Literal Pay to Win

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Actual Pay to Win

Warframe 2016-01-14 21-41-48-21

One of the bogeymen of the MMO industry for years has been the concept of “Pay To Win” or the fear that those with the most money can end up with the best stuff.  The cycle of what makes an MMO has been right or wrong built on this illusion of a meritocracy.  The general idea being, that if you work hard and get really good… you can have the best items in the game for your efforts.  The problem with this is that it in itself has always been a lie.  Last night I spent several hours hanging out with friends playing Diablo 3, and during that time I simply was along for the ride… getting carried so unbelievably hard that during greater rifts I was gaining a paragon level damned near every-time my friend Carth killed something.  Nothing about this situation is me actually having any real merit, but instead was a situation of I knew someone who was willing to drag me along for fame and glory while at the same time increasing their own magic find chances.  The same has always been the case with raiding in general, that it is more about who you have an “in” with and that can get you into this or that raid… rather than pure skill.  However these games are built under the pretenses that these obstacles need to be there in order to maintain the social order, and keep the gamers from rioting.

In the past when there has been even an hint of “Pay To Win” there have been riots in the streets.  The problem being that, there are many games right now with ways to shortcut your way to victory.  Granted in many cases they don’t take you all the way there, and you still have to do a lot of things to truly catch up.  It has become perfectly acceptable for games like World of Warcraft or Everquest II to sell character boosts, that allow you to jump instantly to an end game equivalent level and be decked out in equivalent gear, saving you the time of actually leveling.  So the question is… why is this acceptable but it is not acceptable to sell armor and weapons?  I’ve been mulling over these questions while playing Warframe over the last few weeks.  The truth is… that game is absolutely a pay to win scenario.  If you were to spend multiple thousands of dollars on that game, you could in theory have the absolute best in slot gear for every single frame.  The funny thing is that while I know this is the case… it doesn’t actually hinder my enjoyment.  I don’t feel like I am somehow being robbed of my experience, but instead I know in the back of my head there is always an out… if I ever get down a path that ends up being too grindy.

Money for Time

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“Pay to Win” in the case of Warframe is a bit of a misnomer, because in the purest sense that would mean you are getting something with your money that no one else can get without stepping up to the plate and spending an equal amount.  There are lots of games with lootbox grab bags…. and these always seem super insidious to me…  I am looking at you Rift and your mounts.  Warframe however just feels honest about it.  You can farm a planetary boss over and over until you get all three parts of a Warframe to drop… and then purchase the equivalent blueprint off the market for in game credits, or you can just bypass the entire process and pay 200-400 platinum to have it in your grubby hands right then and there.  You are paying to speed up time…  because there is the act of actually grinding the components… and then gathering up the materials through running missions on planets.  Finally there is the actual time of crafting the thing.  Each of the three sub components take about 24 hours to craft, and then the final Warframe craft takes between 2 and 3 days depending on if it is a normal or a prime frame.  So if you absolutely have to have something right then and there…. you can pay a premium to get it delivered into your hands.

What I find more interesting though is just how thriving the secondary market is when it comes to purchasing items.  There are so many things that you can trade in this game, and for almost every single one of them there is a secondary market.  Players are limited to a specific number of trades per day, but you can often times find what you are looking for in the secondary market for prices cheaper than the official shop.  So while you can’t actually buy the Prime Rhino Warframe from the shop right now, you can find a player that has collected the four component pieces and essentially pay them platinum for the act of farming it for you.  So the cycle is interested, in that those who have the time to run missions over and over to farm up complete pattern sets….  can easily turn that time into money.  The folks who don’t have the time, but can afford to spend some money… can turn that money into the resources that help them play the game more efficiently.  It is far from a utopia, but it is nowhere near the apocalypse that most MMO players would predict.

Two Way Street

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I think the key to this feeling overall “fair” is the fact that it is absolutely a two way street.  There are lots of times in MMOs where the “house” steps in the middle and offers a not entirely fair deal to both sides of the equation.  For example in the case of the World of Warcraft token… it is not literally a case of one human selling a commodity to another human.  Instead there is an algorithm in the middle, that buys tokens from players for a floating amount of in game gold… and then sells that token back to players who want to use it in lieu of subscription time.  The problem is… this formula takes human nature out of the equation, the thing that makes the whole experience interesting.  In games like Rift and EQ2, that have direct exchange of subscription token to currency between two players….  the patient player can wait out the best possible deal.  There were many cases where I sat on a token for weeks until I found someone who absolutely had to have that token right then to continue their substitution, and wound up getting a premium for it.  Similarly I am sure there are players who took advantage of market surplus to stock up on tokens when they were cheap and ended up spending far less in game currency as a result.  The reason why that felt better, was that there were options… that you were not essentially dealing with a vending machine that took its on theoretical cut.

What I think I like the most about this situation in Warframe is that it feels like I have a lot of options.  I can go much more slowly and solo the planets trying to collect the items I need, or I can pester my friends to run it with me multiple times .  I could go to the aftermarket and hit the trade channel and look for the items I need to finish out a blueprint set.  Or if i am really desperate I can simply open my pocket book, but in all cases I have several different paths to the end goal, and as a result I don’t feel nearly as trapped as I often do in other games.  For example right now I would love to have a Moose in World of Warcraft, but the raid I have connections with… that can easily get me one… happens to run at the same time as we record AggroChat.  Do I want a moose because it is some status symbol, that somehow places me above other players?  God no… I just like collecting mounts, and I like the idea that it looks like a normal group mount but can also fly.  If I could plunk down money and pick that mount up on the store…  you can bet I would rather than trying to do the copious amount of social engineering it will actually take to get me that damned mount.  Warframe…. I can take either path.  I can work with friends towards a goal… or I can simply grease the wheels and get everything I feel like I want faster.  In truth…  I feel like we as players are far more scared of “Pay to Win” than is really warranted.

 

Performance Anxiety

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Cash Shop Fodder

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With the impending launch of the Wildstar free to play model, I thought I would talk this morning about one of my problems with cash shops in general.  One of the most popular items in any MMO cash shop is the “experience potion” for lack of a better generic term.  These are items that grant a limited duration buff and increase the aquisition of something.  These sometimes apply to experience but also pvp systems and token currencies.  They seem to be fairly ubiquitous when it comes to MMOs and they often times hand them out like candy in your introductory packs.  My theory is that they want to get players hooked on these early so they keep coming back to the cash shop anytime they run out.  Now if you had boomboxes in Wildstar you already have a few of these more than likely.  My problem is…  I never spend them.  I just logged into my Rift account to take a quick census and I am currently sitting on somewhere between 150 and 200 of these in various forms.  They are generally locked from you selling them on the auction house…  and since I am not using them they just take up inventory space.

The problem I have with them is that I feel like there is a value associated with them.  They cost money, and I want to make sure I get my most out of them.  So when a game gives me one.. I hold onto it forever never quite finding the right time to spend it.  If the potion is an hour long, it feels like I need to find the perfect time to use it when I will have an hour of uninterrupted time at the keyboard.  Even more so it feels like I have to figure out the optimal way to spend my bonus experience time.  I do a lot of running around aimlessly in video games, and when I have used an experience potion it feels like I am “on the clock”.  I have to get the most out of my time and need to do whatever I am doing with minimal downtime.  As a result I just end up crushed with indecision and so they sit in my inventory unspent collecting dust.  I end up resenting them being there, because they are taking up space that I could be using for other things.  I didn’t want them in the first place, and the game keeps handing them to me like they are important and special… and something that SHOULD be desired.

Performance Anxiety

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This just highlights a bigger problem I have in games, that I will  call performance anxiety for lack of a better term.  It is like there are times when I have to be super focused on the game and take it more seriously than I really want to.  When I sign up to raid I accept the fact that once the raid starts it is “go time”.  The rest of my game time however I want to be able to stop and smell the roses.  The problem is when I group with another living person… I feel like I am also “on the clock” and responsible for making the most of that time grouped together.  So instead other than dungeons and raids I actively avoid grouping with anyone.  That way I am only responsible for my own enjoyment and won’t feel guilty when I need to step away from the screen because my wife needs me, or the animals have knocked something over and I have to go investigate what they just broke.  The worst is when I am in an MMO and there are quest objectives to be done.  I feel like I not only have to be aware of my own needs… but the needs of everyone in my party and assure that they also accomplish whatever they need to get done before moving on myself.

I realize all of this is irrational, but this is the sort of mental struggle I go through each time I accept someone else’s group invite.  Most of the time I can steel myself against the anxiety and just push forward, but there are other times…  when I just cannot risk taking responsibility for others.  I talked some yesterday about my current desire to “hide out” and as such I thought I would talk a bit this morning about the other side of the coin.  Grouping with other people is often times a draining experience for me.  I shift into responsible adult mode, and step up to the plate like I know what I am doing.  I am willing to take on this mantle for my friends and my guild…  but I am rarely willing to take on this mantle for strangers. I realize most other people don’t quite have the hang up I do with grouping with strangers.  So when someone asks me to tank something, or dps something…  I always feel strange asking if it is a guild only group.  The worst of these experiences so far has been when it comes to partially queuing for raid content.  The anxiety that comes with tanking for strangers in a dungeon… is nothing compared to the anxiety of tanking for a raid group full of strangers.  For me at least it ranks among the least comfortable experiences, and I would rather simply do nothing… than queue with a bunch of people I don’t know.

Opening The Curtain

I get the impression sometimes that folks seem to think I have my act together.  The truth is I am just as strange and vulnerable as the next person.  I put on a really good front sometimes, and I do a fairly good job of pushing down my own insecurities.  You might ask yourself… why in the world would I be opening up like this?  Well the truth is that I know there are lots of people out there with their own quirks, that think they are somehow lesser for them.  My theory is that by showing the weak points in my own armor, that others might be more comfortable with themselves as a result.  Once this down cycle finishes I will be back to my normal self again, and the armor will go back up.  In the mean time I am talking about the things I am struggling with, in hopes that it might help someone out there.  We all have our own hang-ups and we learn to deal with them however we can.  My coping mechanism tends to be disappearing for a bit while my shields recharge.  Tonight I will be submitting myself to a raid group where I assume that we are ultimately going to have to PUG people…  even though every fiber of my being tells me to run screaming into the night.  There is a certain power in knowing your own limitations and forcing yourself to face them.  I’ve learned over the years that everyone is broken inside…  just most are better at hiding it than others.