Running afoul of pay-to-win

World of Tanks has eliminated the pay-to-win model.

Those who are regular readers of this blog know I start most every entry with a piece of fiction. Same is true with this one, since World of Tanks is unquestionably still pay to win.

I have a couple thousand hours into World of Tanks. I quit playing it with any regularity a few versions back as I could no longer stand the rampant shell penetration and camouflage bugs. I also continue to be persistently annoyed at this Russian-controlled company’s bias against American tanks – in particular, making their stats look competitive but then placing little “hatch hats” that can be penned by any tank Tier 6 and above. I quit spending money on the game, so my “premium account” status lapsed.

Which brings us to this blog entry.

Star Citizen will not be pay-to-win. Chris Roberts (CR) has said that a million times. The only thing that will convince people is to see the complete CIG revenue model (and, truthfully, probably not even then). The point of this blog is not to try and convince people Star Citizen won’t be pay to win as I certainly won’t be able to convince anyone who won’t believe CR.

I’m fairly confident CIG will limit cash purchases to cosmetic items, particularly avatar features. Cash purchases of game credits will also be a feature, though the company will try to limit players from exceeding a certain number of credits per month (which they will have to do via their online store). I’m happy for this recurring revenue model as it supports a vibrant, persistent gaming universe.

The purpose of this blog is to show a cautionary tale in the form of how World of Tanks retains their pay-to-win model via the use of premium accounts. The screen shots below are from a match I played yesterday in my E-50M, the top tier German medium tank.

The screen below shows it was a pretty good match. I was awarded the “Sniper” medal as the tanker with the most accurate shooting in the match. I was also awarded the “Invader” medal for having the most flag capture points (World of Tanks matches usually revolve around a Capture the Flag theme). I spotted two tanks, killed two tanks, damaged five additional tanks, and had three tanks spotted for others to damage. All of these items contribute both experience points (which are required to acquire new tanks) and credits (necessary for repairs, new shells, and new tanks). Click the image to see it larger.

The screen below shows the details of credits and experience earned on the right side. On the right edge, faded out, you’ll see what I would have earned if I had a premium account. (Click image to see it larger)

You will see I lost money despite this being a good match for me and my team winning. It wasn’t much (293 credits), but it was a loss. If you look at the premium column, however, you will see that if I had a premium account I would have instead made 14,523 credits.

The same is true for experience. I earned 3,965 experience, but with premium I would have earned 5,948 experience. That’s an increase of 50%, in line with what’s advertised for premium accounts. (For context, I needed 183,000 experience and 6.1 million credits to acquire the E-50M tank).

With premium, I get the next tank 50% faster and have a MUCH better chance of making money.

It’s that credit balance that is the real problem with World of Tanks and the cautionary lesson for Star Citizen. Without premium, I cannot run my top-tier tanks. They simply lose too much money. I either have to run lower-tier tanks, which are better money makers, or I have to buy a Tier 8 “premium” tank, which is only acquirable with cash. They have very low repair bills and very high damage-to-earnings ratios. They are, in short, money machines.

If I want to run my top tier tanks, I have to spend a lot of time running lower tiers or I have to spend cash on a Tier 8 premium to grind credits.

I am aware there are alternatives. I could join one of the better clans and fight for territory on the Global Map. If I join a competitive clan, they would pay me in the gold credits they earn for holding territory. I could use those gold credits to pay for a premium account. I’m good enough and, as someone who has paid lots of money for World of Tanks, I have the tanks to qualify for any of the top clans.

But for all but a few hundred of the hundreds of thousands of World of Tanks players, it is clearly a pay-to-win game.

I suspect Star Citizen subscriptions to eventually morph from “access content first” to some in-game benefits of some sort – exclusive bars, preferred access to certain suppliers, etc. I think those sorts of things, done carefully and with much aforethought, can integrate optional subscription payments into the Star Citizen universe without crossing the pay-to-win line.

However, CIG needs to be careful not to replicate the World of Tanks premium account system. Their system provides a specific, quantifiable pay-to-win advantage to those who can afford the cash.

I have every confidence in the CIG team to navigate the fine line between recurring revenues and pay-to-win. I believe they will not intentionally institute any program that provides a persistent advantage to players on the basis of their finances. My only worry is the unintentional, which is a big reason why I wrote this blog article highlighting why World of Tanks remains a pay-to-win game.

[Note: For the record, CR references World of Tanks often when talking about business models. In the June 2013 livestream event, he specifically called World of Tanks a game with pay-to-win aspects and said Star Citizen would not do the same.]


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