How to make Pay2Win more palatable (step 1: change the name)

All this talk recently has me thinking a lot about “Pay2Win” systems and whether there’s a way to make them more acceptable to some gamers. (I fully acknowledge that there’s a segment of gamers for whom there is no wiggle room on the topic. This post isn’t for them.)

The first thing I would do is give these systems a more accurate name. “Pay2Win” is deliberately antagonistic and not accurate. Just because you spend money in one of these games, it doesn’t guarantee you’re going to win. What it does is make your character more powerful. So let’s call it what it is: “Pay4Power” (and if we want to get really cute we can call cosmetic-only systems “Pay4Pretty”).

“Pay4Power” more accurately represents what these systems are. A way to make your character more powerful through spending money.

So now that we have that done, let’s come up with a rating system for our hypothetical game. Start with a system like Gear Score, but add to it a figure based on the level of the character and ideally, a figure based on the age of the account. My thinking here is that a level 1 character played by someone who has put 200 hours into the game is going to be more powerful than a level 1 character played by someone who just started. I don’t mean the character itself, but that character’s influence on the match based on player skill + gear + any character stats.

(I realize such a system would be easy to exploit via multiple accounts…I don’t have all the answers.)

So now there is a rating assigned to essentially the combination of you the player’s skill and your character’s stats. Let’s use THAT for matchmaking. That feels like a better way to get ‘fair’ matches to me. And it doesn’t matter how you got the gear, but it does reflect that the player who spent 50 hours playing to earn the gear is going to be a better player than the dude who has played for a day but spent $200 in the cash shop in order to get the same gear.

Next step is dangerous: segment the audience. In my hypothetical game there are three leagues that you can choose to play in.

The e-Sports League — If you play in this league, everyone uses standard gear and characters, leaving the outcome of every game 100% to player skill. The rating system is not used in the e-Sports league (it might have it’s own rating system based on win/loss ratio for matchmaking).

The Purity League — This league is closed to any character that has purchased gear. If you went to the cash shop and got a great weapon, tough. You can’t use that weapon if you’re playing in the Purity League. Matchmaking based on rating is in effect for the Purity League

The Casual League — This is where most of the audience will probably be. This is the “I play for fun” league and it doesn’t matter if you got your gear from grinding or from buying stuff from the cash shop. You can play here. Matchmaking based on rating is in effect for the Casual League.

And that is pretty much it. We rename the system to remove some of the stigma from it (and to more accurately reflect what it is) and we give those opposed to cash shops a couple of leagues to play in that aren’t ‘polluted’ by cash shop purchases. By coming up with a rating system that attempts to factor in player skill, we get more even matches in both the Purity and Casual Leagues, the idea being that win or lose, a close match is generally more fun.

And the publishers still get their income from the “whales” who, presumably, will be happy to play around in the Casual League since it pretty much represents the norm in the games we have now. That means that I (in the end, it’s all about ME) don’t have to pay for DLC and Season Passes.

Next up, I solve world hunger and end all wars…

3 thoughts on “How to make Pay2Win more palatable (step 1: change the name)

  1. As pay2win is a term applied by the players to be critical of a games earning model I seriously doubt there would much reception to more moderate terms.

    Publishers however could try to adopt such in an effort to be more transparent and head off the negative reactions.

    1. Yeah I know angry players aren’t going to start using a more moderate term. I was mostly thinking about this from a game designer/developer point of view. I just think we’re going to be stuck with these crate systems in some form, at least for a while. So this was kind of a thought experiment of whether there’s any way to do them without making so many people angry.

      I mean some games seem to get by with just cosmetic items, and that seems like the ideal path to take. No one seems to get too upset by those any more (remember the reaction when Blizzard sold that first WOW mount for $25? The Sparkle Pony, as we called it). Back then people got really mad that there was a cosmetic item in the game that they couldn’t earn without spending money.

      1. Oh my gawd! Sparkle pony.. So forgot that and others back then. A new concept and players were so enraged because everyone considered they were entitled to all content. Cosmetics are very acceptable now

        With transactions that affect performance I expect it will always be a hard sell. Players will always hate repetitive losing and will tend to reject anything perceived to make that more likely. So whatever evolves has to overcome that, at least in perception.

        I am sure companies will continue to adapt their marketing to more palatable terminology. It is the way the world currently functions, be it music, videos, apps , twitter cheering or game content.

        Wonder what the drama will be in another decade or two.

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