I'll start by saying that I am both an English teacher, and a Finance teacher, so I'll be talking about this from both perspectives.
The Splinterlands saga is starting to read a little like a Greek or Roman myth - riddled with foreshadowing and cosmic irony. Perhaps we should have seen it coming with a game called Splinterlands, that the game itself would one day splinter. I must first say that I love the game and play multiple accounts actively. The recent changes are both maddening and addictive, a sentiment I have seen echoed by many fellow users on discord. Also a common sentiment on discord, a mix of elation and fear around the coming changes to the game.
First, what has changed recently is a reorganization based on what is called collection power (the total burn value of all of your cards). Whether or not that is a good way to "score" or "grade" an accounts power is a topic for another article (and has already been hotly debated all over discord). What the change did seem to do is reinforce a "pay to win" dynamic that has been present since the genesis of the game. I should also note, I am not inherently against this kind of model, though it may sound as though I am by the end of this. In Splinterlands, cards are upgraded by combining them. Higher level cards have more abilities and are, therefore, more powerful in battle. Accounts with more money behind them will often have a wider variety of cards and more of them will be higher level or max level. In battle, they will have more abilities (both buffs and debuffs), and will therefore win. This is often what is meant by "pay to win." When new cards launch, accounts with more money are quicker to acquire and implement those new cards (and their abilities/advantages) - again offering them a serious advantage in game, and a better return in rewards and dec (Dark Energy Crystals - the in-game currency that has real world value).
Now there has been a major update announced that is causing quite a buzz - land. Splinterlands will soon be offering land sales where owners can mine resources and then use those resources to mint unique spell and item cards. Here's the kicker though, these new spell and item cards will further affect each battle. So for those frustrated about the pay to win model, those with more money (and this land is very expensive, even at the promotional discount rate for the land presale) can now further increase their odds of winning a battle by minting special cards that can, after having set ones lineup, allow them to buff or debuff based on what their opponent has put out against them.
And this is where Splinterlands will complete its own splintering. There will be the top end players who have all the cards and all the spells and items; they will have the greatest chance of winning. On the other end, there will be newer players or smaller level accounts. They won't have land. They will likely have few or no items or spells to use in each battle. It's a case of the haves and the have-nots. Now don't get me wrong, the have nots will still be playing the same awesome game we have all been playing for months or years. It's just that the haves will be playing a newer, better, more robust game that is more complex, more fun, and all-around awesomer (I know that's not a word).
Splinterlands is becoming two very different games. As mentioned above, for those with money, it's a robust, empire building game where the strategy is incredibly complex and your group of peers is incredibly small. For those without money, the hapless hoards, it's a less complex (though still very fun game - let's not forget, they will be playing the game as it was originally created, which had many avid players). Does this matter? Maybe not. From a financial perspective, it makes a ton of sense. The investment for the bigger players is there. There is more room for ecosystem to build up in a more robust game, so that's good for everyone. The economics of the game they are building are, honestly, a no-brainer. It's just good for everyone.
But, as Fitzgerald questions in The Great Gatsby, can one really move from poor to rich? Is the American Dream truly possible. Whether or not it is IRL has been debated since Fitzgerald's time (1920s to my non-lit nerds out there). In Splinterlands, the writing seems to be on the wall - the American Dream is dead. One simply cannot compete at higher levels without paying money. The game dynamics just won't allow it. Nor can a player, regardless of how skilled or crafty, compete with stronger accounts. Again, the game dynamics won't allow it. They have added ways for these lower accounts to feel good about their progress, to chart their growth and compete (league leaderboards and rewards) and that is a great change. But unless you already have money to invest, you are trapped in the lower class of the game - a less robust version than what will be available to wealthier players.
I'll let you draw your own parallels to our real life society. But I think real life has been asking a very serious question for years that Splinterlands is about to have to consider: in a bifurcated world of haves and have-nots, what do you do with the people in the middle? Low level accounts with little invested, playing and having fun and earning some rewards makes sense. They are playing a game with fewer features, but they haven't paid for those features. We are familiar with, and comfortable with, this model. Whale accounts with a ton invested earning huge rewards (that are, from a financial perspective, proportionate to their investment, of course) and enjoying all of the features of very robust game and ecosystem? Again, we are familiar with and accept this kind of game. What about the accounts in the middle (of which I am admittedly one)? The accounts with some money invested, enough to compete at higher levels, maybe even win some rewards, but with the new changes to the game, expensive changes that will likely price them out of participation, are unlikely to be able to continue to compete. Where do they go from here (asking for a friend)?