Pay-to-win mechanics popular in China but the West is not on board

Pay-to-win mechanics popular in China but the West is not on board

In news that will come as little surprise to anyone paying attention to the Chinese games market, that region is very much on-board with microtransactions and pay-to-win mechanics.

That's according to a report from CNBC, which discusses the different manner the Chinese and American games markets grew up. Where the US and Western regions saw video games enter the home pretty quickly, in China this has only really just happened. Consoles being illegal until 2015 helped shaped this, too.

Thus, Chinese consumers turned to internet cafes where they developed a habit of paying money time and time again on the games they love. Thus, microtransactions are more palatable for users in this region.

"In Asian territories such as South Korea and China, the traditional consumption model has been via the PC and originally internet cafe pre-paid game time or subscription," said IHS Markit's director and head of games research Piers Harding-Rolls said.

It goes without saying that the West isn't quite as on-board with pay-to-win mechanics. The ill-fated launch of Star Wars: Battlefront II last year is proof of that with its colossal backlash that not only - briefly - tanked EA's stock price, but also brought a lot of unwanted scrutiny to the way games are monetised.

One factor that isn't addressed in CNBC's piece is how Chinese culture approaches ownership. Due to its socialist roots - because let's face it, China isn't socialist anymore - IP isn't protected in the same way as in the West. A large part that free-to-play has become such a big business model in China is due to the fact that piracy is rife in the region. So if you can't convince people to pay for your game, the alternative is to release the game and convince people to pay after the fact.

This is why when Western games like Minecraft come to China they tend to do so with a free-to-play model.

In 2016, IHS valued the Chinese games market at a massive $13bn, a figure that will only rise. 

PCGamesInsider Contributing Editor

Alex Calvin is a freelance journalist who writes about the business of games. He started out at UK trade paper MCV in 2013 and left as deputy editor over three years later. In June 2017, he joined Steel Media as the editor for new site In October 2019 he left this full-time position at the company but still contributes to the site on a daily basis. He has also written for, VGC, Games London, The Observer/Guardian and Esquire UK.