1. When you say “any number”, what you should actually say is “any available for purchase”, because the economy is based on product generated by players. Though this may seem like a minor issue, it has a huge impact on the benefits of this model and whether or not it’s “P2W”.
2. “Possibly blast through” is fair since it’s debatable and depends on what you’re doing. I’ve been leveling a number of stats (particularly armor & weapon skills) without spending any Learning Points and Albion Online Silver because I’m hording them for a rainy day. I haven’t felt particularly dwarfed as a result and I’m pretty sure in another couple of dungeons I’ll be up to the next tier of gear. The only thing slowing my progress is I’ve been playing with my friend and brother in lower tier zones and haven’t contributed any fame towards my progress, but I’m hoping the devs will lift tier restrictions in that regard. In any case, all you get out of this is faster progression. However, P2W models usually grant additional power instead.
Onto the Point
It’s already been established that those buying gold and selling it are making a resource out of themselves for other players to capitalize on, so I’m going to skip that and focus more on the “Win” part of the “Pay to Win” concept. As far as I understand it, equipment doesn’t equate to winning, especially since any gear that you purchase came from players who already have access to that gear. And the gear must be on sale, and it’s my understanding that the cream of the crop is kept for the guild in most cases.
So before we can argue whether or not it’s a pay to win system, you must prove your claim that it’s winning by paying. The best I can see that you gain from premium is faster progress, but nothing about the faster progress ensures any sort of victory since you’re still limited to: A) whatever people will sell you, and B) whatever people are already using themselves. Nothing about paying for the game allows you access to more player islands, larger guilds, more character slots, or any number of other perks often seen in these games. At best, it reduces grind.
Benefits of the System
1. All MMOs are pay to win through 3rd parties. People have been selling in-game currencies and real estate for ages. Ultima Online had virtual real-estate and gold that was sold for over $1,300 (there was an article about it in InQuest magazine in ’97). However, the AO devs have greatly diminished the appeal of “gold farming” because you can now purchase gold from other players (benefiting everyone) and support the game and development while doing so.
2. It allows F2P players ways of achieving premium status without spending actual currency on it if they’re willing to put in the work for it. They also have access to your gear if they defeat you in PvP (such as in a guild skirmish) and take your goodies. These players can also play the albion online gold market without paying, and they can barter for gold as well (for example, there’s nothing stopping you from bartering in gold directly, such as offering to be a bodyguard in exchange for gold).
3. It places F2P and P2P players as two hands washing the other. Both need each other in a way that’s more readily apparent than in most F2P MMOs. F2P needs Gold. P2P needs services. Everyone needs the game to be supported, and this is without a doubt the best method of financing their game while being unobtrusive that exists in the current MMO market. Like with much of the game, it’s economically sound.
So in closing…
You must first establish a clear “winning” that isn’t also causing the F2P people to also be “winning” simultaneously. The best argument for that is premium itself, since hypothetically you could just treat your gold as a subscription and never sell off gold, and even premium membership reduces the grind but doesn’t provide any long term advantages over anyone. Secondly, if you’re serious about this being some sort of problem, you must then provide some sort of solution to the problem that is reasonably fair to everyone involved, because there’s no such thing as a free lunch.