Tobold's Blog
Sunday, October 15, 2017
Life is Pay2Win

I was listening to some well-known YouTubers complaining about lootboxes in new games like Star Wars Battlefront II or Shadow of War and pointing out in painstaking detail how getting this or that bonus unbalances the game in favor of people who buy lootboxes. However they appeared to be totally okay with other people getting the exactly same bonuses by grinding the game for many, many hours. And that annoyed me. Wouldn't we be much better off if our multiplayer PvP games would be perfectly balanced and the outcome only determined by skill? If you can get bonuses that make you much stronger than another player, why would it matter whether you got them by playing the game for endless hours or by using your credit card? It appeared to me as if some hardcore gamers are quite okay with a game being unfair, as long as that unfairness favors them and their kind.

The only advantage playing a game for longer should be the skill you acquire by practice. Any other bonus you get from grinding is in fact a historical and economical anomaly. The practice will certainly disappear over the coming decade, because it simply isn't in the interest of game companies to keep doing so. Companies don't *want* players that use a lot of their bandwidth but give them no money. The only free players they want is those that they are still trying to persuade to cough up some cash.

Fact is that life itself is Pay2Win. In a consumer society, the more money you have, the more luxury you can afford. The whole "American Dream" idea is built around the concept that money is the yardstick for success in life, and that by working hard on pursuits that actually earn you money or improve your chances to earn money later, you are leading a better life. Even the people who would like wealth to be redistributed don't complain about the fact that more money buys you a better car or the best seats in the theater. So why exactly should video games be exempt from that?

Games went from being fair and balanced to being unfair based on time spent. Now they are moving from there to being unfair based on money spent. People complaining about that on YouTube or various internet forums isn't going to change that, because millions of people will buy those new games with their new unfairness. Because for millions of people the new unfairness is actually an improvement over the old unfairness. Gaming has become a mass market for the general population, and in the general population there are more people who can afford to spend $100 than there are people who can afford to spend 100 hours. Calling for that to be rolled back to the previous state of unfairness doesn't even have the benefit of being moral, the moral situation would be games that don't give you any advantages from neither time nor money.

This is a topic in which I suspect we will have to violently disagree. Because it just boggles my mind that A) anyone would consider time spent playing the game as being unfair, and B) anyone would be so Anti-Consumer Surplus. What you are advocating is for gaming to literally be worse for everyone, up to and including the whales who would spend the money in the first place. The closer the price gets to the Demand Curve, the less value we as consumers derive from the purchase, by definition.

Time is fair. It is perhaps the only fairness in this world - we all have the same 24 hours in our day. There is nothing unfair about someone being further in a book we are both reading, if they spend more time reading it. You can choose your level of involvement. Some games can take time-based progression too far, making the advantages insurmountable. That's indeed bad design. But adding P2W or bypass mechanisms to the mix just corrupts the entire design process. The devs spend more time monetizing every inch of the game instead of trying to increase profits by increasing box sales (usually by increasing game quality).

Life is P2W and that is a tragedy. With so much being determined by your socioeconomic status (or your parents') in the real world, how can it possibly be a good thing for P2W to fully creep into every corner of our gaming hobby? It harms the poor and middle class for the benefit of the rich, who clearly didn't have the time or desire to play the game in the first place.
Some people have time to spare. Some people have money to spare. Things seem balanced. Fine with me if in-game benefits can be achieved by spending either time or money in appropriate amounts. $100 is overkill already IMHO.
Many players will probably agree that grind isn't the best part of the game and that they would like to enjoy some engaging gameplay instead. It can be argued if that's majority or minority, but they existence is a fact at least.
Existence of such players puts pressure on developers to not add grind to their games. Absence of grind, however, would either make the game shorter (which puts developers at the disadvantage, because games are judged by hours of playtime) or force developers to produce more content and/or deeper game rules (which puts developers at the disadvantage, because it's expensive work). So developers would like to add grind, but they know they will be judged harshly for that.

Enter microtransactions. Players are kind of obliged to pay, but now developers, in their generosity, allow players to "earn" the same things by grinding. Suddenly this system looks completely fair (you can pay or you can grind, what's not to like?), when in fact developers now have excuse to add grinding to "balance" payments and "help" not-paying players, despite the grind shouldn't exist in the first place! In other words, without microtransactions developers wouldn't be able to add so much grind, meaning the games would be better overall (for a subset of players who don't like grind).

In real life, money would buy you better product or service, but I rarely see such blatant drive to deliberately make product as bad as possible, just to squeeze more money for a not-so-bad version. It is as fair as, say, putting a needle in hot dogs you're selling and then offer to take it out for additional fee for your "premium" customers. Technically there's nothing wrong with it, but I wouldn't say it's exactly "right" either. There's nothing premium in not having to experience completely artificial suffering.
Life itself is Pay2Win, yes, and that's a terrible thing. Thankfully at some point in our lifetime the world will change, a universal basic income will come in, and you'll be looking at being able to earn more money, spend more money, on actual luxuries and not on life power.

There's no reason to not want games to work that way now.

That said, I agree that the primary problem in this case is that there's an alternate way to power at all. I don't care if you can grind time or money to buy it, it's a terrible mechanic for a PvP game.
You can fault a game for this kind of design: it intentionally needs to punish you with ridiculously long play time hours spent grinding so that it can incentivize you to spend money instead. You're advocating for a design feature (loot boxes vs. time played) that is part of the deliberate design effort of the game devs and publisher to make more money off of you. This is not a consumer friendly design to begin with, because it is predicated on a model designed to maximize profit at the expense of the game experience.

If the concept of spending money for the extras were really "useful" to the consumer they wouldn't come in loot boxes and they would be clearly marked, flat-priced items rather than thinly disguised gambling mechanisms. Why doesn't it work this way? Obvious answer: this way insures the final consumer cost of the game is open-ended. What publisher wouldn't like to produce a product that the consumer feels an incentive to keep dumping money in to, with no end cost in sight?

Right now, the design of Battlefront II appears to be one where even thousands of hours of grinding wouldn't get you enough in game currency to collect the items you need or want. This is why the Youtubers are all pissed.....the game is designed to punish the player for playing, and guarantee that the only way to play is to keep giving them money for their loot box gambling mechanism. The entire product was rotten to begin with.....arguing for loot boxes vs. grinding is missing the real problem here.
Life isn't P2W: you have to grind the currency inside life.
P2W games simply have no point and I'm troubled to understand why people do it. If my success depends on my payment than all I got for my $ is a certificate that I spent my $.
Gevlon has a very valid point. We don't usually define games that allow you to spend currency earned by playing the game on items and services within the game as "pay to Win", even if they allow the bypassing of content.

Well, we don't any more: there was a time when buying tradeable gear from other players was indeed seen as a form of cheating - I remember many arguments about that back in EQ and other pre-WoW MMOs, and even today there are plenty of players who object to practices such as EQ2's "SLR" - Selling Loot Rights to No Trade items by inviting paying customers to come and pick up items on fallen raid bosses.

Still, while twinking, power-leveling and the like may be seen as dubious practices, so long as they're paid for by in-game gold or whatever they aren't what's usually meant by "pay to win". If we disallow illegal activities like RMT purhase of gold in games that have no legal method of buying currency, then Pay-to-Win has to involve players paying the gaming company directly in an out of game currency to gain an advantage within the game.

You really can't do that in life. There is no outside currency and no-one to pay.
One thing you aren't considering is that most of these games are only popular during the first few months. If it takes months to grind out these advantages, the majority of players will never see them. Meanwhile, the Pay2Win player gets them from day 1, and has a huge advantage over other players for basically the entire time he plays.

You have seen this in your own experience with mobile games, and I believe the absence of this was the reason you liked Magic Duels so much. With most of these games, technically you could grind out all those cards. But realistically, no, you can't, even if you play a lot. The actual game played isn't a battle between two equal decks obtained in two different ways. The Pay2Win player will simply always (or nearly always) have an advantage. By the time the free player grinds it out to even the playing field, another set of cards is released and he is again set behind.
What I advocate is games in which no player has an advantage over another player, other than being more skilled. You can’t turn up at a chess tournament and claim that the number of hours you already played entitle you to a second queen.

If you accept that some players receive an advantage over other players, in a capitalistic society you can’t be surprised that sooner or later that advantage is being sold to the highest bidder. Games went wrong when they introduced advantages from grinding, the advantages from paying are just the next logical step.
@Tobold: PUBG is such game (assuming there isn't rigging inside, which I believe when they publish all statistics including time to find weapon and distance from final circle from landing)

In PUBG you have nothing but your skill from earlier games.
Games aren't life and they never should be.

What I advocate is games in which no player has an advantage over another player, other than being more skilled.

Okay, then I would be interested in seeing how you define "skilled" in this instance. You seem to agree that "skill" cannot be purchased with a wallet, and you would agree that it takes "time" to become skilled in any life endeavor. So, isn't this indicative that people have a right to spend as much of their time pursuing whatever life endeavors as they see fit? Would you also agree that rewards given to "skilled" individuals, in the form of recognition, accolades, titles, trophies or monetary rewards, are a fair representation of how "skills" -should- be rewarded?

If someone is more skilled than you are, and they developed that skill by playing more than you, how do you justify being able to whip out your wallet and level the playing field when all other things are equal? It's simple, you can't justify it.

The issue here isn't about "time" or "money", it's about the rewards and how they affect progression mechanics in any given game based on it's design. If I defeat Boss X as part of a group, I don't want to rely on a RNG to determine if I get the reward or not. I should get it the same as anyone else. Now, let's say the reward was a certain piece of gear, but it offered no stats or bonuses of any kind that would give an advantage over skill alone. The only "gating" that would occur in this case would be that you would have to collect 10/10 pieces from various bosses before you could advance to the next tier of bosses or content. Nothing but skill(and the time required to do so) would determine how fast you progressed in such a game, whether it be skill from playing your character well, or skill in being able to manage a proper group of people towards a desired goal.

In such a scenario, would the proposed "gating" mechanism still be seen by you as a "time limiting" factor, and enough so that you would still advocate a "wallet bypass"?
Again, I don’t “advocate” a wallet bypass. I say that you brought this wallet bypass onto yourself. You are years too late if you protest lootboxes now. You should have protested when the first shooters introduced gear collection and levels and similar advance by grinding game elements.

You can have games in which everybody is equal. But the moment you create games in which some players have an advantage over others, you are down an irreversible slope towards Pay2Win. Because that is how life works.
I agree that purposeful grind is bad. I also agree that P2W is just as bad. But the nature of some of your replies, is that this is somehow the fault of gamers, with statements such as "I say that you brought this wallet bypass onto yourself.", and it's just ridiculous to do so. Gamers have always been at the mercy of game developers in terms of design and monetization, but something they cannot take away is our choice of voting with our wallets. In the past you have openly labeled gamers, who play F2P games for free and never spend a dime on them, as "bad" gamers. And now you are trying to turn the tables on gamers yet again by saying that we have somehow brought all of this on ourselves, simply because we have been a part of the history with developers that has gotten us to where we are now. Voting with my wallet is the one thing that speaks much louder than a post on someone's blog ever could, so if a game that uses questionable monetization tactics goes down the tubes(which is also how life works), pass the blame to the crappy developer, not us gamers.
If you think that Star Wars Battlefronts 2 and Shadow of War will not sell millions and millions of copies in spite of questionable monetization, you are deluded.

All it takes is for some reviews to come out that state that there is a grindwall (in your 60$ single player game) put in specifically to make you buy lootboxes, and the sales will plummet. I'm assuming the SoW devs didn't do such an idiotic mistake, but there are initial reports that this is the case. I've seen a lot of "I think I will pirate this one" responsed specifically related to Shadow of War. The game is already cracked btw (12 hours after launched).

For Battlefront 2, you can't really skip the purchase if you want to play multiplayer, and chances are 99% of the intended audience is into the whole pvp shebang.
Any physical card games has always been based on p2w. Kids with more money could buy more cards and be more lucky. Sticker albums of your favourite basketball, football or baseball team work the same way: you pay more and you get more. This is nothing idfferent. The only difference is that digital games introduced the p2w concept much later, compared than real life, which is hurting a lot of players.

I personally don't like it because I'd rather pay a fixed amount of money and be granted to see/have access to every piece of content over time. But peoplw will spend money anyway and rush to the stores to buy the game. Things will not change just because a vocal minority is yelling on Reddit, blogs and forums.
And then there's this little tidbit that all gamers should know about....

How do you feel about this, Tobold??
My solution still applies: If you want to avoid being manipulated for monetary gain, play only games in which all players are equal.
The whole time versus money debate is a laudable one in regards to the entire gaming scene as it pertains to perceived value and fairness. I just can't shake the feeling(in regards to the shift in monetization methods) that gamers should be allowed to feel that they are being sold something that was rightfully theirs in the first place: Time.
@ NoGuff

As said before, that applis to real life too and it's always been thecase: card games and sticker albums work the same way. Rich kids can/could afford to spend a lot more money to buy more cards. Last week my 10 years old son came to me asking 5€ to buy some collectible cards. When we went to buy them... the guy told us "sorry, someone come yesterday and purchased all of them (100 packages)". When I used to play Magic the Gathering I still remember older guys who camped the shop close to my house to purchase entire boxes of cards.

The patent you mentioned in your comment is absolutely horrible but that's another problem. This post is more about F2P being part of real life too. Which, sadly, is true.
The problem with loot boxes isn't that they exist. It's that games are actively being made worse in order to encourage people spending money on loot boxes.

Destiny 2 literally scrapped a system that worked in Destiny 1 simply to entice people to buy loot boxes.

Shadow of war introduced a mind numbing grind to entice people to buy loot boxes.

The idea of a loot box or some sort of "balance" as you suggest Tobold for people with more money but less time isn't bad. It's that publishers can't help but fuck over everyone by purposefully designing their game to try and suck every penny they came from you.

It's why things like cheat codes and costumes went from being included in a game to dlc. Its why games routinely have content spliced up and packaged as launch day dlc. It's why games introduced season passes. And now it's why companies like ea, acti-blizzard and others are cramming "games as a service" models onto all their games.

"It's why things like cheat codes and costumes went from being included in a game to dlc. Its why games routinely have content spliced up and packaged as launch day dlc. It's why games introduced season passes. And now it's why companies like ea, acti-blizzard and others are cramming "games as a service" models onto all their games."

If anyone is surprised by this, they either embraced the micro-transaction/DLC concept without question, or have lived under a rock for the past several years. When the monetization debates started several years ago, all of the things you mention above were ALL offered as "what if they do this next?" questions that were laughed off or hand-waved away as if the intelligent gamers, who saw the writing on the wall, were nut-job conspiracy theorists. Paywalls, Psychological Manipulation, Less than Ethical Developer/Publisher actions....have all been topics for close to 10 years now. Now, all of a sudden it's as if "certain" gamers/bloggers are having glorified epiphany's about the toxic culture that such dev/pub actions have been introducing into the gaming scene. These same gamers/bloggers defended the concepts of monetization methods that "seemed" to level the playing field in their favor(more money than time) and refused to acknowledge or properly debate the direction it was heading.

Now, as if in defeat, even Tobold casts the fickle-finger-of-fate by making statements such as " If you want to avoid being manipulated for monetary gain, play only games in which all players are equal." If that's an apology for all of his flawed logic used in the monetization debates for all of these years, I guess I just have to accept it.
@NoGuff: You are misrepresenting what I say. I haven't changed my mind at all or had an epiphany. I am one of the people who saw all of this coming a decade ago, and I have a blog archive to prove it, if you'd just read it without your confirmation bias.

All I'm saying in this post is that the starting point of the whole development wasn't the first microtransaction or monetization scheme. The starting point was the first game in which one player was allowed an advantage over another player based on grind instead of skill.

It is the hardcore gamers like you who embraced that grind to power concept, because it gave you an advantage over the casual gamer. You didn't see the obvious trap of the concept, that developers never had an interest in giving you power for time, that the ultimate purpose of it was always to establish acceptance of power differences, and then sell that power. Now you are sitting in a hole that you shoveled yourself and complain about other people, other players and developers, as if you were guiltless in all this. You ain't!

"It is the hardcore gamers like you who embraced that grind to power concept, because it gave you an advantage over the casual gamer. You didn't see the obvious trap of the concept, that developers never had an interest in giving you power for time, that the ultimate purpose of it was always to establish acceptance of power differences, and then sell that power. Now you are sitting in a hole that you shoveled yourself and complain about other people, other players and developers, as if you were guiltless in all this. You ain't!

I embrace my particular playstyle based on the reality that I play games for entertainment and relaxation. I was here, or over at Grimwell's site when all of this crap about WoW and EQ started about time and fairness, and Gamers/Bloggers were clamoring for a level playing field and readily embraced the adoption of alternate monetization schemes. To this day I have no problems with F2P, P2W micro-transactions, lootboxes or the like. The problem I had with the debates of the time, was that people were blindly comparing fairness and using a game like WoW to support their logic.

If you are going to make a statement of If you want to avoid being manipulated for monetary gain, play only games in which all players are equal., then how are all people who play WoW, not equal? Your quoted portion implies choice on the gamers part in choosing to play a game where all players are equal, but somehow you still reserve the right to say that WoW players are not equal because a certain gamer might not have as much free time as another gamer. Why can't the gamer who has more money than time simply find -another- game by which to assert their power dominance of having more money? One they can be "equal" in?

Oh yeah, they have done that...and look where we are now....with the gnashing of teeth and wailings of woe filling the air around loot boxes, gambling issues and openly submitted patents designed to manipulate gamers into opening their wallets more than once.

When I look at where we are now, I can feel good about spending a little more of my free time to be completely immersed in a world where I am equal to everyone else who chooses to play there. I can also feel good knowing that I have not once supported any of the F2P, micro-transaction, lootbox or legalized gambling mechanics that devs/pubs have horrendously implemented in todays games. If you look very closely, you will notice something very odd, almost all of the arguments against lootboxes, P2W and the like, isn't coming from gamers like me, it's coming from players who unwittingly supported alternate monetization schemes and now don't like what they are being presented with.
It is a simple reality that some people have more time, and some people have more money. The only fair solution is having games in which neither of which gives you an advantage.

As soon as you insist on games in which out-of-game factors like availability of time and money give one player an advantage over another player, the competition is on. And the time-rich can't possibly win that competition: Their available time is mostly worthless to other people, to developers, to game company. However the available money of the other side is very desirable to those developers and game companies.

Face it: You got tricked! You got tricked into defending a system in which your available time gave you power dominance, without realizing that it was always a bait-and-switch con to establish the principle that some players could have power dominance based on factors that were outside the game. It isn't the casual gamers with money that invaded your games, it is the game developers that were always more interested in the casual gamer money than in your time and thus changed the games to grab that money.

The gnashing of teeth and wailings of woe are entirely on your side. And they are entirely your fault. People like me who accepted monetization as inevitable consequence to the behavior of power gamers aren't upset about loot boxes now. I don't mind them at all. I'm only posting this as a "told you so". You have brought this onto you by yourself. The casual gamers haven't "unwittingly" supported anything, the protests are on game forums and blogs and on YouTube: Casual gamers don't use any of these; they don't have time to waste on the internet complaining about games, the little time they have they use to play games, not talk about them. People making a living out of posting game videos on YouTube are by definition hardcore gamers. And it is them who are regretting where the game industry is going now, without even having the spine to admit that it is their own fault.

It is a simple reality that some people have more time, and some people have more money. The only fair solution is having games in which neither of which gives you an advantage.

I agree 100%.

But you also have to agree that you cannot pit both groups against each other, in the same game, and expect there to be any acceptable level of fairness. At that point, the fantasy that money can somehow offset time, and be fair in the process, is a complete pipe dream.
I agree that having both doesn't create fairness. But it makes both sides feel better. Just look at the last few years, where frequently the fantasy that time can somehow offset money was sold as a justification for Pay2Win. "Oh, you know, it isn't so bad that you can buy the sword of uberness for $20, because you can also get that same sword by grinding for 100 hours." People should have realized that at that point they were working for 20 cents per hour instead of playing a game.
"I agree that having both doesn't create fairness.

Would you also agree then that this is an issue of "benefit" rather than being actually about fairness? If my playstyle allows me to commit X number of hours per week in working towards a goal of obtaining the "sword of uberness", do I not get the benefit of getting said sword in the end? If another gamers playstyle doesn't allow him/her to dedicate the same amount of time that I can, and they can pull out their wallet and buy the same sword, even if they get it quicker, do they not get the same benefit of obtaining the sword? I have no illusions of, nor of an application of fairness in this instance because both of us can gain the benefit of obtaining the same sword, even if by different means. The "fairness" factor only comes into play based on how the game is designed, and whether or not we are both pitted against each other. If we are pitted against each other, then we both should possess the sword. All that's left is the skill of the player in using said sword. Any claims of P2W go out the window in such a scenario.

Would the argument in this case then switch to "but he has played more and understands the game mechanics better than me!!" My wallet cannot save me from that!!".....??
No, the argument wouldn't switch. If two players have the same stats, the more skilled one should win. Whether that is the one who played more is another question, because there are many games in which many hours of grinding don't result in any measurable skill gain.
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