The Daily Grind: What are some useful alternatives to the term ‘pay-to-win’?

Deep into the Relay article on whether Star Citizen is pay-to-win that we covered a while back, the author, Commander Llama, said something I thought deserved illumination.

“I’m also sorry the very term Pay2Win is a bit of a misnomer. It’s often read literally, and it’s also used as a sort of slur. All of this stunts any discussion from the start. Maybe we do need a new term, although we don’t need twenty different terms, each individually defined.”

He’s not wrong that there are lots of definitions of pay-to-win, and each one is dependent on interpretations of the words “pay” and “win,” which sort of makes sense – plus you’ve got the folks who use it for every game ever, or who apply it only to PvP, or who insist that winning faster or winning stylishly doesn’t count, and on and on. That’s no doubt why some folks have proposed other terms, like pay-to-play or pay-to-convenience or pay-to-cosmetic, to provide some clarity.

Let’s imagine for the morning that we’re going to collectively abandon the term and replace it with other terms that are more specific and helpful to genre debates. What are some useful alternatives to the term “pay-to-win”?

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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Axetwin .

“pay to enjoy”
“pay to progress”

These are two terms I’m fond of using.

Kickstarter Donor

I’m going to approach this from a different perspective–and I’m going to approach the term ‘pay-to-win’ as “Pay-to-Fix”. I think for me the reality that games need to make a profit to keep running makes any sort for power, glamour shot, or convenience increase just … expected.

Rather, I’d like to define based on the overall design methodology. Does the developer intentionally break an aspect of the game, making it unplayable for most of the play-base, and provide the ‘fix’ as a cash shop purchase? That’s my pay-to-win alternative– pay-to-fix. I don’t think grinding fits into this because our tolerance for grinding varies wildly based on the game, rewards, manner or grinding, etc.

But any place where the developer creates a negative experience for you in hopes that you’ll pay money to fix that experience is pay-to-win (conversely, creating a positive experience in hopes that the goodwill generated will yield to more sales).

If that makes any sense. It’s early. I haven’t had my coffee yet.


The word “SCAM” comes to mind.

Jeromai _

I saw “Pay to Glow” the other day. This neatly encapsulates all the pay-for-cosmetics-with-obnoxious-particle-effects games.

Loyal Patron
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Kickstarter Donor

Overly-monetized gaming experience.

Roger Edwards

Pay to feel special.
Pay to feel smug.
Pay to just make it all go away.


Pay for Convenience (IE – I don’t find grinding fum; so if it’s a choice between ‘Grind in game for hours/days…” as opposed to “Pay RL cash to get item now”; depending on the price, I may just decide it’s worth it to pay upfront and spend my limited free time/energy go do what I find fun in said game.

And BTW the ACTUAL definition of a Pay to Win was an item that did give a great advantage; but was only available via a RL cash transaction in a game store. If you could also earn the same item in game via gameplay means it wasn’t ‘pay to win’. The term seems to have been co-opted to mean “Any useful item that you can buy in game for RL currency”.

[Oh, and for all you guys with rose colored glasses thinking older MMOs like EQ and WoW never had any ‘pay to win’ issues as the term is defined by many today – why to you think ‘Gold Selling’ became such a lucrative business for some? From day one in any MM O there are sizable portions of the playerbase with limited free time; and instead of using that free time to grind/camp a MOB for an item drop – they bought in game currency for RL cash and the convenience of getting the item from the Exchange (or being part of a group that did the work and then let them take the drop); so they could spend free time doing what they enjoyed in game.]

Patreon Donor

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet???? ;-)

But seriously, if you ever encounter the in-game choice between farming and whipping out your credit card for something you want, it is pay to win. To my mind the most obvious recent example of this is the 250 gold price tag for the griffon mount in GW2. I have no doubt plenty of people payed cash to expedite getting it in order to ‘keep up with the Joneses’.

Roger Melly

Pay to not lose ?

Robert Mann

Pay for this game not to completely suck? You thought you were going to pay less this way? Poor fool’s trial version? Pay to achieve goal?

Any of those might work… but just like anything else with words people will TWIST whatever is in use to their own ends, desires, goals, or ideals. Thus why P2W has been adjusted so much. Thus, I leave the entire thing at De gustibus non est disputandum. IF a person finds something P2W, it is P2W to them, so long as they actually have a reason why. That shouldn’t be hard. Term salvaged, no need for this quagmire of more terms with the same problems, and we don’t all have to agree to boot!