Research Questions

When I conceived the topic of the paper, at first I had no idea. And one day when I played a “free-to-play” card games called Hearthstone, I realized that maybe I could start with games like Hearthstone. I felt depressed during those days because I lost a lot of games. I met many players with “legendary cards” and they beat me easily even if I had the advantage at the beginning. “Legendary cards” were available if you paid much money. I was confused. I was told that it was “free-to-play” but the situation was different. So my first research question is relevant to the features of these “free-to-play” games: are they really “free-to-play” games? If not, what are they?

Then I retrospect my personal experience in Hearthstone. I got the answer. No, “free-to-play” games are not free at all. In fact, they should be called “pay-to-win” games. Want to win? Please pay much for your powerful items. One or two dollars won’t work. Just need a little bit more—more than the average. Otherwise, do not play. Indeed, this situation is what I saw before in some “free-to-play” games: the key to win in these games is paying more money than the average players. However, I noticed that in Hearthstone, it seemed that some players didn’t pay but they play well and they also have good cards. I felt confused. What happened to them? Is it possible to win without paying much money in some of “free-to-play” games? I tried to find the answer because I thought that should be in the argument and I opened Hearthstone. And I noticed that players could also get rewards by accomplish tasks which was called “quests” in this game. So the answer is obvious: even for players who don’t want to pay much money, they have alternatives instead of paying money. I mean, they need to spend more time than average players in accomplishing tasks and get rewards, otherwise, they will be beaten by players who pay much. So the definition of “pay” is not only paying money, but also spending more time. More money and time than average are the costs of playing “free-to-play” games. And if people want to be powerful, the cost should be more than the average.

Wait a minute. After I found answers to all these research questions mentioned above, I should get the conclusion: “free-to-play” games are not worth playing. However, the reality is opposite. Many players are willing to pay for their items. And some games in this category could easily get a huge amount of profit. Why do many people want to pay more than the average players for these “free-to-play” games even if this sort of game is only “free-to-play” in facade? What’s the motivation of paying in these games?


Well, these two questions aren’t easy to answer.  But when I wrote the outline of the paper, I got some inspiration. I realized that money and time created divisions in these “free-to-play” games, and obviously in these games something like social classes came into being. What do different divisions in “free-to-play” games reflect?

In order to answer this question, I made a comparison. It’s not easy to be a millionaire in the real world; but in these games, just by paying a little bit more money and time, people could be powerful and strong. In other words, they may be at a higher “social class” in games than they are in the society. For example, in some games, you may be at level 100. It’s pretty good, isn’t it? Very powerful. But in the real world, it’s way too hard to approach the same “level”. So there’s a mismatch between the level in games and the social class in the real world. That’s why many people are willing to pay more money and spend more time than the average players in these games: comparing with the social class and the level in games, it’s much easier to be a better person in games, isn’t it?


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