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Is it Now Pay to Win?

Lewis Burnell Posted:
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I’ve watched with interest the community reaction to the announcement by Daum that Pearl Shop items would soon be purchasable by players from the in-game Marketplace. Their argument in support of this change is that “regardless of the region, there will always be players who, for whatever reason, do not get to experience all the features Black Desert offers including Pearl Shop Items. Adding a mechanic that grants access to Pearl Shop Items with in game currency will allow more players to enjoy such content more easily.”

While it’s noble of Daum to attempt to gloss over this statement with a healthy dollop of PR, what they really should have said is:

“Regardless of the region, large amounts of our players aren’t buying from our Pearl Shop because it’s too expensive. Adding a mechanic that allows players to purchase Pearl Shop Items, to then sell on to other players, will encourage more players to buy from us. Those players will be safe in the knowledge that they can then obtain lots of gold from the Marketplace when selling them on.”

I anticipated that the moment I read the news from Daum that there would be a barrage of accusations from the community that this change instantly made Black Desert Online pay to win. What I find most interesting is the majority of those throwing around such a statement haven’t, as far as I can see, justified as to why. Not only this, but I’ve read countless sensationalist statements that echo those that surfaced when WildStar announced it would be selling C.R.E.D.D or Guild Wars 2 and its Gems.

In many respects the approach that Daum are taking isn’t unique to the genre. In fact, it’s more common than players might realize and the impact on in-game economies isn’t necessarily detrimental. The longstanding Eve Online and its PLEX system is a testament to that: its economy is largely considered one of the most fascinating in the gaming industry and has faced multiple studies. While there’s no doubting a system such as that Daum have devised can be lucrative (certainly at the expense of your real life wallet) I’ve never stood by the fact that it is, in any form, pay to win. Just like the Gem system in Guild Wars 2, it’s far more appropriate to call it pay to skip.

Black Desert Online has its fair share of grind, with many end-game items purchasable through the Marketplace. Such items don’t come cheaply and to obtain enough money to buy them a player needs to invest a significant amount of time and energy in accumulating an appropriate amount of wealth. The introduction of a system where a player can purchase a highly sought after outfit and weapon set from the Pearl Shop and find themselves several million gold richer after a successful sale, is likely to frustrate those who work tirelessly to earn ‘legitimate’ gold. While I can sympathise with those who aren’t handing over a credit card to bypass the grind, inevitably there are players - as Daum state - who won’t get to experience all the game as to offer. Providing those players with an ability to earn gold quickly in order satiate their personal needs is, in the grand scheme of things, irrelevant to anyone but them.

To once again reference Guild Wars 2 as an example, I have on many occasions purchased Gems and converted them to gold. I’ve used the gold to level crafting, buy Ascended materials and even a Legendary weapon or two. I would have eventually accumulated such quantities of gold simply by playing the game and saving all that I earned. However, the Gem system allowed me acquire the wealth instantly as opposed to in six months time. Did I pay to win? Not really, but I did pay to bypass months of potential gold grind. Did I gain an advantage over anyone else in the process? Again, not really. I might have gained gold considerably quicker than those unwilling to hand ArenaNet money and obtained Ascended items before some players, but the attribute gain was marginal.

Back to Black Desert Online, there is the potential that “buying” gold through Pearl Shop sales will have some impact - more than Guild Wars 2 - simply because gear and the quality of it is so important. The statistical differences between the worst and best gear are significant enough that in an open PvP game, there’s likely going to be an increase in the number of players who can, at long last, compete. Certainly from my perspective and to be blunt, I can’t be bothered to grind the gold I need to compete against someone who plays 24/7: I do not have the time and the facility Daum are providing allows me to skip the misery.

Will those players who have spent countless hours in an attempt to be the top 1% feel aggrieved? I suspect so. Those players will however be able to utilise this new system to bolster their own wealth. Certainly in WildStar I regularly manipulated C.R.E.D.D to secure large profits on market fluctuations and have done the same in Guild Wars 2. There’s nothing to stop a wealthy player doing the same in Black Desert Online, even with the restrictions Daum have placed on maximum listings.

Judging this system needs a rational approach and players have to look at other games in the genre to form a valid opinion on its potential impact. It’s simply not good enough to state “it’s pay to win I want a refund!” without consideration to the fact no MMO is ever a level playing field. There’s always someone who can play more than you, earn more than you and be luckier than you. Does that mean we need to restrict play time, wealth gain and ensure all loot is equalised to ensure there’s a fairness for all? Of course not.

As far as I’m concerned, if someone wants to give Daum £30 for a outfit and weapon set that they then list on the Marketplace for X amount of silver or gold, so be it. It doesn’t stop my enjoyment of the game and should I want to, I could do the same. I suspect in the long-term, players will realize the sky isn’t falling and for some of the negatives this system brings, the positives far outweigh them.

What do you think of the new system? Is it pay to win or pay to skip? Do you think it will create a more level playing field for the majority? Will you stop playing Black Desert Online as a result of this change? Let me know. 


Lewis Burnell

Lewis has played MMOs since Ultima Online launched, and written about them for far too long.