If Boosts Are A Problem in F2P Gaming, What's The Solution?

Jason Winter
By Jason Winter, News Editor


Try to hang with my stream-of-consciousness thought process here... I was watching the Blade & Soul livestream about the game's monetization Wednesday, where one of the first things they said was, “It won't be pay-to-win.”

I equated that on Twitter as being the equivalent of saying your game will be in color. Everybody (except for one company) says their free-to-play game won't be pay-to-win, whether that's true, false, or somewhere in-between. Saying “We're not pay-to-win!” is automatic, it's Marketing 101 for F2P games.

As we've said before, though, everyone has varying definitions of pay-to-win. The most blatant P2W, which no reputable game would consider touching these days, is selling an item for real money that isn't available in the game and is directly better than those that are. NCSoft isn't stupid enough to put things like that in Blade & Soul (or WildStar, for that matter), and neither is pretty much any other publisher who wants to release a game in North America.

Beyond that, though? Just about anything goes. Cosmetics and XP/currency boosts are the most common microtransactions in F2P games these days, and, in my opinion, they don't constitute “pay-to-win.” Others may disagree, though, especially with regards to boosts and other “timegated” content that gives you the option of grinding out something for a long time to get it for free or paying to get in faster or instantly. That's a reasonable opinion that I think is heavily subject to the rate at which the item can be acquired and its real-money cost.


(A brief note on semantics... the “win” part of “pay-to-win” and the lack of true “winning” in many online games is used to justify all kinds of microtransactions, since you don't “win” an MMORPG, or at least the non-PvP parts of one, so what does it matter if the other guy in your dungeon group has a statistically better sword that he bought? For this article's purposes, though, I'm not going to get nitpicky about verbiage, no more than I'd argue that an MMO boss fight is an RTS – after all, you have a strategy that you must execute in real time, don't you? You know what kind of game is meant when talking about an RTS, and you also know what is generally meant by “pay-to-win.”)

So, in response to my Tweet, a conversation ensued that shortcuts like XP boosts are a form of mild pay-to-win and that they're “getting a lot of heat nowadays.” Like I said, that sort of thing doesn't usually bother me, but there does seem to be more and more grumbling about them these days. Maybe that's more due to their ubiquity that anything – the first thing a dev says after “We're not pay-to-win!” is usually “But we will have XP boosts!” – but I think I'd rather have that than the straight-up, bald-faced pay-for-stats advantage.

Then the conversation, and the key to this article (aren't you glad you read this far) took this turn, when the Tough Love Critic said:

And I thought, “Hm. He might be right. But what would that be?”

Actually, my first response was that someone would complain about that a few years down the line, just like how we joyfully embraced boosts as an alternative to “selling power” but are now grousing about them. I don't think F2P games will remove boosts entirely, not unless they have something to replace them with; the notion of a game that sells purely cosmetic items and bank-slot increases is pretty much a pipe dream (Path of Exile notwithstanding), so what could we substitute in place of the boosts, if they do become an intolerable nuisance to enough people?

I like these kind of thought exercises, but I have to say, I'm coming up blank right now. I can't seem to think of anything that a) people would buy; and b) won't seem too pay-to-win. Maybe you can come up with something in the comments. If I get enough good suggestions, I might do a follow-up article featuring the best replies.

So put on your thinking caps, you budding monetization experts! The fate of free-to-play gaming rests in your hands!

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About the Author

Jason Winter
Jason Winter, News Editor

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.

More Stories by Jason Winter

Discussion (15)

Pennlion 8 years ago
I think a bug part of the PW2 issue is how people define win. For my daughter it is having the best equipment in the game that is fully maxed out. I just want access to all the content and the ability to get good enough equipment to complete it. I am a PVE care bear so I do not care if someone has better equipment. So if you are about the journey F2P is good, if it is bragging rights you may want to go sub.

Hellsworth 8 years ago
Ok, so i've never done posts on MMOBOMB but reading this... I just had to say something about it, although, of course, everything in this matter might be subjective most of it are generally accepted "facts" or "options" certain companies with different aproaches to the matter have failed or succeded (again) "in my point of view".

#1 When are Boosts (of any kind) considered pay-to-win?

Everytime you have any type of grind that leads to a direct advantage of your character over others (xp, items or currency are the main issues here) your boosts are undoubtly P2W. Why? Simple. Although you may have to work most days, there are days (vacations, holidays or weekends) you will not, and in that time, with a boost, you will not only achieve what everyone else has done, you will do EVEN more because generaly boosts are time duration based!
A good wrong example would be (and dont get me wrong this is just one i picked randomly, there are many out there) DDO's XP boosts, because characters can reincarnate and have access to other feats and options many normal players can't (buildwise).
A good example where boosts dont matter much and are correctly done (in Warframe) because having leveled up any number of weapons or frames wont make you have direct advantage over anyone else at a higher end since the maximum level of each weapon or frame is easily achievable AND having more Account Rank doesnt lead to more advantage over anyone post mid-level (lvl 10+) account range.

A good basic "meet-them-halfway" would be (in my point of view) the best answer, get the boosts to work better at earlier levels or having a good early weapon or even a good currency "helper" for "that 1st mount" but do NOT shut down long term players' access to those items post mid-range levels.

#2 About the customizable features!

In my point of view (call me old fashion or something it just feels that way to me) everytime I come up to a game and I see Chicken mounts, Angel/Bat Wings, and exuberant model ladies with huge ARMOR (most of them without any armor at all) is basically a turn off (especially when I make a character and the 1st thing I see in-game is a "dude" passing beside me on a pink top hat). What i am trying to say is... Customisable looks is good but exageration leads to mundane and that leads to boredom and that leads to no playing no matter the "payment model". Do it, but do it within your game's environment (no rocket packs in old medieval without a REALLY good excuse, ex.: steampunk expansion/game), basically keeping it neat, simple, dark, with a sense of mystery and sharp, most people that play the genre enjoy those characteristics VERY much on their game and characters.

#3 Active development!

Nowadays the player base looks at new games and there is nothing new so sentences like "... another MMO...", "Survival FPS" and "PVP-Oriented ARPG" are tags and those same tags make it so that once you know it you know the game (generally speaking), and that leads directly to a sense of self-awereness about certain good and bad aspects of certain types of games, the solution to this (in my point of view) does not come from "newer" types of games but from active develpment, which means that no matter what, you need to come up with new stuff (either wrong or right) every couple of weeks. That is of course a hard thing to do and bold move since most companies want "secure cash flow" and that means no "hickups" but also that leads to a slow dying state of the same game, the key to having a "secure boldness" is of course the player base. Take your thoughts to the player base and let them thing about it at least 2 weeks ahead before you implement it in the game ... get the feedbacks... change what's less "wanted" and mostly show "love" for the game you develop, keep it active, fresh and with a good line of comunication between the developers and the player base (and yes you HAVE to learn to take the "heat" and the compliments from the players when it happens).

To me as a player, those are the 3 main issues I believe are key to a good success on any internet oriented game nowadays.

asdasd 8 years ago
cut the fun = cut the population, no population = no game so p2w turns into p2shutdowngame

Nedim 8 years ago
Dota 2 is truly free to play.All you need is the skill. Not a single dime.You can even earn cosmetic items,which is incredible.And for a price of 10$ for compendium you get A lot(A LOT) of items.

Merkadis 8 years ago
Boosts ain't a problem anywhere as long as the do not affect pvp AT ALL, and as long as they do not impact pve too heavily.
An example of heavy impact in pve would be something like this: "buy zis potion, eat it and u got 999 level crafting in a flash! OR you can always grind that 999 level in crafting for FREE! it will only cost you half your lifespan but it's FREE! ain't that DELIGHTFUL!" Right?

Rami 8 years ago
It's not Pay2Win if you can get the stuff by grinding and buying with ingame currency. That is simply Pay2Progress. Yes it is a bit annoying, but in the late game you won't gain an advantage.

Pay2Win is when there are items in a CashShop that boost your equipment, or selling equipment and other things that could benefit you without free users able to get them.

View 1 reply
Aaron 8 years ago
Boosts are p2w if they make the grind unbearable otherwise. It seems to be a common occurrence now adays to make non boosted gains so extremely low you are forced into buying them to purchase or level anything. One of my least favorite monetizations.

View 1 reply
karnaij 8 years ago
i dont think xp is much of a pay to win thing at all.. your not winning anything considering even if the game just launched and your the first person to max level then what? wait a few days for the rest to get to max level. if it is after a game launched then what are they doing? joining groups to run through end game content or just to pvp with thats all same goes for instant level boosts that are nothing to make you "Win" so is paying for xp P2W? no not even a little bit cause leveling is only a step in the game. it may be more P4C pay for convince thats all.

Razer 8 years ago
The P2W factor for these paid shortcuts could vary from game to game depending on the circumstances. PvP games that have vertical progression (especially those with the habit of lumping those with bottom-tier and top-tier armor and weapons together, like Ghost Recon Phantoms) are questionable at best, if not blatantly pay-2-win (*cough* Ghost Recon Phantoms *cough*).

View 1 reply
HD32PLAY 8 years ago
I don't think (XP) boosts will ever need to be replaced. To me they are really not much of an issue if someone wants to get to max level really fast without learning their class then power to them, it's just more easy people to crush in PVP. As for boosts that allow you to gain items quicker sure they can be a bit of a problem, but I think with the way the free to play market is going that problem can resolve itself pretty quickly.

As more and more high quality games come out the option for having solely aesthetic real money transactions becomes more viable. A cheaply made game with bad textures is never going to sell anything without stat increases or additional utility, but as bigger game devs come into the f2p market more high quality games come out. This leads to people being ok with just buying a cool looking skin to support a high quality game they love.

Kenpokiller 8 years ago
What i'm saying with this is:
Oh devs create shop for blatant cashgrabs and no ingame method? Lame

Oh devs want money and actually do stuff with their community? Here take my money, you obviously need it and love your game.

Kenpokiller 8 years ago
Ingame methods to acquire such, only sell cosmetics, allow community to implent items/maps/ideas/cosmetics.
Work with community to create events and reward participants/winners with boosts.
and yes that constitutes P2W or pay to get an advantage. Where are the days we did ingame content /minigames for such?

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