With the high prevalence of allegedly free to play MMOs today, there is a lot of complaining about players being able to buy special advantages in game with real money. Lord of the Rings Online, which recently went to free to play, actually has made a pledge to not sell any items that yield gameplay advantages in the game's store that could not be otherwise gained through normal play. Their way of making good on this promise is to in fact sell special gameplay advantage items in the store, and to also make these items rare drops that many players probably won't see in the game.
It's interesting that these kind of "fairness" standards for games have developed, and that some people are genuinely bothered by the idea that someone can buy their way to an easier game experience or a higher score. Although game developers will only harm their industry if they overcharge, it is still to be expected that they are in the industry to make money by selling whatever gamers will pay for. We buy the game, but we expect that there shouldn't be any hidden charges -- that we shouldn't have to pay again to get the full enjoyment out of the game, unless it is sold to us with that understanding. The complaint from old LOTRO players is that they expected to have access to all content by paying their subscription fee. The complaint of new players is that "free to play" may be a misnomer, as they have to buy account upgrades or items to really enjoy the entirety of the game.
Is paying to play and paying to get the most out of a game really something new, though? This practice died out during the days of console cartridge and CD games that were not connected to the Internet (so there was no easy way to purchase and add on additional content), but it is not something new. I was reminded of this fact when playing some arcade games on the emulator MAME today. Because I was playing on an emulator, I was able to do something that was probably the fantasy of most kids who ever played arcade games: I could insert as many virtual quarters as I wanted to. In games where you're given the option to continue play by inserting more coins, this is a serious advantage. You can play to the end of the game or until you get the highest score without actually having any skill at the game. Paying to win isn't really something new, although it might have been forgotten for a while.
The earliest arcade machines may not have featured the option to insert more coins to stay alive, but most people can remember playing these kinds of games in the days before consoles (and only paying for a game once) were ubiquitous. Is being able to buy an advantage wrong? It's something that certainly sounds dirty to most of us, who associate buying any privilege with cheating. Those who aspire to be the best or most accomplished at a game based on skill alone would likely call it cheating. It might seem unfair to those who can't or won't spend the extra money. However, I wouldn't really say that I envy people who are buying their way to a better score. It can feel like a hollow victory, and I don't have any desire to waste real money buying potions just to get through a certain raid. If that means that I can't do it, then so be it. I don't envy people who want to spend their money that way, and I can't really blame developers for wanting to offer someone the ability to make a fool of him or herself. I actually feel bad for people that want to do that, like maybe they're being taken advantage of -- unless they had loads of cash to burn anyway.
So, should we be upset about the returning prevalence of pay to play? I don't know. The viewpoint that there is something a little dirty in it -- either on the part of the players or the producers -- is understandable. If it makes you feel better to stay away from it, then I don't blame you. If you want to do it, all I can say is: be careful. "Winning" that way may not feel as good as you thought it would.