Awful Idea: Monthly Spending Limit For F2P Games 3

Make a list of what you think are the free-to-play games with the best cash shops. Which games feel the most “free” to you and allow you to enjoy them without feeling the constant need to pony up cash? On the flip side, which F2P games feel the worst to you? The most pay-to-win?

Got your list(s)? Good. Now, what do those games have in common? For my lists, I’d say that most of the “good” F2P games have strong PvP elements, while most of the “bad” F2P games are primarily focused on PvE. True, there are exceptions, like Path of Exile (PvE and good), and World of Tanks when it had gold rounds for sale, but at least in my experience, it’s always been easier for a developer to make a fair cash shop — or at least one perceived as fair – in a PvP game, like a shooter or MOBA, than in a PvE one, like an MMORPG.

I’ve often considered the reasons for that. One thought I had was that because PvP games tend to be limited and repetitive – i.e., playing similar matches over and over – there are fewer things to mess with and potentially sell in the cash shop. On the other hand, PvE-focused games, mostly MMORPGs, offer a wide range of different experiences, and the developers have to figure out ways to partition each of those off so as to turn a profit. It’s a trickier enterprise, and one that’s more likely to upset players with its implementation. That’s part of the equation, but not all of it.

Then I thought about a pair of articles I wrote some time back: one that asked why players were so upset with the plethora of cosmetic items offered for sale in Guild Wars 2 — versus relatively few offered as in-game rewards — and another about the definition of pay-to-win, and how that’s different for every player. Merging the two lines of thought brought me to this conclusion:

Whether or not something is “pay-to-win” hinges on the definition of “win.” And that can be very different depending on the game.

Guild Wars 2 Crystal Outfit

Pay-to-do-something-like-winning-but-not-quite

Let’s start with the most basic and fundamental definition of pay-to-win that we can all agree upon: an item, offered for sale in the cash shop, that gives better stats than anything that can be acquired in the game.

Outside of the most Chinese of Chinese browser games, nobody sells those any more. You won’t find items like that in 99% of the F2P games covered on MMOBomb, and for good reason. Developers know that items like that would torpedo their game’s chances before they even got out of alpha.

Below that obvious breach of protocol, just about anything is fair game. XP boosts, cosmetics, inventory space, and other “convenience” items are the most common for-sale items, and players tend to be mostly OK with those. After all, none of those give you an actual advantage in the game, so they’re not pay-to-win… right?

Let’s go back to our PvP/PvE dichotomy. What’s the object of a PvP game? How do you “win”? The answer, in most cases, is to beat your opponent or your opponent’s team in a match. Whether it’s a round of Team Fortress 2, a League of Legends match, or a World of Tanks battle, the object is to wipe out your enemies. And those games know better than to sell you direct advantages to help you achieve that goal.

Rift Celestial Unicorn

So how do you “win” at a PvE game? Well, you can beat the biggest and toughest raid boss, but that’s something that only a small percentage of players do. Other players might want to have a good-looking character, decked out in the shiniest armor and weapons, or amass a fortune in gold, or climb the ranks of the PvP ladder, or role-play, or even just wander the land or get as many as characters possible to max level. In short, there are a number of victory conditions for a PvE game; there are several different ways to “win,” and it’s going to be different for each player.

That’s where the disconnect occurs. A PvP game developer who says “There’s no P2W in our game” is probably telling you the literal truth. There’s nothing you can buy in the cash shop that will help you win battles, the primary win condition of their game. You might be able to advance more quickly, but matchmaking being what it is, you won’t generally square off against someone’s death machine with your rank one peashooter — not without a few other death machines on your team to even the odds, at least. Even if the game does offer outfits or skins to pretty up your character, you rarely hear anyone complain, as long as competitive advantage isn’t for sale.

A PvE game developer probably means the exact same thing when saying “There’s no P2W in our game”; there’s no direct stats-for-money item you can purchase. But there will be lots of things you can buy that help you enjoy the game in the myriad ways that can be seen as “winning.” And, over the years, with everything but direct stat purchases being added to cash shops, I think gamers are starting to tire of the practice, no matter how “fair” it seems.

War Thunder camo tank

Expectation recalibration

Is it selfish and entitled of players to not want to see that kind of stuff in PvE games’ cash shops? Probably a little bit, and they devs have to sell something to make up for the game being free to play. I’m not advocating that those sort of things no longer be offered. Better fancy outfits and XP boosts than straight-up stat bonuses, right?

I think, though, that a slight recalibration of “pay to win” should occur, both by devs and by players. Devs touting their newest F2P MMORPG’s cash shop as having “nothing pay to win” need to be aware that there’s more to “winning” than having the best stats, and that the interpretation of pay-to-win has broadened considerably since the dawn of free-to-play gaming. Saying “We’re not pay-to-win” is going to rankle just about everyone to some degree and be seen as a “lie” when the 238th mount goes up on the cash shop or XP boosts make leveling irrelevant.

Similarly, players of these games are going to have to accept that this is how things are going to be, and that, at its most liberal definition, all such games will have elements for sale that could be construed as pay-to-win – if not by you, then by someone else with a different play style and different goals. If you can’t live with that, you’ll have to find a new hobby. Even a game that might seem OK at first will probably tiptoe down the line of pay-to-win-in-your-own-way eventually, as the developers look for additional revenue streams and see how far they can push the definition of “winning.”

the author

Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.

44 Readers Commented

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  1. pppoe on November 28, 2016

    It’s simple. It all boils down to the fact that long ago a term Pay-4-Power was functional but people who liked paying for an advantage liked to rise strawmans like crazy trying to point out that if it’s not p2w in strict sense (which is having items not obtainable without spending real cash) is good and in that sense a lot of p4p could’ve been dismissed. So when p4p started sounding like all the other made on the spot terms like p4convenience, p4time, p4whatever most have just switched to calling all p4p p2w, which watered down the term though i’d say rightly so.

    I’ve been there, seen that. And what is scary to me that nowadays i’ve already seen entire economies set on indirect p4p through cosmetics trading.

    F2p was a model that promised free game experience but it was a business model none the less that was assumed to strive on income from small arpu and big userbase so instead of getting lets say $60 from all 100 players they’d get $20 from half of the 1000 players. The reality is that that model is unsustainable and even if, then nobody cares once they smell how much money casinos online can get them.

    I’d say the only viable model would be freemium as being at least honest but the reality is i don’t know of a freemium game whose dev/publisher would keep their hands in their own pockets.

  2. eqweqw on September 20, 2016

    my win condition is fun, u spoil my fun, dat p2w

  3. trionisshit on September 19, 2016

    AND THESE PAY TO WIN MMOS NOT LAST LONG< ITS FOR NERDS WHO CANT WIN WITHOUT CHEATING! GAMES SHOULD HAVE SEPARATE SERVERS FOR TOTAL NOOB NERDS WITH PAY TO WIN OPTION VS BOTS SO THIS CATEGORY OF MORONS CAN LIVE THERE!

    • King on September 20, 2016

      Clearly a peasant with no money.

  4. DueyBear on September 13, 2016

    Honestly, the term pay-2-win is utterly meaningless with how broad the definition has gotten and it saps any fun out of playing the game. I henceforth ignore any cries by people of p2w until I actually encounter a p2w element in the game which affects me (which has not happened to me for the last 12 years of playing F2P MMOs.) It’s a game, and frankly I don’t care if folks can progress faster or easier than me, as long as when I meet them at cap I can still evenly match them in pvp. Keep crying wolf and no one will listen.

    • Kappa123 on September 15, 2016

      I challenge you to name at least 5 F2P MMO’s you are playing or played in these last 12 years that don’t have a cash shop that affect you negatively as a “free” to play player. Let’s hear them

      • DueyBear on September 15, 2016

        Aion, Everquest 2, Dungeons and Dragons Online, Black Desert, Allods Online, Runescape, Skyforge, Tree of Savior, Star Wars the Old Republic, Blade and Soul. and Cabal Online.
        I’ve put hundreds of hours into each of these games, and never have I felt or been disadvantaged by the cashshop. If I like a game enough after 100 or so hours I will spend money in the cash-shop, but I never feel obligated to.

        • DueyBear on September 15, 2016

          Forgot Tera and Lineage 2.

        • Jäeger on September 21, 2016

          ALLODS ONLINE NOT PAY 2 WIN?

          AHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!

  5. Gwenael on September 9, 2016

    Absolutely shitty article.

    (hey, pssht ! Looking for a good not p2w mmo. Take a look at Path Of Exile. It’s insanely good !)

  6. truth on September 6, 2016

    All Korean MMO’s are Pay2win and it’s hard fact! Only MMO i know so far that is truly free is DOTA 2 most played game on steam, all heroes are completely free, no limits or anything similar, no premium, all the money they make is purely from cosmetics!

    • whatever on September 19, 2016

      U sure Dota is an MMO? its MOBA. Plus not only Dota 2 , u got smite as well plus I think LoL, and almost any MOBA game.

      • pppoe on November 28, 2016

        As far as purity goes you’re wrong on LoL

  7. KBye on September 5, 2016

    I have to say, that blade and soul eu/na, is “free” to play!
    It’s fair, currency exchange in game gold for hongmoon coins or pay for it, cosmetics and convenient items like bag slots. The cash shop doesn’t sell any weapons that give you stats just a remodel. appearance change.
    Premium members get in game copper for killing mobs, but free player don’t, this isn’t a issues though and doesn’t make it p2w.
    It’s not pay-to-win.

    • truth on September 6, 2016

      How much NCsoft pays you? HAHAHA, in game exchange real money for gold, dungeon limit for free players 1 run per day, pathetic broker listing limit free player, cashshop sells mats and other required upgrade items, game totally requires you pay shit tons of money to even process.
      It’s biggest pay2win garbage of the year!

  8. Toblerone on August 30, 2016

    So essentially your article boils down to “There may be a problem with cash shop items or maybe not and both devs and players should fix it somehow” you never presented an actual problem or an actual solution. You said all games are pay to win in the title, WHY are all games pay to win?

  9. Razer on August 28, 2016

    I can accept cash shop cosmetics like in Path of Exile. I can accept sidegrades being sold for premium currency as long as they can be obtained through a mild amount of grinding like in the late Blacklight Retribution.
    Gameplay-affecting stuff held behind a huge grind wall is an instant uninstall for me. The only exception is in the few instances where all of said items are bundled at a reasonable price like a buy to play game, such as Gear Up’s $20 premium shortcut.

  10. eunusunt on August 27, 2016

    For me it’s not p2w, but I freakin’ hate it when they sell inventory/bank space in the cash shop. One can probably count the games that don’t do it, on the fingers of one hand.

    • eunusunt on August 27, 2016

      Or when they sell content (aka expansions).

  11. Xiao on August 27, 2016

    the best example of pay 2 win is age of wushu(it’s super heavy PVP or PVE), he should’ve use age of wushu. why? here is why, vip lets you cultivate (level up) offline , that itself already is pay 2 win since F2P players can’t do that, VIP gets you “Random encounters” (get better gears or skills). trading money cost real money, like planet calypso, cost 30 usd for 10 ding, so if you want to buy things with other players you either get vip, get lucky and sell skill frags or you buy using real money. I’m not done yet… In order to get good skills you either pay 30 usd or sometime up to 500 usd and they can only be obtained by real money. In order to get good extra stats (inner skills) you pay even more.. about 1k usd.

  12. FireAir on August 26, 2016

    Why so much hate?? Relax guys it’s just his opinion on MMORPGs and P2W stuff. Besides, he’s quiet right about how things are

  13. Ghestly on August 26, 2016

    Why all the hate about article? Do even ppl finished before posted comments? Quote “… all such games will have elements for sale that could be construed as pay-to-win – if not by you, then by someone else with a different play style and different goals.” Everyone have different opinion, it doesn’t mean you or other are wrong… Ehhh 2016, everyone gets triggered by simple article.

    • SqueezyTime on August 26, 2016

      It is pretty funny. Everyone acts like he outright insulted GW2 or something, and that got them all upset. It is true, though, that to some people even GW2 is considered p2w simply because you can buy in-game currency with cash. I think that’s the whole point of the article; p2w doesn’t have an objective definition. It’s purely subjective, and based on the perception of the individual. Anyone who thinks there is a specific set of rules that determines what is or isn’t p2w is outright wrong.

  14. Dan on August 26, 2016

    The main reason some MMORPGs are Pay2Win. It is because of its competitive PvP side of it. People want to level up fast, buy up boosters/potions etc when they duke it out with someone else. Unfortunately it also brings toxicity into some of those PvP heavy games.

    The PvE side of things. It is rarely pay2win, with a few exceptions which is obvious for the whole game in general. Cosmetic/Appearance items are not pay2win. They are simply fluff.

  15. Milk on August 25, 2016

    Holy shit, did any of you actually read the article? Whats with the circlejerk ass blasting?

  16. sean murray on August 25, 2016

    If you can buy it, it’s pay to win. MMO logic.

  17. RuBixx95 on August 25, 2016

    Wow this author has zero knowledge what pay to win, Is so let me make clarify what pay to win is, Pay to win is when a player can buy themselves an advantage i one thing you got get in to your damn head Guild wars 2 is not pay to win fake as clikcbait article

    • no_thanks on August 26, 2016

      Guild wars lets you buy those blue crystals which you can sell ingame for gold. In other words you can buy gold with money. I guess thats why he wrote it.

      I think gw2 has a fair system. Out there of all games its one of the best I have seen so far.

      • Merkadis on August 26, 2016

        Better to have gold sold officially than by bots i think, so… lesser evil.

        • volfie on August 27, 2016

          even tho thay do have that u cant do shit with gold in game that give you and advantege over outher players!! gw2 not about the best gear ore higest lv !!! every player got same stuff same max lv same gear stats,, it all comes down to skills!!!! if the player is the better one ore not!! that whay there is no game like this! soo no gw2 shold not be in this discution! sure u can buy gold legit to do what exacly??? buy more skins ? XD just wtf!

    • truth on September 6, 2016

      As you said “Pay to win is when a player can buy themselves an advantage”. All these games gualify as p2w, did you even read the article moron?

  18. volfie on August 25, 2016

    Guild wars 2 pay to win,,,, hahahahaha you on drugs???? first of all its buy to play game and first copy is 100% free and there is 0 thing in gw2 that makes it pay to win.. thay sell cosmetic item that players can buy to re skin ther wepons and armor no stats!!! only Cosmetics!!! and even tho that it got that u can spend real monye to get this skins. u can STILL GET IT FREE 100% FREE FROM ERNING GOLD FROM SELF FARMING EVENTS TO BUY THE ITEMS!! there shop is more pay to sponser the game u like!!! its best fuking system there is !!! and it works!!! and games with pay to win!!! is allso way for players to buy shit to skip 1000 hr of grind!! all games allso have shit u can get free but takes longer path to reach there!!! its basic shit all players knows!! pay to win is short cut!! nothing more. and yeah this guy ho written this shit!,, has never playd a mmorpg

    • ASD on August 26, 2016

      Yup it’s obvious guild wars 2 is pay 2 win which is why I don’t play it. They make the base game free then tempt you to buy the expansions and idk what else they offer since I rarley played it but at least it’s not a subscription game like World of warcraft.

  19. itaintmebro on August 25, 2016

    How do you expect companies to make money on free to play games?

    • Za'Muro on August 25, 2016

      with cosmetic items, pets and stuff and services, but not like elder scrolls online where basically u have 0 mounts in the game and u have to buy everything with money

      • joe on August 26, 2016

        wrong you can buy mounts with in game money no treal money it just takes a bit longer to grind up the cash

    • no_thanks on August 26, 2016

      You know Leage of Legends? One of the most known games out there which only sells skins

      • truth on September 6, 2016

        League is p2w, champions aren’t free but cost money and that gives advantage over other players!

        • Sheikh_Steph on September 8, 2016

          Hey there… League ain’t P2W … I know people can buy champions and stuff with money…. but that doesn’t make an advantage over other players…. I played Master Yi since lvl 1 to 30 which is a really cheap champion (but hella strong) and I don’t think the more “expensive” champions have any advantage over me…. that’s just my opinion tho.

  20. ASD on August 25, 2016

    So true and it’s worst on consoles you gotta pay for xbox live and PSN plus the pay 2 win MMOs you play on the consoles so the PC users are getting off easy since it’s an open platform while the consoles are a closed platform.

    • ASD on August 25, 2016

      Also forgot to mention console users who play MMOs on consoles are paying for PSN/xbox live plus internet plus the pay 2 win stuff on MMOS while PC users are just paying just the internet bill and the P2W stuff. I hate P2W games when it’s very obvious but it’s clear PC MMO players benefit. We can just tell sony and microsoft to fuck off instead of paying their subscription prices 🙂

      • I HATE CONSOLE PESANTS on August 29, 2016

        Play on PC problem solved. Consoles are for little kids and pesants dont waste your time with this toys. PCs are the real deal consoles are just kid toys real gamers play on PC.

      • ASD on August 30, 2016

        Wish it was that easy dude. But theres some games even I can’t get on PC that I wanna play which makes me have to get a console.

  21. HQZ on August 25, 2016

    the title should be “EVERY FREE MMORPG IS PAY-2-WIN, AND HERE’S WHY” you can add “number 3 will shock you” to this shitty clickbait article written by someone who has never even played a mmorpg

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