During the spring break, I found that it was a great opportunity for me to relax. And one day I clicked the icon of the free-to-play game called Hearthstone accidentally. At first, I heard of this game from some friends, and began to play it since last spring. However, I didn’t consider too much about this game. As a casual player, it was just a casual card game for me. This time, I clicked the icon and opened this game, just chose to play “rank mode” which was a new thing for me. I thought I was familiar with this game so it would be fine if I started to have a try for this more professional mode. I thought I had several cards and pretty balanced card decks. Then I started the game.
But things weren’t as fine as what I expected. I met many players who had orange cards, the best category among all the cards. I reviewed what cards I had and realized it was hard for me to beat them. I tended to think whether Hearthstone was fair. Then I suddenly came up with a thought: it’s free-to-play ostensibly, but in fact it’s not. It’s just like some games on PCs and smartphones. Another typical example is Clash of Clans, it’s free and you can “get” it from Apple’s App Store, but in order to get more resources in this game as soon as possible, obviously, you need to pay by dollars. Now many games in App Store or Google Play are just have the same strategy. Another option to get more resources in this kind of games is spending more time than other players. So in all, if you need to gain more resources free-to-play games, you need to pay more, or just spend much more time than the average. So in the community of players, differences between players appeared. Players who pay more are just like some very rich people in the real world; players who spend much more time in conceiving strategies and accomplishing some rewarding tasks are just like people who have PhD degrees. As for others, they may pay for a little amount or not pay at all, and they are the average players.
I realized that even in a free-to-play games, for some reasons, there are various “social classes”. So why do many people still want to try so-called free-to-play games which should be called “pay-to-win” games? I tried to retrospect my experience to find an answer, and found that I just had many related experiences when I was in China. In China, there is an online free-to-play PC game called “Crossfire”. It’s a game like Call of Duty without high definition (in order to make it compatible with many old PCs in China). I used to play it several years ago, but as the releases of powerful and expensive items which broke the balance of this game, I quitted. Many players had these items and who didn’t pay for these expensive virtual items (over 40 dollars each) can hardly win a game. For these player who bought these expensive items, they might be satisfied by winning games. Indeed, not everyone can be rich or powerful in the real world, but by paying more, at least many people could get strong “digital selves” in the virtual world. As for other free-to-play games which offer other options like rewarding tasks for players who will pay much time instead of much money, they are also satisfied by winning games because they can believe that they are talented masters in the game. Free-to-play games created some sort of virtual societies, and there are also some “social classes” in them. But not as Twitter (celebrities can be more influential than common people), players can be stronger just by paying more money (for all free-to-play games) or time (for some of free-to-play games). Digital self can mismatch with the true self easily, that’s why I think people are glad to pay something for this kind of games. Pay much, then get satisfaction from winning and be in a high “social class” in a virtual world, why not pay? As a casual player in Hearthstone (play just for fun), that’s my explanation from my personal experience.
Smith, Sidonie, and Julia Watson. “Studying the Digital Self.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. N.p., 21 Apr. 2014. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.