Pay to Win! : Purchasing Advantages in Games
We’ve talked about Stormblood quite a bit, and with it now fully up and running, there is something that caught my mind. Through the Mogstation, players of Final Fantasy XIV can purchase extras for their gameplay. For a fee, a character can change their appearance, gain costumes that play homage to other characters both in this game and from others of the series, and even gain special minions and mounts. However, with the advent of Stormblood, a new set of items became available for purchase: Tales of Adventures. For a fee, a character can either advance through all of the story quests of A Realm Reborn and/or Heavensward, or get a class to level 60, along with top tier armor for the end of Heavensward.
I felt, and still feel, conflicted about this. I understand the purpose of this: any new players, or people (such as myself at the time) would be able to pop up in terms of plot and power in order to hit the ground running for Stormblood, jumping straight in with friends to take on the new areas, dungeons, and trials. However, it feels like the trials and work of those who struggled, taking on high level raids and challenges to prep is diminished by the fact that a wad of cash works as an equalizer. It’s true that giving the extra amount would have allowed me to start Stormblood at the same time as Arekuzanra and we could have done more of the quests together, though I’ve caught up to her for the endgame. However, I enjoyed every portion of the story and struggles that I went through to get to the launch point for the new expansion, and I wouldn’t feel the same about it if I had just watched everything through cutscenes and not gone through it quest by quest.
Of course, this ability to buy advancement in video games isn’t a new thing, though it has been in different forms than what Square Enix has presented here.
Other MMOs, typically those that are free to play, offer being able to pay real world money to gain in game benefits. One example I personally have experienced is the MMO Maple Story. While some of the extras are just new clothing or pets, there are experience bonuses, and even the ability to randomly receive rare high level gear. I did dabble in the stylized gear, but a fair amount of money could help make a player easily catapult through levels and have some strong gear awaiting them, as opposed to grinding through quests and hunting bosses for drops. It definitely removes some of the tedium and time that sits between a player and the upper echelons of rank in the game.
Freemium games are all over the market, typically on mobile devices, but also seen in free-to-play MMOs, like Maple Story or even Star Wars: The Old Republic. These games allow the purchase of extra power to play more without having to wait, to gain extra advantages, progress through levels faster with an easier forgiveness for mistakes with extra chances. There are cosmetic bonuses that can also be purchased, but these games take advantage of the ability to purchase those chances and skips, the ease of money for success to help turn profit. There is a reason this model, despite the complaints, is alive and well still today.
Going even further back to arcade games, sometimes the difference between sweet triumph and bitter failure was how many quarters you had in your pocket. Skill does make a difference, but I do know that there are a handful of arcade games that I would not have conquered had they not been on freeplay. My budget can not fully compensate my current ability, though I do feel I am skilled enough to where it wasn’t a constant smash on the Start button to add more credits in. It’s a very direct way to have the line drawn between those who have extra cash to spend and those who do not, though it doesn’t necessarily alter the gameplay experience that each individual has, just merely how far they can get into the game.
While I can be upset with the ability given out, feel that it might cheapen my victory, I realize that I’m looking at it wrong. It took writing this article, and going through it all, thinking about those who pay and what they gain versus how it truly affects me to realize that. This isn’t about me versus someone else, or even players versus the game companies; that is letting an optional service impose on your own choices. It’s not something I should be mad about. I made my choice to not purchase the story skip or level up, and I would make it again, and am constantly making it with each class I don’t buy to hit level 60 for Final Fantasy XIV. If others choose to do so, that is their choice, and who knows, I might be playing with some of those people. It’s all in how you choose to play, and how you choose to have fun.
So long as they know what they’re doing, and don’t screw up my raid.