Many game development companies are turning their attention towards free play with the ability to pay for special bonuses. In a lot of these platforms, players often pay for high-end equipment and in-game materials that are inaccessible to others in which they are given an unfair advantage over those players. These are referred to as “pay-to-win” games. But are they as entertaining to play as these companies claim?
Why Pay-to-Win Design?
When companies make games that focus on pay-to-win, the only true objective is money. In a player-versus-player environment, gamers will pay a great deal of money for items and gear that provide a distinct advantage. It is this need to be superior that pay-to-win developers focus on as it is incredibly profitable.
Preying on the Unskilled
Nearly everyone that plays a video game wants to be good. The lack of skill is what causes game hackers to hack and people with money to buy uber gear. Many of these individuals get a sense of, “Look, I am better than you” even though they aren’t playing on the same level. For example, my 16-year old loves to duel anyone in EverQuest. He constantly has to reassure himself that he has skill when it comes to combat. He’ll also invite anyone to duel – especially if they’re 20 levels below him.
Alienating Potential Customers
One of the major drawbacks to developing a pay-to-win game is the fact that you’ll alienate a large portion of your target market. People will initially install the game because it’s free, but it no longer becomes entertaining if a 12-year old with superior firepower turns you into goo inside the first five seconds of every round.
Wolfteam was a game that I played a great deal with my sons a few years ago. However, all of us stopped playing because people with money bought equipment and gear that made it near impossible for regular players to beat. Now, the developers believe that in this scenario we’ll spend the extra money to play on that level. Unfortunately, that isn’t going to happen in a growing market.
More to Choose From
Games are getting easier and less costly to develop – especially if there are free open source game making platforms like Blender available. This means that the market for free-to-play games is growing exponentially, and you’re competing with a ton of different titles. In my family, we all got tired of Wolfteam and decided to move on to the next game.
My Influence Over Teenage Play
I know that I had influence over the kinds of games my kids love to play. But moving from a pay-to-win platform was a simultaneous and unanimous decision. Services such as Steam filled with similar games to Wolfteam and we decided to try as many as we could. I didn’t have to talk anyone into anything. In fact, it was just the opposite. My son’s wound up talking me into playing games like League of Legends where the PvP aspect was more balanced whether you have money or not.
One of the reasons why League of Legends is so popular is because it doesn’t alienate potential customers. This is true with Smite, Tribes and a slew of others. These games focus purchases on other things such as skins and playable characters. Although there are minor bonuses that you can purchase that may give you a slight edge over competition, you can purchase the same items as a free player by using experience or other forms of in-game currency that accumulates over time. Everyone has the capacity to play on the same level. In pay-to-win scenarios, this doesn’t happen which means many players simply move on instead of putting a few dollars into the game for a cool skin or other character models.
I’m Not Cheap, Just Frugal
Games that I enjoy, I have no problem feeding money into. I am a fan of everything SOE, now known as Daybreak, and will continue dumping money into those games. Developers have forgotten why they should make games. Making money is a nice feature, but entertaining the masses should be the number one priority. If a PvP aspect is profitable by pay-to-win, add an area that is fun for non-pvp as Zombies Monsters Robots did with it’s co-op game play. Otherwise, people like me that have money sporadically will spend it elsewhere. The market is vastly huge and you need to engage the frugal players as well as those that have money to burn.