Friday, November 22, 2013

Pets: The "Pay to Win" Problem

"Paying to win" has generally been frowned upon, as this game was not built around microtransactions. We're already paying a subscription fee, we shouldn't have to pay even more to advance or be ahead of the curve, right?

This mentality is especially true when it comes to Pet Battles PVP. For an activity that's so open and welcoming to everyone, many feel that it's extra unfair should anyone be able to gain an advantage by simply having more expendable RL money. But on the other hand, doesn't it make sense that you get more if you pay more? Can't there be a happy medium between "paying to win" and keeping gameplay fair?

It's rare that we see a very strong pet that's purchasable outside of the game, but when one does pop up, it's hard to ignore the fact that it becomes the "go-to" pet for a while. And by "a while", that usually means until the next major content patch when a large number of pets are released. Generally the newer ones are created to better counter and balance the previously "OP" pets. Even if things are smoothed out over time, an overpowered pet that can be purchased outside of the game still causes a ripple within the community. Maybe not just a ripple. A tidal-wave?

When Murkalot stepped onto the scene, it caused quite a bit of fuss. Was he "overpowered"? Yes. Did he cost RL money (and there was no other way to obtain him)? Yes. Blizzard has since "nerfed" this pet, but he is proving to still be a powerhouse contender in the arena, which may mean he still falls into the category of a "pay to win pet". You pay a certain amount to collect a pet in order to have an advantage over others or just to stay on par.

There were quite a few comments that pointed out how ridiculous the endgame had become because of this pet. Not only due to its insane damage, but also because of how the pet is obtained. Would the response have been just as strong or as loud had Murkalot been a pet that anyone and everyone could obtain within the game? Maybe. But for different reasons of course. Gameplay would be the largest concern, not the fact that money was involved when it shouldn't be.

And it's completely understandable. For a game that doesn't rely on microtransactions, gaining any type of major advantage or advancement by spending more money is just plain unfair. People start the game with the impression that they don't need to be rich IRL in order to be competitive in-game. To suddenly switch things up on them is very jarring and a huge turn-off.

To play devil's advocate, though, for a pet that costs more than one month's worth of playtime, shouldn't the player get a little more? Otherwise, what exactly are they paying for? It would alter the status quo, yes, but as long as it's an option for everyone, isn't it "fair"?

The problem is that it's not exactly an option for everyone. While I agree that you should receive your money's worth, it's just unreasonable to think that everyone is able and willing to spend the same amount of money to keep up with the rest. I'm sure the player base is quite large now, but even if it wasn't, each player leads their own unique life. Circumstances are rarely ever the same. So how can anyone expect that by simply keeping the option open to everyone, that the option is actually a viable choice that everyone can make? For some, there is no choice; the answer is just "no, can't do it, won't do it".

Still, in this type of situation where players are purchasing "optional" items/pets, the demand for quality is there. For some, quality includes the pet's ability and strength in Pet Battles.

It's unlikely that Blizzard will stop selling pets outside of the game, so what can be done to avoid the drama while providing a product that players can be proud to say they paid X amount of money for? Can this even be achieved without inserting Massively Awesome Ability into So And So Pet?

How about this: what if pets that require RL money to obtain only had sub-par or mediocre abilities, but in exchange had amazing graphics, animations, etc. Would that be satisfactory? Rather than paying to win, collectors would be paying for the vanity/to collect. The gameplay would still be focused on what can be done in-game, but the high quality of the pet's cosmetic side would justify paying X amount.

Or would players still want more? Pets are not just for looking adorable as they follow us on our adventures anymore; many players enjoy them because they like to participate in Pet Battles. While the fun for collectors comes from buying something that looks cool and increase their army of pets, the fun for battlers is the ability to feel strong and to win. And regardless if you're a collector or battler or both, who doesn't love a pet that can really hold its own during a match?

Not to mention that implementing an awesome looking pet that costs extra wouldn't be very popular with the collecting community. Sure, it MIGHT address the "pay to win" concerns of the pet PVP community. But those that enjoy the act of simply collecting could see it as an unnecessary and unfair obstacle in their own style of preferred gameplay.

Blizzard can't make everyone happy, but they can attempt to maintain balance. "Paying to win" pets definitely upsets that balance, though. To be fair, Murkalot's situation was pretty unique. As I mentioned before, it's rare that we see a pet that's not readily available in-game that has such a crazy set of abilities. Perhaps Blizzard's enthusiasm for this Blizzcon pet simply got a little out of control. It may just be a one-off that isn't likely to happen again.

We may yet see another pet from the Blizzard Store that's strong enough in battle to cause a stir (the Alterac Brew-Pup might be pretty strong, but maybe not in the same realm as Murkalot was), however, I'd like to hope that there's something that can be done to help ensure that "paying to win" isn't an issue while still providing a purchasable pet that people can feel comfortable spending money on.


  1. Bravo! I read religiously but never commented which is unfair of me. The pay to win aspect of pet collecting has really started to bother me. I decided a long time ago never to pay cash for anything outside the game subscription (not saying other people shouldn't!). I love the equality of wow's world, and while they used to be reasonably careful in keeping it in the realm of 'fair', things have gone off the rails recently.

    When a kid in my guild feels terrible because so many cool new pets AND pet battler status is all of sudden beyond their family's means, that makes me and many others feel terrible as well. That makes people irritable and not want to sign in. I don't think Blizzard understands the ripple affects that Murkalot + RAF pets + new store pets have caused of late.

    Maybe if these pets could be added to the satchels or BMAH (even at a very small drop rate) that would help, but I'm not in love with any of the solutions.

    Sorry to rant, I just really enjoy your blog and your always inclusive and level-headed takes on the pet world, and this post really resonated with me.

  2. Pay-to-win on top of a subscription price is abhorrent. I'm cool with it being a "temporary buff" for pets that gets hotfixed, but I'm extremely wary of this practice escalating into other areas of the game. Still love WoW... for now.

    Sylthren- Muradin


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