What is a "Pay-to-Win" game?

What is a “Pay-to-Win” game?

Gone are the days when you couldn’t pay for an edge in video games. Here’s what pay-to-win mechanics are and how they could make video games worse.

Pay-to-win mechanics

In a previous piece, we discussed microtransactions, which are assets that you can purchase within a game. This includes items, costumes, premium features, and more. Microtransactions have long been a controversial topic in the gaming community, with some countries even banning the use of unethical microtransaction models.

In-game microtransactions are often divided into two groups. “Cosmetic” microtransactions are purely aesthetic, such as skins, costumes, and clothes that characters can wear. Conversely, there are “pay-to-win” microtransactions that directly affect a title’s core gameplay. These purchases give players who are willing to pay an “edge” by giving them faster or more exclusive access to specific skills and items.

Take note that this is distinct from “gacha games”, which combine both cosmetic and pay-to-win microtransactions. These games involve opening “packs,” which give you a random assortment of rare characters. Since the main focus of these games is often to collect characters, they are both cosmetic and pay-to-win.

Grinding and gears

Perfect World International MMO

Pay-to-win video games often add some “parity” between paid and free players. For example, you could pay $ 5 to unlock a particularly powerful weapon, but you could also keep playing for 20 hours to get enough currency to purchase that weapon in-game. While they don’t technically limit you to earning that weapon, you have to put in a lot more effort than those who pay the money.

This significant discrepancy in the effort required is a deliberate design choice aimed at generating more revenue. Studies have shown that this skip-the-line microtransaction model increases the likelihood that players will buy. These games make you think, “Is the extra 20 hours grinding worth the amount of time I’ll save?” Ultimately, only the player can make that kind of decision himself.

While systems like these were initially limited to free-to-play games, they have found their way into full-price premium gaming experiences as well. Many games have in-game stores that offer premium items, access to high-level gear, and even experience boosters that help you earn levels faster. Depending on the type of game, these can give some players significant advantages over their opponents.

What makes a game pay-to-win?

The impact of this model varies from game to game. Since pay-to-win already has very negative connotations, you can imagine that many players are not happy that this is the direction the industry is heading. Let’s take massively multiplayer online games or MMOs for example. In early titles, most of the items and upgrades were accessible to all players as long as they were willing to take the time to grind or hunt for them. Nowadays, there are tons of mechanisms in place that make this process easier for paying players.

There are a lot of gray areas when it comes to pay-to-win mechanisms. For some, it doesn’t matter if these mechanics don’t impact other players at all. For example, the online RPG Genshin Impact is played mostly solo, with most of the game’s core gameplay being mostly single-player. Therefore, even though people can spend thousands of dollars on this title, monetization is largely “good”.

However, many people believe these mechanics are much worse in multiplayer. For example, in a competitive shooter, if someone doesn’t have access to an unlockable gun, they’ll have a clear disadvantage. Therefore, this essentially “penalizes” players who are unable or unwilling to pay more money to acquire premium equipment.

Another contingent of players believe that the presence of pay-to-win is actively damaging the design of the game, even in single-player titles. For example, if a game is designed with the idea that someone can pay $ 10 to skip a 10-hour leveling process, game designers are actively incentivized to make the 10-hour leveling process less fun to play. . It can be even more frustrating if the game is already on sale at full price.

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