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.


Honkai: Star Rail Honkai: Star Rail
"Gacha currency"

Airlines Manager : Tycoon 2019 Airlines Manager : Tycoon 2019
"You can buy coin and use it to buy different livery"

Smurfs' Village Smurfs' Village

Fallout Shelter Fallout Shelter
"The premium currency in-game, nuka cola quantum, can be bought for real life money, though there appears to be an upper limit for how much you can get. You can also get the currency from quests and from adverts in fairly large quantities, so getting to the currency cap isn't too difficulty even without paying."

Drilla: Idle Gold Miner Game Drilla: Idle Gold Miner Game
"You can trade to stuff called "Crystals", that can then boost your drill."

Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel
"You can use real money to buy gems to buy more cards."

TheoTown TheoTown
"You can buy crystals"

Talking Tom Hero Dash Talking Tom Hero Dash
"credits. you CAN get them without purchasing them, but it's super grindy, I mean, 5 credits for 1 lootbox? also, every once in a while, there will be one of three events, a police one called power patrol, a bee one, and a fire one. they involve exchanging the event currency for cool stuff and if you run out, you can use credits to get more, if you are broke in that department too, the currency is sprinkled in each run."

Forge of Empires Forge of Empires
"for diamonds, a premium currency."

AFK Journey AFK Journey
"There are too many ways to spend money in this game. You can spend money on a premium currency, that's used inside of the shop. There's a battle pass system in place, with the free rewards being very basic resources while the premium side has cosmetics. There's a growth bundle system, where if you buy it with real money, gives you resources depending on what milestones you hit in the game. There's offers to buy bundles with real money that pop up after completing certain tasks."