Thursday 15 January 2015

Cosmetic items and paying for power

Gevlon has a very interesting article on what defines a "cosmetic item" in a game. While I generally agree with much of this I have a few reservations. The value of "cosmetic" in Gevlon's definition is one that won't affect anyone's gameplay. Gevlon goes further and suggests that this is the basis on which we can determine if a game is pay2win*. If an item affects somebody's gameplay it is a pay2win game.

Whilst I can agree with that, I don't think it is sufficient to determine that a game is play2win. There are items that may not affect my gameplay that nonetheless increase the power of other players competing with me.

To take an example, let's look at premium tanks in World of Tanks. Premium tanks are acquired in one of two ways: usually they are bought with cash, either directly through the web-store, or indirectly by buying a currency called gold through the web-store, and buying the premium tank with gold. The second and more unusual way is to win the tank by completing an in-game time-limited mission (for example, I won a ToG II by completing a mission called Togtober last October. Most dedicated players were able to complete this mission: it wasn't onerous, only time-consuming. However no new player can ever complete the mission, because the closing date is past). Most premium tanks aren't available in this way.

My premium tank may be no better in a particular match than your standard tank, and will not change your gameplay, but I have two extra advantages that I bought with my premium tank:
1. I earn extra credits, so I can afford more credit-bought premium ammo than you can (all else being equal), and
2. I can share a crew between my premium tank and a standard tank, thus training that crew twice as fast as  you can train your crew - I mean that I'll have one well-trained crew capable of crewing two tanks, to your two half-trained crews (or well-trained and untrained) after an equal number of matches.

Of course, in-game, you won't know whether my crew was fast-trained, gold-trained or simply normally-trained. You won't know if my premium ammo was credit-bought after a long grind, credit-bought after a short grind in a premium, or shop bought. And you won't care. You'll never meet me again, and it won't change your gameplay - driving a premium tank doesn't signal any level of competence or damage-dealing ability to other players, and plenty of non-premium tanks carry premium ammo**. The tank itself is nothing special in battle. Nonetheless I buy myself power when I buy a premium tank, which seems like a cosmetic item. In itself it is not more powerful than your standard tank. It gives me a little more power than you over the course of several matches, but that is irrelevant to you, because we will only meet once in battle.

See Hetzer Forever for more on that.

* Syncaine makes the point that it's more exactly pay-4-power. I think we can all agree that this is what we mean by pay2win.

** Of course, premium ammo is a clear non-cosmetic pay2win item. My point is that the premium tank seems like a cosmetic item, while also being pay2win.


  1. "gold" ammo, is clearly a power item. While it's now available for credits, it's completely uneconomical (no way you can pay for gold ammo by playing with gold ammo). This power item then makes everything that earns it powerful. Including premium tanks.

    If the gold ammo would be removed from the game, premium tanks would no longer would make you more powerful.

    If premium tanks would be removed, gold ammo would still provide unfair advantage.

    1. I certainly agree that "gold" ammo is the main pay2win item in the game. But even if gold ammo were removed, the boost to crew training is also a minor power increase. The boost to credit earnings (which I didn't mention at all in the article, I grant you) is also a very minor power increase, as it allows me to buy modules earlier.

    2. Earning stuff faster isn't Pay-4-Power, it's Pay-2-Skip, which is very different.

      LoL lets you skip ahead if you buy an XP boost, but that XP boost won't help you win a game, just like an LP boost getting you more champs doesn't result in better odds to win a game.

      CoC lets you skip ahead, but being ahead doesn't result in winning clan wars (because the game is smart and matches you with others at your level, so you are just skipped to play with them rather than 'younger' accounts).