Most Pay to Win Games: Which Ones?

Here’s everything about the most pay to win games:

It’s hard to say that any one game is the most pay to win of all.

Many mobile games are built on pay to win mechanics, and they often work in similar ways.

When weighing popularity against the extremity of the pay to win mechanic, then some of the most pay to win games are the FIFA series and Raid Shadow Legends.

So if you want to learn all about which games are the most pay to win, then you’re in the right place.

Let’s jump right in!

Most Pay to Win Games: Which Ones? (Everything to Know)

What Is a Pay to Win Game?

female gamer happy about game victory

You’ve probably heard this term before, and likely, you have your own definition in mind.

Before I take you on this journey discussing the most pay to win games ever, I’m going to spend a minute defining some criteria, just so we all start from the same point.

A pay to win game is a game where you can gain a direct advantage by spending money.

Now, in a lot of virtual and video games, there are virtual currencies that you can trade for advantages.

That’s not what I’m talking about.

Throughout this discussion, I will only consider it a pay to win mechanic if you can shell out your own dollars (outside of the initial cost of the game) in order to improve your ability to win.

When that happens, it’s a pay to win mechanic.

So, any game with any amount of a pay to win mechanic is eligible for this list.

Some games accidentally created pay to win mechanics and will end up in the discussion.

Other games are designed around a deliberate pay to win scheme.

The whole point is that you win when you pay more. You’ll see plenty of those too.

Overall, I don’t have perfect objective criteria for this list.

Instead, I weighed the total impact of the pay to win mechanics against the popularity of the game in question.

So, you might see some games missing that you think should be here.

You might also think that some games on the list shouldn’t be here at all.

On top of that, you might think that pay to win mechanics are inherently unfair.

That’s not necessarily true, as you’ll see in the first two games discussed.

But, overall, pay to win mechanics have a bad reputation for good reasons.

They absolutely can poison the spirit of competition.

But, even for games where competition is still alive and healthy, if the game is popular enough and the pay to win mechanic is powerful enough, you’ll see it on the list.

What Are the Most Pay to Win Games?

male hand playing RPG on mobile phone

Let me start by proving a point.

I said that pay to win mechanics don’t always ruin competition, and the two games I’m about to discuss really do prove that point.

You’ll notice that neither of these games are video games.

Instead, they’re real-life games, and they are immensely popular around the world.

In both cases, the pay to win mechanic really doesn’t hurt the integrity of the game from a competitive standpoint.

You could even argue that the pay to win elements make the games more interesting.

And, that’s why I want to lead with them.

We can really explore the idea of turning money into competitive advantages.

#1 Basketball

playing basketball game on mobile phone

Let me be clear. I’m not talking about some basketball video game.

I’m talking specifically about the NBA.

So, it’s not even basketball that you have played.

The simple truth is that the best basketball teams each season are the ones that spend the most money.

Now, the very most expensive team in the league doesn’t win the NBA championships every year, but the bottom teams in terms of roster value haven’t come close to winning a season in a very long time.

It’s pretty easy to understand.

Players like Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, and LeBron James are extremely expensive to have on a starting lineup.

They also win a lot of games.

So, basketball is a game where teams really are just buying competitive advantages.

And in case that seems unfair, remember that every team in the NFL is operating with the same player budget.

Team spending caps ensure that the NFL doesn’t have these clear pay to win mechanics, and you see a lot more variety in NFL competition every year as compared to the NBA.

Most of all, the NBA is massively popular around the world, and the most expensive players are paid nearly $50 million each season.

You would be hard pressed to find a more popular game with a more popular pay to win mechanic.

#2 Poker

man playing poker at casino

We can explore a completely different concept of pay to win by looking at poker.

The NBA pay to win mechanic only matters for extremely wealthy team owners (and people who are loyal to a team no matter how bad it is at the moment).

With poker, every game is pay to win.

I’m not suggesting that poker is pay to win because you have to buy your chips.

Instead, I’m saying that having more chips in poker is a huge advantage.

In fact, having the “large stack” as they say, is the only true advantage one can have in poker.

So, any game that allows some players to spend more money on chips than others is inherently unfair.

But, even when that aspect of pay to win is managed with good rules, having more money in poker is always the best way to come in first.

The game itself is built on an inherent pay to win idea, and that’s part of what makes it so interesting.

Poker is a perfect example of how pay to win isn’t necessarily bad for a game.

What Are the Most Pay to Win Video Games?

young female gamer plays a game on her mobile device

Now that I have those two out of the way, we can get into what I imagine is the discussion you really wanted from the beginning.

Which video games are the most pay to win?

We’re narrowing down the criteria, but I’m still using the same metrics.

To be on my list, a game has to be popular, and the pay to win mechanic has to be significant.

As long as we keep that in mind, then this first answer won’t surprise you at all.

Mobile games are the most pay to win, and it’s not even close.

Mobile Games

satisfied young lady sitting on gaming chair with cellphone in hands

To be fair, not all mobile games are pay to win.

You can find plenty of examples that don’t’ allow money to influence win percentages, but the mobile game market is really where the pay to win mechanic was established and developed.

You’ll find more pay to win mechanics in the mobile game market than anywhere else.

Now, which mobile game is the most pay to win?

That’s really hard to say.

Instead of giving you a clear winner, I have a who’s who list of the most pay to win mobile games of all time:

  • Candy Crush
  • Angry Birds
  • Farmville

All three of these games have been around for a long time, and they have come in multiple iterations.

They’ve been pay to win pretty much the whole time, and they’ve seen massive audiences.

Beyond these, we can give some honorable mentions to Plants vs Zombies, Rise of Kingdoms, and Marvel Strike Force.

In case you’re not seeing the answers you were expecting, don’t worry.

I’m not done yet.

Outside of these mobile gaming titans are plenty of other pay to win games, and I’m going to cover some of those worst offenders too.

But from here on out, we’re not really talking about mobile games anymore.

What Are the Most Pay to Win AAA Video Games? (5 Titles)

Beautiful couple playing video games on console

This might be what you really had in mind when you clicked on this article.

Of the mainstream, top-notch game companies, which games have proven to be the most pay to win?

From here on out, we’re talking about AAA titles.

These games come from the biggest developers (who should all know better) and still have significant pay to win mechanics.

Now, some of these games actually flopped because of the pay to win mechanics, but because they came from such prolific studios or were part of such massive intellectual properties, I still included them.

You might also notice another mobile game or two sneak into this list.

That’s because this list isn’t based on the gaming platform.

We’re just talking about games that come from top production companies.

#1 NBA 2K18

Athletic young woman smiling lying on the ground, head resting on a basketball while playing on her mobile phone

NBA 2K18 is just plain infamous.

It’s in a group of titles that are known for pay to win mechanics and poor competitive design.

But, because a lot of people enjoy sports video games, the franchise is still successful.

There are a lot of reasons for the success, but the pay to win mechanics probably aren’t part of that.

Among the whole group of games, NBA 2K18 stands out in a lot of people’s memories.

The game offered player and team customization options.

When you took advantage of them, your team was vastly superior to any team that didn’t use them.

And, naturally, you have to pay money for those customizations.

Now, you could access some of them without shelling out real dollars, but to be truly competitive, you have to make in-game transactions.

Thus, it’s a massive pay to win mechanic, and a lot of people hated it.

#2 Counter-Strike Nexon: Zombies

The gamer playing video game on his personal computer

Counter-Strike is a truly beloved franchise, and it has long been heralded as one of the most competitive franchises in video game history.

Old versions of Counter-Strike were among the original eSports, and Counter-Strike: Go has a run as the most popular eSport in the world.

This is a big title.

So, when the Counter-Strike zombie game was built on pay to win mechanics, a lot of people were sorely disappointed. 

For what it’s worth, this game wasn’t developed directly by Valve.

Instead, Valve outsourced production to NEXON, a South Korean development company.

Regardless, the results were not good.

In this game, there are special weapons that can only be accessed as in-game purchases.

You don’t have to guess.

All of the best weapons are behind a paywall, so people who shell out extreme money have huge advantages over anyone else.

#3 Final Fantasy: All the Bravest

An anime fantasy warrior sitting on a green field with a cloudy sky

Final Fantasy is another massively popular, long-loved franchise. When people discuss the greatest video games of all time, Final Fantasy titles are often included in the discussion.

Square Enix owns the franchise, and they’ve made some absolutely masterpieces of video games.

For All the Bravest, development was handled by BitGroove.

Square Enix only published the game.

This particular part of the franchise was designed for iOS and Android, making it yet another mobile game on the list.

And, it has some notable pay to win mechanics that many fans of the franchise did not appreciate.

As is normal with a Final Fantasy game, you can get different characters to be in your party.

With All the Bravest, there are actually a lot of characters to try to unlock and use in your party.

Unfortunately, you can only get many of those characters by making in-app purchases.

They are considered premium characters, and as you can imagine, they’re strong.

On top of that, the game allows you to pay money to revive fallen characters, enabling you to play the game completely differently if you shell out lots of cash.

#4 Raid Shadow Legends

young girl playing games online at home

At long last, we have made it to Raid Shadow Legends.

If you haven’t heard of this game, then clearly you’ve never watched a video on the internet.

Raid Shadow Legends advertising is so prolific, that many content creators make the same joke: when you have a Raid sponsored video, you’ve finally made it.

Raid Shadow Legends is also a mobile game, and it has one of the most famous pay to win mechanics in the business.

It’s a gacha game.

What is a gacha game?

This is a game mechanic where you can get new content, but whenever you try to acquire that contingent, the results are randomized.

Basically, you make in-game purchases and use those to try to get new characters.

Instead of just buying the character you want, you instead enter a lottery.

You’re guaranteed to get a character for your purchase, but you don’t know which one.

So, to get the exact characters you want, you might have to make multiple in-game purchases.

And, to seal the deal, Raid Shadow Legends makes sure that some of the most powerful characters can only be achieved through this lottery system.

So, it’s a pay to win game where sometimes, you pay and still don’t win.


Playing soccer game with a smartphone

If Raid Shadow Legends isn’t the most pay to win AAA title of all time, then it’s probably because of the FIFA series.

FIFA is one of the most popular sports video game franchises ever.

Tons of people play it, and people take it seriously enough to play this video game franchise professionally.

It’s also one of the most infamous pay to win schemes ever.

Developed by EA Sports, FIFA has a single mechanic that is truly reviled.

It’s a pretty simple mechanic, but it completely changes the competitive nature of the game.

In FIFA, you can play as real professional soccer teams.

There’s another option too, where you can make the ultimate team.

With the ultimate team, you can hand pick your roster, allowing you to make a dream team of the very best players in the world.

It sounds like a powerful mechanic, right?

Well, to access the ultimate team, you have to pay cash.

It’s a pure pay to win scheme.

It’s so extreme that people actually make money offering players advice on how best to optimize their ultimate team spending.


  • Theresa McDonough

    Tech entrepreneur and founder of Tech Medic, who has become a prominent advocate for the Right to Repair movement. She has testified before the US Federal Trade Commission and been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, helping influence change within the tech industry.

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