Pay-To-Win Video Games and Their Impacts on Teens

digital safety May 01, 2024
Pay-To-Win Video Games and Their Impacts on Teens

By: Cameron Grodi, Seasonal Public Relations Intern | Digital4Good


As parents and guardians, we strive to provide our teenagers with the tools they need to navigate the complexities of life. However, in today's gaming landscape, the line between entertainment and exploitation is becoming increasingly blurred. Let's delve into the world of pay-to-win video games and explore their undeniable impacts on the impressionable minds of teens.


What Are Pay-To-Win Video Games?

Pay to win (P2W) games are free to play, but encourage players to purchase in-game features with real money. These games can be accessed via social networks, websites, or mobile applications on a user’s computer, cell phone, or tablet.


The History Behind Pay-To-Win Video Games

During the early stages of video gaming history, users were required to purchase games from suppliers (publishers) and install them on their computers in order to play, following the pay-to-play concept (Tomić, 2017). As the gaming market became increasingly saturated over time, and with the prevalence of illegal downloads shortly after game releases, suppliers opted to alter their profit-sharing model. Rather than selling the complete version of the game upfront, a basic version was offered at a low cost or even for free, while additional features and premium content became available for purchase (Tomić, 2017). This shift in strategy led to the emergence of terms like "free-to-play" or "freemium" in gaming parlance, where revenue is generated by selling various components of the game separately.


Certain virtual items like character clothing may not impact gameplay, while others, such as specialized armor, can provide players with in-game advantages (Liblik & van Berlo, 2016). These virtual transactions involve players exchanging real money for virtual game currency (Adji, Chua, Kainama, & Feranita, 2019). From a marketing perspective, it's more effective to encourage players to make multiple small purchases rather than one large payment (e.g., buying the entire game), resulting in microtransaction amounts accumulating to substantial values over time (Tomić, 2017).


Drawbacks of Pay-To-Win Video Games

So how exactly are these types of games influencing our youth? Here are some of the growing concerns with P2W games as they continue to rise in popularity. 


Financial Burden

Teens may feel pressured to spend money on in-game purchases to keep up with their peers or progress in the game. This can lead to financial strain, especially if teens use their own money or make unauthorized purchases using their parents' credit cards.


Distorted Values

Pay-to-win mechanics can promote the idea that success can be bought rather than earned through skill and effort. This can distort teens' values by reinforcing the notion that spending money is the primary path to achievement and success.


Social Exclusion 

Players who cannot afford or choose not to spend money on in-game purchases may feel excluded or disadvantaged compared to their peers. This can lead to social pressure and feelings of inferiority among teens who cannot keep up financially.


Negative Psychological Effects

Teens who engage in pay-to-win games may experience negative psychological effects such as anxiety, low self-esteem, or a sense of inadequacy if they cannot afford to make in-game purchases or compete with players who do.


Time Management Issues

Pay-to-win games often require a significant time investment to progress without spending money. Teens may prioritize gaming over other important activities such as schoolwork, socializing, or physical activity, leading to issues with time management and neglect of responsibilities.


Preventative Measures

Here are some tips to help your teens avoid the potential negative effects of P2W games.


Set Clear Boundaries

Establish clear rules and limits around gaming, including specific time limits for playing and guidelines on in-game purchases. Ensure that your children understand and respect these boundaries.


Educate Them

Teach your children about the risks and manipulative tactics associated with pay-to-win games, such as in-game purchases and gambling-like mechanics. Help them develop critical thinking skills to recognize and resist these tactics.


Promote Alternative Activities

Encourage your children to engage in a variety of activities outside of gaming, such as sports, hobbies, or creative pursuits. Providing alternative forms of entertainment and enrichment can help reduce their reliance on pay-to-win games.


Monitor Their Gaming Habits

Keep track of your children's gaming habits and monitor the content of the games they play. Be aware of any signs of excessive gaming or problematic behavior, such as irritability, withdrawal, or neglect of responsibilities.


Lead by Example

Set a positive example by modeling healthy gaming habits and responsible spending. Limit your own gaming time and demonstrate responsible financial behavior, such as avoiding excessive in-game purchases.


Encourage Open Communication

Maintain open lines of communication with your children about their gaming experiences. Create a safe and supportive environment where they can feel comfortable discussing any concerns or issues related to pay-to-win games.


Use Parental Controls

Take advantage of parental control features available on gaming platforms and devices to restrict access to inappropriate content and limit in-game purchases.


Key Takeaway

Overall, pay-to-win games can have detrimental effects on teens' financial well-being, personal values, social interactions, mental health, and time management skills. However, by implementing the preventative measures above and staying actively involved in your children's gaming experiences, you can help protect them from the negative effects of pay-to-win games and promote responsible gaming habits.


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Works Cited

  • Adji, M.N., Chua, D., Kainama, N., & Feranita, F. (2019). Consumer Preference on Paid Game Microtransaction. Journal of Research in Marketing, 10(3), 832-842. doi: 10.17722/JORM.V10I3.273
  • Liblik, K.-C., & van Berlo, K. (2016). The Business of Micro Transactionsā€Æ: What is the players’ motivation for purchasing virtual items? (Dissertation). Retrieved from
  • Tomić, N. (2017). Effects of micro transactions on video games industry. Megatrend Revija, 14(3), 239-257. doi:10.5937/megrev1703239t




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