Continuing down the road of what is good MTX, lets talk specific examples today.
First and foremost is League of Legends, the most popular game out not just right now, but for the last few years. LoL is a F2P game, yet has maintained its AAA status in terms of graphics and support for years, all without ever selling power or abusive MTX. It certain helps that a MOBA like LoL is basically perfect for a full fluff-based MTX model, but keep in mind that SW:BF2 could also have been 100% fluff (SW fans would likely buy a lightsaber of every color under the rainbow), but it wasn’t because of greed and gamers who support such greed. Riot has never done that with LoL, and in turn has been rewarded with amazing fan loyalty and incredible success.
What is especially important about LoL and its MTX model is that it doesn’t just show you can turn a profit, but shows you can be the top dog in all of gaming while using it. The argument can’t be made that Riot has left money on the table, or that they aren’t doing what’s best for their shareholders. They could have, at many points, given in and grabbed higher short-term gains, but in parts because they didn’t (and in large part because their product is overall fantastic), they are and continue to reap the long-term benefits.
EVE is next. EVE is an sub-based MMO, yet has managed to work in a cash shop without devaluing the cost of the sub due to constant and free updates and expansions. CCP also does a good job in balancing work on store fluff with free fluff and said game updates. Has CCP been perfect the entire time? No, but they have corrected errors as they have come up (sometimes too slowly for the fanbase, yes), and compared to the rest of the genre, are miles ahead in this regard.
Another note about EVE is that CCP embraced the fact that some people will pay to skip ahead (skill boosters) without directly selling power made of thin air, or undercutting the game economy itself. The easy way to cater to this is to simply give someone a max level character, and maybe even throw in some gear as well. The better way is to enable a system where one player trades his progress to another. Even better if the transaction is overall a net-negative, because sinks are very much needed in any working economy. It’s these kinds of details that ultimately matter, and don’t lead to a water-down experience with a game, MMO or otherwise.
Finally lets talk about Clash of Clans and Clash Royale, two of the most popular and IMO best mobile games out. Both are F2P, and both allow you to spend a lot of money if you so choose. Both are also competitive PvP games, though each is a bit different in that regard.
CoC allows you to pay-2-skip, and to fully skip to the end you are looking at a cost of thousands. Without paying, you are looking at multiple years of playing/grinding to reach the top levels of a base, and as updates tend to add levels, this will likely increase if you started today. The reason the model works however is that the earlier levels are simpler, and this is important to learn the game if you are going to get involved in the primary PvP activity, clan wars. The game also has a MASSIVE amount of detail to learn, and if you skip ahead, you will be in way over your head, and likely a big drain on your clan as your war weight will be high, but your ability to perform will be low.
Skipping ahead is also negative IMO because each level in CoC has its own unique meta. How a TH5 attacks another TH5 is very different than how a TH9 vs TH9 goes. Things don’t get too complicated until about TH8, but after that it becomes harder and harder to get a 100% attack on an opposing base (always the goal of an attack in a war). If you skip as far ahead as TH9 or TH10, you truly might never recover, or it will be extremely painful for both you and your clan.
That said, SuperCell makes its money because little skips are common, so instead of dropping $500 at once to speed ahead (though I know this happens every update with whales), players will often spend $5 or so to finish a building upgrade, or to get a hero back into action.
Clash Royale is slightly different in that spending does buy you power (higher level cards), which will allow you to get higher in the leaderboard (assuming equal player skill and all that). Being higher on the leaderboard means you get better chests, which leads to getting more cards per chest/season (this has diminishing returns pretty quickly, with all chests being the same at 3800+ trophies). The odd thing here is if you spend and max out a deck, you will move up in rank, but all that does is get you more cards, but since you are already maxed…? ? ?
Also the whole thing works itself out anyway; players of a certain skill and card level will reach the right rank, and then without improving skill and/or cards, won’t progress further. Finally, in the top % (4500+ trophies), most players have max or near-max decks now anyway, so you can’t buy yourself higher than that; if someone really cares about reaching the absolute top, its all skill based at that point.
To be fair there are some ‘interesting’ design decisions, like the fact that after a certain point, you are always short on gold to upgrade cards, to the point where you have to focus on one deck (8 cards) and if you spend on other cards, you likely won’t have gold for the main deck. All of this becomes a non-issue once your main deck is maxed and you can start playing around with other stuff, but that’s 1yr+ into the game playing daily.
Also of note is that all tournaments and special events are played under tourney rules, where cards are capped at much lower levels than max, and many events automatically give you all cards maxed for the event. All events give you the first entry for free, and additional attempts aren’t outrageously priced. I’ve yet to spend money for gems (you slowly earn gems in-game as well) to play events, and I play them all, usually ‘beating’ each one (getting the max number of wins).
Of all the examples, CR is easily the most ‘aggressive’ MTX game, but with just limited spending over the last 1+ year ($30 or so?) I’m consistently finishing each season in the top 1% (I think it’s much higher than that, but forgot to check at season end last time), so it’s not a game like many F2P MMOs where if you don’t spend, you really can’t compete.
There are countless other examples of both good and bad MTX in games, but the overall point I’m trying to make here is that not only can you make money without predatory MTX, you can become the market leader in your segment. I’m also not aware of a single predatory MTX game that is the market leader in its segment. Companies like Electronic Arts are profitable preying on sheep, yes, but I’d argue they and everyone else would be BETTER off using MTX correctly. Especially because much like with F2P in the MMO genre, eventually even the sheep smarten up and learn to stay away or be cautious.