Greedy Goblin

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Microtransactions: pay to cheat

In "free to play" microtransaction games, items of power often sold. However people don't consider how strong they are. The reason is self-deceiving: the buyers don't want to believe that they were practically given "God mode" for their money, while the free-players don't want to face that they are nothing but hopeless NPCs in this game.

For these self-deceiving reasons everyone seems to accept that these items give only "slight" buff. In the game World of Tanks the players consider buying gold ammo a "bit lame" but nothing game-breaking. No wonder no one wanted to make a decent analysis. I bought 2500 gold for 10 euros and spent it all on gold ammo in a Hetzer tank. The 2500 gold were burned in mere 53 matches, making this game rather expensive (my total 3500 games would cost 660 euros with gold ammo). Let's see the results of this tank before and after the experiment:

  Without gold ammo With gold ammo
Win % 60 68
Win % without draws 62 71
Kill / battle 1.14 2.43
Damage / battle 443 827
XP / battle 320 676
Survive % 43.4 39.6
Ouch! The "slight" increase of power given by the item shop doubled my kills, damage and XP gains. My new winrate would place me to world top 100 (out of 500K) if I would start an account and play it with only gold ammo. My decreased survival rate tells that my godlike powers made me reckless so with more disciplined play I could get even more wins and kills.

These results mean two things: one is that any serious player must stay away from microtransaction games. The win depends only on payment and not on player skill or even luck, therefore these are not even games, they are mere "epeen machines": you throw in coin, epeen comes out.

Secondly the fact that such abominations can exist and financially thrive, tells a lot about the players who are finding it fun to massacre totally helpless opponents with their ridiculously overpowered item shop stuff. I mean, they know that they are cheating, where is the fun in winning this way? They are socials who doesn't really play to win, but to amuse (real or imaginary) peers. As long as the game company can upkeep the lie that the item shop stuff are just "quality of life" improvements, the cheater can show up front of peers as "awesome", and this is their source of fun.

PS: In the game they introduced French tanks. The Wiki says "higher tiers are more mobile and carry fast firing, high-penetration guns, which may leave players believing their grind wasn't pointless. However, most high tier French tanks lack armor." It seems a fair tradeoff. However it's just another gift to the pay-to-cheat players. Armor is irrelevant as gold ammo penetrates it. However those who pay more money for the experience conversion to get French tanks fast will get totally overpowered tanks that can easily destroy anything in the field, even tiers above them - with gold ammo. The pay-to-cheat games become more and more unbalanced and messed up with every patch, until they become simply unplayable.


Cliff said...

Don't the first results include the time spent researching the better weapons and motor and what have you of the tank? How much would that skew the numbers?

Gevlon said...

@Cliff: This is why I picked a lowbie tank. The gun costs 3800XP, track 1000, engine another 1000. The underpowered period doesn't last more than 20 matches and I had 288 prior the experiment.

SiderisAnon said...

You complain about "Pay to Cheat", yet you don't seem concerned by "Play to Cheat" (And, really, neither are cheating.)

One person pays money for a better tank. Another person spends a ton of time to get a better tank. Both players now have something you do not if you're not willing or able to spend the time or money to get the item. It's not cheating, it's just a different way of playing the game based on the resources that you have available.

If WoW started selling the tokens to buy the gear from heroics (or whatever the current grind is, I no longer play), then there would be a huge outcry from the vocal minority of the player base, but would it really give any ultimate advantage to one set of people over another? People whose time is more valuable than their money buy the tokens, those with more time grind for them, and those with neither simply get the tokens at a slower rate or not at all.

Yes, gold ammo is something you can only get with cash, but does it really change things all that much? In the hands of a competent player it gives an advantage, but as you've made clear that most players are morons, doesn't that mean that most people buying the ammo are at best helping to prop up their terrible skills? Someone less competent is going to get less of an advantage out of the ammo; giving someone a better paintbrush doesn't give them artistic talent after all.

Gevlon said...

@Siderisanon: gold ammo is only available for money. You can't grind it, no matter how much you play.

madscorpion said...

While it doesnt at all change the conclusions you draw, i'd like to point out a few things.

Gold ammo becomes less & less impactful as you go up in tiers. At higher tiers, it's more important to know WHERE to hit an enemy tank than having gold ammo. (or your gold ammo will bounce just as merrily as normal AP)

There are a few exceptions though. The E100 is almost purely designed to be played with gold ammo as its tier 10 gun is only as good as a tier8 in terms of penetration with normal AP but becomes a monster with gold ammo. The other big exception is VK3601H with the conic gun. Gold ammo turns this somewhat average tier 6 tank into one capable of putting a shell into a top tier every 4 secs. The top statsitics in WoT belongs to a player who has almost exclusively played this way right from the start.

All that said, the content of your post is still valid. One reason i've been enjoying WoT is that its pay-to-win enforcement has been rather low but the last two patches have pretty much messed that up.

haeras said...

Gold ammo is the only thing in the game that makes gold spending power overpowered, i.e cheating.
They have higher damage, higher penetration, and their penetration is not affected by the distance you shoot. That is why most of the serios guild require gold ammo.
If you made the test in higher tier with a heavy tank the results would be much more better.

Gold ammo is the only thing that makes me thinking about stop playing the game, neither premium tanks nor xp conversion.

rasfo said...

Majority of players dont use gold ammo, it is too expensive. Yes you are right gold ammo is pay to cheat in WoT. I would not call rest pay to cheat as can be acquired normaly. You can even get gold from Clan wars so in limited examples ppl can acquire gold from CW but they usualy spend these in CW and not in randoms.

Kelindia said...

When you use gold ammo on a hetzer you usually change your gun from the 4100xp one to the 3800xp one as I assume you did. Essentially give you high explosive damage with the penetration of an ap round from the normal gun. It's around 3 times the damage.

Really the only things that could stand a chance against that hetzer is something like a Tiger heavy which you will still demolish if you can get it in the side or back.

Helistar said...

As much as I disagree with most of the analyses you posted on WoT (or more exactly, to their final objective), this is spot on.

Actually, as I already posted somewhere else, I would NOT be surprised at all if the game code would lower the received penetration chance and raise the inflicted penetration chance on gold tanks / premium buyers.

Do I have hard data to back up such a claim? Not direct. But the fact that Wargaming clearly stated that they will NEVER implement post-game full combat logs for me is a very clear indication. They don't want people to do statistics on hits/directions/penetration/damage, because that would reveal to which point the game is P2W.

(which is why, BTW, I play it for fun, and I never stop from suicide/alt-tab elsewhere if a battle gets boring).

madscorpion said...

While i previously agreed with Gevlon, subsequent comments require that people be correctly enlightened.

Gold ammo is very expensive. Nobody unless ridiculously rich, nobody (and that includes those top tier clans who dispense thousands of gold to their members earned through Clan Wars)can afford to exclusively fire gold ammo.

Previously, gold ammo allowed you to overcome some of the silliness that resulted from an imperfect matchmaker, ie you ended up facing a very high tier monster and gold ammo allowed you to scare him to cover while you scurried away. You would fire one, maybe two shots once a day, maybe less. Gold was priced so that you'd buy the 5500 gold option, allowing you a premium account and some extra gold for gold ammo & equipment demounting, crew training etc.

Since the last two patches, Wargaming has essentially turned the game into pay-to-cheat as Gevlon has stated. Your 276mm penetration capable gun manages to bounce off 40mm of side armor, while nothing of the sort happens if you're firing gold ammo. This, imo, is pure pay-to-cheat and unless they fix it, i will probably stop playing soon as i do not begrudge WG any fair payment for the excellent game they developed (premium accounts, premium tanks, gold ammo for E100, etc) but i don't like the road that leads to "spend gold ammo all the time or you're toast" mentality

Emmanuel ISSALY said...

Gold ammo isn't such a huge buff on ALL the guns. For hetzer you get more than 200% penetration buff, for the ferdi a "mere" +26%. That said, the point is valid, WoT is the most obvious pay to cheat game i've ever played :)

Emmanuel ISSALY said...

@gevlon : afaik, gold is available to grind. If you do clan wars and hold territories, they produce gold.

As soon as the option to transfer gold activated, the forums got hit with a tremendous wave of gold spam :-)

Goodmongo said...

Is it really paying to cheat? For arguments sake lets say WOW (I don't play WOT so know little about it) was F2P, but if you paid a monthly subscription fee you would be a gold member. And that gold member gave you a piece of gear that was 15% better than anything you found in the game.

Now would you call that epeen and play to cheat? Or would you say dedicated and hardcore players paid the subscription fee?

So is it just the method (buying ammo) that is wrong? What if they gave gold ammo to those paying a monthly subscription fee? I just don't see the big deal.

Clovis said...

What about games like League of Legends or Team Fortress 2? They are both free, micro-transaction games to which your concept doesn't apply.

In LoL, you can pay to buy skins and champions. All champions are designed to be "balanced" and are also available via the ingame currency (you just have to grind them), and skins are otherwise unavailable but purely cosmetic.

In TF2 it's the same deal. You can buy items and hats. The items are also meant to be balanced by providing a tradeoff for the upgrade they bring, and are available via the standard (and free) route. Most hats are only available by paying, but those are also merely cosmetic.

Kelindia said...

After jumping on WoT tonight I noticed something rather interesting. The AP/dmg of the T4 hetzer(tank destroyer) is the same as the AP/dmg of the M37(artillery) when both are using gold ammo.

I wonder if what happened here isn't simply a mistake that you spotted by wargaming because the difference in power that hetzer gains is incredible. The more expensive gun 4100xp has 143pen/110dmg where as the 3800xp on has 150pen/350 dmg.

Anonymous said...

1) somebody, somewhere has to pay for the game. Be it subscriptions or gold ammo or something. It seems quite naive for people to join a F2P game and not expect this.

2) What social feelings are causing you to see this as a problem? Say you played very well and won 10% of the time against P2W gold buyers. What exactly did you "lose"? How is your life worse off because you play well, not an M&S, but usually lose because someone else is funding your game? Would you feel better if you played incompetently and won rather than played well and lost?

If a goblin was given the option to not spend $15 per month on a game and the only difference is that half the time, "you win" pops up on the other players screen "unjustly." Unlike a social, I doubt a goblin's self-image or self-worth is going to be swayed by the % of times an opponents gold ammo gives them a win.

The solution is not just to make the P2W item, e.g. gold ammo, worth less. If it is invaluable enough, people quit buying it and the game shuts down.

Anonymous said...

"Gold ammo is the only thing in the game that makes gold spending power overpowered, i.e cheating.
They have higher damage, higher penetration, and their penetration is not affected by the distance you shoot. That is why most of the serios guild require gold ammo."

Wrong. Gold ammo only has higher penetration, compared to normal rounds of the same gun.

I play in RES, a clan which from time to time have been on the map in key areas with the Hurricane alliance.

We don't require anyone to use their own money on gold ammo.

We use our goldfunds from CW to sponsor the use of gold ammo in crucial CW-battles. I only know a couple of our members, who occasionally use their own money on gold ammo in CW, when the clan is not sponsoring. These players load up a mix of gold ammo, ap and he rounds and only use the gold ammo, if they have to shoot at enemies from awkward positions.

We don't use gold ammo in landing tournaments. Only sometimes in the battle with the owner of the province, if we deem it necessary and if we have enough funds in the clan vault to sponsor it.

Chatting with several other CW-clans have given me the impression, that they use gold ammo very similarly. Meaning they only use it against other strong clans, in crucial matches.

Oshen said...


I have to say I have noticed this long time ago. That's why I siply don't play those "free-to-play" games.

I put the name in quotes because if you want to stay competetive you need to spend lots of cash on the premium stuff. What's more it turns out to be way more than a standard monthly subscription. Imagine - for 10$ you can play WoW for a month. That's it no more investment needed. In a free to play game you have so spent 2 sometimes 3 times more to have everything you'd normally get by monthly subscription.

I certainly find those "Free-2-Play" games as a scam and I refuse to play any of them!

What's more is that even though you might be spending 30$ a month on a free-2-play game you will still be treated as non-paying customer. You have almost 0 rights and you can make no demands. They say ... hey it's free-2-play.

I tell you those free-2-play games should be banned now and forever!

Emmanuel ISSALY said...

Afaik, nothing prevents you to play for free (up to T6). The F2P part is correct. However.

"Feeling competitive" is a bit social.

- If you mean maximizing your progression speed to T10, you're looking at a €100 package (premium T8 + 30 days + 200 gold a day). I have players in my clan that burn €50 a month in WoT, but they have a new T10 every month at that price.

- If you mean maximizing your chances to win a game, selecting the best tank for your playstyle and playing it well is still the major factor. Using gold ammo or unbalanced tanks / guns for their tier obviously help, but if you play a tank wrong, you'll end up dead, even against 15 idiots :)