Thursday 16 May 2013

Toys and Games

Tobold, who often has the opposite opinion to me on paying for games, had another pop at his favourite strawman, "people [who] have very incoherent attitudes towards ... Pay2Win". His point is that WoW and Rift cannot possibly be pay2win games because they have no win condition. It's a very disingenuous argument that he rolls out to support his view that time-poor but money-rich players shouldn't be at a disadvantage in these games, compared to people who have lots of time. To see why it is disingenuous (and incoherent, incidentally), first let me digress, and discuss the nature of toys and games.

What is a toy? It's something that you play with, for fun. A ball, for instance is a toy. A train-set is a toy. The play is normally undirected/self-directed. When that play becomes directed by a code of rules, the toy is generally being used as part of a puzzle or game. For instance, model soldiers: I can play with them, paint them, hide them in the sugar bowl and generally have undirected fun with them. I can also use them to play tabletop wargames. My ball can be used  to play undirectedly, but there are lots of games that are played with a ball: football, kerbie, keepy-uppy. The best toys are those that you play with for years without getting tired of them.

What is a game? A game is goal-directed play, and it is competitive play. In a game there can be a winner and there can be a loser1. Football is a game that uses a toy (a ball). Poker is a game that uses a toy (a pack of cards). (Aside: goal-directed play in which there is no competition is called a puzzle. I can complete my Sudoku puzzle, or I can put it aside for now and come back to it later, or I can give up. There is no competitor involved).

Virtual worlds are primarily toys. Second Life, Minecraft; these are worlds in which the self-directed nature of the play is paramount.

What is disengenuous about Tobold's argument is that a virtual world is a toy which is used to play many games. Tobold pretends to ignore the competitive nature of these games and only looks at the toy nature of these worlds - "tra, la, la, I can go exploring, I can see what's in this cave, I can make myself a festival suit, I can kiss a frog, I can bow before the king of Stormwind, I can ride on a dragon's back through the clouds. How does it affect your play if I've bought the Sword of a Thousand truths, to help in my self-directed play?"

The problem is that there are games within this virtual world. Competitive games. And not just "Realm first kill of Lei-Shen" or "Top Arena Team 2v2" kind of games. There is also the game of keeping your guild ahead of your peers' guilds. There are league-style ladders, in which I am both winning against those below me on the ladder, and losing against those above me. For instance, my guild is about realm 35-40 in raiding (depending on whose ladder you look at). That means we are in a competition in which we are being beaten by 35-40 other guilds, and in which we are beating about 2000 other guilds (many of whom don't realize they were entered in the competition :-)). Or another game is "See who can get the highest ilvl gear". Again, there's a ladder. Same for achievements, companion pet ownership, mount ownership, cooking recipes learned and so on. There are many games in these virtual worlds, many of which we don't choose to participate in. But that doesn't mean we don't affect them.

If the Sword of a Thousand Truths is sold in a cash shop, that defeats the nature of these games, or demands that all who want to play them have to buy the sword. It doesn't even matter if Tobold doesn't want to play these games. By making the sword available in a cash shop, these games are greatly affected.

There are also puzzles, which is what I think the majority of raiders are primarily interested in (even though they do keep an eye on their guild rank, as well). The puzzle is "What must our guild do to defeat this boss". This is a tricky puzzle. Of course, we must study tactics, and often invent new tactics for the particular nature of our team; we have to learn to execute those tactics; We also have to recognize when we need to improve our gear. Maybe we have to go into a different dungeon just to find a particular piece of equipment that we need for this dungeon. Figuring out what items we need and how to get them is part of the puzzle. If we can just buy gear at the cash shop, the puzzle is spoiled.

It is a source of confusion that these virtual worlds are called games, when in actual fact they are toys that are used to play games. Tobold uses precisely this confusion when he rhetorically asks "Can you Pay2Win in a PvE game that has no win condition?" You see right there what he's done? He is claiming that because the "game" has no win condition, it's impossible to pay to win. What he really means is that the toy that is the virtual world has no win condition. But the games played with that toy do. He also asks (again rhetorically) "Is buying something you could also get from grinding Pay2Win?" Well, clearly it is, because of the competitive nature of these games. Many of them are about who can do something first, or before somebody else. If you can do something first simply by paying for it, or by paying for a precursor to it, your time-based games are dead in the water. Just because Tobold isn't currently playing these games doesn't mean that cash shops won't affect these games.

All the while, Tobold supports these Pay2Win concepts because he believes that it will make life better for the average player. That is a belief that is not evidence-based. My gut feeling is that it will just trivialize both the toy and the games played with it. Again, that is not evidence-based, it's just a gut feeling. Its reductio ad absurdum would be to repair the Broken I.W.I.N. Button and put it up for sale in the cash shop.

1 A game need not always have a winner: everybody could lose/draw. A game can be against a computer opponent, or against the clock, or against your previous best. The point is that you, the player, can win or lose.


  1. To be a game and not a toy you need to have rules. Your "game of keeping your guild ahead of your peers' guilds" or "server first kill" game do not actually have rules. You made some rules up, but your so-called competitors didn't agree to them, or aren't even aware of them.

    Imagine you and me drive on the highway. I just want to get from A to B. You declare that this is a game and make up a rule that this is a race and speed past me. What you don't understand is that you are still playing with a toy, because the game only exists in your imagination. You can't compete against somebody who isn't even aware that he is in a competition, or doesn't agree with you what the rules for that competition should be.

  2. Tobold, the rules are set by the sites hosting the ladders, such as GuildOx or WoWProgress. I didn't make up these rules. All the guilds listed were listed by players who wanted their guilds in the competition. I was being facetious about the 2000 guilds, earlier, but to be serious, there are hundreds of guilds on each server that are trying each trying to improve their rank.

    I should think the rules of "server first kill" are well known.

    At least you don't try to deny the substance of this post, which is that Pay2Win can affect the games people play with this toy. What you try to do with your response here is to try to deny that these games even exist!

    Not everyone is playing these games. But many are. They exist.

  3. Let me get this straight... A subset of those who play with a toy create a meta game (e.g. WoWProgress), which entitles them to demand that the maker of the toy not sell an item that will mess up their meta game?

    I agree with Tobold -- MMO "toys" have no internal win conditions; they are designed to feed you repetitive content to keep you as a paying customer. Participating in a competitive meta game can indeed be compelling way to enjoy that content, but there are many players who don't play your meta game. You are certainly entitled to petition the developer not to undermine your meta game, but clearly it's a market driven decision from the developer's perspective, whether they can make more money by selling "magic swords" than they lose from disappointing meta gamers.

    If you don't want to "Pay2Win," don't! It's up to you to figure out how to prevent other people from using the "magic sword" to cheat at your meta game. Like Gevlon's blue raiding guild, you can say no to the "magic sword."

    1. You are perfectly correct, Goeben. Toys have no internal win conditions, which was really a point I was making in this post. But games do. As you say, I don't have to Pay2Win if I don't want to. I'm quite happy to take my money elsewhere.

    2. By the way, Goeben, you answered you own question (which may have been a rhetorical question) in the last sentence you wrote in paragraph 2.

  4. Tobold is however partly wrong in this case.

    Quotes from his blog:
    "Many of the people bragging how great they are at this "game" only managed to beat those who didn't even know there was a competition"

    "And even different groups that all consider the game competitive all play under different rule sets"

    "Nobody was ever declared the winner of World of Warcraft except by himself"

    How would your define WoW arena? I consider arena an official competition that can be played within the toy/game that is worldofwarcraft.

    There are fixed rules. Your rating is obvious when you step in arena, even your ranking is displayed in game. It is fairly obvious to players that they are in a ranked competition with other players.

    There are fixed rules. You gain ranking by killing your enemy teams. Number one of a group will win an unique title. Top 0.5% will get another title.
    No one has 'won' football. Teams/people have won world championships. People/teams have been declared winners of Arena seasons

    There are even spectators. There are some players who have earned over 100.000 in income from playing in the last year, although you could argue that this is because they monetize their playing time.
    They generally are professional WoW players who make a good income because of their performance within the game.

    How is arena not competitive? It might be a mini game (within a game or a game through a toy), it however is a competitive aspect of WoW that can be won.

    1. Indeed. "Arena" and "Realm First XXX" are games invented by Blizzard.

  5. Blogs have long tails. Readers of this diary entry might be interested to know that Tobold replied to this in an article entitled MMORPGs and win conditions

  6. I should also note that I followed this up later with Free2Play need not be Pay2Win"