvl 85, the only way to get honor is to go random BG (or Tol Barad) in your green-blue gear. Of course you are one of the weakest players, being farmed. While you still get honor, as reward for losing, you definitely has less fun than the one who farms you. Of course over time you gather gear and you will be strong too. But those who could skip the "grind" would be strong instantly, skipping the "being farmed" phase.

No one questions that a free player can achieve the top power status. However until he does so, he serves as cannon fodder for the payers (and the more veteran free players), entertaining them.


Karl said...

I doubt that payers move to MT games because they can win over non-payers.

Alot of MT games offer only aestethic changes. In fact, Rusty Hearts just came out on Steam.

While it's pretty decent "Devil May Cry Combat" with sassy graphics it has a cash shop, offering aesthetics changes only.

I've seen 2 players who spent 10-20$ to change their appearances.

Everyone else, including me, used the default costume minus quest reward costume pieces from early pieces.

Unlike Spiral Knights, where you are capped daily unless you buy points to do more dungeons or crafting, you can play Rusty Hearts for as much as you want, for free.

People play... yet I'm not sure that many of them are going to buy stuff. Even if they did, it wouldn't be skill and they would die in PvP.

So, are people really attracted to power in micro-transactions, or is it something else?

That said, Rusty Heart is a golden opportunity for you to go and study how community slowly joins a game, and eventually buy stuff, and buy what stuff exactly.

Clockw0rk said...

A couple things about World of Tanks, as I am assuming you've not played it much:

No one I knows spends their free xp to buy the next tank in the tier, instead they earn the xp to buy the next tank with the one they are in (thus spending time as the upgraded tank) and then use the free xp to quickly upgrade the new tank to be less "stock"...also, many guns are shared between tanks so once you've leveled a tank of a certain tier you can often immediately (or much more quickly) hand the gun off to the new tank.

Using Gold to convert XP is one of the worst uses of gold, just behind premium ammo (which is as close as it gets to being Pay to Win).

Using a premium account instead (which you purchase with the same gold), you get xp and credits faster; your time as stock and time as upgraded between two tanks is shorter...and in the very long term you will reach the highest tier tanks faster (we're still talking hundreds of hours of play), but eventually you'll have to player lower tier tanks to sustain them (tier 6+ tends to become negative sum, meaning you have to play lower tier tanks to amass credits, which you can buy with gold inefficiently).

Also in my 500+ games I have very rarely seen someone "farm kills" (and they were just as often not in the best or most upgraded tank)...people that think they are Rambo, even in good tanks, die quickly.

But the majority of times I've seen the reasons someone gets "farmed" in a WoT game are; lack of gameplay experience, a poor team or stupid choices, not because his tank was not ugpraded

Sabris said...

Extra credits talks about Micro-transactions:

Coralina said...

I’d gladly pay £100 when Blizzard release World of Pandas to be skipped direct to level 90, given a set of blues, rep shoulder/head enchant and maxed fishing, cooking and professions. That is £400 in total as I keep four toons at level cap.

At the end of the day levelling everything up is tedious. It is not fun (might be for some but not for me and many others) and crucially and I mean CRUCIALLY there is NO skill involved.

It is pure time sink; it teaches you nothing of use for the end game, never has done and I bet it never will. I am interested in the end game, not the preceding time sink. I don’t even read the quest text…

Those sinks are in place to drag out the process and keep you subscribing longer. It is all about time and not skill.

Levelling up by playing IS about PAYING. It is about paying £8 a month for the X months it takes to level it up. Plus it is about paying with time which also has a value well in excess of the subscription fee.

What is wrong with me paying the £8 multiplied by X months in one up-front fee?

I don't see it as buying an advantage over more skilled players; I see it as denying those with no jobs and no socials lives an advantage over me. Those people would otherwise use their pitiful lives and abundance of time to gain an in-game advantage over me and take my raid spot or farm me in PVP.

Yet they would QQ if I used my working life to my advantage and paid so that I could take their raid spot and farm them in PVP?

I don’t distinguish between the two: using a resource you have in abundance to skip ahead – either to gain an advantage over fellow players or to pass over boring filler time sink content that has been placed there by the developer to earn them money. Whether you pay up front or in instalments it’s all the same to me.

I stress again though that for me I merely wish to pay to skip the time sink content that was put there to extract money from me in the first place. That content is not “the game” in my eyes. It is merely the toll booth that allows you to access the game.

Now in a pure PVP game like WoT it could be different but that isn't my type of game so can't comment.

Gevlon said...

Coralina, you don't distinguish between /played time and real time.

The guy who plays all day levels up SLOWER than you, due to no rested XP. You reach the level cap from start in 60 hours, he reaches it in 80. Your problem is that he reaches the cap in week, playing 12 hours a day, while you reach it in a month, playing 2 hours a day.

He is still ganked and "lolnoob"-ed more than you, providing "fun" to those who belittle them.

Trollii said...

What about LoL ? ( )
the game is a f2p PvP game (basically a DOTA clone) with a shop.
the things you can buy for real money are
champions + champions skins
xp / ip boost ( ip - ingame currency )
but in the end you still need skills to play the champions (doesnt matter if you buy the last Champion, if you cant play with him you`re still a "noob" )

Anonymous said...


Since when is generally accepted that is actually fine to pay for something you don't like/use?
Sure, many would pay for max level characters to avoid the leveling part they find tedious, but saying "let me pay to skip it" instead of "make a game with less/no boring parts" is an incentive for developers to continually increase the length of the boring part and eventually make you pay each xpac more and more only for the content you enjoy (but that keeps its size constant).
I'm not against paying to skip grinding, but if a developer gets more money from people paying to NOT play its game than from people paying to play it, I don't think they'll prioritize developing interesting content over developing more annoying "skippable" content.

Imakulata said...

@Clockw0rk, I would say you "don't see the forest because of the trees", i. e. you pointed out a lot of details in Gevlon's post that are wrong but missed the point - "in WoT you pay to skip the grind" which I believe is right for most of the things: high level tanks actually cost credits to play on average due to repair/ammo costs and need to be supported by farming credits with low/mid level one which is made easier by premium or even the gold tanks like Löwe and XP transfer and premium accounts help upgrading the tanks from stock faster. (The best guns from previous tier are often stock ones in the next tier.)

Of course, proper team and individual tactics will beat random driving around but just because the upgraded vs. stock tank advantage is minor doesn't mean it is meaningless.

Coralina said...

@Gevlon 09:30, sorry for wall of text; there is a TLDR at the bottom.

You make a valid point but you are still underestimating the advantage he gains.

I look at it purely from the perspective of a PVE player on a PVE realm – he who levels and gears first tends to get the first and best raid spots. From that point on he has a gear advantage that gives him an edge until well into the first tier and even carries through into subsequent tiers.

Take now for example; my healer has 370 ilevel, I am highly proficient in the use of my class and an ex hardmode/HC mode raider that doesn’t stand in fire. I have the gear and the skill to faceroll 7/7 FL normal and yet were I not retired from raiding I would only be able to find a raid spot in a mediocre 3/7 normal lolguild. I am “locked out” by those with better gear/achieves/established spots.

I have skill, gold and real money in abundance but they are practically worthless because I didn’t have enough time to spend at the “right” time when it could make or break you. I emphases the “right time” issue because no matter how much time I find now it wouldn’t be as valuable as it was in December/January.

How can you even begin to put a price on something that gives you a huge edge (or levels the playing field against the no-lifers) and has benefits albeit diminishing that last up to 18 months? By the same token that gives you some idea as to how much of an in-game advantage you gain by not having a job/social life.

It is an advantage so great that Blizzard would never let you buy it for fear of it being game-breaking. Yet Blizzard designs the game such that “no lifers” have precisely that advantage.

Some will respond and say “you are wrong Coralina, you can level up now and work your way into a good raid guild if you try”. Yes you probably can if you have the right contacts but I guarantee those same people would QQ vocally if I could pay a large sum of real money to skip to 90 on day one of Panda World. I am a PVE player so what are they afraid of…? Who cares; simply by protesting they are admitting that there is an advantage to levelling sooner and therefore an advantage to having more time.

Rather than paying to skip the grind, how about Blizzard utilise a TOC/ICC style gating system for levelling? Open up access to character and profession levels over a period of time. Heck they cap VP to string out content and stop time-zergers gaining an advantage yet they don’t do it for the most imbalance-inducing time-zerg of all…

Posters on your blog will object to that idea too – because they don’t want to lose the huge advantage they gain simply from having more time than the average person. An “average life” versus “no-lifer” graph would look like the graph in your blog albeit with the “average person” represented by the “Free to play” line and the “no lifer” being represented by the “Payer” line. This confirms my premise that Time and Real Money are directly related and if it is fair to gain an advantage from one, then it is fair to gain or level the playing field with the other.

TLDR: By using the term “grind” we are admitting that this is not the part of the game we ultimately want to play. By objecting to “paying to skip the grind” posters are admitting that there is a clear advantage to be gained in the part of the game we do want to play by completing the grind sooner than the next guy.

Now the million dollar question: Why is rapidly passing the grind by not having a job (lots of time) considered acceptable where as rapidly passing the grind by having a job (paying) considered unfair?

Coralina said...

@Anonymous 11:24

You raise a fantastic point:

"but if a developer gets more money from people paying to NOT play its game than from people paying to play it, I don't think they'll prioritize developing interesting content over developing more annoying "skippable" content."

Relating back to yesterdays topic: that is exactly what F2P games do and precisely why their model isn't sustainable!

Bobbins said...

If the 'grind' is entertaining then who cares if people can pay to skip it.
Alot of the 'grinding' in the world of tanks goes on because people don't understand how to play their tank in response/reaction to the other tanks (+Arty).

Esteban said...

Coralina, I respectfully beg to differ with your opinion about the pre-level-cap game. Even as an experienced WoW player, I found the process of levelling classes I haven't played before to be reasonably useful in figuring it out, with the talents building on each other and class abilities trickling in.

Given that World of Pandas Reloaded II or whatever they end up doing will probably mess with your class mechanics thoroughly, it's probably to your benefit to plink at normal mobs for five levels and build some muscle memory. You may disagree; matter of taste, as you say.

It is your time sink complaint that puzzles me completely, though. Of any of your four toons, how much of the total toon life have you spent levelling that toon, in comparison to the time you spent at level cap? I'm guessing the levelling percentage of the toon's /played is tiny.

If I had to guess, I think the levelling game is a loss leader for Blizzard. Designing huge zones with all those thousands of NPCs, storylines, cutscenes, various and sundry probably costs them more per xpac than creating raid zones (reused in heroic modes). And you zoom through that detailed, immersive world at top speed, leaping from quest marker to quest marker, aided by rest xp and guild perks, only to arrive at cap and spend most of your subscribed time grinding 5-mans for better pre-raid gear, raiding, or logged off.

If you think Blizzard is trapping you in a time sink with levelling, they're doing a terrible cost-benefit job of it. The real time sink is raiding and the social obligation to keep raiding.

Backthief said...

Did you make this post based on any particular game?

Because i cannot remember a F2P game, with premium features, thats gives full access to F2P, therefore not been able to achieve the top power. Example LoTR

Bronte said...

First, thank you for elaborating on the concept of World of Tanks. I tried my hands on it a while, and after getting my ass handed to me in several matches, and refusing to spend money, I moved on.

Second, I think Free-to-Play should be renamed to Free-to-Grind-Unless-You-Pay.

Third, this is precisely why F2P works. MMO player age is mature by the nature of the genre, and as such they have access to their disposable incomes. Most adults would hate to grind something when they know they can buy their way past it in a very limited amount of time.

Ymir said...

The leveling part is as much part of the game as the endgame.

You need to learn to enjoy it. That is one of the problem with WoW right now.

People want to be straight up at max level. They do not enjoy lower level play. It has no immersion.

In fact, most of the failures at high level would not even reach that high level if it was Ragnarok Online or vanilla. They would enjoy their adventures, solving the problems in the world, as the bigger heroes kill the monster threatening us.

To each his rôle.

But no, even failures get to fight the big monsters. If the USA sent untrained, bad civilians, Iraq would have totally kicked them out of the country and celebrated drinking the sweet black nectar that is petrol.

Skipping the grind is not a solution. There should not be a grind in the first place, but a totally different kind of game to endgame, with as much fun value. And much, much much more immersion, making what you do feel like it matters.

Anonymous said...

These MT games are out there to make money. With no monthly cost usually the best way is to lure people to buy things. It only makes sense they would be willing to offer shortcuts, more power, or visible effects as items. What they offer covers a wide base of player personalities from the social to the LOLkid that just wants to try and PWN!!1! They know some people will not pay and play for free but people know people and they may have friends that will buy things. Its all a money making scheme. I do not play many MT games but it seems that a lot of the content that is added is usually items to be purchased via an in game store.

Clockw0rk said...

@Imakulata: I realize I did not make my point as clearly as I could have; I don't entirely disagree with Gevlon in this case, he is right that a player that pays does advance faster; but at the same time, the difference between “gear” (upgrades) and skill in WoT is tighter than it is in WoW, so that a player that pays to advance faster really isn't going to ever experience a situation where he is “overpowered”.

His example of being able to go from “new” 85 with nothing to an 85 with full epic PvP gear is not perfectly analogous to WoT; gear is a much greater component of PvP success.

Though from a purely “it's possible.. (even if likely)” standpoint Gev could also have posted about the Premium shells and Gold-based Crew training...and yet players who never pay or pay little still can maintain 50%+ win ratios and 30%+ survival ratios. If skill > gear in WoW it is even more true in WoT. I agree that it is not entirely meaningless but it is so small it's virtually negligible.

Imakulata said...

@Esteban, I think part of your comment is right but the part where you say Coralina is wrong is not. In fact, both leveling and end-game are repetitive but as Bobbins said, if it's entertaining, who cares. Quests provide story and frequent change of environment, raiding is difficult and challenging - both qualities are fun for some people and they might enjoy playing even if others don't because of the repetitiveness.

Also, questing doesn't really prepare people for raids because there is no feedback on how they are doing (i. e. it's quite easy and while that is not a bad thing, it doesn't help with preparation for more difficult endgame).

@Ymir, what was difficult about RO leveling? It was just long but did not really help to filter the patient but less skilled. (Note that MVPs did not give as much exp as grinding and Bio lab was only introduced 4 years into the game or so and was still optional even for transcendent classes.)

@Gevlon (regarding the original topic), I actually think WG handled the payment options quite well as I consider "skippable content" a better option than straight buffs. The problem is, as someone already mentioned, the game creators might prioritize the skippable content over the non-skippable one.

Stark said...

Gevvers, old chum, have you played World of Tanks at all? Everybody gets Free XP from every battle they fight, there's nothing to stop anybody from saving it up to upgrade components on new vehicles. You can spend gold to convert XP from Elite vehicles if you really want, or as pointed out spend gold on Premium status, effectively subscribing, for bonus cash and XP, but it's not a game-changing difference. Oh and if you're really desperate you can buy Premium ammo for gold, and also boost crew training. Still all secondary to teamwork and skill, though, unless you're some sort of moron or slacker.

Clockwork said...

The other issue with some of the F2P games is that there is essentially no endgame...from my experience with F2P games lately there is no real "endgame" in many of them...the point of the game is the "Grind" which I think is part of the reason I don't see WoT as a problem; the game is fun to's not like WOW where I feel like I am grinding out dailies or repeating the same boss over and over. WoT is not without its down sides, but it's certainly enjoyable.

Happy Forum said...


People who buy Riot Points in League of Legends will on average have an advantage over those who do not. The reason is that, given a limited amount of play time, Summoners have to split the influence points the receive between Runes, Rune pages (should they want to use more than three (which is likely if they play competitively at 1500+ Elo)), and new champions, both for fun, to fill roles their team might need, and to have to trade with other Summoners in case that champion is the flavour of the month.

Looking at LoL this way, it's easy to see how Gevlon's graph applies to it directly; rune pages and champions can be purchased with real money, so paying Summoners have an excess of influence points to spend on runes.

One point worth noting would be that while it's true Riot point purchasers have an advantage on average, this advantage is more pronounced in higher tiers of play because when low Elo players contest each other, by the nature of their low Elo, any slight improvements in player skill can quite easily overcome the small optimization advantages having multiple rune pages filled with runes can bring. Higher Elo play, say around 1600+, is more affected by runes because differences in player skill are not as vastly varied as with low Elo players (more people watch the map, last hit better, try to build a good team comp at champ select, etc.). Also, clearly as Gevlon's graph shows, everyone can reach "endgame" in LoL and have every champion and rune. It just takes way longer for purely f2p Summoners.

To summarize, LoL is pretty balanced ,even with Riot Points, but if you want to play competitively without putting in thousands of hours to farming, you better buy some Riot points.

Last notes: Skins don't change anything. They are like mounts, just fun and some are very cute. Also, you can dramatically cut down on farming time and/or Riot point purchases by forming a three's or five's premade team and organising roles clearly (DD, tank, support, jungler, or other niche roles) as this allows players to specialize in those roles and thus not have to spend as much on different types of runes (DD gets damage stuff, tanks get hp / resists and such, etc.) so careful planning in LoL can work quite well.

Anonymous said...

The same could be told in WoW if one could skip the "boring grind" of honor for PvP. When you are fresh lvl 85, the only way to get honor is to go random BG (or Tol Barad) in your green-blue gear.

Not quite. You can convert JP to Honor, buy crafted PVP gear and PvE BOEs. You're not going to start in CP PVP gear, but not everyone starts in quest blues/greens either.

While you still get honor, as reward for losing, you definitely has less fun than the one who farms you.

Matter of opinion really. I've been that rogue who stunlocks and pwns you and the undergeared clothie who gets one-shot. Neither is substantially more fun to me. There's satisfaction in both being the wolf as well as being the sheep moving well among the wolves.

those who could skip the "grind" would be strong instantly, skipping the "being farmed" phase

In WoW PVP, "being farmed" is largely the result of poor individual decisions (rambo) or bad team play (deserting team-mates). Going 1-1 is rarely an optimal strategy for anybody and less so for a newly dinged 85. As a comparatively undergeared player, you can largely skip being farmed by strong team play and not being stupid. On the other hand, a fully geared player can be farmed easily if he throws himself into the other team with no backup.

I was in random AB recently with a hunter who ran out to fight 4 allies on the road while 2 healers and me (a DK) stayed at the flag. He died of course. I called him on it and he said "at least I was fighting". His "being farmed phase" will last until he quits playing no matter how much honor gear he has.

Clockw0rk said...

@Happy Forum: You are correct in that you can have the greatest advantage if you have multiple rune pages but as you can also collect IP playing ridiculously easy PvE and do so outside of the ELO system (or just unranked queues) which shortens that gap. A player could theoretically step right into ELO play with full pages of runes, they just would have to farm outside the ELO playground for a while.

You can also mitigated it by having 2 main styles of hero (AD carry, AP carry, tank, jungler, whatever) and pick one of the two based on what your team needs.

Runes are small increases; they won't make a bad player good....and Gevlon's main point as I understand it to be that F2P games allow bad players to purchase the ability to be overpowered so they can beat good players...which is more or less untrue in both games (except for the Lowe...screw the Lowe).