The Pay-to-Win Trend: The New Price Tag on Video Games

By Alison K. Lanier

Normally gamers take pleasure in battling their way through digital hell and high water on the basis of their skills alone. A trend, one that is not exactly recent but one that is picking up steam, asks for a credit card rather than merit to work your way from one level to the next.

These games, colloquially dubbed pay-to-win games, offer in-game rewards and power ups for a price, making transitions from level-to-level less of a question of skill and more of a matter of buying one’s way through a game.

Nvate pay-to-win video games exclusive content by dead space 3, league of legends, battlefield 3

Credit: GameZone

Big release titles like “Battlefield 3” and “Dead Space 3,” according to Examiner and Gather Your Party, will now include these features. Already present in many games to varying degrees, the shift is generating grumbles from dedicated gamers who take this move as making the game unnecessarily easier for players who have the plastic but not the talent to beat the last “boss.”

What are Pay-to-Win Games?

Pay-to-win games come in a variety of packages. Some of the most well-known are the ever-popular “World of Warcraft” and the blossoming “League of Legends,” which draw in players with offers of free games. These are hybrid beasts that may have one price tag, but also ask for subscription fees or offer optional, paid-for benefits for players.

Companies rely on what IGN calls the “narrow corridor” of customers willing to pay the price to advance marginally more quickly or easily through a game that would otherwise cost them no more than the price on the box. Experimenting with the Chinese model of free-to-play games like “Tanks,” an online metropolis of 800,000 nonpaying players, companies eliminate entrance fees to draw more players in.

“The people who are not willing to pay $50, or $10 for subscription months, or 99 cents, you lose them,” Wargaming CEO Victor Kislyi described to IGN. “They just don’t enter. Never. They don’t have a chance to look at your game, to enjoy your game, they just don’t come.”

A Trend Building Steam

This formula for monetizing ostensibly free games has given the pay-to-win system a none too flattering reputation in the United States.

Last summer at Electronic Arts’ E3 conference, Gather Your Party reported EA’s announcement that it would be incorporating what it dubbed “exclusive content” into “Battlefield 3,” allowing users to access weapons in the game by paying a real-world paycheck. Simultaneously the initial price of the game dropped from the anticipated $75 to $49.99. So what’s the catch? A play through of the full game costs a purchaser $110.

Nvate pay-to-win video games exclusive content by dead space 3, league of legends, battlefield 3

This is an example of prices gamers can pay for “riot points” in the game, “League of Legends.”

“Dead Space 3” more recently joined the wave with their in-game “micro-transactions,” Examiner reports. Gamers will have the option of paying for extra content, with prices ranging from 99 cents for a “resource pack” to $4.99 for a “bot accelerator,” as well as the additional price tag of 99 cents for access to the online portion of the game. Technically, though, the company states that this game will not be a pay-to-win title, since there is no scenario in which players can buy their way to the next level of difficulty. However, the reaction of the consumer community, including commenters on Examiner’s article, views EA as more or less selling cheats to players willing to pay.

Pay-To-Win Worries

Pay-to-win games do not literally take you through every step of the game with the benefit of a credit card. Rather, video games whose titles promise problem solving and challenging quandaries, now allow their paying customers to stroll out of corners on which these competitive, strategy games are based.

Video games, whose few socially lauded merits essentially include their ability to foster gamers’ dedication, focus, coordination, and problem solving capabilities, have the experience of gameplay somewhat cheapened. The time required to play through the game is significantly decreased, so that the game contains less material gameplay for an ultimately larger price tag.

Finally, the greatest complaint against the play-to-win formula is the pervading lack of satisfaction that results from the lessened effort the games demand. These games market themselves as rewarding adventures whose challenge and therefore the final, rewarding pay-off for the victorious player is diminished.

Testing the Market

Unfortunately, the coordinated model of luring in customers and then accruing an extra profit from players seems to be working well for companies. One potential and beneficial outcome of the trend is that games could increase in difficulty after a much-moped-over slump into easy gameplay where big-title games take days instead of months to beat.

In this scenario, games would become increasingly challenging in order to tempt less-able players to pay the games’ additional price tags. Gamers would be able to play their way traditionally, working through problems and challenges, and more lackadaisical customers would be more or less forced to pay for the extra content and bonuses in order to complete the game.

Amid a generally negative reaction to a burgeoning trend, the possibility of more intricate and challenging games is a hopeful glimmer on the horizon for customers begrudgingly accepting the pay-to-win changes in current titles.

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