Purchasable Game Advantages

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The possibility for players to spend real world currency to gain in-game advantages.

Most games are created so that they fortunes and misfortunes of players should not be possible to affect from outside the game. While this can be seen as one-half of the idea of the magic circle of games[1] many games do not adhere to it. This simplest example of this is betting games since players can use money to have more resources to bet in the game (and the effects of winning or losing are then transferred back outside the game does not change that money can be used to provide more freedom). The appearance of Massively Multiplayer Online Games introduced another type of example: that of players being able to trade characters and items with each other for real world money.


Betting games are the most obvious examples of games that have Purchasable Game Advantages. This may that actually money is used as game elements, which happens when friends play Poker, or buy players being able to buy chips for real money at a casino, which is common for how Roulette and Texas Hold'em is played. Games where players need to buy game components to play, e.g. Warhammer 40K or Magic: The Gathering, are other examples of games with Purchasable Game Advantages because those with more money can buy more or better game elements.

Developing characters or acquiring rare equipment in Massively Multiplayer Online Games represent time investments and therefore have some value. This may lead of a trade of game elements which can either be resisted by the developers of game, e.g. World of Warcraft, or embraced and made into a core aspect of the gameplay, as for example Entropia Universe does.

Some games running on social media platforms such as Facebook, e.g. FarmVille and Ravenwood Fair, allow the use of Facebook credits to purchase resources need to complete buildings or quests.

Using the pattern

Purchasable Game Advantages typically appear in any games with Pay to Play, e.g. Arcade Games or Gambling Games. It also appears in games with Heterogeneous Game Element Ownership, e.g. Collectible Card Games or those using Miniatures. Purchasable Game Advantages are also often used in Persistent Game Worlds such as those found in Massively Multiplayer Online Games and Massively Single-Player Online Games since the purchases can have long term value, but buying chips for gambling games can be seen the oldest example of the pattern and instead relies on the fact that these games have Extra-Game Consequences. One aspect of designing for Purchasable Game Advantages is deciding what can be purchased. Resources is an simple option in that each unit of a Resource can be given a monetary value (as for example done in FarmVille and Ravenwood Fair) and this can include Budgeted Action Points and replacing the need for Neighbors, but Game Items can also work.

This is assuming that the seller is the game facilitators. In Massively Multiplayer Online Games the pattern can easily emerge whether or not designers want to - one example of how to counter this (found for example in World of Warcraft) is to make the action of wearing or wielding Equipment into Irreversible Events, or avoiding to make any Game Items into Tradeables. However, in these games Characters can also be the items traded since these are directly linked to accounts whose passwords can be traded.

Interface Aspects

Games that actively support Purchasable Game Advantages typically provide Secondary Interface Screens to handle this separate from gameplay.


Buying, and selling, game advantages are examples of Extra-Game Actions. This is a form of Extra-Game Input when when new advantages are introduced due to money transactions outside the game, and a form of Game Element Trading when the transactions are between players. When the transactions take place between players and the game providers, the game advantages do not only need to be related to Game Items or Resources but can be closer related to allowing immediate Unlocking (paying to not have to have a certain amount of Neighbors in one's shops in CityVille is an example where the purchase is closer to Unlocking than getting Resources). Having players be able to purchase advantages can easily disrupt Player Balance as well as reducing the Value of Effort for what other players' have achieved and making Gameplay Mastery less valuable and Game-Based Social Statuses less trustworthy. Although these effects may be negative, Purchasable Game Advantages also provide players with the Freedom of Choice of avoiding Grinding.


Can Instantiate

Extra-Game Input, Extra-Game Actions, Game Element Trading, Unlocking

Can Modulate

Budgeted Action Points, Massively Multiplayer Online Games, Massively Single-Player Online Games, Neighbors, Persistent Game Worlds, Resources

Can Be Instantiated By

Collectible Card Games, Heterogeneous Game Element Ownership, Massively Multiplayer Online Games, Miniatures, Pay to Play

Game Items or Characters in games with Persistent Game Worlds

Can Be Modulated By

Secondary Interface Screens

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Excise, Game-Based Social Statuses, Gameplay Mastery, Player Balance, Value of Effort

Equipment together with Irreversible Events


New pattern created in this wiki.


  1. Salen, K & Zimmerman, E. (2003). Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals. The MIT Press. ISBN 0262240459