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.