Greedy Goblin

Monday, November 3, 2014

The fundamental problem with pay to win

I've written several posts against pay-to-win, but I've yet to tell clearly why pay-to-win is bad.

Why do we utilize resources (time, fees) to play a game? Because it's a simplified-purified competition. Life is complicated, every aspect is linked to the other. You may get your promotion because your father used to be a supporter of a party where the company owner's aunt is the secretary of a politician. But if you win in tennis, it's only because you are better in tennis. The rules of tennis clearly and explicitly define the skills you must hone to advance, and your scoreboard position clearly tells you (and everyone else) how far you got.

This is true for video games as well, assuming they are pay-to-play. This case the subscription fees (with the internet bill and the computer price) are like the rent of the tennis field and the cost of the equipment. You are winning in Starcraft because you know the map, the build orders better and you click faster. Not the skills I worship (hence I'm not playing), but clearly skills that make the difference between win and lose.

It is clear that in a pay-to-win game, your in-game scores reflect your out-of-game income. In a perfectly pay-to-win game, if you are a top 1% earner, you are also a top 1% player. However you could already place your income in the "scoreboard" of the statistics published of the income percentiles in your country. After a glance on GDPs, you can place yourself in the world. So by spending money and time, you get nothing but a score in a video game that is nothing but the reflection of the income statistics. Why do you give money to a company to tell you (and others) what is already obvious?! Not like there is anyone who wouldn't know that an American lawyer earns more than an Indian cab driver.

What about status symbols? Buying Ferraris or jewelry looks the same as buying game scores. Everyone would have guessed that an American lawyer is more likely owns a Ferrari than an Indian cab driver. However these status symbols are intrusive. You must look at cars on the road and you must look at a person if you interact him. By making their cars and apparel obviously expensive, they force strangers to recognize them in situations where it wouldn't be obvious. In an ordinary place like a cinema or a beach, a lawyer looks just the same as the cab driver - unless he arrived with a Ferrari. Game scores on the other hand are not intrusive, so spending money to buy them won't help you pick up girls on the beach. Paying for game scores is probably the most pointless way of wasting your money.


Anonymous said...

My biggest problem with Pay-To-Win is when it becomes Pay-To-Be-Competative. There are so many games now where if you are not spending real money you will be curb stomped, no matter how much time you dedicate or skill you have.

At this point, being free to play becomes utterly pointless - it isn't free to play, you need to spend money to ride.

Anonymous said...

Yes, IF you see a game as a competition with winners and losers, then your argument stands.

But there are many many players out there that see playing a game as the better alternative to Crime Brother's Top Talent on tv again.
Be that enjoyment coming from mining, trading, roaming, large scale pvp battles or whatever, while at the same time not having the vast amounts of time needed to grind for whatever.
These players only care for 'did I have a better time than I would have not playing the game' and nothing for the achievements of other players. For them what you call 'pay to win' IS a form of 'pay to play'

Anonymous said...

P2W is ok provided you can buy all the cash shop items via the ingame market too (so they are not BoP).

It also depends if you see yourself as in competition with the others ingame, or whether you see games as entertainment.

In Eve it is difficult to be in competition, there is no BiS, there is no arena rankings (unless you are into the alliance tournament), if you want to be "famous" in Eve, it is mostly for the out of game things that people know you, and money cannot buy that.

For you, and others, gaming is all about winning, but as Anon #2 said, for many people it is about entertainment.

Anonymous said...

It works the other way around though. In a game where you can buy better gear with in game money, players who have no lives can spend more time grinding up in-game cash that somebody with a good career who only gets to play for short amounts of time. So a nolifer will have an advantage over someone who is not.

With your tennis analogy by the way, a richer player will be able to buy better equipment both for training and playing than someone who is poor. The benefits may be less pronounced, but they are still there.

Borna said...

I read so many Eve fanboys defend eve online, "its not pay to win, you need skill, you need experience"...yadda yadda...yadda..from what i see, Eve online is the biggest pay to win game ever in existence..well tell this fan boys...

you have one alliance that played the game well for the last 5 years and is now rich due to their eve success, be it grinding or sov wars or whatever in game means of "winning"...they make their money by in game means

then you have a new alliance that just formed, people have same sp's and experience as the first alliance just don't have any money, but are now funded by some rich player who says that real money is no object and can endlessly push isk into this new alliance.

so alliances go to war and what happens? even if first alliance "outplays" the second and have a 70% win ratio, the other alliance just keeps on coming with new ships over and over since they have endless real money supply/isk supply. they keep coming until alliance #1 is totally broke.

alliance #1 now, instead of fighting on, has to go grind isk to fund the war further by in game means, but alliance #2 doesnt since they arent concerned about isk...they won the war...alliance #1 is crushed...everything they did in game for the last 5 years, all the goals and objectives and stuff they "won" got crushed by real, out of game money aka pay to win.

bottom line is, their efforts so far in eve mean jack shit since someone more powerful with out of game money can just waltz in, fund an alliance and crush them. dont you fool yourselves this isnt happening right now as we speak in bigger alliances hungry for dominance.

eve online is ruined. in game efforts < out of game efforts. i guess real money makes you a winner even in a game like Eve that was designed to give the little man the feeling of war dominance, monetary and political success and this was its main draw. rip eve, welcome pay to win.

Esteban said...

A pay-to-win game is wrong for the same reason pay-for-results science is wrong. It hurts everyone involved (including the whale) because it renders the outcome meaningless and no learning takes place. To learn something or practice problem solving (i.e. game) we have to isolate variables, instead of contaminating the experiment with wealth.

People sometimes make the reductio ad absurdum argument that everyone pays to win - if you're a 'basement dweller' able to spend 18 hours on a game, then in an indirect way someone paid for your skill development, be it your mum by feeding you or the taxpayer via welfare. And therefore we should just give up on keeping games pure. Tobold likes this argument, Azuriel does to an extent.

I don't buy it at all. All that is required is that we keep the game board pure. You can hire Michael Jordan for a trainer and a battalion of sports physicians, psychologists, masseurs, etc., but at the end of the day you have to sink the baskets. Your wealth may help you develop the distance judgement and body control sooner but they are ultimately limited by your spatial and kinetic intelligence. The moment you start buying actual scores, the variables the game is meant to test/develop fly out the window. The game is destroyed.

Anonymous said...

in every game you can get advantage with money.
in reallife or virtual life.

You could invest in better equipment, you could invest in teacher. etc.

I started with a multiplayer deathmatch my online "career". I was going to school and had not the best computer. Of course others had highend gaming machines. It can give you some advantage if you receive no FPS lag. Even tho they sucked at the game.

But there will be a point, where your money is not anymore pushing you ahead. then only your talents count. But in any case, money rules the world and you can push yourself with it. in some games more, in some games less.

Anonymous said...

Even before plex it was too easy to convert GTC to ISK.

Eve has always been P2W and only the naive or most tooth grinding fanbois do not see this.

Now imagine an eve where all conversion of real world money to Isk was stopped and plex could be only bought for isk to add gametime.

This would fix most of the P2W and RMT issues but will never happen ...why?
Because the RMT/CCP circlejerk now has too much to lose.

Unknown said...

Are we talking two different fields here?

1st scenario: big time, strategic, money investment to change the power distribution in a game. An outside entity removes the need to grind for thousands of players, so they can overcome their non-funded counterparts in the game.

2nd scenario: one individual removing his personal burden to grind and still be able to do what he enjoys within this GAME, very much not on a New Edenal strategic level.

First scenario big impact on the course of the game, second scenario little to no impact on the course of the game.

It's like comparing a 100W laser with a 100W light bulb. Both emit light (assets in New Eve), both consume the same raw amount of energy (ISK), yet the laser is a weapon that can hurt many (bring victory in a protracted New Eden War) while the light bulb is utility.

The all important difference is that the laser is focused, amplified and directed - while the lightbulb disperses all around (and btw, uses 99% of the electricity to create heat for the 1% that actually turns into light).

So where do individual P2W light bulbs again have any significant influence on the fate of New Eden?

jstk said...

Paying for game scores is the most pointless way to waste your money, but for some reason it's still extremly popular. Why? I don't know for sure. My theory is that some people (including the rich ones) need to validate themselves in a videogame as well. Maybe they think because they have money in RL they are also entitled to win in a game? I don't know

But for whatever reason, crappy ptw games are growing and expanding (and this is particulary noticeable in most F2P MMORPGS).

Anonymous said...

"This would fix most of the P2W and RMT issues but will never happen ...why?"
Because CCP is running a business, not doing you a favor out of the kindness of their hearts.

Pay to win may be hated by some people but it's successful, it makes money. CCP have got a good balance between paying and skill, since you can only really pay to get more isk, which still requires a player with skill to be able to be put to good use. Some games go too far, allowing people to pay for benefits which skillful players are unable to achieve no matter their proficiency. It's only at that point that it becomes a problem for non-paying players. Most games like that however are free to play, so from a business perspective, the players not paying are irrelevant.

Really though, games are designed to entertain. If people need to pay more for that entertainment, that's their choice. If people refuse to pay anything, that's their choice too. Neither is right or wrong.

Unknown said...

Pay-to-Win assumes a direct relationship between money and in-game success.

Is this really the case within EVE?

If I only use money to bypass the grind and

a) either get to PVPing in the first place
b) or get to spend more time PVPing and thus become better at it

then does that directly equate more money with more success in the game?

On an individual player basis, I would heavily challenge that as a blinged ship or a High Grade toon is by no means an IWin button. Winning in EVE still requires you to develop a form of mastery.

Lots of money & no mastery = ALODs.

It's only in the hand of the already powerful player that money adds actual power rather than just removes grinding time between ALODs.

I witnessed this first hand when a 10-ish guys lowsec roam lemminged with High Grade Sets into a smartbombing Proteus sitting at the gate from Tama to Highsec. They were warned, they even got the first podmails in local with clear reason-of-death and still they still warped to gate at zero in their pods.

Pay to Loose More Expensive Stuff rather than Pay to Win.

PLEX'ed ISK is not cared about as much as ground ISK, thus people PLEXing tend to loose more of it.

Anonymous said...

Not sure I have a problem with people selling plex to fund their small scale pvp fun.

It is assuming to be that no one is talking about alliances running betting sites to fund their alliances.

I wonder how much those sites make and what that does to CCPs plans to nerf unassailable ISK mountains the big boys have?

maxim said...

On the highest possible level, you are obviously right.

Practical implementations, however, are generally a lot less binary and leave a lot more room for that clarity to be dilluted. F/ex selling PLEX for money is not a very clear pay-to-win system.

Ultimately, there is the simple truth there is a lot of money to be made (and customer satisfaction to be delivered) if you let people spend as much money on the game as they want. Pay-to-win is not always the best way to accomplish that, but it is the only way we have outside of pure cosmetic sales.

Gevlon said...

@maxim: the problem with "let them spend more money" is that their spending affect the experience of other players. This is why it's called "pay to win": what you purchase is victory over other players.

Usually their experience is made so bad that they only keep playing if they don't have to pay a dime: hence free-to-play.

maxim said...

You seem to be claiming that what happens "usually" happens universally and cannot be avoided.

This is categorically false. There are plenty games out there that use play-to-win-like monetization to great effect and enjoyment of all sorts of players.

Anonymous said...

@Borna: Your example is utterly improbable. No one is going to RMT a coalition. Not to mention winning in nullsec isn't a one time event. Once you have space you have to keep it.

Add to this, most characters over ~5 years old have over 100B in personal assets acquired over the years. Take this wealth multiplied by a whole alliance and you start to run into serious amounts on RL $ to match this. Even an "American lawyer" isn't gonna pay $250k on a video game.

@Gevlon: Not only does buying PLEX off CCP not guarantee victory, it's not even probable. All PLEX guarantee is ~800M isk per $15. That's it. In theory this isk COULD be spent on cheap ships and eventually, if done correctly, experience. But there is NO proof that this is what people do with their $ purchased isk. In addition, it does NOT get you SP or years of player experience.

You keep pulling out this idealistic case study of equal SP/Experience/intelligent match up, but does this EVER happen?! What in EVE guarantees victory? Factually and statistically the surest way to ensure victory in this game is having more players on your side.

TL;DR: None of this matters because CCP isn't getting rid of PLEX. In fact their introducing more and more things you can exchange PLEX for other than game time. And the player base isn't with you on this either. Most players are either indifferent to PLEX or prefer it over paying a subscription.

Gevlon said...

The Goons were considered unbeatable because of their 1T/month tech money. If you put $18000/month to the game, you have your own Tech empire. Who controls the reimbursement, controls the PvP-ers.

If that's too high even for an American Lawyer, it means that he isn't rich enough to pay-to-win EVE, not that EVE is not pay-to-win. The point is that there is a sum (probably $1-2M/year) that guarantees you total nullsec domination if done right. Just because it's out of reach for everyone except the fattest whales is rather a feature than a bug.

It's also not relevant that most people are dumb and use their money to fund lolPvP (equivalent to spending your time farming pets in WoW instead of progressing).

Most importantly, if $1M buys you total victory, less money buys you partial victory. My 60B/month (you can have it for $1100/month) buys me the ability to inflict 10% of the losses to CFC, the largest coalition. It's not 100%, so I'm not earning enough to destroy them. But I'm already leagues above an average guy, who does 1/N damage (about 0.002%)

Anonymous said...

The Goons were considered unbeatable because of their 1T/month tech money. If you put $18000/month to the game, you have your own Tech empire. Who controls the reimbursement, controls the PvP-ers.

You make a small mistake here - you suggest that first reimbursement, then players. You forget the social aspect, which is the kernel that holds the CFC together. This existed first and whilst they would undoubtedly lose some of their control without SRP they would still maintain a formidable force on the back of social ties, and perhaps more importantly on the back of "once a goon always a goon", which has fostered a "never recruit a goon" mantra among many of their enemies.

Gevlon said...

Wrong! Only 5% of the CFC are "goons" (members of Goonwaffe). So the "social ties" only work for them. Everyone else came for the reimbursement.

Anonymous said...

Yes because social bonds only exist between goons - not between member of other alliances within the CFC and certainly not across alliances within the CFC.

Dude some of these people have flown together under one flag or another since the great war - there is an immense shared history here that you are ignoring and dismissing.

Anonymous said...

"Most importantly, if $1M buys you total victory, less money buys you partial victory. My 60B/month (you can have it for $1100/month) buys me the ability to inflict 10% of the losses to CFC, the largest coalition. It's not 100%, so I'm not earning enough to destroy them. But I'm already leagues above an average guy, who does 1/N damage (about 0.002%)"

1) 100% of the losses in october did not destroy the cfc. thats a wrong assumption. Also your 10% is not done by you or only by your project. Marmite would have wardecced CFC allys anyway. Maybe not the whole time. So take 60% or so off.
Also MoA would do anyway what they do now.
2) you totally miss social influence. Even if you could pay trillions to entities, they would not cope with it. They would get a motivation spike, but it will decrease again over time. the main point in winning eve is, getting the numbers over a long duration...