Pay To Win Revisited

When the torches and pitchforks went up last summer over the threat of a “pay-to-win” button being introduced to Eve Online, two very important facts were overlooked in my opinion. For one, in a certain sense you already can pay-to-win in Eve. More importantly, what exactly is “winning” in Eve? As far as I can tell, the goal of an open sandbox game is that there is no endgame, no final boss, and no max level. As such, in my opinion, “winning” is less about “beating the game” and more about “reaching a milestone” or “overcoming an obstacle or adversary”. When you surpass 50mil skillpoints for instance, or when you can jump in to your first Capital ship, or kill your first pilot in a heart-pounding one-on-one engagement, THAT is winning at Eve. So no, in actuality, there’s no paying to “win” at Eve Online the game. There is however, a definite ability to pay-to-win the game you create for yourself within Eve.

I personally know of a few people who have used out of game means to better their place in Eve Online. No, I’m not talking about botting or RMTing, but rather CCP’s rather ingenious “legal” real money transfer mechanic, wherein a player can actually pay real cash for ISK, so long as its done through CCP. I know of one guy who set up a highly profitable multi-box mining operation by way of buying an Orca and multiple Hulk toons, and another who used a bonus check from work to buy an amazing 100mil SP pvp character to pvp his face off. The other day, I met a newer ninja who had jumped full-in by buying an Orca alt, a fully maxed Tengu booster, and his own max-skilled Sleipnir pilot, all through the exchange of his credit card account for isk in-game.

When people set fire to the forums and the blogsphere, revolted in-game, and terminated their subscriptions in response to the “golden ammo” fiasco, I was right there with them. The very idea of being able to pay cash for in-game superiority is pretty undermining to even CCP’s own “master your destiny, pilot” marketing catch-phrase, and we were mad. What we failed to keep fully in mind though is the fact that you can already pay to win, if “winning” is being defined as “beating your own goals”. Your goal is to get into a Titan? For $2,000 in RL cash, you can in fact reach that goal right now; achievement unlocked, congratulations, you’ve just won.

While we vilify those who bot or RMT to gain fortune in Eve, can we really fault someone who chooses to buy PLEX or GTC with real currency to trade for isk? After all, the option is there, made entirely possible and quite easy by CCP. Some would call it “supplementing their fun” or an “investment in their hobby”, and they wouldn’t really be wrong.

Remember the days of Magic: The Gathering? I distinctly remember my friends older brother spending the $50 he’d gotten for a birthday gift on some sort of “win” card that seemed to beat everything. Slightly silly if not nostalgic to think back on it, but despite the grief that kid’s parents gave him when they realized he’d spent grandma’s birthday check on a trading card, he was merely adding to his fun; “investing in his hobby” if you will.

So that all said, why does the idea of trading cash for isk, even legally, leave a sour taste in our mouths? I have, on occasion, been slightly tempted to cash in some free spending money I’ve got out of game on some shiny new ISK, but something always stops me. For me, my game is hoarding riches made entirely from ill-means; thieving, robbing, ganking, scamming, etc. I don’t grind missions or incursions for isk, if anything because they’re just not fun to me. I much prefer the unpredictability and human interaction of scamming or tricking someone out of their isk than I do the click-fest of missions or mining, but again, thats really  just me, and who am I to judge how someone else plays their game?

So, I’m curious to see how others feel about this. Does buying isk through PLEX or GTC garner the same feelings of “cheating” as RMTing, or do people see it as a legitimate and acceptable way of investing in your own fun?



~ by Aiden Mourn on May 23, 2012.

22 Responses to “Pay To Win Revisited”

  1. In my ideal world, we wouldn’t have PLEX/GTC. But I recognize that since RMTers/bots aren’t going anywhere, and that it’s a fairly prevalent practice, it’s better to have some way to funnel the money from that kind of practice to CCP. Better that they get that money and use it to better the game than some random botter somewhere IMHO. So I don’t hate it, even if I rarely use that option myself.

    I also take comfort in the fact that just having isk alone rarely constitutes “winning” in my book, since you also need time to develop skills or, at the very least, experience in learning how to actually fly things.

    • Interesting way of looking at it from a sort of “if you can’t beat em, join em…and profit” way, I hadn’t actually thought of it in that light.

      I also see what you mean with having isk versus also having the experience, but you can in a way “buy” that “experience” quite readily at the Character Bazaar for what amounts to really not much real money. Looking now actually, you can get a Hulk pilot for 2.5 – 3billion isk. At current exchange (say, $30 for a GTC, which nets about 950mil isk, $100 USD will get you a toon that puts you 4 or 5 months ahead of someone just rolling a Hulk toon today. A hundred bucks is still a hundred bucks, but its really not that much money.

      I sort of rationalize paying for all the accounts I have by being an ex-smoker; I probably spend as much now on Eve accounts as I did as a pack-a-day smoker for 6 years, so my justification is that I’ve switched hobbies ;). Someone coming from say, paintball, where $100 would be just part of the hobby for a new face mask or something might see it as no problem to enhance their new Eve hobby.

      Thanks for responding though, I’d be curious to see a debate unfold here.

  2. Good for CCP. If someone wants to give them money so they can buy a shiny officer-fit BS for me to blow up, I’m all for it. I might change my mind a little if there were ever items in-game that could only be purchased with real money and were significantly more effective than isk-purchased mods.
    At the end of the day though, it’s like a douchebag standing next to a wrecked porche on the side of the road. You might be able to buy a nice ride, but you can’t buy the skill to drive it.

    • Best analogy ever ;), couldn’t have put it better myself

    • But even if these items were better then officer and could only be bought with RL money’s they would end up on the market and would end up being widespread.

      And golden ammo would be like t3 ammo bought out of game and used in game but eventually I would kill some1 with the ammo and then sell it on the market, the problem would be that it would need to be balanced, and fair to game machanics.

      I’m all for micro transactions as long as they could be sold in game then they would be there for all rich in RL or not.

      • What I’m trying to say is that eventually the paid for with RL items would end up on the market and then they would be there for all to use, and cos the market would flood and dry at times the prices of these items like plex would fluctuate.

        Also ccp aren’t idiots it’s not like this golden ammo would be 100% stronger then t2, at most the bonus of t2 without the neg effects, making it good but not too overpowered.

        I say bring it on the more money’s ccp ha the better the game we love becomes.

  3. Personally, I have no problems with the Plex system. You cannot use Plex to buy skillpoints, and thus have a REAL way to “pay to win”. You are still forced to que up like everyone else.

    I personally am the guilty buyer of a single Plex, though i do not regret the decision. Those 20 dollars were well worth the 500 mil it gave me in game when i started out, and provided a nice buffer for those inevitable early losses and I was able to make the jump to battleship/battlecruiser easily, and thus spike up my Isk money-making rate drastically to sustain me from that point onwards. And I highly recommend any starting player to do the same, provided they have the basics of money-management instilled in them.

    If someone wants to fund CCP and further assure our game’s lifespan, I have no problems with that. As you mentioned, more isk rarely equates to winning.

    • Agreed. Like I said, CCPs RL price for isk is fairly trivial. An extra $20 while setting up your account really could go a long way in setting you up well.

      You’re mistaken in one thing though, PLEX can absolutely buy you SPs inthe form of a new toon from the bazaar.

  4. I think the PLEX system is a good thing. It makes EVE accessible to those who are cash-rich but time-poor. Back when my RL friends played EVE, some were busy professionals who didn’t have time to grind for ISK in-game. But if the need for some Friday night spaceship carnage came along, the PLEX system enabled them to quickly buy and fit some ships for a roam. Even if the entire value of the PLEX was destroyed in an evening, it’s still a cheaper night than going down the pub.

    To remove PLEX and similar systems would hobble the casual gamer and leave MMOs populated almost entirely by dedicated hermits and rage-filled fatties.

  5. Some of us just have more real life money than time to play EVE. I seldom have more than 2 hours to play every week and I’ll be damned if I spend it doing anything besides trying to blow other people up. With that little time commitment I’m almost always flying solo and so when I feel like being a fool and NOT just flying rifters/stabbers/etc I lose a lot of ships. I still seldom buy shinies or fly like an imbecile with my at-most-once-every-6-months plex, but to me it’s a small price to pay to keep playing the part of the game I enjoy within the time constraints my RL places on me (slash I place on myself). If I had twice the amount of EVE time, I’d probably spend half of it infiltrating some poor sap’s corp to steal all his crap. Alas. 😉

  6. I pretty much agree with all the points brought up so far, so I won’t rehash them and just throw out “Hear! Hear!”.

    But to address the question as to why PLEX (and even simple macroing) at times does leave a sour taste, I think one explanation is that it can make people too careless. It’s not fun watching people throw away billions in cargo in an untanked industrial in Jita without a second thought, when you yourself don’t know where your next batch of T2 ammo is going to come from.

  7. I think that there’s an important distinction that you miss between paying for PLEX, which you trade for wealth created by another player, and paying for Golden Ammo, which is an advantage created ex nihilo by CCP.

    • As far as I can see, PLEX and “golden ammo” are both ex nihilio. Additionally, both are bought with cash, and while golden ammo is the converted to, in theory, an advantage, PLEX is converted to isk, which is also an advantage. Yes, ISK you make from selling a PLEX comes from some other player, but either way, you the possessor of either PLEX or golden ammo are now at an advantage; bought with RL cash.

      • Forgive me Aiden, but I fear your “in practice” denial of the ex nihilo distinction could lead to puzzling inconsistencies. In game ISK advantage via plex using real life cash = unacceptable. In game combat advantage via dual boxing using real life cash to run multiple accounts = OK. Hmmmm.

        The ex nihilo distinction isn’t about individual advantage obtained via real life cash expenditure. It’s about whether EvE has a player run economy or not (see my post below for explanation).

  8. Ah… magic the spending. I remember it well.

    Couple of thoughts – there are those who are time poor and thus are at a disadvantage to those that can spend all day grinding whatever their choice of grind is. Plex allows you to level that playing field to a certain extent… what Stan and Daisy said. It ain’t going to teach you the how to though also as Juggernaught said.

    Secondly, and more importantly, plex is insta-cash for CCP. More money = more on development which hopefully means a better game.

    Thus..??!?!? (omg – spits out the fdictionary pages and goes in search of beer).

  9. I could easily buy a metric ton of plexes with real money every month without much noticing it in my bank account.
    But I don’t, because it would absolutely destroy the game for me. I also would not buy a toon from a stranger. I have to identify with the toons I fly, have to train them up all by myself.
    I don’t mind if others pay cash for isk or buy toons. But it is not for me.

  10. First of all PLEX is *not* ISK, it is a account time that *can* be sold for ISK if you so choose after which another can then still use the account time.
    So no, CCP does not sell ISK at all. They sell account time tradeble for in game currency. This is also the prime difference between what CCP does and what RMT’ers do.

    And like Paul said there is a vast difference between an in game item that can *only* be acquired via real money and one that can de acquired for in game currency. Because the one is effectively unreachable for players of limited RL means while the other isn’t.

  11. Plex is a good thing!

    Pay to win? does not work in eve. even if you buy that toon with what ever skills you want. Even a two month old pilot specialized in one frig might beat you. make a mistake, don’t have the right counter fit and you are as dead as anyone else.
    I don’t want golden ammo but even if there where modules only available for real money, as long as there impact would be small enough (no ammo to instapop a cruiser with a frig) it would get killed as anything else. You see those elite cruisers from AT out there. Shine and really powerful ships but they still get killed. And those who made that kill are really happy 😉

    Further more i like the point that some of my (jobless) friends are able to play the game because someone else is selling “his game time”.
    For myself as “in game ceo” i have enough things to do that don’t yield in income but make me and my corp have fun. If I fund the game time of someone from time to time because “I can” and want some isk, i think that is a pretty good deal.

    The problem comes with those who pay the commercial farmers for plexe. buying them on ebay or what ever other source. I haven’t looked into that but IMO those selling it aren’t the poor jobless guys earning some extra money but professional server farms running hundreds of bots.

    If you check out other MMOs or take a look at the plex market there is a huge demand for the “i have money, who gives me in-game currency?”. Totally prohibiting it wouldn’t work. Sure most of you know history about the “great prohibition” leading to Al Capone. There is always a way to get what you want and selling game time to someone else is a good (if not the best) way to meet this demand.

  12. The importance of the plex/golden ammo distinction occurs on the macro/economy level not the micro/individual player level. The distinction isn’t about quick individual access to expensive things be they high skill point toons or super shiny boats. It’s about where those valuable things come from. If EvE is to have the player run economy CCP sells it as having, all useful items must be generated by in game player labor. Plex leaves the player generated economy intact since *somebody* performed the in game labor to produce the ISK a plex is sold for on the player driven market. Golden ammo busts that player driven economy since it eliminates the in game labor portion of valuable item production.

    So . . . real life moneying to spiffy characters and fancy boats may feel like cheating to you but, like so much about EvE, it’s not about how individuals feel in game rewards should be attained. The sandbox allows one to procure the plunder of others in game labor with a splash of real life money. How laissez faire capitalistic. How thoroughly EvE.

  13. Just to be contrary and disagree with my own earlier comment as well as the many other pro-PLEX commenters…

    Having given this a little more thought, my gaming enjoyment plateaued some time ago when I became relatively ISK-rich. Once I no longer had the incentive to chase the ISK to fund other pursuits, the bottom dropped out of my motivation. For me, knowing that I can replace whatever losses I sustain with PLEX does ruin some of the impact that EVE has. So I can appreciate why some might view PLEX as a bad thing – it does undermine the unique brutality of New Eden a tad.

    That said, if I was ISK poor, I would be disinclined to grind for more, so I’d probably just stop playing.

  14. Magic the Gathering is still alive and well, though the player base is aging. These days the prices are even more absurd because most of the players have real jobs and the more obsessive are willing to drop thousands of dollars on a deck full of the newest most powerful “Mythic Rare” card. Financially it’s on the same scale as selling PLEX for a supercap.

    • Really? I have some (thousands) very old, very very rare cards.
      Those are more than 20 years old. May those still be used?
      I could be sitting on a small fortune here without knowing?

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