The Daily Grind: Is it possible for an MMORPG to offer an optional sub that isn’t pay-to-win?

Last week, in the comments under the Bless optional subscription brouhaha article, I made an offhand comment that apparently got MOP commenter Sally’s gears grinding. I was trying to sort through why Bless fans are mad, and I wrote, “Neowiz has been promising no P2W for months, but it’s really hard to have an optional sub that isn’t pay-to-win.”

Sally didn’t disagree but said it was a “shock” to see it spelled out on Massively OP of all places: “In the current free-to-play climate, I see [the MOP] community as one of the last bastions for subscriptions. So a shot at subs from here struck me as ‘et tu, Brute?'” And Sally’s right! A lot of MMORPG vets enjoy F2P and B2P games but also hate double-dipping, and the subscription, or at least a mandatory sub without the usual gamblebox and pay-to-win trappings, is one way to guarantee healthy game design for the players.

On the other hand, if I’m honest, I truly cannot think of an MMORPG with an optional subscription that isn’t pay-to-win in some way. They’re trying to incentivize you to sub, after all, so they have to make the perks worthwhile, and very rarely do they stop at cosmetics. My Trove sub makes experience and drops fall from the sky. My Ultima Online sub lets me own a house and run vendors and hoard most everything. I’d say that games like Elder Scrolls Online, which hands out generous amounts of cash-shop credit for subbing, are on the better end of this argument, but then there’s that pesky crafting bag to contend with.

What do you think: Is it possible for an MMORPG to offer an optional sub that isn’t pay-to-win in some way? Got a contender in mind?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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112 Comments on "The Daily Grind: Is it possible for an MMORPG to offer an optional sub that isn’t pay-to-win?"

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AussieEevee

Free to play is an abomination that needs to disappear. It’s really hurting the MMO Genre.

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Muphet

funny fact: people pay for Entertainment and they are ok with that. For many gamers, paying for games is also an Entertainment. But then games were invaded by new generation people who are cheap and don’t want to play for high quality Entertainment so they are looking for any excuses to call games P2W and ruin it’s reputation.

Veldan
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Veldan

Lol, no. While such people exist, I don’t think you’ll find any on this website. Enthousiasts have no problem with paying for their entertainment. For example, I bet nearly everyone here has had a sub running at some point, if they don’t have one active right now.

It’s not spending money that bothers us, it’s the way in which, and the fact that we prefer games where you have to play for progress, rather than pay.

kite91
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kite91

The problem with the MMO Genre right now is so many players cry “Free to play, free to play!” or they talk trash about the game. Games are expensive to make. People have families to feed and things to buy. Its this greedy idea of entitlement people have. A musician makes music to make money. A businessman works long hours and misses holidays to make money. A Game company makes a game to make money. They are not doing it to give a gift to some wide eyed children. They are in it for the money pure and simple and there is nothing wrong with that. We had our golden years of MMO’s when they had subscription models. Now the Genre is dying and the number of people screaming free to play is getting higher and higher. Its rare to make good money in a new MMO these days unless they make something enticing in the cash shop. So people crying saying a game needs to be F2P and then in turn crying that there is an item that makes you level faster in the cash shop is stupid. People gotta make money some how. These games take a lot to run.

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Sally Bowls

Any payment (except for the two mandatory sub MMOs and antediluvian SPG & console games without cash shops) pay-for-advantage which is described in rants as P2W.

I.e., I don’t give a game company money unless both:
1) I get something in return and
2) would not have gotten it without paying.

So when I am paying anything for any monetization it is to get a benefit that non-payers don’t. Ergo, pay-for-advantage.

So except for WoW, XIV and eventually CU, aren’t almost all these MMOs in the advantage-for-cash business (why else would the customer give them money?) and the volume of the complaints depends on whose ox is getting gored. I.e. whether you are a pvper, mount collector or fashionista determines whether you think selling pvp gear with stats, mounts or cosmetics are venial or mortal sins.

If you are a Kombat Kid, then selling gear-with-stats is horrible but not cosmetics. Whereas I would complain about crafting recipes or inventory for RL$ but since I have no interest in PvP I would not have a problem with the best pvp gear in the game only being available from the ca$h $hop. YMMV

Veldan
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Veldan

Yes, different people are bothered by different things. Generally, noone likes it if “their” part of the game is cash-shop dependent. Solution? Make no part of the game cash-shop dependent.

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Schmidt.Capela

I don’t quite consider an optional sub as “pay to win”.

On the other hand I often consider games with an optional sub to be in truth a sub game with an unlimited trial, where the devs will do whatever it takes — including making the “trial” players unable to “win” — in order to get players to fork over for a sub.

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Roger Edwards

Massively Overpowered is currently my favourite site for arguing over semantics and subjective experiences. :)

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Sally Bowls

Although a lot of commenters provide me with subjective experiences/preferences that they are passing off as objective facts.

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Utakata

…it also has a lot of object points of view which I personally like. Though the comment section sometimes gets into swinging those goal post round and round. :(

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Paul

I think the main issue distorting the whole Pay to Win debate is the large numbers of players who expect to be able to play games without paying anything at all (because game companies are charities and game developers don’t need to pay their mortgage or rent, right?). Any move by the devs to get players to pay them for the game then gets loud shouts of “Pay to Win”.

Are there games that go too far in encouraging people to spend cash – of course there are (Archeage I’m looking at you – where the sub doesn’t even get you in the running next to the whales). But for most, its convenience, acceleration etc you pay for. The first time I heard people complaining ESO’s crafting bag was p2w I laughed (loudly).

Personal preference would be we move back to the sub only model and get rid of cash shops. To do this the sub would need to be more than the usual £10 a month (or whatever your local currency is) – its been at that level for a very long time, yet games cost a lot more to develop and maintain than they did 15 years ago.

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Robert Mann

True with costs… but to support that companies around and about need to give raises for cost of living to the same tune, which means government has to care about that more than donations which…

Yeah, that’s a mess that is a big problem. Sadly, too many people working full time can’t even afford housing, so expecting them to pay a sub is pretty much a dead idea.

On the other hand, I could see a sub to avoid advertising revenue methods, given that advertisers would likely reach a large number of people. Might be worthy of consideration, for a dev/publisher or two.

kjempff
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kjempff

P2W isn’t a zero or one definition, but decimal scale from zero to one. For some, a little P2W mechanic in a game means the game goes into the P2W category, for others it takes a lot more P2W mechanics to be classified as P2W.
Add to that, different ideas of what is P2W; for example I view cosmetic shop items as P2W, while others say it is only shop items that change the power of characters.
Point is, I think we can agree that P2W is not a black and white issue, but a question of how much. On top of that it is a very personal how much (positive/negative) value a player puts on certain mechanics, so we can end up with some players thinking some game is hardly touching on P2W, that others think is far beyond acceptable.
Personally I find all F2P shop based mechanics as being some kind of P2W with varying negative (intrusive) effect.

I can see that optional sub (aka Premium access) can be viewed as P2W because it does give advantage to those who pay. My view on it, is that the F2P(P2W) problem is very much tied to uncertainty of actual cost (aka the psychological scheme F2P is build on), so a Premium model is a transparent and honest way of showing me exactly what I get for how much. So with that in mind, considering how much worse the alternative F2P(P2W) options could be, Premium is some of the least intrusive F2P .. for me!.

If Premium players are not playing in the same space as freeloaders then it is close to zero P2W for me. If premium clearly states its advantages, I also find it scoring very low on my P2W scale.
Everyone has their own opinion and scale values, and everyone is correct from their point of view – So a P2W or intrusive-index scale won’t make any sense because we are so far apart that common ground is unreachable.

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Dug From The Earth

Subs need to go back to giving you everything the game has to offer.

Its really that simple.

Mewmew
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Mewmew

Since a small once a month payment that everybody can do and be on equal grounds is in no way pay to win, I’d say yes of course. A single tier optional sub isn’t pay to win – at least as far as that sub payment goes. They may have other pay to win mechanics in the game, but a small once a month single tier sub wouldn’t be counted among them no matter how big of an advantage it gave above free players.

It doesn’t matter what type of advantage is in that sub, a single small subscription payment per month that everybody can do simply doesn’t fit the pay to win definition as it was created.

It really gets irritating that people want to change the pay to win definition from what it was created for – games where more paying = more power with just about no ceiling. A single tier sub simply doesn’t fit into that category. It’s not about one small payment, it’s about paying more, and more, and more, and more, back and forth to beat other people who are playing the paying contest with you.

But whatever, I’m done with the P2W debate for a while. Trying to get people to understand the actual definition can be like trying to nail a wet noodle into a piece of steel. I’ll let others correct their ignorance for a time :D

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Ben Stone

Honestly they can do whatever they want – supply and demand and all that, but they should be aware of the competition at least. In a B2P market you are up against ESO and GW2.

Look at their cash shops / subscription offerings and see if yours stacks up.

The ESO craft bag is by far its biggest draw. But its something you can survive without, especially if you buy a mobile banker. So there are options to either buy piecemeal or just do the sub and get the full lot.

GW2 is probably the most generous B2P game. For years I couldn’t even find anything worth buying on the store, despite wanting to support them. Now they have mounts skins and better looking cosmetics that are worth it, but by no means necessary.

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Sally Bowls

GW2 gets a small % of its income from the expansion, the rest is from the cash shop. I can’t see how it could survive without the cash shop. IMO, it is not accurate to refer to GW2 these days as B2P.