Thursday 27 June 2013

Free2Play need not be Pay2Win

Tobold has been on a roller-coaster ride this last few days, from when he believed that "Pay2Win is not an issue", couldn't even admit to knowing what "Pay2Win" meant, and claimed not to know a single Pay2Win game, to his later hyperbolic claim that "Everything is Pay2Win".

This latter claim is based on the idea that Free2Play games must monetize by selling stuff in an item shop, and that in order to sell them, they must address somebody's idea of winning. So, for instance, if I am a hat collector in a particular game, then I am likely to buy hats that are sold in the item store, because otherwise I won't be able to make a complete collection. In other words, it appeals to my personal idea of winning in this particular game, and if it didn't, I wouldn't buy it.

I have two observations to make:

Firstly, people buy fluff items for the fun of it. We don't need to win to have fun. For instance, in WoW, Some people like to use Leyara's Locket, or Noggenfogger Elixir just for the fun of it. I dare say that even if these items were only available in a cash store, there would still be takers, just for the fun of it. Even people who weren't pet collectors bought the pandaren monk, just for the fun of it. This is an important point, as we will see later.

Secondly, I agree with the main thrust of Tobold's argument: in-game items sold in the cash store are usually bought to improve your odds of winning. That's why I've always argued against them. They are not fair, and they are not perceived to be fair. When people talk of "fluff" items, or "cosmetic" items, they often simply mean "Items that don't impact the competitive game that I'm playing, such as boss-killing". The Pandaren Monk and the Sparkly Pony did not impact on the raiders. But they did impact on mount and pet collectors. For them, these were not cosmetic items. When the Sword of a Thousand Truths goes on sale in the same real-money item shop, raiders can't really complain if they ignored the earlier complaints of the pet and mount collectors.

First they came for the pet-collectors,
And I didn't speak out, because I wasn't a pet-collector
Okay, that rather over-dramatizes the situation. But, it doesn't have to be that way, in Free2Play games. There are ways of monetizing these games other than just selling in-game items for real money.

Before I get to what these ways might be, first I want to talk about the nature of Pay2Win. Everybody here already knows that it doesn't mean that I pay some cash to a game company, and they display a "You win" screen. It really means "Pay for a competitive advantage". I think we're all agreed on that. If not, just read "Pay for a competitive advantage" anywhere that I wrote Pay2Win.

That raises the important point of competition. If everyone wins, nobody wins. If everybody must pay for the same competitive advantage, it confers no advantage. That's why I don't think anybody seriously includes subscription games in the list of pay2win games. Everybody playing the game must make that payment, so no  player is advantaged by it (and non-players aren't in the competition). Also, it must be obvious who is winning. There should be a clear way to calculate it. For instance in soccer, goals scored less goals conceded tells you who is winning a particular game; games won less games lost tells you who is winning a particular league, and so on. Leagues formalize this by awarding league points for a win, a draw or a loss. Similarly in Azeroth, it's pretty easy to tell who is winning the gear race. For instance, on my realm, I'm currently being beaten by 200 or so well-geared adventurers. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, though, and it isn't so easy to agree on a transmogrification winner. That's also why portraiture is not an Olympic sport.

I'm writing this article to remind people that there are ways to monetize Free2Play games that are not Pay2Win. I'm not promoting particular ways of doing so. But as an aid to your creative juices, here are some examples. If you think any one of them is a bad example, I will readily agree with you. If you think any one of them is actually a Pay2Win item, I withdraw it. My point is simply to try to get people to think of ways of monetizing Free2Play games without making them seem unfair.

On to examples.
When I open my browser, it displays my home page, which is Google. How does Google monetise their product? By showing you adverts. Okay, I wouldn't be fond of this solution, as it might not be good for immersion, but it certainly isn't a Pay2Win solution.

In World of Tanks, I pay for garage slots and for barracks with real money, so I can keep more of my  tanks and crew. Otherwise when I want a new tank, I have to scrap an existing tank and crew. In Star Trek Online, I use real money to buy character slots. Rift now sells bag slots. You may say that this does confer a slight competitive advantage, but it is so slight that most people would not perceive it to be unfair. If you do, I withdraw it.

Fun items:
I can imagine selling armour dyes and transmogrification services for real money.
Hairstyles, tattoos, skin and hair dyes, body shaping (such as the items I mentioned earlier).
Dance Studio!

WoW already sells content, on top of its subscription. You couldn't get to outland before you bought the Burning Crusade expansion pack. Today, you can't get to Pandaria without paying for the content. LOTRO does this  too, and it's a great way to monetize the actual reason we play these games. In a Free2Play game, I would happily pay for access to zones (including dungeons and raids).

My examples may be poor, and I happily withdraw them all. But the point is to free your mind. Tell me what you would pay for that you don't think is Pay2Win. Think different.

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Quote of the year!

Tobold is at his usual tricks, raising straw man arguments so he can demolish them. His latest strawman is one he's very fond of: 'stupid "all Free2Play is evil" ranting'. Of course, there's nobody saying that Free2Play is evil. But Free2Play is really a proxy term for what is dear to rich-but-time-poor Tobold's heart: Pay2Win. But when I commented that Pay2Win is the issue, not Free2Play, Tobold replied with this astonishing response:

"Pay2Win is not an issue"

I am dumbfounded! The sad thing is, he really believes it. The internet is chock full of discussion and complaints about Pay2Win games, but Tobold has his blinkers on, and doesn't think it's an issue at all. Instead, he tries to muddy the waters by pretending that nobody agrees on what it even means, exactly.

Anyway, Tobold did not choose to answer my substantive point which was that in a game of skill, if you can improve your chance of winning by opening your cheque-book rather than by improving your skill, it rather removes the point of the game.

Now you may make the point that not all games are games of skill, and I won't disagree with you. Some are games of exploration, some are games of collecting, and so on. But where a game is a game of skill, what's the point in paying to win it (or paying for a precursor to it)? It doesn't improve your skill in the slightest.

And I'm not against somebody writing cheques to pay for training (such as professional athletes do), because ultimately, the trainer is simply helping you to develop your skill to its full potential.

Wednesday 19 June 2013

Balmy days

Our guild is in low-key mode at the moment. This always happens at this time in the summer. People are on holidays. Students are doing exams. The sun is shining and people prefer to be in the garden at the barbecue than in a cave full of bats.

So we're taking it easy. We have a team of XP-capped level 70s who are having fun getting all the Heroic BC dungeon achievements. Maybe they can get a few BC raids as well. Those heroic BC instances are a lot of fun, though! Much more so than the Pandaren "heroics", which are more of a sprint to the finish line. You need to really think about each pull.

We're also doing Pandaren Challenge Mode dungeons. These really are challenging, and so far we're just learning. There are a lot of mechanics in these that everyone ignores in heroic mode but that will kill you if you ignore them in challenge mode. Also, there are some mechanics in challenge mode that are not in heroic mode at all. Part of the fun in these challenge mode dungeons is to figure out for yourself how to deal with them, for they aren't well documented on wowhead and other sites.

Gevlon has a nice list of features for an world different to Azeroth that I'd like to visit. I'd like to add to his list. I'd love it if you can't look things up on a wiki somewhere.Oh, and perilous travel.