Friday, December 25, 2015

In Defense of the WoW Token (And Similar)

The WoW Token is a feature I apparently like to talk about a lot. I consider it a great addition to the game, especially since at a personal level I play World of Warcraft without paying for a subscription. Given the fluctuating prices on the WoW Token, it appears a number of other players do the same. Furthermore, it seems apparent that the WoW Token is largely accepted by players given how the system is praised, among other factors, so why is there a need to defend it as this article's title states? I think a defense is needed if only for the sake of clarifying the benefits of the system since, aside from some criticism against the WoW Token itself for being pay-to-win, similar systems such as Runescape Bonds are more highly criticized. In this article, I will clarify the purpose of such systems and, since it is highly related, the perception of what a pay-to-win microtransaction is. As a disclaimer, this article is intended to be a discussion on these concepts for multiplayer games.

What is "pay-to-win?"

When discussing this with a few people, I found that the definition of pay-to-win varied wildly, with some saying that certain arguably pay-to-win concepts such as level or experience boosting are not only fine but not actually pay-to-win (known as "pay-to-skip" usually). At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who consider nearly everything that's a microtransaction as pay-to-win, including the aforementioned pay-to-skip plus some cosmetics due to visual advantages that they can provide (unintentionally?).

I personally consider any purchase that provides a statistical power boost to be pay-to-win, whether it's gear, wealth, or in some cases levels. This interpretation varies from game to game, since certain concepts may matter more in some games than others (for example, levels in Old School Runescape matter more than most other MMORPGs since a lot of the gameplay is based on level progression). However, I also found that the entire concept of pay-to-win polarizing, since it inherently is considered harmful to a game (which to be fair is largely true). I consider the WoW Token and similar systems as pay-to-win, but not bad for the game, which serves as a counterpoint to this rationale.


Explanation of my position

In games such as World of Warcraft, Runescape, and EVE Online, in-game currency can provide a lot of power. Whether it's gold, coins, or ISK, they can all purchase some form of statistical boost to your own character or the like. For example, in World of Warcraft, one can purchase bind-on-equip items or carry runs through raids to gear up their characters, providing a sizeable power increase in the hyperfocused endgame and allowing them to perform their role far better than before they had the gear. This sounds very concerning and yet I'm not that concerned about it. Why?

The answer is because I think there might be a missing piece to the definition of pay-to-win. Specifically, I think there is a subcategory of harmful pay-to-win that generally converts real-life money into personal benefits for the purchasing player alone, essentially allowing them to pay for cheat codes that the company running the game happily provides (whether the purchase is worth the price is different story that's out of the scope of the topic at hand). In the case of the WoW Token and similar systems, there is a third party that needs to willfully comply and in doing so, they benefit. This third party is the one who chooses to purchase the WoW Token or its equivalent, which in turn provides additional game time when used.

It is also worth mentioning that this incentive further contradicts the picture a harmful pay-to-win microtransaction paints since a harmful pay-to-win microtransaction ensures a person with money to spend gets really powerful and is prone to bullying players with less disposable income out of the game. Since the WoW Token and its equivalents provide game time, which in itself requires disposable income to pay for otherwise, players who otherwise have to use what little money they have or even players who have no disposable income at all can benefit, allowing them to continue to play the game. Thus, this system benefits all the types of players mentioned above (and more), making the WoW Token and similar systems a beneficial pay-to-win system in some respect.

Conclusion

To close, it might help to rethink one's perception of what pay-to-win is and specifically if, and how badly, it harms a game's state. Since the WoW Token and more criticized Bonds system, among others, clearly do as much if not more to benefit a game's state compared to its possible factor of harm, it might be better to look elsewhere for dealings that are nefarious. With that said, I do think that goods such as the WoW Token and similar are being charged at too much of a premium even when accounting for the additional automated systems that were developed and require upkeep, but that's a different story. Also, I deliberately ignored that gold is devalued, which would make the pay-to-win aspect of the WoW Token much weaker, due to rampant inflation in World of Warcraft since the WoW Token's gold price would likely adjust itself to the economic state.

On another note, Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and so on.

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