Here’s Why PC Gaming Is Basically Pay To Win

Microtransactions“, “loot boxes” and “freemium” are all phrases that have (unfortunately) become common to us over the past 1-2 decades. These are all forms of ‘pay to win’, whereby games are designed so that you can sort of beat them for free – but it’s often much quicker to pay a small amount for a boost.

This might involve paying to receive powerful in-game weapons, a faster vehicle, or simply levelling up without needing to grind. Mobile gaming and some console games have been particularly blamed for their pay to win culture.

However I would argue that PC gaming is the ultimate example of pay to win (P2W). Here’s why.

Why PC Gaming Is P2W (Pay To Win)

A gaming PC and console with the text PC Gaming is the real Pay To Win

Pay to win games have always been controversial, and many slightly-elitist PC gamers have used P2W as an insult against console gamers (“your console games are all P2W, but we need actual skill to beat our PC games!!1!”).

However here’s five reasons why I think that PC gaming can often be P2W as well.

Reason #1: Better Hardware = Smoother Gameplay

A Ryzen 5900X installed in my Asus motherboard with Noctua CPU cooler brackets installed
Installing my 12-core CPU (a Ryzen 5900X) in my Asus motherboard.

We all know that more powerful hardware will boost PC performance, delivering higher frame rates – and ultimately smoother gameplay. That’s why there’s hundreds of YouTube channels and blogs that benchmark all the latest hardware launches from AMD, NVIDIA and Intel – people want to know exactly what hardware will deliver the best gaming performance.

Being able to open up your PC and upgrade a component (or even, all the components!) gives us PC gamers a natural advantage over console gamers who are limited by their systems.

People might think that FPS doesn’t improve people’s gameplay, but I always find that I’m a much better player when playing at 60-100fps, than when I’m playing some stuttering, laggy game at below 30fps.

NVIDIA actually explain in detail why higher FPS (and hertz) matters for gaming. A few of their key points are:

  • Smoother frame-by-frame animations allow you to target people (or vehicles) more effectively. In other words, higher FPS gives you greater control when gaming.
  • Ghosting (visual disturbances on a screen) can be distracting while gaming, but higher FPS and Hz rates help to eliminate ghosting.
  • Tearing (another form of visual disturbance) is also reduced with the correct mix of high FPS and Hz rates. This can help your eye to focus more on what matters in the game, and less on visual oddities.
  • High FPS rates also means much lower system latency, allowing you to see players and vehicles faster.

Therefore being able to pay up and upgrade to the latest PC hardware can deliver real, scientifically-proven advantages to your gaming sessions.

Reason #2: 144Hz (& Higher) Monitors Provide A Big Advantage

A 1ms IPS monitor advert with 144Hz refresh and G Sync
A 1ms IPS monitor advert with 144Hz refresh and G Sync

As explained above, high FPS and hertz rates can really help deliver a smoother gaming session – ultimately reason in a slight edge for competitive gamers.

Unfortunately some consoles have a cap on their hertz rate, meaning that these benefits are reduced compared to PC gaming:

  • The Nintendo Switch is capped at 60Hz, even with the newer Switch OLED edition.
  • The Xbox One S and X series now supports up to 120Hz, which is great – but still some way behind PC gamers who regularly use 144Hz or even 240Hz displays.
  • The PS4 is capped out 60Hz, although the PS5 now supports up to 120Hz as well.

The fact that PC gamers can fairly easily upgrade their monitor (and hardware, if required) to support ultra-high hertz rates gives a natural advantage to PC gamers. These silky-smooth monitors deliver better animations, allowing the gamer to focus and play games better.

Of course, expensive screens cost money – meaning that you only get this competitive advantage by paying money… in other words, it’s pay to win!

Tech Tip: Hz is the number of update cycles per second that a display/monitor can complete, whereas FPS refers to the number of frames that your GPU and PC can output each second. They should be fairly evenly matched, because you won’t see any real benefit from a 144Hz screen if your aging PC struggles to output more than 30 FPS! So to achieve the best competitive edge, you will need to ensure that both your PC hardware and monitor are upgraded.

Reason #3: Many PC Games Have Clear P2W Features Nowadays

Star Wars Battlefront II game poster
We all remember the Star Wars Battlefront II controversy, right?!

Moving away from hardware and monitor discussions for a second, many PC games have outright pay to win features included in them. For example, APB Reloaded is an online, multiplayer game where anyone spending money on in-game weapons is instantly at an advantage. Yes you can technically spend ages grinding to level-up and get new equipment, but the game developers make this intentionally boring – and it’s fairly obvious throughout the game that paying a small amount of cash will give you an instant gameplay boost.

You may also remember how Star Wars: Battlefront 2 basically broke Reddit back in 2015 – for all the wrong reasons! Battlefront 2 launched to much fanfare, but players (on console and PC alike) soon noticed that you are doomed to grind for hundreds of hours if you want to fully complete the game.

Alternatively you could pay up and buy lootboxes and unlock heros. The level of unfairness here (with P2W being rammed down everyone’s throats) led to many gamers ranting on Reddit, only for a Star Wars rep to infamously say:

The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes.

An EA DICE (Star Wars) representative, Reddit, 2017

This went down very badly, with the comment being one of the most negatively rated comments in Reddit history.

While EA Dice eventually backtracked and removed the P2W loot box aspect from these games, it’s clear that more than a few PC games have P2W and loot box elements.

Reason #4: The Average PC Gamer Has A Better Gaming Set-Up Than Console Gamers

A PC gamer with a nice gaming chair and headset
A PC gamer with a nice gaming chair and headset

Many PC gamers go all-out, and have an awesome gaming set-up. They have the best gaming chair, desk, monitor and headset – and each one is perfectly optimized for competitive gaming.

Yes console gamers can have an awesome gaming environment too, but you often find that self-styled members of the ‘PC master race‘ care much more about their chair, desk and headset than console gamers. Heck, there’s even the /r/battlestations sub-reddit where dozens of awesome-but-expensive PC setups are posted each day.

While this is sometimes just a case of showing off (no offence, battlestations members!), gaming chairs have been known to help with posture, concentration and arguably gameplay performance too! Some argue that gaming headsets lead to better gameplay too, due to more accurate noise delivery, improved isolation and crystal-clear mic communication.

I sound like I’m on a commission for these items (I’m not!), so I won’t say much more… other than to re-iterate that PC gamers seem to care a lot more about their chairs and headsets than console gamers, so this is another reason why PC gaming is pay to win, in my opinion.

Reason #5: Consoles Have A Performance Cap That PCs Don’t

Someone playing an FPS game on their desktop PC
Someone playing an FPS game on their desktop PC

Consoles have a natural performance cap for a simple reason: you can’t (easily) open up a console and start upgrading individual components. If you’re stuck at 1440p resolution or 60Hz refresh rates, tough – you won’t be able to improve on this.

Equally if a next-gen game makes your console struggle and only deliver 20-30 FPS, you’re out of luck – and better get used to slightly laggy game graphics (that ultimately takes away your competitive edge).

Console games also used to be known for really slow loading screens (due to their use of mechanical hard drives, at a time when many PCs were using SSDs for fast loading times).

While the latest consoles do offer better performance (from 120Hz refresh rates to 4K resolutions, and bundled SSDs for snappy load times), consoles will always lag behind PCs because they can’t really be upgraded to the latest components.

So when many PC gamers started using 144Hz or 240Hz screens, console gamers were stuck at 60-120Hz refresh rates. This paradigm will always continue, too, because PCs are easy to upgrade but consoles are only refreshed every 4-5 years.

Being a PC gamer continues to mean that you can pay extra for the latest hardware, equipment and peripherals – ultimately gaining a competitive edge over the fixed nature of consoles.

Is Pay To Win All That Bad?

It’s clearly bad when games are designed to be addictive, and they practically force you to spend money on microtransactions. In that sense, pay to win is clearly a bad thing.

However in some cases, P2W can be a positive experience in a game – allowing loyal players to jump ahead if they would like to (or can afford to!), but non-paying players can still enjoy the game. Clash Of Clans is a good example of this: you can pay to progress if you want, but free players can continue to get enjoyment out of the game and progress at a good enough pace.

Rocket League is similar: each season you can pay for Rocket Pass Premium, which allows you to unlock new cars and other equipment much faster (than free players). However while shiny new gear and decals is nice, you don’t technically have an advantage in competitive gaming: the rewards are aesthetic only.

An example of Rocket Pass Premium
An example of Rocket Pass Premium (this isn’t strictly P2W – because the new cars and equipment don’t directly improve your gameplay – but Premium does allow you to ‘rank up’ much faster)

Also remember that many games are becoming e-sports nowdays, and real life sports are frequently ‘pay to win’, too. Well, skill is still a massive part of sport of course – but pro athletes will always spend BIG money on the best equipment and sportswear. For example, golfers often spend thousands per golf club – and the shoes that NBA players wear is literally a multi-million dollar business!

So as much as we might dislike microtransactions and P2W, it is here to stay – and the trend sort of mirrors how real life works too (whether that’s a good or bad thing is debatable, though!).

cropped A picture of me Tristan
About Tristan Perry

Tristan has been interested in computer hardware and software since he was 10 years old. He has built loads of computers over the years, along with installing, modifying and writing software (he's a backend software developer 'by trade').

Tristan also has an academic background in technology (in Math and Computer Science), so he enjoys drilling into the deeper aspects of technology.

Tristan is also an avid PC gamer, with FFX and Rocket League being his favorite games.

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