The battle for balance: Pay-to-Win games and their impact on gaming culture

Are Pay-to-Win games taking over the gaming industry?

Pay-to-win games have become increasingly common in the gaming industry, allowing players to purchase advantages that were once only available through skill and effort. While some argue these games offer an opportunity for faster progress in players and/or provide a source of revenue for developers, others are concerned that they create an uneven playing field and undermine the competitive spirit of gaming.

Unfortunately, many new game developers and studios incorporate microtransactions that shift the game's balance in favor of a player who has paid for an item, giving them an unfair in-game advantage. 

This is effectively akin to the cheat code of the yesteryears. Except that, instead of entering a code, you just need to pay for it.

One of the earliest examples of cheat codes is the famous 'Konami Code,' created by the late Kazuhisa Hashimoto. The cheat code was first used in a game called Gradius but later gained worldwide popularity when it was seen in a game called Contra on Nintendo.

The players would enter "up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A" on their controller, granting them 30 extra lives and a power boost in-game.

The Konami Code has since made its way into several other games as an easter egg. Some popular games containing the Konami Code include BioShock Infinite, Dead by Daylight, Rocket League, Tetris Effect, and Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy - The Definitive Edition.

Konami code used in GTA 3 - Definitive Edition.

Similarly, another great example of a game popular due to cheat codes is the Grand Theft Auto (GTA) series. Almost all GTA games have incorporated fun cheat codes that can not only make the gameplay easier but also more fun.

For example, when discussing cheat codes, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is the first game that comes to mind. Players can type a combination of various buttons that allows them to spawn different vehicles, unlock weapons, change time, or even change the weather.

GTA San Andreas Definitive Edition.

Cheat codes were always seen as amusement and something extra that first-party developers added to the game as a way to enhance the gameplay experience. Some games even included cheat code manuals and built-in cheat menus. One of the classic and popular examples is Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The game's instruction manual included all secret cheat codes.

However, with the implementation of more online and server-sided games, games have become more complex and not as easy to cheat in. The addition of online features has pretty much taken away the concept of cheat codes. To make things a lot worse, developers have now locked everything behind a paywall. There are several examples of pay-to-win games, the most common being the popular time-management strategy game, Clash of Clans.

Clans of Clans store offers different Gem bundles players can purchase using real money.

Clash of Clans is a free-to-play real-time strategy game for mobile devices where players can use real money to speed up the process of building and upgrading their villages and troops. Clash of Clans' premium currency is the green Gems. These Gems are used to speed up the building process and its progress.

While the gems can be found by clearing the debris around your village, it's very limited. But, you can buy Gem bundles the game's store offers. If a player doesn't spend money in Clash of Clans, they'll have a notably harder time competing with those that do.

It can literally take several days for a single upgrade with a unit costing more than what your current storage capacity is.

Star Wars Battlefront II is another example of a pay-to-win game that became controversial when it was first released. The game introduced loot boxes that allowed players to spend real money to purchase and open crates containing randomized items. Some of the items gave players an unfair advantage during multiplayer games.

And, of course, we cannot talk about pay-to-win games without mentioning FIFA. FIFA's Ultimate Team mode encourages players to spend money on their iteration of the loot boxes called "packs." These packs contain different players. When players spend money on them, there is a chance for them to get a high-rated football player for their team. The higher the rating, the better their team performs against other players.

If you don't spend money on FIFA Ultimate Team, you will have a significantly harder time competing against others online.

A well-balanced game would include microtransactions while ensuring it does not give players an unfair advantage over those who choose not to pay. We, as consumers, should be very careful when spending money on games and shouldn't be forced to pay to enjoy a game.

An excellent example of a well-rounded game in terms of microtransactions is Fortnite. Fortnite is a free-to-play game that has perfected its microtransaction model. The game offers multiple bundles and skins for players to purchase, but they are never forced to pay for those as they do not give any added in-game advantage. They are purely cosmetics, as they should be.

Regardless, players still spend millions on Fortnite because of the mass appeal. The good thing about Fortnite is that both money-spenders and F2P players can enjoy the game equally.

Recently, Call of Duty had a bit of a hiccup when an Operator skin that allowed players to have unlimited UAV, continuously revealing the enemies' location in DMZ mode, was introduced. Normally, players would have to earn the streak by either killing a certain number of players without dying in Multiplayer or purchasing it directly from the Buy Station in Warzone 2.0 or DMZ. At least we don't have another Rose skin issue on our hands now.

One of the bundle skins comes equipped with a 2-Plate armor vest which is not available by default and must be looted when in-game.

The resurgence of the pay-to-win model in modern gaming is certainly prevalent. More gaming studios will follow it as the model has proven universally popular and effective, but only if done right. Microtransactions can exist while also ensuring players can equally enjoy everything a game offers without spending a dime.

It's essential for developers to strike a balance between pay-to-win aspects and maintaining a fair environment. Otherwise, a studio risks alienating players, which can ultimately lead to the game's decline.

By prioritizing fair gameplay and offering optional, non-advantageous microtransactions, developers create an enjoyable and engaging gaming experience for all players, regardless of whether they choose to spend money or not.

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Hassan Sajid

Hassan Sajid // Articles: 694

Gaming has been a part of Hassan’s life for as long as he can remember, and he has an excellent grasp of all types of games. Hassan is best known for his the in-depth written and video guides that he produces for Xfire. He graduated with a degree in engineering from the National University Science & Technology (formerly known as Caledonian College of Engineering). The research and technical writing skills he earned throughout his time in the university have allowed him to contribute to the gaming community by creating guides. Find Hassan on LinkedIn or find him gaming on Steam.
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