Pay-to-win games suck, but pay-to-win internet sucks even more.
Have you ever played a game on iOS or Android? If the answer is yes, then chances are you have stumbled across the pay-to-win (p2w) model. Raise your hand if, after steadfastly not paying for extra lives and grinding out the first 35 levels of Candy Crush, you caved and paid 99 cents for the next few levels… and then 99 cents for some extra lives so you can play those extra levels… and before you know it, you racked up $236 on a “free-to-play” mobile game about exploding candies!
While Candy Crush is a prime example of rampant p2w mechanics, it is relatively benign. I say that because it is not directly competitive. But what happens when you introduce these type of mechanics into a competitive game? The short answer, you break the game and it stops being fun.
It is nigh impossible to maintain competitive balance while selling items and/or buffs to players.
One of the most egregious examples of p2w mechanics in a competitive game is Crossfire, a 2008 online tactical FPS (essentially a counter-strike clone), where the most powerful weapons (i.e. zero recoil and shoot through boxes) in the game are available only to players willing to part with their hard earned.
Clash of Clans, Clash Royale, and Dungeon Keeper are three more titles which have received widespread criticism for their game breaking p2w mechanics; so much so that the UK Advertising and Standards Authority (ADA) ruled that Dungeon Keeper must clearly state the “limitations of free gameplay” and explain the “role of in-app purchasing with regard to speeding up gameplay”.
Several of the current top tier esports titles have also teetered on the edge of being included on the p2w list, League of Legends and Hearthstone most notably, but it is important to note that these titles pay careful attention to competitive balance and provide clear paths to unlocking all of the game’s content without ever committing any money; even if it is one mother of a grind.
While the list of p2w platforms continues to grow, there is one recent addition that is particularly alarming…
You read that right. The internet is in serious danger of becoming play to win.
Over the past few years, there has been a push by some of the internet’s biggest players to create a walled garden where only websites with deep enough pockets will find their way to your screen. It is a tale as old as communication technologies themselves, that has been repeated over and over. But right now we are in a battle for the very thing that makes the internet amazing…
The idea that all internet traffic should be treated equally. Or in other words, the idea that ISPs should not be able to arbitrarily limit and/or block access to some content/services, nor provide privileged access to certain content/services.
Imagine a world where Comcast can slow down the connection to NetFlix, a serious competitor to their cable TV business, or where Riot can pay to ensure that the League of Legend’s servers are always faster than the Smite servers.
In something as competitive as internet based business, pay-to-win mechanics will without a doubt break the competitive balance and will without question ensure we have a less fun internet for everyone.
If you are suddenly feeling an uncontrollable rage because someone is trying to mess with our interwebs, then take John Oliver’s advice and do something about it! TechCrunch put together a handy guide on how you can navigate the FCC’s janky and unintuitive website to make your voice heard.
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