Greedy Goblin

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Proper definition of "cosmetic item"

Tobold argues that everything is pay-to-win because in most games there is not a clear "win condition", everyone is free to set his own, and some of these (like "I want to have hats in TF2") can be advanced by paying. To battle this, I'd like to clearly distinguish "cosmetic", "power" and "irrelevant" items and then say that only selling "power" items is pay to win.
  • A "power item" affects the gameplay of other players. It doesn't matter if it affects your gameplay or not. So the "sword of uberness" that allows you to oneshot anything is not a power item in a single-player game. The gold ammo is pay-to-win, because an opponent equipped with it is negatively affecting my playing experience (pwns me).
  • A "cosmetic item" is visible to other players, but doesn't change their gameplay. If their client would be modified to hide the item, they would never know. The skins in League of Legends or mounts in WoW are cosmetic items.
  • An "irrelevant item" is neither visible, nor affecting the gameplay of other players. Having a premium account in World of Tanks is irrelevant, because I won't see and have no reason to care how much XP the other player will get after our battle is over. Most likely I'll never play against him again.
Now, the devil is always hiding between the lines, because "playing experience" is often affected by community and meta-gaming considerations. For example a WoT player choose a tank, queue and the matchmaker places his tank in my battle. I have no reason to care if it's his only tank or he has hundred others. On the other hand in League of Legends the player queues and picks a champion after me. It matters me a lot if he owns my hard counter champion or not. So XP boosts in WoT are "irrelevant", IP boost in LoL is "power".

Similarly, others buying mounts don't slow me down in getting mounts, so mount collectors have no reason to care about mount sales. On the other hand others already having epics slows me down: the groups demand higher item level, buyer gets picked, I don't. So selling mounts is "cosmetic", selling epics is "power". The same goes for achievements. Other guy having 100 mounts achievement doesn't affect your mount-collecting achievement progress, others having Ahead of the Curve achievement does: he'll get picked into teams that go for Imperator HC where you could get the damn thing. So selling this achievement would be very much a pay-to-win. On the other hand, if having mount achievements for any bizarre reason would become guild recruitment standard (topguilds demand it out of being elitist), the same mounts would become power items, despite no code was changed by the developer.

So the status of a certain item can change by community and metagaming changes, but the decision criteria is clear: "others having that item changes your gameplay". If such item is sold, the game is pay-to-win.


To popularize the CSM election, CCP released a series of interviews with CSM9 and CCP members. All of them shown what they've done and what they plan to accomplish in the next term. Except the representative of the Evil, Sion Kumitomo. The bitterness of his words would make a ganked miner look classy. If he'd be a gallant instead of a goofus he'd just give a "gf" to CCP Grayscale.

27 comments:

S Riojas said...

To sum up Sion Kumitomo's comments about his term: I accomplished nothing because I was barking up the wrong tree and my fellow CSM members are intellectually inferior to me.

With regards to power items not being coded into the game as such: unless you really really want to be part of a group that thinks such a cosmetic item is required to be "great" then you really don't need to be hanging with those people.

It would be like an EVE corp saying everyone must have a Gnosis in their hanger to be a member or to buy a specific uniform for their pilot. In the end, it does not make them a better player against you, just changes their relationship to you and within a group.

Do you really want to be part of such a group/raid/corp/etc?

Pay to Win sucks.

By the way, speaking of it (or percepable lack of it), have you ever tried Mech Warrior Online?

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that Sion has some pretty legitimate concerns there, much of which we already know to be true. Even Sugar acknowledged CCPs lack of communication over some of the past years changes. Are you saying that even when there's clear fundamental issues n the CSM, that the CSM member should just say "Everything is fine and normal tra la la"?

Gevlon said...

In a post that look back on the last year, writing nothing but negative is either destructive (he wants people not to vote) or emotional (tears).

If CSM would be genuinely that bad, he had to resign in protest.

The professional reply would be an "Issues" paragraph, like Corbexx did (and I purposefully cite him, since I hate the fuck just as much as Goons).

Dàchéng said...

As I mentioned in Tobold's comments, there is a difference between toys and games. The virtual world of Azeroth is a toy with which many games can be played. Whether a particular item is 'cosmetic' in your eyes depends on what game you are playing.

Bitter said...

Premium account in WoT *is* p2w if you consider Premium ammo to be so (and you do). A Premium account means more credits, which gives the ability to spend more on Premium ammo than a Standard account player.

Also, if you have two equally skilled and experienced players then the one with Premium will be more "advanced" than the one with Standard -- either in terms of tank tier or, if they have kept their progression at the same rate by "overplaying" elites instead of leveling up, increasing their crew skills and credit balance dramatically.

Basically, everything *is* p2w -- at the extreme, an independently wealthy person who can afford to do nothing all day but play, train, research and/or be coached in a game will "beat" an equivalently skilled player who must work. And any person's decision about whether a particular feature is p2w will depend on their own cost/benefit analysis of that feature (and, often, on whether they are taking advantage of it themselves :-) ).

Gevlon said...

@Bitter: assuming normal play, he'll be more progressed and we'll simply not meet. He'll have higher tier tanks than me.

Dàchéng said...

That's a good point, Gevlon. Nonetheless, the person who buys a premium tank has paid for power. He just isn't affecting your gameplay.

Gevlon said...

@Dacheng: if I'm unaffected, then how can he have more power. I mean if someone gets more powerful, his opponents would feel it.

Anonymous said...

Gevlon
"In a post that look back on the last year, writing nothing but negative is either destructive (he wants people not to vote) or emotional (tears).

If CSM would be genuinely that bad, he had to resign in protest.

The professional reply would be an "Issues" paragraph, like Corbexx did (and I purposefully cite him, since I hate the fuck just as much as Goons)."
I wouldn't say it was nothing but negative, he had positives things to say about
Falcon and Leeloo. Perhaps he made the issues the focus of his post because he believes that's the main problem with the whole CSM process. Writing up a post about how everything is great like a couple of others have is obviously disingenuous, we already know there are serious failings in the CSM.

He explains in the post why he isn't resigning, because he believes in the CSM and want to work to improve it. I'm in complete agreement, the last couple of CSMs have been pretty terrible due to the lack of communication between CCP and the CSM. The CSM members themselves are working hard to get information out to the players, but it's difficult when CCP go public with changes never even discussed with the CSM, especially when they claim to have CSM backing.

I don't tend to make and distinction over what CSM member belongs to what group. I'm a highsec player so I like highsec changes, but I believe the CSM members will put the needs of the game over their own personal desires.

Dàchéng said...

Gevlon asked "if I'm unaffected, then how can he have more power. I mean if someone gets more powerful, his opponents would feel it."

That's a good point, Gevlon, and the answer is that though you cannot tell if his power was acquired by paying or not, he still has more power than we would have if he had not bought the premium tank (I leave premium ammo out of the discussion, as it is clearly p2w).

In the battle itself, you cannot distinguish his power from that acquired without paying for it. He does not prevent you from getting into a battle the way that another player with better gear than you might prevent you from getting into a raid. He is nonetheless more powerful than he would have been without a premium tank - more credits = better modules sooner. He may cause you to leave the battle prematurely by destroying your tank. That might be because he could afford to equip better modules than he would otherwise have have been able to afford. Or he might have destroyed your tank anyway. You would not notice the difference, but over the course of many games, he nonetheless gained an advantage through extra credits earned by the premium tank.

Anonymous said...

@Gevlon: "assuming normal play, he'll be more progressed and we'll simply not meet. He'll have higher tier tanks than me."

If I understand correctly how WoT works, This only means you won't meet him, but you'll meet his less skilled/dedicated equivalent brought up to your level by pay-to-win.

Von Keigai said...

You hate Corbexx? Why?

Gevlon said...

@Dacheng: assuming the matchmaker isn't biased (it is, but for now it's irrelevant), I'm placed in a battle where my team is equally strong as the enemy team. It includes some tanks that are stronger than me and some that are weaker. I have no reason to care if he earned his tank by playing or by paying. Had he not paid, his spot would be taken by an equally strong other tank (either a payer or player).

@Von Keigai: I hate NOHO for their singing ransoms. It's no better than Erotica1's bonus room.

Arrendis said...

If CSM would be genuinely that bad, he had to resign in protest.

Or he could do precisely what he says he's trying to do: find ways to reform the organization and its relationship with CCP by working within the system and not rabble-rousing from the outside. Even here, there's no indication that he's trying to start trouble. CCP, by conducting the interview, asked him to tell the players what he's been working on. So he did. That's all.

Also, to support your point vis-a-vis Tobold - LotRO allows every single thing that you can buy with money to be earned through Turbine Points, which can be earned through in-game activities you don't have to pay for. The only way a case can be made for 'Pay2Win' is if you choose to count playing time as 'paying' (because after all, you're investing the time). But that, after all, is disingenuous at best: playing the game is the activity you'd be paying for.

LotRO's probably got one of the best microtransaction models out there for that very reason - none of it requires money. Any money you choose to invest in the game, you choose to put in. Nothing someone pays for can't be gotten by other folks who didn't. Not Pay2Win. Just Pay2Accelerate, if that.

So yeah: you're right, Tobold's wrong.

Gevlon said...

@Arrendis: the "you can get points by playing too" is a leaf front of a huge genital. While you can earn credits and XP in WoT or grind champions, it needs irreal amount of playing. Best example is Hearthstone, where you can get gold by wins. About 0.2$/hour rate.

Arrendis said...

Oh, I totally get that, and I don't doubt it is ridiculously low for many of these games, including DDO - also from Turbine, but with a different company managing the Turbine Point store. That said, I know someone who's played fairly casually since the F2P model came into LotRO, and they've been able to pick up all of the expansions as soon as they're available with points.

More importantly to the company, the availability of that option actually increases the odds that someone will use money - turns out people are more receptive to the idea of paying for something if they don't have to pay, but rather see the payment as a means to just shortening the process. Paying to cut the line, as it were. Then their money becomes and advantage to be used at their discretion, not an onerous burden the company 'expects' from them.

So, is it a fig leaf? Probably. Does it invalidate the point that you don't have to pay to get those things, though? An option, however rarely used, remains an option, does it not?

Pheredhel said...

The argumentation that "Matchmaking puts you in games with equally strong opponents" would be the same for League of Legends or any other game that has matchmaking.

However you forget one point: what if I try to reach the first place: will he have an advantage in that race? From what I read, yes he would. He has more currency, can do things better. So he does affect your gameplay. Maybe not noticable in a single game, but what would happen if you were the only player not paying? would you still be able to become number one if all players are equal skill?

I think "affecting my gameplay" can mostly be checked by a simple gedankenexperiment:
Assume all players have perfectly equal time and skill. You are the only one not playing, everyone else pays. Are your chances to be in any place in the rankings (however those are defined) the same for you and them?

For WoW if you define the ranking as "Has most mounts" then buying mounts is pay to win in that ranking.

I think a better definition of cosmetic item is:
A cosmetic item for a ranking is an item that does not affect the ranking in any way.

Accordingly a power item is an item that does affect the ranking.

This definition would be completely objective and would even work if someone defines the ranking as "how much fun a player has". So the definition works with any arbitrary ranking.

Maarten said...

There's always gray areas with this distinction. For example, in Rift you can build dimensions, and getting a high score for a dimension is a possible win condition. If certain beautiful dimension items would only be available for credits, and these items would make it more likely for another player to increase the score of your dimension, would this still be considered a cosmetic item?

Ulrik said...

Minor nitpick: You don't get gold in hearthstone by winning games (the 10/3 wins is neglible), but by completing quests and doing arena.

Anonymous said...

In EQ2, housing is mostly available through the cash shop.
There are leaderboards and dev picks for player houses.
"An "irrelevant item" is neither visible, nor affecting the gameplay of other players."
No one can see your house in EQ2 unless they go to visit it, and it affects no ones gameplay, however, topping an official ingame leaderboard could definitely be considered a win condition, so are these houses just cosmetic?

Gevlon said...

@Ulrik: quests are daily. You can't farm them.

@Anonymous: you can see them (cosmetic) on the leaderboard, but their position doesn't affect your playing experience. If I'd hack the leaderboard and change the names, you'd notice nothing during your play.

Anonymous said...

@Gevlon: "if I'm unaffected, then how can he have more power. I mean if someone gets more powerful, his opponents would feel it."

Even if you are not affected directly, being in an inferior position in the ranking can definitely affect your gaming experience indirectly. Take WoW as example: a guild which pays-to-win could gain a significant advantage and at the highest level could decide the race for the first kill. I'm sure a guild losing the first kill to another guild which engaged in pay-to-win would be affected, even if ultimately their PvE encounters are exactly the same.

Bitter said...

"@Bitter: assuming normal play, he'll be more progressed and we'll simply not meet. He'll have higher tier tanks than me."

Bogus argument, Gevlon. Given the MM spread and the non-linear XP requirements, you'll meet -- just not as often as you would a similar non-Premium player.

Throw in that "normal play" means that people don't play their top-tier tanks all the time -- they simply can't afford to and must turn to moneymakers, even if those are Premium tanks -- and you *will* meet.

And "meeting" isn't really relevant anyway. Most, if not all, people consider "winning" in the light of their overall stats versus those of the server population. I know you do. And in that respect, the actions of each and every person on the server affects you regardless of whether they've ever shot at you or not.

souldrinker said...

Does this definition mean that PLEX and all equivalents are power items? They surely do affect other players' experience.

Gevlon said...

PLEX is tricky. You can buy PLEX from the dev, but PLEX won't do you anything. You can sell the PLEX for ISK and then buy a titan and doomsday my carrier. That affects my gameplay. However the Titan was built in-game and just changed hands due to PLEX. Should I care if Adam who built the titan DD me, or Bob, who bought from Adam?

If CCP would sell titans, that would be very different and obviously pay-to-win.

Dàchéng said...

Gevlon wrote: "assuming the matchmaker isn't biased [...], I'm placed in a battle where my team is equally strong as the enemy team. [...] I have no reason to care if he earned his tank by playing or by paying. Had he not paid, his spot would be taken by an equally strong other tank"

That is a convincing argument, which I accept. Syncaine called this "Pay-2-Skip" rather than "Pay-4-Power".

souldrinker said...

@Gevlon,

I did not mean that PLEX would affect if you are blown up or not.

I meant that because of PLEX, many more people play the "market game" of EVE (intending to finance their game time in this way) then would do so without existance of PLEX.

And this surely affects your experience: you get more market competition.