The term has been thrown around for what seems like over a decade now. The term that which will seemingly drive players away from games faster than anything these days: Pay to win.

Also known as “Pay2Win”.

Or: “F$#% this stupid #@&%*#% mother $#%#@%”

Translation unavailable.

At its core, the term stands for the practice of spending real money to directly gain an advantage in a game over others who don’t. An MMO can sell a piece of gear that gives you more damage, and the only way to get that gear is by buying it for a single dollar! That would, for a lot of people, classify as pay to win, because for a lot of people, spending money on a game that doesn’t have a mandatory cost aside from however much you put down for the game itself, is absurdity.

Now, I am no saint when it comes to this. Being the MMO junkie that I wish I weren’t, I’ve spent way more than my share on items that are very blatantly pay to win. But, is it really as bad as many people claim? Does pay to win expand way beyond just the world of MMOs?

Let’s take Hearthstone for example. The game is very much free to play. If you really want to get specific cards, decks, or even a collection and call it a day you can very easily do that. Want to get a budget aggro deck and have an extra $75 laying around? Consider it done. Want to just have every card and not have to worry about availability when the metagame shifts? Slap a couple of hundred bucks or so and you’re good. Does this mean that the game is pay to win?

Not quite.

There are two problems with the term being applied to something like Hearthstone. If your goal is to play competitively, professionally, or anywhere in-between, you’re going to do whatever it takes to maximize those chances.

To add a parallel, if you want to be as good as possible at golf, you’re going to want to spend the money on the best golf clubs possible. If you want to be proficient as possible at tennis, you aren’t going to do so with a crappy racket.

Hearthstone is the same way. You have an avenue to playing the game without spending money, and you can certainly use that to build up slowly, but that also means that you aren’t as worried about playing competitively past what your collection is capable of. Additionally, just because you spent a bunch of money on a deck or collection, doesn’t automatically mean that you’re going to be one of the best players in the world.

However, there is a limit for everyone. While spending money to be competitive in a game doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll actually make it, the inverse is also true. You can have the skills and ability, but they could potentially never be realized because of a proverbial “paywall.”

Magic: the Gathering, on multiple occasions, has come close to being prohibitively expensive in its Standard format, which is meant to be the format that players, both new and old, should be able to get into without selling their car. There’s a limit at which point the masses of your players will say “screw this” and find something else they can enjoy without losing a leg. Yes, the argument can be made that, “If they want to be successful, then they’ll do what it takes.” The reality is that not everyone is of the ability to “do what it takes”.

And if we’re being quite honest, you aren’t really getting much of a payoff by doing what it takes in Magic anyway, unless you’re in the top 1% of competitive players, to see any sort of positive return.

Pay to Win is a fickle structure that many games have taken the reins of in order to conduct business, but the line in which it’s drawn seems to be unclear. It’s greatly dependent on context, what game is being run, and how much things cost and what they provide, but as long as there are players out there willing to spend money to be the best, it’s here to stay—even if a lot of other games mask it as a cost of opportunity.

Anthony has been competing in games for the better part of his adult life and is dedicated to improving his game, improving his community, improving himself as a person, and most importantly having fun and enjoying himself while doing so. You can check out his stream to find out which video game is the latest to catch his attention.

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