I would venture to guess that most of us have used an exploit or two in our gaming careers. Maybe you cheated a Dark souls Fight bosses or take advantage of the infinite money glitch in your favorite RPG. Admittedly – they can sometimes make a game more fun. However, exploitative or fraudulent practices in single-player games do not carry the same weight as exploits or cheats in multiplayer games. Often, players gain an unfair advantage over others, which can completely hinder their enjoyment of the game. But what do we do when an exploit is working exactly as intended?
Last week, Pokémon Unite, a MOBA game set in the world of Pokémon, has released online for Nintendo Switch players. The game is a free to play game with the option to use real world money to upgrade cosmetics and items. The latter is the important part here. During the game, players can equip up to three items on their Pokémon that can grant additional bonuses such as extra health or reduced cooldowns. Players can use the currency of the Item Enhancer to enhance these items to increase their stats.
The unfortunate difficulty here is that Enhancement Items can be purchased for real money.
These items, even fully upgraded, do not cause the player to automatically win. It’s not like unlocking the Pokémon equivalent of Exodia with Shell Bell and Wise Glasses. However, these fully upgraded items can give players a huge advantage over their opponents.
Take Shell Bell as an example. At the base level, this item grants Pokémon 1.6 a special attack, reducing its cooldown by 0% and a small amount of healing each time they hit an enemy with a skill. Now let’s raise that up to max level 30. It will now give players 24 extra special attacks, 4.5% cooldown, and up to 75 health per hit. special attack. Those things may sound small to a lot of people, but as someone who has been playing MOBAs for ten years, I can assure you that this is a huge deal. Many MOBA characters live or die based on their abilities and cooldowns. This item can take the Pokémon to a higher level of play.
Few days ago, Twitch streamer MoistCr1TiKaL decided to test the extent of a complete upgraded item in Pokémon Unite. By spending over $100 in real money, he had three fully upgraded items and practically destroyed his opponent. In a ranked match while playing Gengar, he got 49 kills on other players without ever dying or even returning to base to heal. While the conversation about the pay-to-win aspect of Pokémon Unite has been going on since its launch, MoistCr1TiKaL’s stream really brings this discussion to life.
maybe Unite Survive like this? This is not the same “mining” as the waving found in Super Smash Bros. Super Smash Bros., or even like the Pokémon cloning tricks that are rampant in the series. MoistCr1TiKaL and anyone with a credit card technically do not mine the game; it is working as intended. It gives those who spend real money to upgrade items a significant advantage, and this can destroy the game’s community. What incentive do new players have to keep playing when they don’t even create success in matches compared to pay-to-win players? Finally, they can upgrade all their items without spending real money, but at an extremely slow rate. Should they endure and inched closer to the top of the mountain while those already there just throw them with rocks?
This is somewhat new territory for Nintendo, as it could be the first game under its wheels to feature such a blatant pay-to-win model. Like everything Nintendo does, it looks like it’s been several years behind the current curve. Most games these days allow microtransactions just for aesthetic purposes. Pokémon UniteIts currency model feels like a 2016 game and not in a good way.
If this is not addressed soon, we could witness the death of a blooming community. Pokémon Unite has the core of a solid MOBA, easily accessible to new and interested players. However, when a game that allows a pay-to-win system exists, it gives those willing to spend money a mining-level advantage over those who don’t.
The future of this game will not be determined by which Pokémon or what new game modes are added, it will be decided by how Nintendo handles the situation.