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Resurgence of the Pay to Win model in mainstream gaming

The Pay to win model crept into the mainstream AAA gaming market and appeared to collapse with Starwars Battlefront 2. The practice appears to be far from dead however with the future of microtransactions being far from cosmetic only.

Dan Hastings, Blogger

August 21, 2020

4 Min Read

The world of online video games has evolved significantly since the early days of competitive multiplayer. As games become more advanced and challenging to produce, the business models around them have evolved to keep them profitable. This has resulted in the introduction of a "Pay to Win" business model in several popular video games.

The pay to win model initially emerged in the free to play game market.  Since gamers could play the game without having to pay any money, developers would allow players to purchase some in-game items and power-ups that would give them an upper hand over other players as a means to generate revenue. The model was never particularly popular but since the game was completely free, people generally understood that it was a necessary evil in order to keep the games free.

Pay To Win Breaking The Mainstream Market

Free to play games that implemented pay to win microtransactions proved to be massively successful with games like Fallout Shelter generating millions of dollars, It was only a matter of time before some of the larger publishers tried to take a slice of the cake.

The introduction of pay to win in the non-free to play market was subject to a lot of anger amongst the gamer community. Players to pay $60-$70 for a game were complaining that it was unfair that players could essentially pay money to cheat. The practise became more prevalent and toxic until it eventually erupted with the addition of loot boxes to Star Wars Battlefront 2.

Starwars Battlefront 2 Loot Box Backlash

The implementation of loot boxes in one of the biggest community backlashes against the pay to win model. So much so that it wiped 3 billion dollars of the stock market value of the game's publisher in an incredibly short period of time.

The backlash was so extreme that publishers started to boast a lack of microtransactions and pay to win models as positive when announcing their games. This moment was the straw that broke the back of the pay to win model of AAA games.

It seemed as though the greed had peaked and from here, microtransactions in games had such a large stigma attached to them that developers and publishers would avoid them at all costs for fear of the negative press they would bring.

Future of Microtransactions

With the complete breakdown of pay to win in AAA games, publishers needed to find a way to use the model to make money without giving players an upper hand. This has almost universally been implemented in the form of cosmetic benefits.

Fortnite turned out to be much more than a flash in the pan for Epic Games. It has grown to become one of the biggest games in the market right now and has also become one of the best examples of how microtransactions can be incredibly profitable for developers without needing to deploy the predatory practices we saw in the earlier days. With profits exceeding 1 billion dollars, Fortnite is a game that every publisher wants in their portfolio.

It might seem like the days of gamers getting cheated out of money and a level playing field was over. Unfortunately, there have been a few games that have started to fall back into old habits.

Slipping Back To Old Habits

While the vast majority of games are building microtransactions around cosmetic items, some games are starting to slip back into the pay to win model. Fallout 76 is one such game that seems to be slowly pushing players to pay for in-game benefits that give them an upper hand.

Fallout 1st is a new subscription-based service that will grant players of Fallout 76 several bonuses that will make the game considerably easier. The value of the Fallout 1st subscription is debatable, to say the least. It provides clear benefits that solve issues players often have. Issues that were created by design to push people toward purchasing the subscription.

With various examples of how profitable pay to win can be, it has become clear that games can be designed in order to push players toward paying for these bonuses to save themselves the grief of having to go without it. When a good game that you pay full price for is less enjoyable if you refuse to fork out money for the pay to win bonuses, it is clear that the industry still has a problem on its hands.

Gamers may have won the battle against Microtransactions in Battlefront 2, but the war is far from over. It looks like there is a lot of work left to do before pay to win has become enough of a stigma to turn publishers off this lucrative business model. 

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