Time is Fair

Tobold has a series of posts now in which he simultaneously blames players for the failure of F2P games and then denigrates everyone who, you know, plays RPGs for supporting/enjoying “Grind2Win.” Apparently it is unfair for someone who has played an RPG for longer than you to have any advantage whatsoever. I can only imagine what he thinks about XP as a concept.

In short: Tobold is against any form of progression that you can’t buy your way past; merely playing the game more is asking too much.

Perhaps I am being less charitable here, but I consider the entire “debate” to be, quite frankly, insane. If you spend more time reading a book than me, you will be further along in the story than I. That is… logic, working as intended. Meanwhile, time and money are not analogous; the former is distributed equally to all persons and the latter is not. Perhaps you could argue that more money allows for more day-to-day freedom (i.e. time), but that extra freedom still requires one to spend the same hours playing a game as anyone else.

There is literally no more fair a payment than time. Unless you are dying by mid-evening, everyone has the same 24 hours in their day and every single one of those hours is valuable. Conversely, money has a marginal utility such that $10 to one person is a rounding error and to someone else it’s food for the week.

One of Tobold’s complaints is that Grind2Win lessens the importance of skill. Well, yes and no. If two players of equal skill are fighting, the one who spent more time playing the game will probably win. And that’s… a terrible outcome, I guess? A great moral failing of design? I mean, how dare someone who spent more time in an activity have an advantage over someone who has not! A truly Just World would… have exactly that design.

In clashes of unequal skill however, the outcome is usually less clear-cut than what is being assumed here. Outside of level differences in RPGs and time-management games like Clash of Clans, it’s hard to say how big an advantage grinding gets you. Gevlon did demonstrate it was possible to clear an entire WoW raiding tier in blue gear. Indeed, the surprisingly large delta between skill and gear becomes obvious in most MMOs – squeezing in an extra attack per rotation (skill) will almost always trump a blanket 5/10/15% better DPS stats (time). In MMO PvP, 10% more health isn’t going to save you from being dismantled by a Pro Player.

So what Tobold seems to be really upset about is that small band of conflict between a mediocre player who plays a game often and the slightly-less mediocre player who doesn’t. Sorry, I can’t quite get worked up about the “inequity” of that situation. Not only is one’s time-advantage frequently capped – in MMOs via raiding tiers – it is not much to ask a player to… play the game. Even the most skilled Chess player in the world has to, you know, play a lot of Chess matches to move up the ladder.

All of this really ignores the fact that “Grind2Win” doesn’t even exist as a monetization strategy on its own. Without a cash shop bypass, “grind” really means “pacing” – you can complain about the pacing being off or too slow, but that’s about it. You can’t even argue that MMOs like WoW have weekly raid lockouts to milk subscriptions because it makes no sense. The world-first competition is over within a few resets, long before anyone can “grind” anything. And then the entire tier lasts six months or more, leaving plenty of time for anyone else that cares to get all the gear they want/need. The only scenario that one needs to be suspicious of is when a task is made arduous while there is a cash-based workaround.

The bottom line here is that Pay2Win and Grind2Win are not “equally unfair” and its insulting to even suggest it. I know it sucks to lose to a “no-lifer” who is really a human being that has spent more time playing a game than you, but it’s not even in the same league as someone buying their way to the endgame. A hundred dollars to a F2P whale is not of equal value to a hundred dollars from someone living paycheck to paycheck. Hours spent, though? That’s a direct correlation with how valuable a given activity is to you. And if you are unwilling to spend the time on something, what are you even complaining about?

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Posted on February 6, 2015, in Commentary, Philosophy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.

  1. It is fun that for me fairness is not a good concept in games whereas it is important in real life games.
    For example grind for power is stupid in chess ( play 10 hours and you unlocked the queen) as pay for power. in real life a game is fair if all player have the same power and follow the same rules. Pay for cosmetic yields no problem either.
    In video games fairness is not that clear. Fist PVE game does not exist in real life and fairness has no sense in PvE. In PvP it is considered acceptable than players enter the games with different power (seens as opposed to skill). Often difference in power is considered fair as long as *you* still have fun.
    The more competitive the game is ( such as tournament with money) the less difference in power is accepted. FPS multi games for example allow a small vertical pprogression. PvE games such as MMO considered acceptable to import your PvE character to PvP games. Solo games allow cheat code.
    Competitive PvE games are the strange beast. As some player see it as non competitive cheating with mmoney can be considered ok for some and unacceptable for others.

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  2. He’s called Trollbold for a reason. :)

    Great comment and analysis, however.

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  3. “Tobold is against any form of progression that you can’t buy your way past”

    I’ve given up expecting logic from that quarter.

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  4. Just a thought here: everyone who is so “against” F2P always brings up this “Pay2Win” argument, and they’re always PvE players. There’s not a single MMORPG one can “win” anyway, and especially PvE. There is no PvE “victory condition.”

    You write here about “cash shop bypass” and “buying your way to end-game.” Can you name a single F2P MMORPG ( <– there's the catch: this article was specifically about RPGs, and the MMO variety) that anyone in the West gives a crap about where one can simply "buy their way to end-game?" None of the ones I play or have seen allow that. Not anything remotely close to that.

    Off the top of my head, I can rattle off one game that would most definitely be considered "Pay2Win" but it's neither an MMO nor an RPG so it's disqualified from this.
    Also, I'm not necessarily siding with Tobold, either. I've always found him an arrogant SOB who tends to enjoy the attention and hype he gets a bit too much for my comfort level.

    I don't mind F2P, I play several. I don't mind subs, I'm subbing to one now. I don't mind B2P, I have a couple of those too. I also remember Ye Olde Days of paying per hour to use the internet in the 90's. Business models change. Most things in life change over time. For MMOs I don't believe any one model is inherently "better" than another. "Better" is opinion, and everyone has opinions. I guess I'm just old enough now and seen and participated with enough different business models to keep an open mind, and make my decisions based on individual games and the choices the studio and publisher made for those individual games rather than passing judgment on an entire category.

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    • I would argue that there are better payment models in the sense that only in a small few do developer interests and player interests align. If the developers rely on cash shop money to fund their game, for example, they have every incentive to release more cash shop content and close-to-zero incentive to release content to be earned/discovered/crafted/etc out in the world. “Back in the day,” devs had only a single chance to sell you a game, so they had to cram as much content into said game as they possibly could. Think about all the secrets and such in, say, FF6. These days secret characters would be DLC at best (Mass Effect series).

      I will grant you that MMOs are not (yet) as horribly P2W as bloggers fear. But the feelers are out there. XP potions and similar boosts are all but mainstream already, which creates a tension in my mind vis-a-vis whether they increase leveling speed or return it to the “normal” the developer originally set it at. Did the devs include extra vendor trash in games where you have to buy additional bag space? And so on.

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  5. You can make a very theoretical case that time is fairer than money, even if in reality there are people who will have less time than others and that may not be their doing (just like earning or inheriting more money can be luck). Tricky one.

    What I would appreciate and that’s a general statement, is that players stopped drawing that arbitrary line of ‘money spent’ being worse than too much time spent on MMOs. It absolutely isn’t true – losing grip on online gaming can have the same devastating effects (and happens a lot more often I’d wager) than erm, going broke. I don’t know anyone that went broke but I do know people perpetuating an unhealthy state of mind through escapism (I also know the opposite), to a point where it ruins their social and professional lives. That’s why the whole ‘dangerous addiction’ argument within anti-f2p arguments is so disingenuous. Let’s just agree right now that to a person that is already at risk, and only then, an awful lot of things can be harmful – lest we not start sounding like those who blanket condemn all online gaming because of its dangerous social hooks and manipulative progression-based content.

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    • The “less time” statement is untrue: everyone has the same 24 hours in their day. That some have more IRL responsibilities than others is irrelevant; one still chooses how to spend that time by deciding what is more important and what is less.

      You’ll get no argument from me that some people can ruin their lives via obsessive gaming (or any activity). But part of my point is that game companies don’t actually have any incentive to make their games intentionally grindy in the absence of F2P-esque upsells. Bioware gets nothing extra from me playing Inquisition for another 20 hours. Conversely, an MMO selling XP potions has an incentive to make baseline leveling slow. I’m “playing” Clash of Clans right now and most of my upgrades take 3+ real-world days to complete. Why? $$$ is why.

      In any case, my primary point isn’t that F2P is always bad or anything. I just find it ridiculous to say P2W and G2W are equally unfair. Time is fair, money is not.

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      • Fair enough – as I said, my second point is more generally speaking.

        But to get back to your main point – you’re sure that money isn’t equally attainable. I can agree with that (personally!) however, any more Randian-inclined person than us wouldn’t. They’d tell you that anyone in any situation can get successful and well off by being smart / making smart use of their time. And they’re not gonna accept that there’s no equal opportunities for that sort of thing.
        Likewise, I could argue that some people are already ‘born with less time’; because economically speaking, they’re in a situation that doesn’t allow them to not spend 15hrs/day working. And it might really be that they got born into it.

        You would make allowances in the first case but not the second. Am not entirely sure that’s fair though – especially since you agree not everyone has the same money to begin with. That also means they might not have the same leisure time, either?

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  6. Personally I see where Tobold is coming from, it just isn’t a good argument. Sure, it sucks to be the person working 9-5 that gets home and promptly loses to the kid who can play during the day and has better gear/skill than you due to time. The problem is you can’t really create a fair system where you can buy your way up to his level without also facing the risk that other people will buy past yours. It harkens back to the old “Anyone who beats me is a tryhard, anyone I beat is a scrub,” mentality that is so prevalent in MMOs. Sure, we can offer things like XP boosts or level bursts, but I think you are right that at some point the “fairest” way to balance a game is to reward the people who actually play by making their skill actually matter.

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    • That’s actually a really good point re: F2P escalation.

      In any case, I just can’t get worked up about being beaten by someone who has spent more time playing a game than me. That’s what should happen, all other things being equal, right? Meanwhile, the dollars someone earns in meatspace and the marginal utility thereof have nothing to do with the game itself.

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      • To you and I it sounds like it’s what should happen, but my impression from Tobold et al is that they genuinely consider having more time to play an unfair advantage. I don’t personally agree, but I at least see where they are coming from. However I prefer my escapism to divorce me from real life and to try and erase the financial imbalances that we otherwise deal with in meatspace.

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      • “In any case, I just can’t get worked up about being beaten by someone who has spent more time playing a game than me. That’s what should happen, all other things being equal, right?”

        Not really. Let’s imagine the two of us get into some competition — it could be direct PvP combat, a race to beat a boss first, or something else. Let’s also arbitrarily establish that I am simply more skilled at the game than you are. If we’re using something like WoW PvE as an example, then on a given fight I can pull 20% more DPS with the exact same gear simply because I’m better at executing my rotation and handling the encounter mechanics correctly.

        Now Blizzard puts in a new trinket that increases DPS by 50%. The catch is that it’s locked behind a series of easy repeating quests…and it’ll take 240 hours of playtime to earn it. Fine, you say, you can easily dedicate 8 hours a day grinding it out and a month later you have it. I, however, cannot dedicate more than 2 hours a day to grinding it out and so it’ll take me four months to get it. Which means you just flat out have a 25% advantage over me for three months.

        This has absolutely nothing to do with being good at the game — we’ve already established that I’m better. You don’t get an add an extra pawn onto the board for every 100 games of chess you play. You don’t get a sixth team member in basketball after you’ve clocked a certain amount of playtime.

        And for an actual example of this sort of thing happening, you can look at the launch of Mists of Pandaria. 489 items (when the best you could generally get were 463s) were locked behind hundreds of daily quests. Blizzard apparently meant for these reputations to be an alternative to raid gear but they were required for most serious raiders (basically anyone who didn’t finish the raid content in the first week or two). And it brutally sucked and caused many people to leave the game. They didn’t want to be sinking several hours a day into mindless daily quests so they could maintain a competitive guild ranking for recruiting. And we were literally talking

        13 Golden Lotus
        5 Shado-Pan
        4 August Celestials
        9 Klaxxi

        for 31 required daily quests per day on top of anything else. It had absolutely nothing to do with raiding skill and it wasn’t even pacing per-se — Blizzard assumed that people would work on the reputation that they wanted an item from because they were gated anyway by Valor Points. But rather than picking a faction to go for, raiders had to go for all of them because they didn’t know which slots they would still need in a few weeks.

        This topic is particularly dear to me, I suppose, because I specifically founded a two night guild when I came back to WoW near the end of WotLK after literally raiding seven days a week in BC. My whole point was to get skilled raiders who didn’t want to commit to 3-4+ nights a week but who still wanted to clear the content. And we’ve been full clearing heroic (now mythic) content since Firelands (I started with a whole four people at the beginning of tier 11, cut me some slack for only going 7/13H). With that schedule, we regularly beat guilds that raid 3-4 nights a week simply because we’re better. We’re more skilled, we’re better at coming up with strategies, we have less downtime, etc. And we have to do this in spite of facing problems like having worse gear on average due to having to skip farm content at times (if you raid three nights and spend a night reclearing, you have three nights to progress — if we did the same we’d have one night to progress, 1/3 as much time).

        So no, I can’t get behind the statement that something trivial in terms of skill like doing daily quests should give a significant advantage in raid content. And if it did, I’d stop raiding in WoW.

        P.S. This is not to say I think P2W is good, just saying that “you’ve spent more time playing, therefore you should have an advantage” doesn’t make quite as much sense when it comes to things like raiding — if you have more battle pets than I do then should you have an advantage in raids?

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      • Well, to take it in order, I would still say that I have no problem with someone committing 240 hours of even trivial activity to secure said trinket and beat me that way. Because at the end of the day, I looked at that 240 hours and decided that the DPS increase was not worth the time spent. Someone else did, and I can respect that (insane) amount of hours. If it takes you 240 hours to beat me and 0 hours for me to beat you, I still consider that a personal win.

        Conversely, I have zero respect for someone dropping $50 and buying the trinket straight-up in a cash shop. How much was $50 for that person? I know how much it would be for me, but maybe that’s the same amount of cash the person leaves as a tip when they go out to eat dinner. Maybe it was a month-worth of mowing grass money. There’s simply no point of reference. If you make a ton of money really easily, then that $50 trinket didn’t really cost you anything.

        Plus, if you can buy it, you immediately have to question why the devs created it in the first place. Did the devs make the “free” way especially arduous simply to entice you to skip the pain? If the grind is the only way, at least you can say that perhaps they wanted it to exist as a long-term goal for non-raiders or whatever.

        That being said, I absolutely agree with you that Blizzard has screwed over raiders in the past with gear grinds. In the race for world/server-firsts, there is no optional advantage. Truly gated reputation gear feels pretty ham-fisted (Shattered Sun comes to mind), but it is worlds better than that tanking trinket they put at the end of a monstrous Tol Barad grind. Or, yeah, any of the Mists reputation nonsense.

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      • “Because at the end of the day, I looked at that 240 hours and decided that the DPS increase was not worth the time spent.”

        It’s a special trinket enchant that can be applied to all future trinkets and it literally is (+25% DPS/HPS/Health). You’re going to get it eventually, it’ll always be useful…the question is whether you getting it earlier (when it has nothing to do with raiding and everything to do with investing the same amount of time you could do 6+ single player RPG campaigns in) and thus having that advantage is a good game design decision.

        “Conversely, I have zero respect for someone dropping $50 and buying the trinket straight-up in a cash shop.”

        I wouldn’t respect either ;)

        “Plus, if you can buy it, you immediately have to question why the devs created it in the first place.”

        Oh, I agree, but I was never talking about it being available to buy. Like I said, I don’t like P2W either. I was solely talking about your line of

        “I just can’t get worked up about being beaten by someone who has spent more time playing a game than me”

        “In the race for world/server-firsts, there is no optional advantage.”

        *Technically* there is…

        http://balkothsword.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-ring-vendor-on-optional.html

        but yeah, I know what you mean. And agree in general.

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      • @Balkoth
        “Now Blizzard puts in a new trinket that increases DPS by 50%”

        Honestly as soon as you start playing the ‘what if’ game your argument becomes moot. You can buy the best unlocks in BF4 right now, but the skill behind using them is a far greater advantage then the unlock itself, not unlike your example of your guilds’ accomplishments with 1/2 the time then other guilds. Skill is not = time played in most games, but some advantage should be gained from those who can put in more hrs then you, just like someone who works there ass off IRL

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      • “Honestly as soon as you start playing the ‘what if’ game your argument becomes moot.”

        I’ve already provided some examples where this actually happened — such as the mindless daily quests (which had nothing to do with raiding) that you needed to do 31 of each day for over a month.

        “some advantage should be gained from those who can put in more hrs then you, just like someone who works there ass off IRL”

        Again, why should someone who spends 40 hours a week collecting battle pets in WoW have an advantage over me in raiding?

        Guilds with skill equal to my guild that raid more hours DO in fact progress faster than us. They do kill bosses faster and get better rankings. And that’s perfectly fine. They raid more, they get more raid stuff done.

        But we’re not talking about raiding more giving an advantage, we’re talking about doing random stuff giving you an advantage in raiding.

        Or, to put it in RL terms, if another programmer and I are equally skilled and competing for a position…the fact that the other guy is better at stapling papers together and spends hours each day doing that has no relevance. He’s not working his ass off at becoming a better programmer, he’s working his ass off doing stuff irrelevant to programming.

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  7. Actually I believe that time we have is not equal. I need 8 hours of sleep every day or eventually I am so tired that I start to lose concentration whatever I do and in the long run start to get sick. On the other hand I have a friend who sleeps only 6 hours a day and is always perky. So I end up losing 2 hours per day to him.

    P2W has a stigma which feels bloated up as in MMORPGs most of the time it doesn’t matter how you play. Enjoyment you get from the game is subjective and it should not matter what everybody else is doing, but we want to be right and feel need to tell others that we are right. That leads to situations where some think that P2W is wrong and others that G2W is not healthy. In the end it is just subjective view.

    And I have a huge need to tell that to everyone and make them believe in my point of view… ;)

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  8. I don’t mind someone having an advantage over me, but only if they have spent their time wisely. I agree that time spent is more fair than buying your way to the top, but there’s a lot more to competition in a video game than spreadsheets rubbing against once another.

    We all utilize time differently, some for better and some for worse. I don’t think MMORPGs should be setup to purely reward those who play the most, so I value systems like rested experience or even paid experience boosts as a means to rectify having less time or less efficient time to play (with a reasonable cost and a reasonable effectiveness, that is).

    These two extremes are definitely not equal in their unfairness, but that doesn’t mean Grind2Win is as fair as it could be since the value of time has a variable cost dependent on the individual.

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  9. Excellent post.

    I would only add that so-called grind doesn’t always have to be mindless. Tobold and his fellow travellers wish to detach it from actually playing the game and cast it solely as a pre-requisite to really playing it. However, optimising the grind, or bypassing undesirable parts of it using the game economy itself, can be quite satisfying and very much part of a sense of victory. And cranking out dailies efficiently on a PvP server or in a hostile sandbox can certainly be a test of skill. The only thing that’s assuredly mindless and skill-free is dropping the $50.

    I also find it slightly comical when people who are relatively wealthy insist that their real world financial advantage ought to translate to all areas of life, even video games. But that’s symptomatic of a bigger problem.

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  10. Ok, here’s the thing I don’t get: Regarding the hypothetical 25% DPS Trinket. I believe the contrast was 240 hours of gameplay or $50 in the shop. Since you specified it was for PvE I seriously have to ask: Who gives a crap? It’s friggin’ PvE. It’s not so much of an “advantage over you” because no one is actually having a victory over you. If you’re having some e-peen competition in your heads well, that’s in your heads, not in the game.

    This also brings up someone’s early point about value. Maybe the “No-Lifer” living paycheck to paycheck cannot or will not jump on that $50 but he can grind out that 240 hours faster than the Working Joe. [Opinion: No-Lifer might actually jump on that $50 sooner than Working Joe. Paycheck to Paycheck people often make poor life choices and priorities, which is partially why they’re living paycheck to paycheck to begin with.] Six of one, half-dozen of the other. Maybe WJ decided to spring the $50 and got the trinket a week or two before NL did. Aaaaaaaaand that effected NL’s game… how, exactly? Again, it’s PvE. It didn’t. The only thing effected was NL’s sense of entitlement.

    It’s funny how this topic (and most MMO blogger topics, honestly) have cycles. Free2Play has been A Thing in the West for what, 5 years now? 6? It’s like no one ever learns. I remember DDO going F2P. All the in-game chats lit up about how the sky was falling, and DOOOOOOM. Then guess what? F2P landed and *gasp* the sky didn’t fall. In fact, a crap-ton of good, mature players came into the game and stuck around. That’s what the game needed, and I guess Turbine listened to enough feedback to make the shop palatable. Then the exact same thing happened when LOTRO went F2P. Doom! Sky is falling! Then it didn’t. And it’s been the same with every MMO I’ve played since then. Even ESO has been lighting up DOOOOM!!! in chats, despite ESO going Buy2Play not Free2Play. Not that I’d expect the average headline commenter who are the ones shouting DOOOOM to know the difference.

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    • “I believe the contrast was 240 hours of gameplay or $50 in the shop.”

      No, it was 240 hours of gameplay or nothing. Zero relation to P2W, purely concerned with the idea that more time spent playing == advantage.

      “Who gives a crap? It’s friggin’ PvE. It’s not so much of an “advantage over you” because no one is actually having a victory over you. If you’re having some e-peen competition in your heads well, that’s in your heads, not in the game.”

      Well, the game literally does reward people for being the first to kill the final boss on the server, so that technically is explicitly mentioned in game.

      But far more importantly, It’s about recruitment and our ranking relative to other guilds. In order to be able to play at the level we desire, we need to be able to recruit players who play at the level we desire. Falling behind in progression is one of the main causes of guilds dying — you have a bad few weeks, a person or two has to quit for whatever reason, you’re struggling to replace them since your progression is relatively bad, you get worse replacements, you fall further behind, some more people leave, you get even worse replacements, and suddenly you’ve gone from being able to clear the raid on the hardest difficulty before the next raid comes out to struggling to get like halfway through it.

      And that’s not what the original raiders signed up for, they have the expectation of full clearing, and thus they leave for better progressed guilds and the guild collapses.

      It’s a vicious cycle I’ve seen many times (and nearly happened to me once).

      Also, did you happen to read this article?

      http://balkothsword.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-ring-vendor-on-optional.html

      Ultimately, unless you understand what goes on in serious raiding guilds in WoW (or other MMOs) you might not be able to grasp what I’m talking about here…but Azuriel certainly does.

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  11. The concept of grind to win doesn’t exist in any real world game that I know of.

    Real world games or sports all fit in two categories.

    a) They are pure skill based. You get better, you win more. An example would be chess.

    b) They are “pay to win”, or “pay to get an advantage”. Examples would be every sport game where you buy non-standard equipment. Like bob, where the winner is decided by skill and material. And even sports like 100m sprint have very expensive and special shoes.

    I don’t see why we should accept that “grind to get an advantage” is acceptable in our games. As a concept it wasn’t used in thousands years of history of sports or gaming. Yet you make it sound like it’s the most logical thing for games.

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