Premium Currency

Exchange rate between real money and in-game currency disguises the real price of items.

One of the most common Monetary Dark Patterns is the use of premium currency. This is when real money is exchanged for in-game currency. It could be gems, tokens, crystals, coins or anything else specific to the game. This in-game currency is then used to purchase items, upgrade weapons or otherwise play the game. Usually, no limits are placed on the amount of premium currency that can be purchased, which can lead to some addicted players spending huge sums of money on the game. In the industry, these types of players are called "Whales" because of their big spending. Historically, less than 2% of a game's players will spend money on a free to play game with premium currency.

There are several reasons why this is a Dark Pattern:

First, the exchange rate between real money and the premium currency often disguises the real price of items that you purchase in the game. This is compounded by the fact that purchasing larger bundles of premium currency often gives you a better exchange rate. Because the true price of the in-game item is disguised by the variable exchange rate, player's aren't as aware of how much they are spending, and end up spending more.

Second, because of another dark pattern called Waste Aversion, people are reluctant to leave a small amount of unspent premium currency. Game developers know this and they often price items in such a way that you will always have some unspent currency. For example, you may only be able to purchase gems in bundles of 1000, but items cost 80 gems inside the game. This means you'll have 40 gems left over and may feel like you need to purchase more gems to try to even it up and get down to zero.

Third, some countries have laws against gambling, which would make it illegal for the game to sell Loot Boxes for real money. Because premium currency isn't real money, game developers can claim that loot boxes aren't gambling and they can get around the laws. Loot boxes are a powerful money-making technique for game, so using an intermediary currency to get around the law allows games to continue to including gambling in their games when they would otherwise be prohibited.


Star Trek Fleet Command Star Trek Fleet Command
"In a way, you spend real money on items that rarely or never drop in the game which in turn allow you to do something in the game."

PewDiePie's Pixelings PewDiePie's Pixelings
"3 levels of currency!"

MARVEL Strike Force MARVEL Strike Force
"Yes with overpriced ‘deals’"

Harry Potter: Wizards Unite Harry Potter: Wizards Unite
"You can purchase gold coins that can then be used to purchase potions, runestones and inventory expansion slots. You can earn a small amount of gold in the game for free."

Gems of War - Match 3 RPG Gems of War - Match 3 RPG
"Gem purchase is heavily encouraged in order to collect cards and ascend harder to acquire units."

Mortal Kombat Mortal Kombat
"Souls are the in-game currency. Prices range from 3.99 CAD to 129.99 CAD."

Hearthstone Hearthstone
"Gold as internal currency"

World of Tanks Blitz MMO World of Tanks Blitz MMO
"YES. and if you want a better experience with the game you better buy it."

BanG Dream! Girls Band Party! BanG Dream! Girls Band Party!
"Real money just to get crystals for gacha"

Walking Dead: Road to Survival Walking Dead: Road to Survival
"Very much so. Gold coins."