Mailvox: the plus side of pay-for-play

In my opinion, Cinco didn’t think this one all the way through:

I recommend you do what Valve did get rid of the +5-8% advantage, and just offer loads of different skins/models for people who want to play the game more than casuals/fund the kick starter.

Now, T11 is the most successful game of its kind out there; so why would we want to simply turn up our nose at what quite clearly works very, very well? What most non-game designers don’t seem to understand is that a perfectly “fair” game in which no one can buy any advantage is actually going to be considerably more unbalanced, in practice, than one where you give people a reasonable means of compensating for their lack of time to develop mastery.

Let me give you an example, do you think you would have any chance against me in ASL? I’ve got thousands of hours in over more than 30 years, if one includes Squad Leader, Cross of Iron, and Crescendo of Doom as proto-ASL. You’ll need a hefty advantage or be an Ender-style natural just to make it a game of it at all. The objective is not to maximize the advantage those who are willing to spend time rather than money on acquiring mastery, but rather, to provide for the broadest possible range of interesting and challenging competition for everyone.

Or for another example, take Maddens, with which I have been down since 1992. I haven’t played it seriously in years. And yet, I have repeatedly demolished younger players who play it incessantly and consider themselves to be very good; one twenty-something game artist who works for a studio I know was absolutely shocked when he challenged me to a game and I beat him by 70 points even though he had a higher-rated team. Ender finally beat me for the first time when we played a game on Madden 25, a version I’d never played before with a team whose playbook I didn’t know, and he still needed me to miss two field goals in order to eke out a win with a last-minute score.

Not only will the game be more fun for the lesser player if he can purchase a chance of being able to compete with the best, but more importantly, it is more fun for the best players too. I almost never play ASL without giving my opponent the strongest balance, because otherwise the game tends to get rather tedious for me. (Ender consciously tries to take advantage of my tendency to get bored and mentally check out before the end game.) The fact that the likes of Zynga go way too far – unsurprisingly, since they were never gamers – does not mean that the mechanic of substituting money for time is entirely useless for play-balancing purposes.

What about the potential problem of piling the purchasable advantage on top of the time advantage? Please, that’s hardly even worthy of being labled a design challenge! It’s easy to focus the monetary advantages towards game mechanics that will favor the less experienced player against the more experienced player, rather than vice-versa or on a horizontal competition. The fact that a mechanic is poorly implemented (especially in games for non-gamers), does not mean that it should be dismissed.