Pokemon Unite released today, and players are wondering if the free-to-play MOBA is pay-to-win or not. Many recent free-to-play games have taken the approach of having microtransactions only for cosmetics, which keeps the playing field level no matter how much money someone spends. However, Pokemon Unite isn’t one of these games, and uses pretty much every predatory monetization model combined, which makes this a pay-to-win game.
How is Pokemon Unite pay-to-win?
Pokemon Unite has a free-to-play standard currency system. It has a soft currency earned through gameplay (Aeos Coins), a currency players earn from in-game events (Aeos Tickets), and a hard, premium currency (Aeos Gems). These currencies can be used in no less than five systems:
Usually, games will use one or two of these, but Pokemon Unite is going for the gold. The biggest issue is that there are so many systems to spend cash on, but the earnable currency is capped to 2,100 from battles per week. Users can earn other small amounts here and there, but not much.
Buying new Pokemon licenses, which gives players access to new characters to battle with, can cost vast amounts of in-game currency. Mr. Mime, for example, requires 8,000 Aeos Coins, which is around four weeks of grinding. Alternatively, players can purchase Aeos Gems and unlock characters for about 4-6 bucks each. Some Pokemon are obviously going to be better than others, so being able to purchase them immediately puts those that spend real money at an advantage.
Furthermore, there are booster items that affect opposing Pokemon when held. These do things like deal damage to opponents when a Pokemon holding it takes damage. They don’t give a huge advantage, but those that can afford them get a little edge.
It’s unfortunate that Pokemon Unite is pay-to-win because, by all accounts, it’s an enjoyable game. Hopefully, Tencent and The Pokemon Company take a look at how predatory this game made for a young audience is and change the currency system into something more balanced.