The ultimate “fairness” law

Azuriel is upset that another blogger is pro-P2W. He mocks the guy’s attempt to paint P2W as “they supported on-going development of the game”. However, while the guy is ridiculous, he is not wrong. The game indeed needs development money and as Ralph Koster perfectly explains P2W simply increases the amount of money the game developers make, by making every customer pay as much as he’d pay for the game.

I’ve been long thinking what kind of law the government should enforce on game developers. Even better, if I was a game developing decision maker, what kind of rules I’d enforce on my company to both develop a fair game and to not go bankrupt. Don’t get me wrong, some games can be built as charity (either by a donor or crowdfunding) which can say “damn the income, we stay pure”. But most games must make profit. And to make profit, one indeed cannot say “buy this box for $200 and we promise you’ll like this game”. Market of lemons is a nasty thing. But if he must make $200 per customer (based on expected player count) to make profit, all he can do is to make some of the customers pay much more by offering them extras.

The solution is that players can only play with/against players of similar purchases. This is the ultimate fairness law. The game should have a Free server, a $1-5 server, a $6-15 server, a $16-30 server, a $31-50 server, a $51-100 server, a $101-200 server, a $201-500 server, a $501-1000 server, a $1000-5000 server, and a server for every 5K bracket above it. Than you can offer all the P2W in the world. 10x more XP for $99? Sure, but if you buy it, you are transferred to the $51-100 server from your free server, playing against other players who either have the same 10x XP or some other powerup. You also buy the sword of uberness for $49? Welcome to the $101-200 server where most players also have that sword. Or they snipe you with the bow of uberness.

Simple, easy to reinforce (companies are forced to keep payment data for accounting) and fair, while elegantly dodges all the time-rich-money-rich excuses. You can throw $10K on the game to skip lot of content and get the best gear overnight. But now you must prove yourself against players who did the same.

This rule also elegantly solves my main problem with MMOs: catchup mechanisms. They on the one hand make playing the game pointless, the best way to get ilvl X is not playing until ilvl X is given out by the first murlock. On the other hand a new player would need thousands of hours of gameplay to catch up with those who are playing for 10+ years without it. With the new servers, someone who is paying $15 for 10 years has paid $1800, so he is on the $1000-5000 server. A new player can either pay $15 per month and start grinding the same way as the old players, playing only with or against equally starter players, or he can pay $1500 for an instant catch-up and play with the veterans. He can also pay smaller amount for a partial catch-up and play with those who are playing for 4 years or paid the same amount. But he doesn’t have to, because he is competitive with any payments, since everyone on his server has equal footing.

Author: Gevlon

My blog: https://greedygoblinblog.wordpress.com/

28 thoughts on “The ultimate “fairness” law”

  1. So similar(maybe even extended) idea as the battlegrounds for xp-locked characters in WoW? Don’t quite remember what was the fate of it.

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  2. The problem is that for the wallet warriors, the content is the F2P character.

    These games don’t work at level strength, the systems are not elegant, they are more vs few.

    Why not then add a “time played” dimension as well? Now you have fragmented the server in 100 ways. What about some other competitive advantage? Ping?

    Seems like an odd way to penalise those of whom the masses are jealous (whales, basement dwellers etc.)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There’s one obvious “fairness” problem: power creep.

    Imagine that I spent $500 two years ago and got a complete set of premium gear for my character. But then I got bored and stopped playing the game.

    If I launch the game today, I could be matched up against someone who paid $500 *yesterday*. He’s running around with best-in-slot gear, while my stuff is inferior to green items which drop as loot from random boars. If I pay out another $500 then I’ll still lose, because I’ll be facing $1000 whales. My previous purchase no longer gives me any power in the game, but it remains a permanent blemish on my account.

    The rational solution is to start over with a new account – or just quit and play a different game instead. That’s bad news for the developer; they’ve made me *regret* my previous purchase and I’m actively doubting my decision to return to the game. My potential as a revenue source has been diminished by the fair monetization policy.

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  4. You are not paying for an advantage if you end up being matched against people who also paid for an advantage. Ergo, no one would pay for advantage. You still might have some people who really want to skip boring content/grinding, but that market is much smaller than the people who want to P2W, and comes with downsides, e.g. the F2P path might become too painful and they leave.

    This is besides the fact that whales need minnows to remind them that they are big, and how the F2P server does nothing for the health of the game, e.g. provide fodder, increase number of matches, etc.

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  5. The only problem with what you suggest, is one of player fragmentation. For each additional server type, you will be splitting up the playerbase by a factor that multiplies with each server offered.

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  6. But what about the amount of players in each bracket? Nobody will be happy if they pay 5k$ only to realize they are now alone on their server. Or if they see beforehand that the bracket has very low player count, they’ll not pay neither.

    Imo simple “Power Bracket” would be better – eg. endgame = 5000 Power, you start at 0, you can play the game the way it’s meant to be played (pun :D) and slowly reach the end bracket or buy your way to the last bracket, where you’ll be with all those who paid or made their way through already.

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  7. There is one problem with this: the usual “want to play with friends” problem. Or in this it would be more precise: “want to play with not so rich (or too rich) friends” problem.

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  8. This scheme involves a lie to the consumer.
    Basically, the consumer is buying a sword of uberness to make his game easier (and to look cool), but he ends up looking the same as anyone else (average) and his game gets harder.
    You can’t really advertise that honestly, either. The only people who’d buy that if honestly advertised are challenge-obsessed munchkins with cash to spare on a game (almost a nonexistent subgroup of people).

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  9. @retsep: they are still working that way. Twinks complained for a while, but they got used to it

    @anon: there is no danger that the gaming company rigs the game for low ping or high playtime players, no need rules against that

    @edwardqjones: read what I wrote. The game would no longer need catchup mechanisms and power creep, these are things introduced to allow new players compete with old ones. Now they’d compete with each other

    @Azuriel: that’s exactly the point. To ban selling power over the other player. They can still sell fluff and grind-skipping.

    @Noguff: with 1M+ players, the playerbase is already segmented into servers. Who cares if the servers are not named after RP characters but payment?

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  10. @Destabilizator: good point. The 5K server should be opened when the previous highest server (1K) have 10% of its players over 5K

    @cathfaern: hey, he can donate purchases to his friends so they all be in the same bracket

    @Maxim: you can’t advertise it. But the game would function and players wouldn’t leave because it’s impossible to compete the whales.

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  11. @Gevlon: sure, but people don’t like that. But maybe they can be tricked by not direct purchases but some guild mechanism. So the whale buy some resource points for his/her guild and then the less rich guild members can use it and it would count as a purchase for them. That way they would not feel that their “friendship” was bought.

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  12. @Maxim: this whole thing sort of works in the mobile game Fire Emblem Heroes. It’s a gacha game, you can summon heroes with 3-4 and 5 stars (you summon them with orbs, these are the main resource of the game). Also you can “plus” the heroes: if you merge the same heroes with the same rarity, then it’s get elevated stats. Rarity is nullified on upgrade, so you can’t merge 4 star heroes to +10 and then upgrade it to 5 star, you have to merge 10 5 star of the same hero. The summon chance is low for 5 star heroes and you can’t select who you want to summon so getting the exact hero you want is pretty low. You can get some 5 star heroes as f2p, but there is almost no chance you get even +1 or +2 of it. So to get 5 or 10 of the same hero you have to spend money. A lot. Whale level lot.
    The game’s main content (I mean: doing all story and challenge level) is solo, not multiplayer and it’s either trivial, or can be done with totally f2p (the game is relative generous with orbs). So the main reason to merge heroes are: you like the hero (vanity) or for PvP. The PvP is divided to brackets, you can advance to a higher bracket if you’re good enough in the previous season (they are weekly). The higher bracket does not gives much more orb than the lower ones, so there is no “economy” reason do be at the top. Also because +10 heroes are so overpowered compared to the non-merge heroes in the top-brackets there are almost no non-merge heroes (you can grind your way there, but can’t really stay there).

    So in this game you either doing solo content where it does not really matter how much did you pay. Or you’re doing PvP mode where you’re bracketed with people who payed about the same money on the game as you.

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  13. @Gevlon: You might want to set it as an absolute number (for example, there are at least 1000 players who paid over 5 k $) instead of percentages, otherwise it might become 1000->100->10->1->???.

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  14. Not sure that this will be popular with the customers. P2W players pay to have unfair advantage, not to be average. If unfair advantage is unavailable from the game developer, they will revert to usual 3rd paty botting/autoaim/hacks.

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  15. @Souldrinker: that’s the point. My suggestion is just semi-serious. It’s to make all the P2W claims void. “Hey, you can get all the market segmentation you want, you just can’t make whales massacre less-paying players” and ta-dam, they have to admit that their whole business model is selling cheats, like the cycling competition would be selling motors and doping to the cyclists.

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  16. Whales don’t pay for power, they pay for wins. If spending $10k doesn’t give them extra wins, they won’t spend it.
    Even selling cosmetics only is a better idea: it doesn’t give them an advantage but at least they stand out as wealthy people. There is no bragging about your $100 mount when everybody has the same

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  17. From Azuriel’s post:
    “The key difference, of course, is that your payment is not contributing to the perversion of the game’s underlying design.”

    For example, in Nascar, which is surely P2P… it costs a LOT to build a car. But there are rules you can’t pay to get around. In reality, those cars are really all the same. They all have essentially the same engine and body. It’s not P2W, that would be if Nascar itself said, Ok, for 100 million dollars, you can use this fuel injected, turbo charged engine that generates 40% more HP with the same amount of fuel. Suddenly, only the deepest pockets could compete. Or if the Tour de France said Ok, For a payment, we’ll sell you the “Armstrong package” that gives you a pass on the doping testing. This would be an unmitigated disaster! In Nascar, safety would be thrown to the winds, in the Tour de France, the winners would be so doped they could hardly talk.

    The core difference between P2P, which all games need to be, and P2W is the P2W players aren’t paying for a fair game, they’re paying to dominate the players that aren’t paying for an advantage. If they’re forced to only play with the other asshats that did the same thing, they would quit. This would be a good thing, except for one problem: You can’t force them. All you can do is price your OWN P2W out of the equation, they’ll still buy hacks, illegal RMT, etc.

    There has to be a cost of participation, the only negotiation is how much, and how deterministically up front the payment is. Loot boxes are a gambling abomination, but huge, expensive games can’t just charge a huge up front price for a more morally sound game when some other company will just do it with lootboxes and prey on the stupidity of human kind.

    You can’t fix the problem, all the individual can do is change their expectations and realize that they’re stupid if they think they’re competing directly with others in an online game. If you can’t ride your bike faster than Lance Armstrong because he’s doped to the moon, and the race can’t be run in France without the income from the dopers paying to win… the solution isn’t to dope at twice the level, it’s to realize your best goal is to improve yourself, not compare yourself to an artificially stupid standard.

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  18. like the cycling competition would be selling motors and doping to the cyclists.

    ok, accurate analogy. every RL sport the casuals dope.

    and still I can’t get behind it. it is not the same. MMOs are by far not a cycling competition it’s more like a playground for retarded people, where they can hang out and don’t bother anyone.

    Sure every “game” in human existence was or will be played competitively. but the percentage of people really doing that will be different. also if the casual majority mob will default to watch and associate with that competition. I don’t have any data maybe it doesn’t matter how popular or competition driven a game is and you will always have wallet-warriors.

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  19. @Gevlon
    >The game would no longer need catchup mechanisms and power creep

    If gear doesn’t improve over time then you’re limiting the sense of character progression for your players, and the narrative opportunities for your writers. You can manage that sort of thing in a static PvP game (such as TF2), but it’s poorly suited to a long-running story (such as WoW).

    “Hey players: our new expansion will put you face-to-face with Sargeras – the ultimate apocalyptic terror of the Burning Legion! Do you dare to face his cosmic might?”

    “P.S. Sargeras has the same HP and DPS as Patchwerk. If your gear was good enough to beat Patchwerk 10 years ago then you can tank and spank Sargeras today.”

    “P.P.S. The loot dropped by Sargeras *won’t* be better than the gear that you used to defeat him. Because if each new boss drops better gear then that would inevitably create power creep, which would undermine our monetization strategy. Unless you care about lore-nerd bullshit or server-first records, the whole raid is basically just a big waste of your time.”

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  20. @Smokeman: my suggestion is just half-serious. I mean it would work perfectly, but I do not expect anyone to implement it. Its main goal is to disable all the usual pro-pay-to-win arguments like “time rich – money rich” or “price segmentation” or “games are just too expensive to make and people don’t pay $200 upfront”. You get all these with my rule. The only thing you can’t get is selling domination over other players. Ergo, if you don’t like my rule, you want to buy/sell the experience of pwning other players.

    @edwardqjones: This problem can be solved if the game doesn’t sell gear, just gear upgrade item (like an enchant) that can be transferred from item to item. So you can just remove your $500 enchant from your old gear and add to your new.

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  21. Difference in game devs and publishers. Sure game devs are all playing with RNG and hope that their project hits BIG TIME. Otherwise they wouldn’t put those horrible hours into a project, so they can early retire (most of them don’t and are so fucking stupid to build companies on that money in the very off chance to ever be so lucky fucking again). the devs will be compensated and I don’t really care about them.
    It is more likely the publisher and the truckload of shareholders and investors, suits, breathing down some projects neck and fucking up things. they are the ones promised some-term-profits by CEO and prj-lead and if profit doesn’t come in as planned, you get all the fucked up shit you see in games today.

    Still I don’t see a “law” regulating this. why bring regulation into this? doesn’t a free market provide the perfect field for people to choose? Or is the majority-mob too stupid and is a utopian-benevolent-dictator needed to watch over their mindless subjects for their own good?

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  22. @Gevlon
    Not being able to advance is often a reason to leave. At least, for the achievement-oriented quarter of the audience.

    @cathfaern
    There is a difference. You get to play with your OP store-bought hero and pwn nabs and the bottom of the ladder before you hit the harder top brackers. The game does get harder, but it is deserved.

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  23. @gevlon

    Do we have any data to back up your claim that P2W supporters would stop playing if forced to play against other players with equally sized wallets? Or is this a gut feeling? People still play WoT, Clash of Clans…ect and play against other players who spend an equal amount as they do. But they still play right alongside those players who are able to spend more. You’re saying that by virtue of just “telling” the player that they will only play with equally spending members, that they will not play, or quit the game? The success of all the P2W games on the market right now would say that you are wrong.

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  24. @Anon: we have laws against gambling, especially underage gambling. Organizing and rigging boxing matches are mafia crimes that come with 10+ year sentences. It’s not “benevolent” dictatorship to stop predatory practices that are based on lying to the customers.

    @Maxim: you can’t keep everyone. If you cater to one group, you lose the other. Sure, there will always be WoW for those who just want to “progress” in the sense that some number gets bigger every time they log in. But there should be games for competitive people too.

    @Noguff: free players pay P2W because they are poor. The others are playing because most of the players are free, ergo it’s much more likely that they pwn a free than a whale pwning them.

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  25. we have laws against gambling, especially underage gambling. Organizing and rigging boxing matches are mafia crimes that come with 10+ year sentences.

    ok, protecting the children. There are many mechanisms in place for that. Besides parenting, let age rating consider those game mechanics into their scoring. so these childbreaking mechanics are only available to adults (whatever age a country defines adults). I don’t see gambling laws applied to this, games that deal with currency in that way where betting and other practices determine winners of money already fall under online gambling acts. maybe I don’t get it, a lootbox with a random skin isn’t gambling heck even if it where gear you don’t get any monetary value. if those mechanics would allow for premium currency and some way of conversion into RL money, then these games should fall under existing regulations and inspection. example: secondlife had inspections because of bidirectional money transfer and people building betting and gambling services.

    It’s not “benevolent” dictatorship to stop predatory practices that are based on lying to the customers.

    Well you described nearly the whole marketing and PR industry here and nearly every transaction (if withholding information counts as lying). I guess you have a point, software in particular can be very dishonest like all the new shovelware every day. But in RL where gigantic halls like “Toys’r’us” are filled with one silly attempt after the other to get a childs attention and their parents money, these are filtered by simple market force. So the wallet decides.

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  26. @Anon: “some way of conversion into RL money”, like RMT?
    more like a real currency exchange Euro:Dollar or like in secondlife with the Linden Dollar exchange. I’m not a lawyer or this is already RMT. with RMT at least TOS and EULA is broken because it isn’t supported by the company. as soon as a company supports such exchange there has to be some law that applies otherwise people would “RMT” (for the lack of a better term) the hell out of it to hide their money.

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  27. >The solution is that players can only play with/against players of similar purchases. This is the ultimate fairness law.

    Would argue a lot of games are already doing this, but not in an open way. Many match-making or PvP tier systems offer a similar experience, and it is especially common in mobile games.

    If you’re being matched against players of a similar rank/class, and the game has P2W elements, it’s virtually the same experience. You still get matched against people with a similar amount of grinding or $$$ spent, the bigger spenders simply get a smaller rank next to their name so they can feel better about their “accomplishments.” That’s what they’re buying for the most part, the prestige. You can get a fair fight against similarly ranked people regardless of how much you spend (yes sometimes you get matched against a new spender, or similar, but those will rapidly move past your level until they reach others with a similar amount of time/money invested), but you’ll never be #3 in a P2W game regardless of knowledge or skill if you’re not willing to pay the money.

    So long as people are aware the game has P2W elements the match-making method really doesn’t matter much, and many people are aware of P2W games, and still openly play them because they can have enjoyable fights in there. They’re just fighting over rank #1389 instead of rank #64 because they’re going F2P. If you’re only looking to test your skill or have a fun fight you can be equally happy in both systems, but if it’s the rank number by your name that’s important to you, well why wouldn’t you make someone pay for that if you could?

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