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Pay to Win: What does it mean

Updated on November 4, 2014

So I started thinking....

I recently was involved in a discussion at mmorpg.com about the cash shop for the upcoming buy to play MMORPG Guild Wars 2. The Initial argument that game would be pay to win simply by virtue of the existence of a cash shop. My immediate thoughts were “That's ridiculous, it's not that simple.” I then dismissed the original posters comments.

Generally the term pay to win is accepted in the PvP community as when you pay money to get advantages that non paying players cannot overcome. That isn't all it means though. PvE players have a definition of it too.

You can see in the first half of the my talk about Aion's FTP philosophy why FTP even exist. Guild Wars 2, like Guild Wars, will be a Buy to Play game, meaning that you have to pay for the game, then there is no subscription cost, even though the entirety of the game is played online. A cash shop will be the perfect place to be able to sell the game players content updates, account services, and other things that some games offer for free with a subscription. Some games tried to charge for their content updates while still charging a subscription, we call those games Free to Play now....because the least customers expect for 15 dollars a month is game patches. (This will be a subject for a later article) Personally I don't see where the cash shop in Guild Wars 2 will be game breaking. But anytime there is a cash shop, there are advantages to bought with real money.

What caught my attention the most was in response to the original posters statement, one person posted this video. In the rant section, the host of the show goes on about how the can't be pay to win because it is a single player cooperative experience. He then breaks down the word win, what it means.

I have a GC in thinking about phrases

Now respectfully, I don't agree with a large portion of what Bridger said in that rant. Or rather, I think it is highly skewed to a particular school of thought in the gaming culture, that ignores a rather large portion of it as a whole.

Edit*

Bridger did point out something to me though that I did overlook in the comments below. When talking about a phrase, or slang terminology, jargon, ect. You have to look at the origin of the term. The PvP community did start this term, and to a great degree, it is their baby. Kids grow up though, and they change. "All men are created equal" is something that has changed in American culture, and even now we are discussing (yeah, let's just call it discussing) the meaning of "marriage" I can even say that I probably take this point of view from looking at the language more than the sentiment, but I will say that a large group of PvE players I know see pay to win as also being able to game the system.

*/Edit

Now for the most part, I get what he was trying to say. I can see that argument, but in my opinion, he failed to see a much larger scope of a phrase that is used in the gaming community. I can respect someone debating or questioning what phrases mean, even if I do think they are wrong. This guy knew how to make an argument about the validity of phrase or word.

Seriously though, this host of an hour+ long show about a game with a cash shop, obviously has not thought long and hard about the role of a cash shop.

Alright interesting stuff, lets talk about the economy!

MMORPG's combine a persistent world with a community that develops and economy. This economy works under the premise that so many resources are generated every hour, the community collects the resources, then turns into usable products. Some perishable, some not. The value of whatever in question will always be based off of supply and demand. Other factors play into it, but that is another article to be linked to in the future.

What free to play games allow, and at its core is the essential difference between ftp and subscription games, is a player to inject more resources into the world for money. Whether this is in the form of XP (time is a resource), in game currency, loot, or crafting resources is rather immaterial.

Oh Willy, your so sarcastic. It probably took you like 72 hours to make that 5 dollars.
Oh Willy, your so sarcastic. It probably took you like 72 hours to make that 5 dollars. | Source

A lot of times it isn't done directly, but it still happens. Here is a good example, that anyone who has seriously played a ftp game will probably recognize. A common mechanic in many MMORPG crafting systems is a chance for failure while still consuming mats. Generally speaking the rarer and more powerful the item, the higher the chance of failure will be, along with a higher mat cost.

For the sake of argument, lets say that you want to make a spear that cost 50 mithril ingots to make, and this is the best spear you can get until that really rare one from the boss that is the final encounter for the current patch, so it has a success chance of 25%.

That success rate is determined by the average of how many times it is attempted on the server, and how many times it succeeds, and as far as the server is concerned, essentially, every time this spear is successfully made, it cost the server 200 mithril. Ingots. Even if you get it on the first time, someone else is going to fail 3 times, and they are losing their ingots. Sucks to be them. If you feel bad, you can give them their spear. No? Thought not, moving on.

If a person buys an item from the cash shop that guarantee’s crafting success, as far as the server is concerned it is the same as instantly adding 150 mithril ingots to the server's supply if used to buy this spear. This is a way to hide what the cash shop actually does to the world buy making it seem like instead of adding supplies to the world that the player doesn't get, instead it saves the player resources and time. Both of which are true, but one is a much easier sell than the other. This 150 extra mithril ingots is also going to affect the price of mithril ingots, therefore creating a slight disadvantage to the other non paying characters in the economic game.

That is just an example of how in far reaching ways, yes what other people do in an MMORPG, will affect you.

Now let's go back to what the host of this show said. I have many issues with his terminology, and the way his obvious biased view effects what he is saying. First of all some of the things I am going to list really aren't that bad, but it is when collectively he says them all together I just get the sense that he is just upset that someone is being critical of a game he is really hyped about, and is defending it. Which I can respect the entertainment value of, and well he is posting a video probably because he wants people to watch it.

At http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XlZUXVJrXOE#t=33m21s he states that the word (pay to win) doesn't mean what some people thinks it means. First of all it's a phrase not a word, second of all it is slang terminology to represent a trend in particular video games, and if a lot of people thinks it means that cows eat grass, then all of a sudden, pay to win also can mean that cows eat grass.

At http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XlZUXVJrXOE#t=33m49s He makes the claim that pay to win doesn't mean I have more fun than you. I would have to disagree, this is paid for entertainment. I would say that if I pay nothing and have no fun at all, and you pay 5 dollars and have a blast, in the sector of entertainment, you won.

At http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XlZUXVJrXOE#t=33m55s “in a freaking single player cooperative experience” A single player cooperative experience? Like Spore? Where you played by yourself, in a network of other players playing by themselves in which your combined efforts made everyone’s game more enjoyable a diverse? No? Oh you must mean a multiplayer cooperative experience, where the definitions of victory are set by the individual.

At http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XlZUXVJrXOE#t=35m00s He makes a statement that goes against everything I explained already in the paragraphs above about the economy. In short yes, what you do in a persistent world affects me, to some degree. That's what makes it a persistent world.

At http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XlZUXVJrXOE#t=35m17s He makes a statement that sounds a lot like what I have been describing in this entire article, but then says it is a completely separate argument. No. It's not.

So Morgaren.....What's your point?

Essentially his argument was on the definition of the word win:

Picard knows the value of noncompetative win.
Picard knows the value of noncompetative win. | Source

Look around, it doesn't clarify what the competition is. It can be a competition with yourself, where you can win or lose, regardless of the performance of others. I really like the chess example the host gave in rant, where he says “if I pay 20 dollars in a game of chess to get 4 extra queen's instead of pawns, that’s pay to win” but that comes from a biased standpoint. He is obviously a PvP focused gamer, and as most people tend to do, assumes that a term revolves around his own interest, instead of the culture as a whole. Would paying 20 dollars to rearrange the deck in the middle of a game of solitaire be pay to win?

Little grammar english lesson, due to the fact that paying will always be a verb, in order to be grammatically correct the noun form of win should be used. Not that I really care, cause I am the last person to start being a grammar nazi, for if you have not noticed yet, I am compteting for king of the run on sentence.

It might not be the best analogy, but paying to win doesn't necessarily mean winning over another player. Although I will not deny that it most certainly covers that too. It can also cover things like winning over the system. Maybe its winning within your own goals or terms of success. And then something hit me. I was sitting there talking about how the statement that GW2 will be pay to win simply by virtue of having a cash shop is ridiculous and not that simple.

And in fact it is. Even if it does mean that the term has become practicaly useless.

*Note to Bridger

Do not take my critical nature of what you are saying as insulting. I accept the fact that I could be wrong. I am willing to completely retract my comments if you or someone else can logically prove to me that I am wrong. I also realize that the very nature of the show you do is very on the fly, and by the seat of your pants, ect. And the very nature of what I do is very premeditated. I got the chance to write, edit and rewrite my statements. You just recorded what you were saying during a rant, which is a highly opinionated and impassioned type of speech by its own definition. I do think however, that the subject of pay to win is broader than just PvP. For the record, I have listened to a few episodes of ToT since I was first introduced to it, and even if I don't agree I do find entertainment value in it. If you read through my works, you will find I write a lot about the philosophy and general culture of the MMORPG community rather than specific games or reviews, ect. So when I decided to write on Pay to win, I chose you as an example not because I wanted to attack you specifically, but because your rant did embody one side of the argument, and mine is obviously the other side of the argument, and the reader will determine what they believe. Also like I just said, I like your show, definitely don't mind sending people to watch it, and to my readers if you are interested in Guild Wars 2, it is pretty informative and entertaining. If you have the time, I would suggest watching a few episodes.

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    • Morgaren profile image
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      Tim 5 years ago from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma

      Hey thanks Bridger for reading. I find a certain amount of ironic humor in how we can both have the attitude, he isn't wrong....but he isn't right either.

      Ultimately I think I have a problem with the term itself, used in any context. But I think way way too deeply into this stuff for my own good sometimes I think. language, like all things evolves over time. Use too, "All men are created equal" meant something much different than it means today. We argue what "marriage" means today, So in that regard, pay to win can also change. I rarely use the term personally, and I do agree with the statement "you can call it pay to break the game" But....well most forum warriors like acronyms and short whips. So I don't think that phrase will be catching on like wildfire anytime soon, despite it's poignantcy on the idea that is trying to be expressed.

    • profile image

      Bridger 5 years ago

      Hello Morgaren,

      Thanks for the email. Let me start by saying I may not have introduced the Rant very well, because it was against a very specific abuse of the phrase "pay to win," and not a defense of cash shops. From a game design perspective, I don't think Cash Shops add any real benefit to games, and can often cause serious harm. I don't think the GW2 store is designed in such a way that it causes serious harm, and let's hope it stays that way. I still think GW2 would be a better game from a design/enjoyment perspective without the cash shop, but it's not a disaster that is going to ruin my enjoyment of the game (like a badly designed cash shop would in other games). Presumably it was added to ensure financial profitability in the long term, which is important for the players of the game because if the game doesn't do well enough we don't see any more expansions and the servers shut down. I have no data to discuss that point, however, as I have not seen the numbers that such decisions were based upon.

      My interpretation of the "Pay to Win" phrase is literal, as it was coined to describe competitive games in which the guy with a bigger wallet was given an advantage. When people level this phrase at GW2, they imply that the competitive aspect of the game is compromised. If I knew nothing about GW2 and heard this phrase, that's what I would imagine, and I think many other competitive gamers would also get that impression. This impression is demonstrably false, as nothing in the cash shop can interact with the competitive game mode (Structured PvP) in a mechanical way. That was the crux of what I was trying to get at.

      "He makes the claim that pay to win doesn't mean I have more fun than you. I would have to disagree, this is paid for entertainment. I would say that if I pay nothing and have no fun at all, and you pay 5 dollars and have a blast, in the sector of entertainment, you won."

      This is precisely the twisting of the meaning of the phrase that I was talking about. Pay to win doesn't mean "pay to get services/content that make the game more enjoyable." I acknowledged during the rant that there are negative side effects to cash shops, so lets call them what they are. If you *need* to pay to have an enjoyable time, because the developers have made everything more inconvenient and then sold you the convenience, that's a huge problem, but it's not "Pay to Win." That's "Pay for convenience" or "pay for access" or even "subscription" in some sense.

      "“in a freaking single player cooperative experience” A single player cooperative experience? Like Spore? Where you played by yourself, in a network of other players playing by themselves in which your combined efforts made everyone’s game more enjoyable a diverse? No? Oh you must mean a multiplayer cooperative experience, where the definitions of victory are set by the individual."

      This was a slip of the tongue in the middle of an unscripted rant. Sorry for the misunderstanding. I meant single player / cooperative experience. Because you can play GW2 pretty much by yourself, soloing the content as you go, and you can also play it cooperatively with friends/strangers. It is both of those things at the same time.

      "He makes a statement that goes against everything I explained already in the paragraphs above about the economy. In short yes, what you do in a persistent world affects me, to some degree. That's what makes it a persistent world."

      I agree with your conclusion at the start of the article. Cash shops can have "hidden" side effects of adding things to the economy. I agree that GW2 does this in small ways (the Karma boost lets you buy gear which can be salvaged into raw materials that otherwise wouldn't have existed, as does the magic find boost). It is not nearly as blatant and extreme as in other games (which sell you weapons directly). I find that the boosts are the items of the cash shop that I dislike the most overall. I will not be purchasing one for any reason. I don't have a huge problem with them, as their impact will likely be small, but I'd still rather they not be there.

      "Essentially his argument was on the definition of the word win:"

      I'd say my argument is on the definition of the entire phrase, not just the word. I understand that you can construe "win" to mean "enjoying the game," but my point is that the phrase already has a very descrete meaning. When you level that phrase at GW2, many people will not understand that what you're talking about is "you can buy convenience in the co-op side of the game which may, to some small extent, indirectly affect other players in the PvE environment." The meaning that most people will take away is that "I saw on a forum that it's Pay to Win. No way It's going to be an Esport if it's pay to win."

      Your interpretation is not wrong, but it is inconsistent with the original meaning of the phrase, and (I fear) what others will think it means when they hear it. If most of the gaming community, when asked "what does pay to win mean" came up with your definition, I would rescind the rant. However, I think most people will answer with my definition (winning in a competitive context), and that label has no business being on GW2.

    • Morgaren profile image
      Author

      Tim 5 years ago from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma

      Well the main argument is that pay to win is something that only affects PvP. It doesn't, as an entertainment product, winning is rather self defined. Winning can be defined as just succeeding in an endeavor. So if I endeavor to make a max level toon in 2 days, and I have to buy xp potions to do it, it's pay to win. That's all this essentially was, was a real long definition of Pay to win, and critical analysis of the other school of thought on the matter.

    • JohnGreasyGamer profile image

      John Roberts 5 years ago from South Yorkshire, England

      I'm not too sure what all this was about, as it's going way beyond what I know of the "pay to win" and the "Mann Co. Store" situations. But it's not your fault, I just get lost very easily and follow the herd. While I am "for" the cash store, I think sometimes it can get REALLY cheap at times. I suppose it's the last resort when a single copper bar on the auction house costs around 300 gold pieces in WoW (oh it's happened). Plus, it helps people who don't have enough time to farm for different currencies and the gear. It's a convinient way out of wasting time on drop "chance".

      Agreed, it can hurt your wallet but you've more chance of getting what you need. Plus, some stuff can't be dropped/crafted, so you may need to buy it in order to get the leap you need in terms of gear. I'm for it, and as I always say, "if you don't like it, don't use it". And because advertising will be little, you won't have to worry about the developers being such sellouts.

      Voted up, useful and interesting!