What is Pay to Win?

At one point in time, once you bought a game, you owned it. You were able to play the entire game without paying anything more. The “all-in-one” package is slowly becoming a thing of the past, with microtransactions and games being sold in a more piecemeal fashion. While most gamers don’t want games to be broken up and sold off in pieces, the model has given us genres of games that we previously didn’t have, especially in the mobile game and free-to-play market.

All that being said, there is a practice that many gamers feel is distasteful: pay-to-win. The term gets thrown around quite a bit with the microtransaction ecosystem, but the two do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. I asked Twitter user @chaingunpope, who is a web video producer, how he would describe Pay-to-Win, and this is what he had to say:

‘Pay to win’ is defined by the thing you’re purchasing. Many games offer the option to purchase additional gear or weapons. If these are purely cosmetic, such as weapon skins or special outfits for a character, there’s no issue.

‘Pay to win’ comes into play when the things you can purchase actually affect the stats of those items. It could be a gun that deals extra damage or a costume that negates certain effects.

When a purchased item changes the mechanics of the game–and not purely the aesthetics–it falls into the ‘pay to win’ category.

Something that doesn’t affect mechanics doesn’t necessarily fall into pay-to-win. This is good for most games, such as Overwatch and PUBG. The loot boxes from these games tend to be different clothing or skins for the player to use as they want. PUBG even offers players the ability to exchange clothing that they don’t want or duplicates for Battle Points (BP), which they can then use to get more loot boxes. While these games offer cosmetics, their loot box systems don’t change the core mechanics of the games. While some people dislike the idea of simply buying loot boxes until they get the ‘coolest’ skins, the practice itself is hard to condemn.

On the other hand, there are games that can be negatively impacted by this practice. For instance, Battlefront II was hit recently with a large amount of backlash because of the integration of its progression system and its loot crates. If you don’t know the specifics of the whole system, Matt Espineli from Gamespot put together an article to clarify it, which you can find here. In short, progression is based on Star Cards and finding these cards in loot crates. If you find a duplicate, it will add to that Star Card’s level. Something like the thermal detonator gets increasing damage with each level. To those who have played first person shooters, this probably stood out as a little odd considering the fact that many games strive for balance between players no matter the weapon.

When fans of the series found out that EA was creating a financial ecosystem that essentially allowed people to pay until they had the best Star Cards, there was an uproar. Pre-orders were cancelled, and some people committed to boycotting the game entirely. This led to a retraction of microtransactions from the game, which didn’t provide gamers with much satisfaction.

It’s apparent that many gamers find the pay-to-win model fundamentally against the core of gaming. That core being the idea that the more time you put into a game and the better you are/get, the more you get out of it. That being said, I know I’m not alone in disliking the pay-to-win system, but this is a conversation to be had between all gamers and publishers. Let me know what you think on my Twitter or by commenting below.

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