Leaderboard: What kinds of MMORPG purchases do you consider pay-to-win?

I know I’m not alone in noticing that MMO gamers of late seem to have become sharply divided on how to define the term pay-to-win – indeed, the debate raged last week in threads about Black Desert’s player protest, Elder Scrolls Online’s cash shop prices, and the general consensus that ArcheAge is whale heaven. Recently Massively OP commenter Pepperzine recently wrote to us suggesting that we address it and try to sort it out.

“While there are proponents for all sides of the argument, I think it would be interesting to see where the bulk of people draw the line,” he wrote. “At the end of the day, individual perceptions are important but what is most important when it comes to this topic is what the majority perceives as pay-to-win.”

So let’s turn his proposal into the requisite Leaderboard poll, shall we? And yes, you can click as many as you want!

Which of the following purchases would you consider P2W?

  • Anything that can be looted through normal gameplay (3%, 437 Votes)
  • Anything that can be looted through elite gameplay (5%, 703 Votes)
  • Anything that cannot be acquired in the game (6%, 826 Votes)
  • Buffs that can that be acquired in the game (3%, 444 Votes)
  • Buffs that cannot be acquired in the game (8%, 1,105 Votes)
  • Items that affect RNG probability of upgrading or acquiring gear (8%, 1,056 Votes)
  • Items that affect lockout timers (6%, 835 Votes)
  • Gear with stats (7%, 1,050 Votes)
  • Cosmetic gear (0%, 60 Votes)
  • Direct sale of currency (6%, 844 Votes)
  • Indirect sale of currency (5%, 657 Votes)
  • Anything that increases leveling speed (3%, 427 Votes)
  • Anything that circumvents leveling like level boosters (4%, 501 Votes)
  • Mounts, vehicles, ships, teleports, or anything with an effect on travel speed (3%, 487 Votes)
  • Property, houses, land (3%, 395 Votes)
  • Auction or inventory slots (3%, 449 Votes)
  • Advantages that help in PvE but not PvP (6%, 902 Votes)
  • Advantages that help in PvP but not PvE (8%, 1,090 Votes)
  • Cash shop-only gear slots (7%, 1,036 Votes)
  • Access to classes or races (4%, 618 Votes)
  • Something else (tell us in the comments) (0%, 64 Votes)
  • No response / just want to view tally (0%, 56 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,364

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With thanks to Pepperzine!

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105 Comments on "Leaderboard: What kinds of MMORPG purchases do you consider pay-to-win?"

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Clean butter

Anything else beside cosmetics, even 5% exp boost is p2w cuz you just gonna progress faster than a f2p player.

Karma_Mule
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Karma_Mule

If someone wants to enhance their enjoyment of a game through the output of cash rather than the output of time then I really don’t care. The key for me is can *I* have fun in a game through actually PLAYING it rather than SPENDING for it. How someone else gets there is irrelevant to me.

But, I am almost completely a PVE rather than PVP player, so I can see how someone mostly interested in PVP activities could have a different take on this.

Veldan
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Veldan

I don’t think it’s PvE vs PvP that matters here, it’s whether you’re competitive or not. PvP players tend to be more often competitive, but not nearly everyone is. I’ve seen plenty of PvPers who would casually play PvP every day until their daily objectives were complete and didn’t care beyond that. On the other hand, there are also PvEers who are very competitive, and who are just as bothered by P2W as competitive PvPers.

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Godiva

One issue I have with this poll is the vague wording: “Buffs that cannot be acquired in the game” could mean a game-breaking exp boost or a minor loot bonus. DDO used to sell +1 Loot gems when I last played it, and I didn’t consider those game breaking at all. They were cheap and the bonus was minor, hardly p2w, and one of those microtransactions you felt good about purchasing because you were supporting a title you lived and getting a minor boost.

Mewmew
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Mewmew

Some small purchases are *not* pay to win. Having a cash shop at all doesn’t make a game pay to win, as it would look like a huge many people somehow feel.

Pay to win is something that gives you a direct advantage over others in your power level and it’s something with either no ceiling or one too high for most to see. If a game has a few small bonuses for small amounts of money that everybody can buy and be equal, that isn’t pay to win, even if the freebie leechers don’t have free access to it.

Pay to win is something where money = power at levels that just keep growing. More money = more power. All you have to do to beat the $500 spenders is to spend $750, and then the $1,000 spenders beat you. Money = power with no small ceiling. That is pay to win. Not these nickle and dime things that everybody can buy once and be at an equal level.

I’m afraid that most people who call any cash purchases pay to win simply haven’t played a real pay to win game to know what it actually is.

This is what we get because of the age of Free to Play gaming, the players who think any purchase above “free” that isn’t purely cosmetic makes the game pay to win. That’s just so not the case.

And yet we’ll never get it through the heads of even the writers of major MMORPG blogs, so I don’t expect the average player will ever start to get it either until they experience real pay to win for themselves.

If you ask 10 thousand kids where Nauru is, the placement of where it is isn’t going to change just because they all have their own opinion. Pay to win has and has had an actual definition (An Uncle of mine tells me about Pay to Win games he played back in the Text only days of the Internet), it doesn’t change just because you give random people the right to vote what they think pay to win is, no offense.

Veldan
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Veldan

Your entire post is basically “my definition of P2W is the only right one”. You claim that it is the actual definition, but even if decades ago it was, it definitely no longer is, and hasn’t been for a long time.

Besides, the entire point of this poll is to establish what is perceived as P2W and what’s not. Basically, the poll results are proof of how wrong you are.

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Melissa McDonald

win what?

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Bruno Brito

We get it, you like to swipe power.

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Cosmic Cleric

win what?

Anything.

Veldan
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Veldan

You really want to start this again? “nothing is P2W because you can’t win an MMO”? Stop taking the term literally.

Polyanna
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Polyanna

I will answer this with a question:

Does having the item mean you will win in any competitive setting (PvE or PvP) against another player who does not have it, and is the only way to get the item by spending real life cash beyond the retail all-access entry price to play the game?

Ok, it’s actually two questions.

Anyway, if the answer on both points is “Yes,” then the item is “Pay To Win.” If you pay, you win (vs. anyone who does not). If you do not pay, you do not win.

F2P vs. Subscriber benefits in a game where F2P is just a trial or limited version of the game are not “pay to win”; they are just “pay to play.” If you want to play the full game (including, e.g., expansion content that may open up access to more powerful gear), then you have to pay the price of admission (box price, subscription, etc.). But anyone who pays that baseline price can get those things. Only people who don’t pay at all, or don’t pay the full regular price of entry, are locked out.

Paying cash to get things sooner that you can get by other means without paying is not “pay to win,” it’s pay to soon. If you can get it by waiting or by playing more, you still can have the same things. Someone who pays will have it sooner, but you’ll also have it, if you’re willing to wait more or play more.

The only things in the poll that I checked based on that criteria are: Things that can’t be acquired in game, buffs that can’t be acquired in game, and cash shop only gear slots. I assume those all mean, things you can’t get in game that give you a decisive performance advantage in either PvE or PvP performance, such that you always (or nearly always) will win against a player who does not pay extra to have them.

I also included items that affect RNG probability of upgrading gear, only because in practice when this is a thing, the RNG chance is so impossibly low that if you do not pay for the boost items then the actual chance of getting an ultimate level of upgrade is zero, or may as well be zero. So, someone can always say “RNG is RNG” and “you could get lucky” and get a full set of ultimate level gear, but in practice no player who doesn’t pay to use boosts on every attempt ever actually will achieve that result.

If that’s the case, then the paid RNG boost essentially makes the ultimate level of upgrades something that you can’t acquire in-game any other way than by spending cash. But if it’s also possible to acquire the same boost and get access to the same upgrades by in-game means, just somewhat slower than you would if you buy the boost, then even this is arguably not pay to win, but, again, just pay to soon.

There is a point at which “pay to soon” can become pay to win, if it means that the amount of time required to get something by in-game means exceeds by an order of magnitude or more the amount of time that anyone ever reasonably could manage to play the game within its foreseeable lifetime (e.g., you “could” get this by in-game means, but even if you played 2,000 hours a year for the next 10 years, only 1 in 1,000 players actually would get it, vs. anyone who pays can have it instantly; and it gives a decisive performance edge that basically no other players who don’t pay ever can be expected to have).

Short of that, if paying just means I have it now, vs. you have it next week / month / year, when we’re both playing a reasonable usual amount of hours regularly in the game, then it’s just pay to soon, as long as both end with the same result, only sooner vs. later.

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Cosmic Cleric

Paying cash to get things sooner that you can get by other means without paying is not “pay to win,” it’s pay to soon.

If the thing that you aquire sooner gives you an advantage in-game against those who get it later, that’s P2W.

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Modrain

Yeah, honestly the poll results… Not sure if laughing or crying.

I usually avoid any P2W discussion due to the amount of crass people who just revel in trolling serious discussions by calling everything P2W for no apparent reason. I rarely see obvious trolls on MOP, but I sure wish the poll has been raided, it would explain some of the results, at least.
I normally assume that differences in P2W definitions are linked to the differences between what qualified as a “win”. But seriously, why on earth consider cosmetic items or auction/inventory slots as a “win”, even indirectly (“I have more inventory slots than you, I WIN HAHAHA”)?

The teaching of the poll is that if there is even the slightest difference between two accounts that is due to money, there will be someone who call the game P2W, be it gear, faster levelling, content access, buffs, whatever. That also makes paid extensions P2W, I guess.

When meanings depend on every single individual speaking, no wonder studios use the “trust us, no P2W!” formula, and that we end up getting ArcheAge.

Veldan
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Veldan

But seriously, why on earth consider cosmetic items

Because making a character look good is a big part of MMOs that can be seen as a goal in itself, thus skipping the gameplay required for it by paying real money can be seen as P2W

or auction/inventory slots as a “win”

Because auction slots allow you to make currency faster and inventory slots allow you to reduce the amount of trips you make to vendors, thus increasing your efficiency and speeding up your progress (especially in terms of currency). I’m not saying I think they’re P2W (I didn’t vote for them), but there’s definitely an argument to be made.

The teaching of the poll is that if there is even the slightest difference between two accounts that is due to money, there will be someone who call the game P2W

Well yes, that’s kinda what P2W is. Spending real money for an advantage over those that don’t, or over those that spent less.

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Modrain

The question in this case is, at what starting point should we consider an advantage to be significant enough to qualify as P2W, and where to we stop?

I can certainly understand what sort of advantages paying for cosmetics or slots can bring, but is there someone who would in all seriousness claim that not paying for these gave them a significant disadvantage at winning in some area? Despite how ridiculously small that advantage is for paying?

It’s not meant to defend cash shops. I despise them in MMOs for ruining the ability of players to remain competitive. But what we’re seeing here is that there’s a subset of the population of MMO players that is ready to blame some losses or non-wins on cash shops, indiscriminately. As a player who cares about real competitiveness, that mentality to blame everything on other factors really disgusts me.

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Alex Malone

You are paying to win…..so define the “win” scenarios.

We all have our own subjective definitions of what winning is based on our own playstyles, so I think the only way to define winning is to use the games design to define what winning looks like. In a standard themepark, the win scenarios will include:

* Completing the main quests
* Hitting the level cap
* Clearing all content, including dungeons and raids
* Maximising your character – including unlocking all skills, traits and getting best gear
* Killing people in PvP

I’m sure there will be others and it will vary game to game, but these are the typical win scenarios as defined by the game itself.

So, pay2win, for me, would involve anything I can buy that will help me to achieve these win scenarios. Looking at the list, that would include probably 2/3rds of the items.

In terms of my ability to play games that include pay2win, I try to avoid them. However, I only really care about some win scenarios, not all of them. For example, hitting the level cap is something that is easy to achieve and I don’t care about it much, so a game selling p2w items that make hitting the level cap easier/instant doesn’t bother me. But, I love endgame activities, so any game selling items that help you win at endgame is a game I’ll avoid.

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Phillip Simpson

There are only 11 things which you can sell to players without automatically having the execution undermine (a.k.a. instance pay to win status) and even than you need to make sure the execution is right or the MMO will still fail.

Those 11 are:

access to preview/test upcoming stuff and so forth in the game
subscription fee
expansions
buy to play option
character slots when a reasonable amount is already available
alternate character builds when a reasonable amount is already available
play styles
storage when a reasonable amount is already available
game skins that are account bound
worthwhile quests that fit with the game but aren’t something players would stubble a pond in game
real life items that give no in game benefits ever.

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Randy Savage

I don’t know what it is about MMO’s these days that no longer inspire loyalty which makes cash shops necessary in the first place, but I’d rather that change because the very nature of the cash shop means you’re bypassing something in the game, even if it’s just cosmetic because cosmetic rewards are a big part of making MMO gameplay feel rewarding. There was a time when the coolest looking players in any given MMO were the ones who put in the most work. You could tell just by looking at them that they were accomplishing more than you. Now any kid with a credit card can look better than any top player because the cash shop outfits often look better than anything you can earn in the game. So that is a sort of paying to win, if what you want to win is a certain look because image is everything. I guess it comes down to what you define as “winning” in your reasons for playing. But for me, P2W is quickly becoming the cash shop concept as a whole just because it devalues anything you can possibly achieve in the game.

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Melissa McDonald

well, you used to have like 4 choices for an MMO. Now there’s more like 400.

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Dušan Frolkovič

I can tell a part of it. Because people that played it back then grew up.
And that comes with a decreased amount of the required resource: time.
So people will try and get back into it with the resource they do have: money.

Veldan
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Veldan

I agree. MMOs were a lot more fun to me when the coolest looking stuff had to be worked for in the game.