Yesterday I had an interesting discussion on our brand Twitter account about Neverwinter and pay-to-win. It’s an evergreen. It seems like every game is trying to avoid the dreaded label, but how many actually succeed? In the exchange, I reasoned that Neverwinter is pay-to-win while others settled for a less harmful term like pay-to-accelerate or pay-to-loot. I continued to think about it and eventually decided to pick the topic up for today’s blog post.
Personally think you are wrong, you contradicted yourself saying “even by other means” implying converting AD to Zen. I’ve spent money on the game, still would be in the same place now but would take WAAY longer tho, all it does it cuts corners, you still need to put the work in!
— SNK o Elzy (@SNKoElzy) November 16, 2017
What Is Pay-To-Win
First of all let’s clear up with the major misconception that pay-to-win actually means buying power. It does not. MMOs have long moved past that type of monetization and settled for more subtile ways of getting player money. Today pay-to-win essentially means gating progression behind microtransactions. That can be power, but doesn’t have to.
Neverwinter does that. The ZEN store offers a lot of mandatory items that are required to progress. Without real money spend, the game would break.
Unlock by Gameplay
One gimmick the NW devs usually use to avoid pay-to-win discussions is that you can unlock all features by gameplay. That’s absolutely true for the story and all content. But not for the progression. While you can get ZEN by farming and trading the ingame currency Astral Diamonds on the player-driven exchange, it’s not that easy. You don’t actually get ZEN items by gameplay, someone else pays for it. And conceptually that’s a major difference.
A small amount of whales paying for the vast majority of playerbase is not bad in itself however. In an extensive Twitter thread, former Star Wars: The Old Republic lead systems designer Damion Schubert rightfully mentioned that it’s a core component of why the free-to-play model works (info taken from MassivelyOP). He however also said that systems fail that make spending mandatory. Instead you should sell items players do actively want to pay for, because they are “perceived as fair”.
Subscribe to Blog via Email
The other argument that’s constantly thrown at pay-to-win accusations is that Neverwinter is actually pay-to-accelerate. Yes, spending money only makes you get somewhere faster, all stuff you need drops somewhere in the game. But what if the chance and/or quantity is so small that you literally need years to complete progression? Is that going to cut it? I don’t think so, progression that’s called free-to-play should be reasonable. In Neverwinter, the RP economy is driven by enchantments and runestones that drop from lockboxes. Without them, upgrading would be much more cruel. And what about Wards? They drop, but they actually don’t.
Let’s Do a Thought Experiment
Here’s where I’d like to invite you to a little thought experiment. If Neverwinter was truly free-to-play in terms of progression, everything should be possible to achieve with zero money spend not only by individuals, but by the whole population. I know it’s not realistic, because no money means no game, but let’s go forward with it for a second.
So no money at all means no VIP for anyone, no lockbox keys, no ZEN items. In such a “f2p” environment, think about how progression would look. Players would have trouble getting enough RP and then be forced to beat those 5%/3%/1% upgrade chances largely without Wards. You would not be able to end progression in any reasonable time. Not to mention that there are dozens of gameplay relevant “lockbox” exclusive items. This is what makes spending in Neverwinter mandatory, and is why the game essentially features a pay-to-win monetization model.
Backlog a Symptom?
That being said, it’s not like we should condemn the game now. But I also find it silly to work around the fact that Neverwinter is pay-to-win by inventing new terms or state that you can earn everything by gameplay when it’s clearly not the case. If it was, we wouldn’t have a massive ZAX backlog before any major expansion or sale on PC. And make no mistake, the war on lootboxes has already begun, as the most recent Battlefront 2 example shows. The perception is changing quick, and it’s an argument studios can’t win long-term.
Systems in which players think they have to pay are bound to fail. On the contrary, if people feel something is fair, they are going to buy it. It’s no coincidence that the most successful titles feature microtransactions based around cosmetics and not gameplay or progression. Instead of trying to avoid the dreaded pay-to-win label, shouldn’t you actually not make games pay-to-win?
What’s your answer to that question? Do you think pay-to-whatever is bound to fail longterm or is the system still going strong? And what about the dreaded pay-to-win label and Neverwinter? Share your thoughts in the comments below and visit the corresponding thread on our message board!
Neverwinter UN:Blogged is always looking for writers to contribute to the blog. If you are an active player and search for a way to spread your opinions, analysis, diaries or reviews to more than 40,000 regular visitors, then don’t hesitate and get in touch with us on our contact page or message board! We are currently especially looking for console and PVP content, but that’s not exclusive. There is no frequency requirement, you post how often you want.