Raph Koster has my back (more Pay4Power discussion)

There’s a blog post from Raph Koster making the rounds. It’s worth a read, in my opinion:
Some current game economics

It’s pretty obvious that Koster knows more about game development economics than I do, given that it’s his profession, so I was feeling kind of validated when I read what he has to say about pay2win Pay4Power and to a lesser extent, loot crates in general.

On the former he says this, which is exactly the point I tried to make recently:

Pretty much every physical sport uses pay to win. You buy a better tennis racket, better sneakers, better racecar, better golf clubs, because you think it will get you an advantage. We just don’t like it in videogames because digital in theory frees us of that unfairness. Though of course, we cheerfully buy Alienware computers and Razer gaming keyboards… ahem.

And what I said (in the comments of Final SWBF2 drama llama post (for now))

For that matter, on PC the person who can afford the rig to run at the best frame rate and has the fastest internet connection has paid to win over the person who has a modest PC and lives somewhere that broadband is still very slow. There’s dozens of ways one player has an advantage over another.

On the loot crate/gacha systems Koster made this point (he’s talking about potential legislation around them):

But we have to be careful there too, because after all games use random loot drops of various sorts all over the place. Any policies, regulations, or laws will have to be careful to draw that line in such a way that they don’t inadvertently ban Diablo or coin-op Tetris — which also features random drops on a small repeated transaction basis, as do most arcade games actually!

And me, once again from the comments, this time comments to SW Battlefront II drama llama, stage 2:

To me, putting in time to unlock new things is just a natural part of gaming, as is dealing with RNG to see if you get what you want. In a lot of ways what drops from a boss battle and a “loot crate” are pretty similar in that you don’t know if you’re going to get something you want/need or something you’re going to crush for components. I mean clearly HOW you get them is different.

Sorry if I sound like I’m tooting my own horn here. I guess I am. But sometimes when you feel alone in a crowd, finding someone with some expertise who shares at least some of your opinions is really gratifying.

By the way, I still play Star Wars Battlefront II every day. Last night I was at something like 29,000 credits so I unlocked Luke Skywalker for 15,000 “just because” though honestly I prefer playing gun-toting characters to the heroes. My only gripe with the game so far is that the servers have been laggy recently, which is a big issue but has nothing to do with Paying4Power or loot crates.

5 thoughts on “Raph Koster has my back (more Pay4Power discussion)

  1. It’s nice when Raph gets involved. Doubly so if it provides some confirmation. The good doctor!

    Some counterpoints:

    1) Equipment argument – Carey price in three year old pads is still better than me in this year’s best. (That’s a hockey goalie analogy, in case you aren’t versed in the sport!) Now, if I could buy a smaller net, that is where it becomes unfair. If the core of the game is altered by purchase is the issue. So I am in a 100M dash, but if I dropped $1000, I only have to run 90M. I still have to play and perform, but have just made it easier.I still might lose to a person much faster than I.

    2) Having a better computer doesn’t make your character do more damage, or move faster. Having pay for power (see, using your lingo!) cards does make your base damage go up, however.

    3) On randomization – I argued about this once as well. Every time you kill a boss in WoW it’s a pull on the slot machine to see what drops. BUT, the argument with loot boxes is that for a one time fee, the boss drops loot a second time. again. Could you imagine in WoW, after the loot table is shown, you can spend a WoW token for a second or third drop? (This will probably be in the next expansion…)

    4) Time to unlock is good when it is an equitable unlock. Paying to skip that is the issue. Imagine playing chess and if you put $5 on the board, you could now make two moves in a turn? You are changing the rules for a specific group of players. Yes, some of this could be tweaked with matchmaking..

    It all comes back to time versus money argument. That old doozie, because if you can unlock things with time, you are at a disadvantage against people who have more time. If you can with money, you are at a disadvantage with those who have more disposable income. Someone with both is uncatchable, unless you fall into that group.

    How to balance it? Make it one or the other, not both. You can either progress with money or time. You pick. Just bringing these up for a healthy discussion – my biggest question is – why does it have to be equal and balanced in the first place?

    1. What’s weird is that I think we kind of agree in a lot of ways:

      #1: Your Carey Price example — that’s a point I’ve made. The better player is going to be better even if his opponent has better gear, whether that’s pads or a gun that does slightly more damage. You’d still lose even if you could buy a smaller net (within reason of course, which gets to your core game concept I’m going to talk about next).

      I guess we could have a debate over what consists of the core of the game. Is a 5% damage buff changing the core? I’d say no. Is “2 minutes of being impervious to damage” changing the core? I’d say absolutely. For me the line is somewhere between those two examples. Others would say a 5% damage buff completely screws up the balance of the game.

      #2 Here we disagree. I mean I don’t disagree that the faster computer doesn’t make your character do more damage, but it does make it easier for you, the player, to get kills. Maybe you’re too young to remember the phrase “LPB” = low ping bastards. People who had an advantage based on the speed of their Internet connection. Same with framerates. If my game is studdering, juddering and lagging, or has a reduced draw distance when compared to yours, all because my setup sucks, I’m definitely at a disadvantage over you playing with stable frame rates, long draw distances, higher resolution and a fast, steady internet connection.

      #3 Right, as I said, HOW you get the rng to fire is completely different.

      #4 We’re back to the ‘core game’ issue. Taking 2 moves at a time in a chess game is changing the core game. But for example a lot of games have “Exp Boosters” that few people seem to have an issue with, but aren’t those speeding up time to unlock?

      But where you and I are really in sync is in the time vs money thing. I frequently drift away from MP games because I can’t spend 6-8 hours/day playing and so I fall behind in the unlocks department (AND of course, the skill department due to less practice, so I’m doubly handicapped). If I really wanted to stay competitive, I would gladly trade some $$ to make up for the time I didn’t have to unlock stuff.

      I don’t know that you can have one or the other because you’re going to fragment your audience. I mean if you only have “time to unlock” you’re OK because that’s what we’ve always had. It shuts out casual players but we’re used to being shut out. I don’t think a game that had only “pay to unlock” would work because it would trivialize playing the game in a way. I could be wrong. (For me personally, it’s a LOT more fun to unlock stuff through playing vs buying.)

      How to balance it? Like I said in another post, use some kind of universal power rating and match-make people with others who have a similar rating. Then whether they played for 20 hours, or spent $10, to get that power rating doesn’t really matter all that much.

      1. Yeah, “counterpoints” was a wrong choice of word perhaps – some are counter, some are similar, but mostly, just thoughts.

        I’m an old gamer. Mid 40s. Started programming and gaming on a Vic-20. Was big in the BBS scene back in the day.

        On the computer disagreement (#2) I agree that WAS an issue, but really, not anymore. I was thinking modern day times. My Razor Blade laptop isn’t going to give me an advantage over your Dell desktop as long as both of us live in a decent vicinity of a small to medium size town. heck, I live in a rural area and have fiber optic connection!

        Can we agree that this conversation would be better with beer? =)

        Matchmaking can solve that but the problem is, all those pay 4 power people get mad because they have no one to play against, or, they still lose after investing all of that time/money in the game. Hence those weird patents Activision filed about matchmaking =)

        1. So, just to play Devil’s Advocate, why do people spend money on “gaming mice” and similar peripherals if they don’t feel like it makes them play better? MS sells a $150 Elite controller and folks seem to love it because it makes them better/faster in the games they play. There’s also (in the Xbox world) a big controversy over people who buy some gadget that lets you hook keyboard and mouse to the Xbox because those people get an advantage.

          Anyway, I’ll leave it at that. I do agree that the advantages from better gear/connectivity is a lot more subtle than it used to be!

          1. I use a gaming mouse. I prefer having my hotkeys by my thumb (there are 12 additional buttons there!) instead of reaching for hotkeys. It might actually make me game *slower*, but it is definitely more comfortable for me!

            And we do agree that there are differences, but just less impactful and more available to everyone.

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