Pay-To-Win Games Are Financial Dominatrixes

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At MMOs.com we often scratch our heads wondering why so many pay-to-win games are successful. They’re everywhere. But we’ve never come up with an answer, until now.

I need to be clear.

By pay-to-win I don’t mean the debates that eat up forum space with cash shop dissections: players clawing at each other’s throats over whether or not bonus experience attached to a piece of lingerie constitutes the label “pay-to-win.” I mean obvious pay-to-win games: browser MMOs; games that are barely games in my eyes. Yet, they’re monumental successes—something we can’t deny.

So, what is it? Why do people play obvious pay-to-win games?

Our team of highly trained MMOs scientists have been hard at work on the issue and after years of careful study they’ve finally unraveled the enigma; the world is crystal clear and everything makes sense, like a twenty-something coming off a bender and realizing he should have been a dancer.

Pay-to-win games are the financial dominatrixes of MMOs. Yes. Dominatrix; pay-to-win games are dominatrixes. Don’t you see? It all falls into place.

I’ll explain.

But first we’re going to have to learn some empathy to get in the mind of a “pay pig:” a person who parts with large sums of cash in a “play-game” relationship.

Imagine you’re middle-aged—if you aren’t already; you have a stable job, a wife, kids, a dog named Spot with an aptitude for sniffing out peanut butter. You have succeeded in life, lived the dream portrayed in American sitcoms (you even manage to get along with the in-laws). All is good but you’re bored; lassitude grips your soul. You can’t shake it because everything is going so well. Too well.

You crave adventure, risk, excitement. But you’re too old to start using drugs, you get nauseous by the fourth floor of a high-rise, and after all you have children to look after. What tightrope can such a person walk? How can they relinquish some control in their life to fill their late stage ennui with meaning? What could be exciting without being crazy?

Pay-to-win games.

“I enjoy living on the edge, parting with money to the point where I don’t know if I can pay my bills because I want to buy gems to enhance my gear,” wrote CoolGuy69 on a lesser-known board for players in pay-game relationships. “It’s exhilarating. The more I progress in the game, the more I put my life outside the game in jeopardy. I’ve walked the line so far, and I don’t know if I could get off even if I wanted to.”

Pay-to-win games are a form of Total Power Exchange (TPE), a way for people to submit their lives according to a set of artificial rules. Rules akin to jumping out of a plane at 13,000 feet: you have to pull the cord or gravity will keep pulling you. You have to pay to get ahead or you're never going to win. You’re in a situation without control, where you’re totally powerless if you want to continue.

And some people find that attractive.

Pay-to-win players submit to the constraints of the game, stepped on by the heels of the game’s limitations. They can’t go through this or that door, can’t beat this or that mob, can’t participate in this or that event. They’re second-class citizens in the game’s world. Unless—unless they sacrifice a part of themselves from the real world, their bank account credentials, can they crawl towards freedom but the heel always reasserts itself.

“I love being seduced by titillating pixels telling me I deserve an orgy today. You’re damn right I do,” replied one devout player. “And I’m going to get one when I hear the cha-ching sound of the game approving my MasterCard and then I'll say, ‘Yes, I’m the best.’”

Keep in mind, these relationships between game and player are not sexual—although lewd advertising suggests otherwise. No, no, the truth is, a player-game feedback loop is about power.

Some play-game relationships lead people to spend thousands of dollars. One extravagant woman told me she parted with $5,000 in one month, just so she could overpower another player. The woman, who chose to remain anonymous as so many do, owns a successful business and is a mother of four. She’s proud to call herself a whale. And said she hasn’t felt so alive since she was in college.

The pay-game relationship is still a world I struggle to understand, probably because I can't relate to it. Perhaps because I’m financially inept. I can barely afford to feed my addiction of pickle popcorn and ginger beer, so how could I engage in the financially destabilizing life of pay-to-win gaming?

But maybe if I had my life together and was bored I might want to put my family’s well-being on the line by mortgaging my home and playing League of Angels 2. Maybe one day I'll find out what it's like to be dominated by a pay-to-win game.

From Mega Man II to Ape Escape, I've been playing games for as long as I can remember. I've spent months killing porings in Ragnarok Online and more recently lived a second life in Eve Online. I usually play as gUMBY, gUMBLEoni, or gUMBLes in-game.