In my last article regarding Archeblade I talked a bit about that game being Pay to Win and I wanted to write more about Pay to Win in games. I see the term being thrown around quite a lot lately and most of the time people are just using the term Pay to Win to anything that offers microtransactions in it. A Free to Play game with microtransaction does not make it Pay to Win, and while I can just write about how this is the case I will instead write about how you can decide for yourself whether a game is Pay to Win or not.
By the definition itself, Pay to Win games must offer something that isn’t obtainable through gameplay that offers an advantage to the player who spends real money on it. With this in mind, defining which game is pay to Win and which are not is surprisingly really easy. Take League of Legends for example, the game is clearly not Pay to Win as players can unlock any hero with the use of IP that are obtainable in-game. It might take some time to get your first champion through IP, but it isn’t impossible and would only mean that the game offers Pay for Convenience instead of Pay to Win.
Most people seems to be confused in determining whether a game is Pay to Win or not. They mistake Pay for Convenience to Pay to Win and even worse, people sometimes think that all Free to Play games are Pay to Win. While yes, there are a lot of Free to Play games that are Pay to Win but that does not mean that all of them are. Some are very fair in what they monetize and all of these games have varying degrees of what constitutes as a Non-Pay to Win microtransaction system.
I will divide Free to Play games’ microtransaction system into 5 Tiers, ranging from Pay to Win to games that does not offer any advantage whatsoever in their microtransaction and of course every categories in between these two.
The fifth Tier are Blatant Pay to Win games, these consists mostly of Cow Clicker games, mobile games, browser games and some MMOs that clearly offers superior quality gear in their microtransaction store. These superior gear are unobtainable through in-game means and players have no chance of getting them other than to pay real money for it. Games that offer a lot of convenience can fall into this category too if the gameplay mostly relies on timesinks and isn’t dependant on the player’s skill. Pay for Convenience in games that are more skill dependant falls into a different category and is more acceptable.
The fourth Tier are Pay for Convenience games, which offers a way for players to gain something more quickly by paying. In these kind of games, players can grind their way in-game to get the gears they want or they can pay to get those gears immediately. Of course, for a game to fit into this category it must be a game that relies on skill and not on pure stats or playtime. Games like World of Tanks, Hearthstone and Warframe falls into this category.
The third Tier offers gears just like the last Tier, but these gears are mostly sidegrades instead of direct upgrades. Selling sidegrades, even if they are not available for in-game currency is acceptable as long as they are really sidegrades and does not offer any clear advantage to players who paid real money. Games like Blacklight Retribution, Planetside and League of Legends falls into this category.
The second Tier offers boosts or items that indirectly affects gameplay but does not increase player’s power. Stuff like experience of resource drop boosts are offered by games in this tier but they do not offer gears to players. Example of games of this Tier includes Path of Exile and Loadout.
The first Tier consists of games that are truly Free to Play that does not offer even a glimpse of advantage to players who spent money on the game. This Tier is the fairest of all microtransaction system but would not be sustainable for most game developers/publishers. DotA 2 is an example of game of this Tier because it offers cosmetics items only and while Battle Point Boosters exists, levels in DotA 2 does not give the player any advantage in terms of battle power as it only opens the possibility of players gaining better cosmetic drops from each match.
I do realize that the Tier system is not perfect but it is a good place to start identifying Free to Plays that are available in the market right now. Which Tiers are acceptable? That would be different for everyone. I myself would reject Tier 5 P2W games but am okay with the other ones as they are still fair in my opinion. How about you? Which Tiers do you think is fair and which ones do you think are unacceptable? Or do you disagree completely with the whole idea?
Note: This article is an old article I wrote for another site that is now closed. The content might not be relevant anymore right now.