Why Clash Royale is Not Pay-to-Win

But it might be pay-to-compete.

Clash Royale Watch Game

Clash Royale is not pay-to-win. The game is undeniably fun and surprisingly deep, but some people still have issue with it. I keep seeing this complaint being made, either in jest or seriously, and it just doesn't click with the game in practice. Like many free-to-play games, you can spend money to advance your progress, but there's so much more to the game than that.

Start From The Beginning

Part of it is that the game has been simplified from a lot of collectible card games. There are only a few dozen cards, with some cards complicating the strategy only available later on. And you can only have 8 at a time, so it's possible to form strategies and have a read on your opponent in short matches. There's not really that obfuscating complexity. And tactics do play a role. For example, if you see your opponent has arrows, you can find a way to draw them out and then use the card you really want to use against them. Having a well-made deck is important, but so is a strategy. And each player has the same rules going into battle, you can't buy boosts or anything like that. And the game is balanced regularly, making it so that it's tough for any particular deck to win out. And it's not just about getting expensive cards: even common cards have value in an expert deck.

Because the game streamlines so much, there aren't really the effects of RNG in this game that there are in something like Hearthstone, because your deck is so small. Randomness only really affects you at the beginning with your starter cards. This can have an effect – if your opponent doesn't have their counters available, then you can get an early edge. But the odds of getting a win based solely on the early-game randomness are low. It's one of those issues that exists largely in hypotheticals. 

Buy Your Way Out

Also, is it possible for a player who's got tons of money to just buy their way to amazing higher-level decks and win? It's not impossible. But even then, it discounts that there are not a lot of card counters that suddenly don't work because one player is very high level, and the other is not. That just doesn't happen. I've played hundreds of matches, and rarely feel particularly outclassed. Sometimes I play people of different levels, but I've lost to lower-level players and beaten higher-level ones.

There are some issues with legendary cards being tougher to get unless you're in higher level ranks, but it's not like the expert players are using all legendary and epic cards. They're using a good variety of cards, and their decks and tactics are often recognizable even to lower-level players.

Pay To Win?

This game isn't pay-to-win, it's pay-to-compete. And that's a huge difference. Pay-to-compete is just the reality of life. As Emily Greer, CEO of Kongregate, makes clear, real-life hobbies can have similar tiers where people who want to be serious about their passions spend money on better equipment. Youth baseball players' families have to spend money on good equipment, travel, and events to get to top-tier competition. That doesn't mean that you can't enjoy playing in the sandlot or on a club team. Even real-world collectable card games run into this issue. There isn't any kind of serious discussion around Magic the Gathering being pay-to-win.


And honestly, thanks to the matchmaking, you could play this game for free if you wanted. Between opening the free chests, getting the crown chest, and unlocking the reward chests, you can easily feel like you're in forward motion for a long time. The clans are useful for getting card upgrades thanks to card requests. Maybe you'll want to accelerate your progress through paying, but if you don't want to? A fun and competitive game is there for you that you can enjoy it without spending a single dime. But if you do want to spend to help get to higher ranks of the game, then you can do that. But you don't have to, you can always feel like you're getting a fair match when you play.

Is it absolutely true that you're not going to be an elite Clash Royale player without shelling out money for powerful cards? And yes, this game is informed very much by commerce as opposed to pure competition. But the public has spoken, and they want fun games they can play for no cost up front. They do want balance, but they don't mind some commerce. And that's true of any game. Even League of Legends and Dota 2 compel people to spend money. It's about making a game that feels fair to the player in practice. Clash Royale passes that test with flying colors. It's a profitable game, and does tempt you to spend money, but it's not a guaranteed way to win at all.

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