I don’t think I’ve written about pay-to-win before, mostly on purpose. Frankly I think most of the outrage is entirely manufactured. But I posted a brief comment on Jef Reahard’s controversial MassivelyOP post to the effect that “pay-to-win” is one of those emotionally-charged terms like “climate change” or “gun control” that evokes instantaneous knee-jerk, black-and-white responses, so it’s a dangerous road to travel as a blogger.

Because in reality it’s a very complicated subject with many shades of gray, and it requires us to sit down and think long and hard about our gaming goals and values and who’s got time for any of that?


So I won’t say much about it. Except that in order to have any kind of productive discussion about free-to-play MMORPGs and cash shops and the line between fair and exploitive, we need to first define what pay-to-win actually means (other than a pejorative shortcut for “the Internet mob disapproves”). And before we can do that we have to define the winning conditions for an MMORPG.

Of course that answer is: It depends. It’s entirely subjective depending on who you talk to. So no help there.

I feel like the core issue in the pay-to-win argument is whether a person who plays the game for a lot of hours deserves to have access to more “stuff” than a person who plays the game for fewer hours. In the past, people who spent lots and lots of time playing an MMORPG tended to accumulate more stuff, and the more stuff they accumulated, the more content they’re able to access, which in turn allowed them to acquire even more stuff. Right or wrong, many people measure their success in an MMORPG by how much stuff they possess.

Of course when the stuff is lying about in a cash shop, players no longer need to invest any time to accumulate their stuff. Time ceases to be the only means to achieve greatness.

Unfortunately this tends to leave traditional MMORPG players feeling like their playing time has no value, and incidentally it also wipes out any semblance of immersion in what used to be a virtual world experience.

Posted on Blaugust Day 18. Read all of my Blaugust posts here.


3 thoughts on “Pay-to-Win”

  1. I too have avoided it for a long time, which I really should stop doing because it’s one of those subjects that I’d love to engage my readers with, but I’m scared I’ll butcher the execution and get slammed for it :P

    It absolutely can be done right, and I think in theory it’s great. I play a lot of Hearthstone, and up until last week when my husband jumped on my account and bought me the pre-purchase bundle as a surprise, I hadn’t spend a cent on buying packets. Sure, I could have gotten the better decks quicker if I had the money to spend, but I didn’t and so I’m behind where I’d like to be. Do you know what would be worse than that? Missing out on Hearthstone entirely because I’m too stingy with money to pay for it :P

    Ahem, anyhow, there’s a fine example of how I can butcher stuff! Great post :)

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