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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 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.


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.


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 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 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 “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 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 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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