Category Archives: Payment models

Unhealthy reasons to spend money

I have recently been looking for a new game to sink my teeth a little further into, and as a part of this endeavour I found myself running into a game called Eldevin for the first time since it’s release in late 2013. That means the game is still new – only a year old – and from my experience, games tend to be at their best when they’re still fresh.

As I delved into finding more information about the game, I was reminded of why I originally put the game off my radar of potentially playable games. When I first played the game in beta right before release, it wasn’t the gameplay that put me off – no, while I didn’t get very far, I thought the gameplay looked quite promising. What put me off was the business model, which I considered P4P (pay for power – note that here it is being used synonymously with the term P2W).

To explain the business model of the game, it is as follows: just about all the game features, items, skills and whatnot are available to all players. Practically speaking, all the content the game has to offer is open. The client and accounts are free as well. However, there is a subscription option. What does that give? The answer is, subbing increases all experience and money gained by a percentage and periodically rewards the subscriber with potions that may be used in combat.

The first time I heard of the business model, I knew I had a problem with it. But when I would call the model P4P, I would often get objections from fans of the game. They would claim that since all of the game’s content was available to the free player, the game could not be P4P. Even Hunted Cow Studios, the creators behind the game, say the following on their site:

Eldevin is a free to play game. As gamers ourselves we are definitely opposed to “pay to win” games, so when we say free to play, we mean that our players can enjoy the entire game – all realms, all quests, all levels – without spending a penny.

So I had to go back to thinking, what exactly was it about Eldevin’s model that made me feel it was P4P. You know those moments when you intuitively understand something, but find it difficult to put the thought into words in such a manner other people can see a reasonable argument behind what you’re saying? That’s the sort of feeling I had.

The end result of thinking it through is as follows. The fact a free player can see all of a game’s content is not what constitutes a non-P4P game. In fact, this has nothing to do with it. Content, you see, does not equal power. This is something even the developers of the game seem to (purposefully?) misunderstand, judging by the quote above.

The simple reason I regard Eldevin P4P is that paying customers are not paying for content (or cosmetics) – they are paying to progress faster than free players. A subscription boosts progression rates and money gain instead of providing the paying customer with new content.

This model is inherently different from that of another medieval fantasy browser game, RuneScape, to the model of which Eldevin’s has been compared to a couple of times by some people. In RuneScape, subscribing unlocks all of the player’s skills and the full map along with all the quests, items and what ever may come with that. In addition, subscriber-only servers become available.

The difference between the two models is that in the other, the dedicated customer pays for content, where as in the other they pay to merely progress faster than others. The conclusion becomes easy to draw. RuneScape’s free portion is a form of an extended trial period of a subscription game – you like the game, subscribe to it for more content. In Eldevin, you subscribe because you want to be stronger than others. In one you pay for content, in one you pay for power.

Now, whether or not one likes either of the models is down to opinion. But personally, I strongly dislike the P4P (or pay-to-grind-less, which is a form of P4P) model of Eldevin. When I pay for a game, I expect to pay for content, for stuff to do. I don’t expect to be spending real money to make my character stronger than others – one of the reasons we play RPGs is precisely to get out of that situation, for in games we all (usually) start at in equal beginnings.

Frankly, I view Eldevin’s model as unhealthy – not necessarily from a business perspective but from a psychological one. Especially considering browser based games tend to attract a lot of younger players. What exactly does it teach our children when even in virtual worlds they are expected to embrace and exploit our inequal beginnings in life?

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Paying not to grind is paying to win

Often when discussing online game payment models, one runs into a situation where one side considers a free-to-play title to be of the pay-to-win variety where as the other side disagrees. So what exactly can be considered paying to win? While people have differing levels of tolerance to P2W features, I don’t think the answer to the question is down to opinion alone. In fact, I feel denying certain features being pay-to-win is just being intentionally misleading. This is the issue I want to tackle today.

Winning in a virtual world

An argument sometimes brought up by either F2P advocates or fans of specific games is that there are no winners in MMORPGs – hence there can be no paying to win. And they’ve got a point there, to some extent: there are winners of situations within a game of this type, for example a player may win in a duel against another, but there is no definitive point where you’ve won the game.

Because of the unclear definition of winning, I feel it is appropriate to steal a term from Syncaine: pay-for-power (P4P). Essentially, all features we’re used to calling P2W in MMORPGs can be called P4P instead. From now on, I will try to use this term.

Paying not to grind

The most glaring P4P features are of course the type where real money buys the player levels, skills, equipment or another form of power not available through other means. These types of cash shop options are, surprisingly(?), fairly rare in today’s games, at least here in the West. Few people would argue against this sort of thing being P4P.

Opinions get more divided when the power being sold is also available through other means. Sometimes people will argue that if a cash shop item can be attained by just playing the game as well, it cannot be considered P4P. I would disagree here.

Character power in online RPGs tends to be a reflection of how much time the player has spent on a character. In fact, time tends to be he greatest factor when it comes to it. When one uses real money to buy powerful items or levels, even if those things can also be attained through purely in-game means, one is paying money to not have to spend as much effort for the item in-game.

A situation of this kind would be called by some a case of paying not to grind, which to them isn’t the same as paying for power.¬†You also often hear these people saying grinding is something anybody can do, and because of this paying not to grind features should not be considered P4P.

I completely disagree. In a skillcheck situation, you either have the skill to get to an objective or you don’t (example: beating a difficult dungeon to get a powerful item). Similarly, you either have the time and determination to grind for an objective or you don’t. There is no difference. If you can skip either and claim the rewards by paying money, you are paying for power.

So what isn’t P4P?

There are some situations where it is difficult to say if a feature is P4P or not. Take for example RuneScape’s model. I have heard the model has lately changed dramatically though, so I’ll explain what I mean:

  • – As a F2P player, you are allowed a certain set of skills, all of which you can train to their maximum potential. You are also allowed access to servers that have most of the world in an accessible state.
  • – Subscribers can play on subscriber-only servers where there is more landmass to explore and more skills to train. Skills available in F2P are also given more variation through subscriber-only items. Subscriber-only items cannot be transferred to free-to-play realms.

The difficulty of defining this model as either P4P or non-P4P comes from the fact being a subscriber does sort of grant more power by giving the player access to more efficient leveling areas as well as a larger variety skills and more ways of making money.

Personally I would not consider this P4P. The F2P portion I would instead consider an extended free trial, and buying a subscription only buys you content. That content might or might not be more efficient for gaining character power, but nevertheless the player is not directly buying character power – they’re still going to have to work for it. The fact most subscriber-world-only items don’t work on free servers also helps to make the system less P4P.

World of Warcraft’s expansions are a pretty similar case to the above. One could argue they are P4P because the potential power level of characters rises as they can train to a higher level, but in the end what the expansion really buys is content, not direct increases in character power. Besides, practically everybody ends up buying the expansion anyway, and the game is sort of designed around this idea. As for the game’s instant level 90 thing though, that’s a completely different case: in it, the player is literally buying character power in the form of levels, and I don’t think there’s arguing this isn’t clearly P4P.

To give one more example, this time for a model I would consider P4P, I want to mention Eldevin, a recent browser-based MMORPG. It was looking to capitalize on RuneScape players by it’s design, but the payment model, F2P with optional subscription, was inherently different: instead of buying new areas to explore or new skills to advance, subscription increased experience gains in existing skills alongside with granting access to free potions the subscriber could use in combat. Unlike the above two examples, I would argue the system is in fact a form of paying-not-to-grind, and hence should be considered P4P.

The point

The point of all the above is not to bash F2P or or even P4P, nor to take a stance on which payment model is the best. The only thing I want to do here is to make the reader see the hypocrisy in claiming certain features offered by some games should not be considered P4P when that is clearly what they are.