It’s 9:30AM, you’ve just returned home from your local Gamestop, having purchased the title that you’ve been waiting longer than you thought was possible to release. It’s finally in the disc drive of your console, the install is done and you’re ready to play. You work your way through the campaign, enjoying every blissful second.
Euphorically, you hit ‘multiplayer’ – you’re ready to face to challenges that online multiplayer has to offer. It’s time to prove to the universe what you’re worth. Matchmaking is quick, within minutes you’re in a game; only to be greeted with players who have weapons that are tiers above yours, armor that could stop a nuclear missile and outfits that make them look absolutely badass while they one shot you from a barely conceivable distance. Angrily, you exit the lobby. Immediately you’re greeted with a pop-up linking you to the store:
‘Visit the store now to purchase ‘X’ weapon and armor. Only $29.99. Alternatively, you can purchase our season pass and immediately have access to one bonus weapon normally not available until level 12,000’.
It dawns on you: the people you were fighting so aggressively against put their credit card details in and purchased their way to the top of the game. Your enjoyment has been hampered, the multiplayer feels skewed in favor of those with money that are prepared to spend whatever it takes to get the latest and greatest equipment in the game.
The terms ‘micro-transactions’ and ‘pay-to-win’ carry a damaging connotation with them. Without the want or ability to spend an additional ‘$XX.XX’, you’re either going to spend hundreds of hours to get that solid gold Desert Eagle or you’re simply not going to be able to get it at all.
I’ve spent some time researching the definitions of both ‘micro-transaction’ and ‘pay-to-win’, because I believe that there are some cases where the purchase of additional in-game items is perfectly reasonable. Shark Cards in Grand Theft Auto, for example, are not a requirement to participate in Grand Theft Auto Online. You’re able to earn money by completing missions, robbing stores or selling stolen cars. Granted, you have to work for it, but it’s not unattainable.
Through all my research, I’ve come to the conclusion that the definition of both ‘micro-transaction’ and ‘pay-to-win’ are as follows*:
‘Micro-transactions’ reflect a business model which enables players to purchase virtual goods via micro-payments.
‘Pay-to-win’ reflects games that allow the player to purchase better gear or items, via ‘micro-transaction’, that are either unavailable without purchase or require an unfathomable amount of play-time to attain. An advantage that cannot be attained any other way.
A ‘pay-to-win’ game generally features ‘micro-transactions’, but a game that features ‘micro-transactions’ doesn’t automatically become ‘pay-to-win’. An example of this is Forza 6. The player is given the ability to purchase in-game tokens, which enable purchase of vehicles otherwise unaffordable without playing through the campaign. These cars become available via game progression, but can be fast tracked via a ‘micro-transaction’.
It gets quite difficult to distinguish the two, especially when you factor in how many games are being released in an unfinished state, or have season passes available for purchase that include twice the amount of gameplay included in your original $60 purchase for one more small payment of $60.
Gaming today is a messy, business riddled entity that quite often preys on unsuspecting gamers, whether it be parents purchasing for their children or people such as myself who actively game as a hobby. The introduction of ‘micro-transactions’ has opened up a plethora of avenues for game developers and publishers to reach further into the pockets of consumers, without the need to produce substantial amounts of content such as new environments or story missions.
I myself am guilty of pulling out my credit card to purchase currency in Grand Theft Auto Online, purchasing a brand new car or jet – but more often than not, I’m quick to find others that have made the same purchase as me, having worked their way to a decent in-game bank account and reaped the benefit of their play time.
‘Pay-to-win’ games are a separate entity altogether – to group the general population of ‘pay-to-win’ titles with any triple A release, indie release or old-school title is cardinal sin. No great game is ‘pay-to-win’. Clash of Clans is ‘pay-to-win’, Adventure Capitalist is ‘pay-to-win’.
Steer clear of ‘pay-to-win’ titles. They’re designed to have players reaching into their pockets deeper and deeper with every day that passes, providing just enough joy and flashing lights to make you want more; preying on your natural urges. The flipside of that is, if you want to reskin your gun in CS:GO, and it’s going to cost you $2.99, go for it – you’re not getting an unfair advantage over other players, you’re not buying your way to the top. Who cares?
Gaming is something that should be enjoyed. The introduction of consoles was designed to make gaming an affordable household hobby, which it is. Even a top-end gaming PC isn’t a unachievable feat anymore. Make sure you invest your money where it matters, and not on 30 more coins to save a 100 hour wait to advance to the next level.
There are several different trains of thought on the definitions of both ‘micro-transactions’ and ‘pay-to-win’, I’d love to hear yours and discuss this further. Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.