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SoulCalibur: Lost Swords exemplifies why people hate pay-to-win systems

There's a good chance you don't care about free games, but I really think you should. Typically, this is when I'd launch into an argument in favor of the concept. "They provide great experiences with zero barrier of entry!" I'd type with gusto. "You're missing out," I'd say in an impassioned paragraph sandwiched between pictures of Lord of the Rings: Online and Dota 2. But on days like today, I'm reminded why so many gamers are seemingly done with F2P. Because for every developer trying to find creative ways to integrate smart, inoffensive microtransactions into its products, there's a game like SoulCalibur: Lost Swords, which is currently sitting on one of the worst Metacritic scores of the 2014.

Since the original released some 15 years ago, SoulCalibur has been about competitive fighting. The franchise grew, but it didn't matter if you were playing as the Nightmare, Yoshimitsu, or Link; you were doing it to get better so you could beat the snot out of other people. But Lost Swords for PS3, the first free-to-play entry in the series, removed all competition from the formula, leaving only a single-player only fighting game. Strange, right? Well, there's a reason: because, as Lost Swords producer Masaaki Hoshino explains, the game is pay-to-win.

Hoshino explained that "Originally, we were thinking about having a multiplayer option, but because we're going with a pay-to-win model, we were worried that by having online multiplayer, all the new users… might be immediately deterred by fighting against opponents who had superior equipment."

He literally used those words, too, seemingly unaware that admitting that your game is "pay-to-win" is acknowledging that you're trying to rip people off. "Pay-to-win" is a badge of shame, not honor. It's the carnival barker juggling ping pong balls in front of little glass fish bowls yelling, "Step right up and try your luck! Also, the top of the bowls are smaller than they look, so you're going to lose and you'll never get the giant stuffed panda for your date!"

This is a case of pay-to-win microtransactions undermining the concept of a well-regarded franchise so severely that it basically reaffirms every prejudice gamers have against free-to-play games. Players want balance. Players don't want to have to spend cash on equipment that makes them more powerful. Players don't want to buy a shield with real money that improves their skills. Players don't want pay walls at all, so if they're going to be there, they need to be unintrusive. Fail to accomplish this, and you're not only dooming your own game, but compromising the integrity of your franchise and the entire F2P genre.

The bigger problem with things like this is that it sours people to the idea of free-to-play. Sure, this is just one bad example amidst a treasure trove of great experiences (we were able to fill out a list of 100 free games just last week), but people latch on to the bad examples. One bastardization of a popular franchise that’s outright ruined specifically by a poorly implemented F2P system is more powerful than 50 great F2P experiences.

But, in the end, a mere glance at the Metacritic page for Lost Swords tells more of a story than I can. Currently, with four reviews, it's sitting at a 26%, with all of the writers complaining about the game's beyond broken microtransaction system. Hopefully gamers can look past instances like this and see the bigger picture, with hundreds of free games that provide great experiences with zero barrier of entry. Otherwise they--and the industry--will be missing out.

16 comments

  • Cruddi - May 26, 2014 1:53 p.m.

    I just have free to play in general, because I can never be 100% sure I'll will be playing in the future I will not put my money into it. I hate it especially when I have been playing a MMO which then turns free to play (See star wars old republic)
  • Vonter - May 24, 2014 10:43 a.m.

    The only good uses I've seen from DLC are extra modes, playing as a side character that control different, or a what if scenario with zombies or aliens. I don't see the point of biting more of the same, even if its just to add to the story if it's going to feel like the game. I don't know, maybe it's because of the sequelitis or I get more than enough, but unless gameplay isn't changed I don't see the point of buying DLC or microtransactions.
  • dale-shadle - May 24, 2014 9:37 a.m.

    Absolutely abhore this Pay to win model that has popped up over the past years. I have no problem supporting a company buying their game and if it's good continuing to support them. This model of buying your way to better items, mobs etc isn't gaming at all it's like being a spoiled child having thing handed to them. Where is the challenge if I can just buy the better armor...how is that gaming? It maybe for some but it most certainly isn't for me. I do believe there are ways for a model that has an element of paying some as you go to work. Clash of Clans does a decent job because you can still earn everything you just have to wait longer but I firmly believe there are better models and have thought of a few ideas myself how it could be done. Until then I will be shying away from this type of game.
  • FoxdenRacing - May 22, 2014 10:59 a.m.

    If this article does anything, it proves once and for all that we do see eye to eye, and our disagreements come from being on opposite sides of the fence. One willing to give the benefit of the doubt, the other firmly in 'earn my trust first' territory. In all honesty though, even though there's F2P stuff I absolutely adore, the almost all the good F2P games all rely on a genre descriptor I'm not the world's biggest fan of: competitive, match-made multiplayer. It's a perfectly valid schema, but it's not my preference. I'd rather spend $60 on GT6, where I can run against AIs or join a league where there's a sense of camaraderie built by playing with the same people week in and week out, than spend $1 here and $5 there playing against people I've never seen before, will never see again, and who treat dropping a point (not even a loss) as literally worse than Hitler, Stalin, and Godzilla combined.
  • BladedFalcon - May 22, 2014 8:39 a.m.

    I'm perfectly fine with missing out. Fuck free to pay.
  • mafyooz - May 22, 2014 12:28 a.m.

    Damn shame. I was worried this might be the case but have been meaning to download it anyway to try, seeing as I've been a big fan of the series since SoulBlade on PS1. Don't think I'll bother know.
  • BloodyEm - May 21, 2014 9:23 p.m.

    Free to play is an alright system, allowing for companies to, basically, give the player a taste of their game, and if they want they can simply pay to allow more content. Fine. As long as you let me work to get the paid content in a reasonable fashion, I'm pretty ok with this idea. Play to win, however, is completely unnecessary, and should never be implemented. It really is a way to tell the player that their money is all they are worth. I don't even really care if that's all a company sees when I purchase their products, because that's all I wanted. The product. But, when a company basically calls you out on it, and flat out tells you that you are really not important enough to warrant a decent product, then there comes an issue. True, they were honest. That's great, we can give them a cookie. But, they shouldn't get our hard earned dollars. I'll gladly pay full price for a game, if I get all the content. Until then, they really should expect pirate copies of their games, as it seems that players will continue fighting fire with fire.
  • GoldenEagle1476 - May 21, 2014 8:59 p.m.

    At least the guy actually acknowledges that it's pay-to-win, something that most American developers who use this system don't.
  • nick-stancato - May 21, 2014 8:45 p.m.

    No matter what your or anyone else says about "good" FtP games, this only show why I will never, ever, support the model. I want to buy a game upfront, with all content available (of course, not counting future DLC). I don't even bother with FtP games anymore. I don't even bother downloading them to find disappointment, this game was ruined by it, PvZ 2 was ruined by it, other games I'd otherwise enjoy are ruined by it. The marketing tactic needs to die for the good of the industry
  • Crofto - May 21, 2014 7:05 p.m.

    Good article. Completely agree with the writer, but it doesn't surprise me that a Japanese developer has misinterpretated the F2P model. Japanese games are typically designed in the classic mould: 100% content on the disc; no stupid DLC; no pre-order bonuses; no 5different collector's editions. Unfortunately, EA and other Western companies have abused the gaming sector and gamers - Japanese companies are just following the trend, but they tend to mess it up since it's new territory to them (see Capcom's early pathetic efforts at this crap). Articles like this need posting more often on sites like these, otherwise gaming is heading for a very bad place. Atm only Jim Sterling is carrying the baton against greedy AAA publishers so more support like this is appreciated.
  • shawksta - May 21, 2014 7:33 p.m.

    Hey now, dont treat it as if Japan doesnt know shit Look at Nintendo, Steel Diver and Rusty were probably one of the more smarter free to play games out there.
  • Vonter - May 24, 2014 10:38 a.m.

    But also the tamest ways to put it. Although maybe that was the point, maybe niche/smaller games are more fitted, still better than essentially killing loved brands.
  • shawksta - May 24, 2014 3:07 p.m.

    Yeah pretty much, subtle.
  • J-Fid - May 21, 2014 5:41 p.m.

    I think the biggest issue against Pay-to-Win is that who actually feels a sense of accomplishment when you buy your way to victory?
  • mafyooz - May 22, 2014 12:20 a.m.

    The people who subscribe to cheats companies because they would suck at multiplayer on things like COD otherwise clearly do.
  • Sinosaur - May 22, 2014 1:13 a.m.

    In F2P games, I've only felt good about my transactions when those transactions opened up something new but non-essential: character costumes (most common) or new ability sets (new powers in DCU, new tier-appropriate ships in STO). Anytime I feel like I'm being forced to pay for basic functions or the intended gameplay experience (SW:TOR) it just makes me feel angry. There are times when it's fun to cheat and break a game (usually single player), but it's not fun to play in a world where someone is superior to you just because they slapped down more money.

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