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Never. Sell. Power. This is seriously micro-trans 101, but we still seem to have this temptation to squeeze the maximum amount of money out of our players by selling them things that alter the balance of gameplay.
Don't feel like doing a quest to get the reward? Don't care about taking the time to unlock the game's super ultra secrets? Or perhaps you just suck at it?
You may be in luck. For a "modest fee", the game's developers might be willing to sell you "something extra" to "boost your performance". Don't worry, it's "not really cheating" since anybody else could do the same, and you gotta trust the game's developers on this, right?
Rejoice, gamers, for now we can have Truth in TelevisionVideo Game FUs, where only the rich kids will have all the cool stuff.
Some online games do such a thing as a response to Real Money Trade, on the logic that players would do it anyway. The sister trope is the Allegedly Free Game, which advertises itself as "free to play" but requires purchases to unlock content, up to and including higher levels and/or the actual ending. To clarify, the difference between these tropes is that Real Money Trade is forbidden by the game's developers, while an Allegedly Free Gamecannot be played in its entirety without paying money, and Bribing Your Way To Victory allows you to buy better stuff but doesn't lock you out of content.
A common variant of this trope is to put in countless hours of incredibly dull Forced Level Grinding with minimal content at the lower levels, then allow players to skip it by buying Experience Points and/or whatever currency they would otherwise need to grind out to progress. This essentially results in an Allegedly Free Game with the illusion of being able to Earn Your Fun, even though the latter is rendered useless since you rarely save more than a dollar per hour of grind compared to just coughing up the money - mowing the neighbor's lawn would be less work, more fun, and still pay more. In cases like this, and other situations where you can buy quicker access to stuff you can get in the game, it seems like the developers think their game is boring enough, at least at the early stages, that people will pay money to play less of it.
This is one of Sturgeon's Tropes as it is very difficult to implement this in a way that doesn't hurt the experience for players unwilling to spend the extra money.
A Real Life subset of Screw the Rules, I Have Money!.
See also Revenue Enhancing Devices. In-game money doesn't count; it has to be real money.
Not related to Crimefighting with Cash.
The Munchkin series of card games has a set of official T-shirts. According to the official tournament rules, wearing one of these shirts grants special powers, such as the ability to draw extra cards and increasing the amount of treasure you get when killing monsters. It also has a series of bookmarks that cancels out the effect of the t-shirts. In fact, all Munchkin related products affect the card game in some way.
Possibly the most outrageous example ever? A cookie.
One card lets you go up one level by, in the card description, bribing the GM with pizza.
Possible case of invocation of this trope, given the nature and tone of the game. Another basic rule is that cheating is OK if you don't get caught.
Seen as the downfall of many a Collectible Card Game. It's not bad enough when players, (stereo)typically spoiled little kids who can scream "BUY ME THAT ULTRA-SUPER-DELUXE MEGARARE!" at their parents, can buy the rare and powerful cards or even entire pre-built "munchkin" decks from shops and collectors, but then the actual makers of the game have to get in on the act with "Buy this cheap tin box 'storage bin' and get a deluxe chromium omegarare card free! Only thirty bucks!" A designer who doesn't want to be accused of this should decide rarity by complexity instead of power.
It's always possible to build a "budget" deck consisting of fairly inexpensive cards that does well, but the majority of the decks you'll see coming in the top percentages at tournaments will end up running the same rare cards. Since these cards are considered must-haves for "good" decks and are already rare as it is, the market price for them tends to be much higher than similar (albeit somewhat worse) cards, which means that the only reliable ways to get them are to buy them or to trade for them (which might entail giving up several of your own cards to match the value).
Somewhat inverted when Wizards of the Coast released a Magic the Gathering boxset containing tournament-winning decks from two of the best professional Magic players, including several expensive rares. The catch was that the cards had visual notifiers marking them as not tournament-legal, and thus effectively worthless on the resale market.
Furthermore, there are 'Limited format' tournaments, where the price of entry (around $20) includes several packs of cards, which the tournament participants must then make decks out of (in some versions, the player is limited to whichever packs were given him at random; in others, the players pass the packs around the table and pick a single card). At the end, cards are kept (though rares are sometimes put aside to be handed out, with higher ranking participants going first). Because cards are chosen non-randomly, this is actually a cheaper method of obtaining the cards you want.
Magic: The Gathering however also plays this totally straight with the introduction of a new level of rarity. On top of Common, Uncommon and Rare, are the new so-called Mythic Rares—which tend to not only be powerful, but for the tournament-worthy ones, very costly to buy. It used to be you needed to dig back into Arabian Nights for an $80 card, but say hello to Jace... Indeed, over time, rare cards have gotten increasingly more expensive, and decks have required increasingly more rare cards. The net result of the new rarity being introduced and more rare cards being required per deck is the inflation of the cost of decks in the standard format from about $200 to up to $600-800 at times.
Immediately prior to the introduction of mythic rares, the last two blocks had contained unusually large numbers of cards; they released an extra summer set, and stuck a bunch of extra cards into the set. They then claimed when they released Mythic Rares, that they were only as uncommon as rares had previously been... ignoring the fact that the last two sets were very unusual in this regard themselves, and that even then, it was still Blatant Lies - previously big set rares had been 1/80, and small set rares 1/55, while now mythic rares were now 1/121 in large sets and 1/80 in small sets. Indeed, they simultaneously made yet another change, wherein the core sets had new cards created for them (rather than bringing back existing cards from previous sets, which would have a lower price because there was already a pool of those cards in circulation), meaning that every year they were actually introducing as many rare cards as they had been previously, and of course adding mythic rares in on top of that.
There has been at least an effort on their part to make Mythic rarity not as game-breaking as in other card games. While about half of all Mythic cards printed are great for EDH and even Standard formats, most are Awesome but Impractical for Modern, Legacy, and Vintage. Instead, the bulk of powerhouse cards for these formats are either Rare or Uncommon; under their new set designs, as well, Rare cards are much more common than they used to be (and it shows - an example would be the card Thoughtseize, an eternal staple of any deck running Black in Legacy: at the time of Theros's printing, the original, harder-to-find version of Thoughtseize from Lorwyn was about $40, while the new version printed in Theros was $20). Even of those Mythics worth playing in Legacy, most don't top the $50 mark, with only 2 particular Mythic cards being worth over $100 (Tarmagoyf from Modern Masters and Jace the Mind Sculptor).
Averted by the Star Wars Customizable Card Game, which managed to work Screw the Money, I Have Rules!into the rules. Many conflicts in the game are resolved by chance, but instead of rolling dice you draw the top card of your deck and check its "Destiny" value, which goes from 0 to 7. This was supposed to reflect how the Force in Star Wars is often with the underdog: cards which were rare, powerful and expensive had low Destiny, whereas the common and sucky ones had high values. Thus, players with cheaper cards get more luck. In the end, it actually didn't work, but it was still a nice try.
Yu-Gi-Oh! is a major offender (yet not at Munchkin levels), although for very different reasons. UDE has an annoying habit of increasing the number and rarity of cards in the expansion sets before releasing them, as well as making it easy for retailers to pluck those cards out and sell them as singles. The only people able to get the better cards are either rich enough to buy them from the retailer, at high prices; buy whole boxes, at high prices; or have the luck to find an honest retailer.
Ever since UDE was dropped as a distributor in the West, Konami has continued the practice, but toned down the blatant practice slightly. Their rarities get shuffled, but at most a card doesn't go higher than Ultra Rare (compared to UDE's 'powerful card=highest rarity possible' tactic). The more useful cards get bumped down a bit, like Blackwing - Sirocco of the Dawn, a cornerstone piece in a Blackwing Deck, one very powerful deckstype, is a Common in US, compared to the Japanese Super Rare.
For a very blatant example of UDE's tactic: Dark Armed Dragon is in the U.S. Secret Rare (one per BOX maximum chance, and a box is around 30 9-card packs) while the Japanese version is a Rare (second lowest in rarity) and can be found in one of every 5 5-card packs). It is a very common joke for a Japanese/non-US player to stumble upon an American bidding of the card and go, "80USD for a rare?!"
Also, the US tend to release TCG exclusive cards that can ONLY be found in the US version pack, with the minimum rarity of it an Ultra Rare (3 Ultra Rares per Box). In retaliation of this, the OCG (Japanese/Asian base) also create exclusives but make them a 100% guaranteed pick from boosters (usually dedicated packs costing double the regular price of a booster), but also reprint TCG exclusives and make them dirt-cheap commons at worst or Super Rare (a rarity level below Ultra) at best.
Cyber-Stein. Dear god, Cyber-Stein. When it was first released in the TCG, it was exclusively a tournament prize, and only a rare few were handed out. This, combined with a fairly good effect that makes one turn kills extremely easily, meant that the one eBay auction that sold this card saw a bid of 20,000$ USD. (The bidder welshed, however, and the card was later sold for 7,000$.) Fortunately, the card saw a proper public release... way back in 2005, and hasn't had an appearance since. The OCG Cyber-Stein does not share the same problem, however, as it has appeared in a handful of sets, especially two structure deck appearances, meaning that the card is quite easy to come by.
The Illuminati: New World Order SubGenius set has a card with a special ability that is activated by sending one dollar to the SubGenius Foundation. The card suggests that the other players require the user to actually mail the dollar.
You can play Alteil for free forever, getting all cards, even. Just don't expect to expand your deck as quickly as those who are willing to dish out dough. Oh, and there are also some cool customization stuff you can get with cash, but it is entirely optional.
Like Alteil, Shadow Era is a completely free, cross-platform CCG. Players who don't pay aren't limited by what they can get, only by how long it will take to get it.
The Pokémon Trading Card Game, as of the Pokémon Black and White sets, has increased the rarity of the most powerful cards. This is a bane for not only players looking for some of these specific cards, but for collectors, as the quantity of these cards have increased too, requiring the spending of 3 to 4 times as much money to obtain a complete set than before.
The Pokémon Trading Card Game has tipped on its head now that 3 of the most powerful Pokémon cards, namely Darkrai EX, Mewtwo EX, and Rayquaza EX, of which all three have been proven to be strong cards (and in some cases, game breaking), having a copy of one of these cards sold in a tin, which would normally cost $40 online is now UNDER $30 with 4 BOOSTER PACKS.
There was a company which hired temporary workers by paying them in NERO experience points instead of dollars. They had to stop when someone pointed out that they were paying them the equivalent of 67c per hour, which is far below the legal minimum wage. And yet, some of the players preferred this to getting real money!
The parodic roleplaying game Violence: the Role-Playing Game of Egregious and Repulsive Bloodshed allows a player to improve his character's stats by paying the Game Master, or by sending money to the game's author.
While the company mostly averts this trope by making everything equally outrageously expensive, on average each faction will have at least one figurine that is only available in "Fine-Cast" resin. Eldar Wraithguard or Dark Eldar Beastmaster. One player calculated you would have to pay an excess of $400 for the points equivalent of a 75 dollar tank of another faction, if you decided to buy the GW versions of the beasts and the beastmaster — which you will have to do if you wish to play with them during a tournament, as non-Games Workshop models are officially prohibited during tournaments.
The company also inverts it several times by not releasing models for certain units or characters that have rules, meaning depending on how creative you can get with your materials, you can either spend an outrageous amount or just use whatever spare parts are left over from your other units to make them. Again with the Dark Eldar, Duke Sliscus, Baron Sathonyx and Lady Malys are considered some of the more useful commanders for your force either because of their relative point costs, force multiplier abilities, special rules (especially in the case of the Baron) and any combination thereof. The three have no official models and most people would be content with you fielding a somewhat modified Dark Eldar Kabalite Warrior for the Duke, a modified Hellion for the Baron (neither of which need any parts from outside their own box sets, since there's a lot of customization parts) or using one of the cheaper "court" characters for Malys. Of course, this hasn't stopped people from going as far as to make their own sculpts, or ordering from specialty sites with characters that resemble the Dark Eldar, but are from completely different lines.
One of the increasingly unsavory tactics of late is Games Workshop creating insanely powerful rules for newly introduced units while nerfing old staples. The most infamous case of this was with the Carnifex and the Trygon; during the 4th edition codex, even an interview with the developers lampshaded how they specifically developed the Carnifex set because every single Nid player loved the fex, and anyone worth their salt would have at least one already before the release of the codex. In 5th Edition, the Carnifex was marginalized for the new Trygon model, which was vastly superior point-for-point (the Carnifex also lost half of its upgrades and became twice as expensive in points despite not gaining anything).
Tracy Hickman, fantasy author and Dragonlance co-creator, often ran a "Killer Breakfast" joke role-playing event at conventions. Attendees would buy tickets for a chance to play pre-generated characters whom Mr. Hickman would kill out of the game as quickly as Rule of Funny allowed. Blatantly bribing him with snack food was often the best way to deflect his lethal attention to somebody else's character.
Hero Clix does a pretty good job of dodging this, keeping rarities reasonable and and power spread out well across the rarities. Of course, the secondary market means that completely escaping it is impossible — at Origins in 2014, the winning team cost over $300 on the secondary market (although this is an extreme case; it used two chase figures from a set that was much rarer than usual). By contrast, second place could have been easily purchased for under $50.
Scrabble For Cheaters does this in a tongue-in-cheek way. You can buy the ability to play proper nouns, add 10 points to any tile, or even make up entirely new words for a *cough* modest fee ($50 - $500 per use.) However, the tournament where this is taking place is a non-profit tutoring center, and all proceeds (i.e.: Scrabble-bribes) go to keeping it running.
The short-lived Fistful of Aliens toy/game line a fairly simple system: you would buy packs of aliens where the types were visible but their power levels (for tiebreakers between two aliens of the same breed) were not, plus a concealed "mutant" that combined two types and fought normally against those, would have a power level high enough to hammer any non-mutant, and instantly killed the third type; your lineup was typically limited to six standard aliens and one mutant. Now, sometimes in these packs you would find a Rare Alien Metallic Mutant that would kill all of the above, but that's not the real demonstration of this trope. No, that would be Jangutz Khan, the Big Bad. Rules-wise, he instantly defeated virtually anything except himself or a SciRoid, but also allowed players to field an entire team of mutants. He could never be found in random packs; you actually had to order him, and he would go so far as to come with a T-shirt! You could also only get the only enemies he couldn't instantly defeat by purchasing the SciRoid Battleship set. It's probably not surprising that the line only lasted two "seasons" before quietly disappearing.
In a rather literal case of "pay to win", the Gravity Falls episode "Fight Fighters" features a machine at the arcade that on the outside merely reads "Insert Token!" where you'd expect the name of the game. Stan is curious and inserts a token, upon which the machine immediately says "Congratulations! YOU WIN!", and the screen flashes right back to "Insert Token!". That's right, "Insert Token!" is the game title.
In the UK, there is a mathematical competition called the Senior Mathematical Challenge. There are also 2 follow-on rounds, the British Mathematical Olympiad Round 1 and Round 2. You need a certain score in each competition to advance to the next. That is, unless you pay a fee (Ł16.50 for Round 1, Ł22 for Round 2). So you can be really good at maths, yet be in the final round with people who are terrible at math, but paid the fee.
A very old technique of Real Lifestrategists. In most wars-in a sense all wars-each side is composed of a multitude of factions whose interests happen to coincide. The Byzantine Empire for instance would pay chieftains on the opposing side to defect.
During World War II the British gold coins with an image of Saint George slaying a dragon that were typically used to pay for covert ops were referred to as British "cavalry".
The difficulty of most college level math and science classes is directly proportional to how cheap your calculator is. With just a basic pocket calculator, they're almost impossible, because everything needs to be memorized and then done by hand. With early level graphing calculators, like the Ti-83 and 84, which cost about $80. there are a lot of tricks and shortcuts you can use, like graphing a function to tell you where its intercepts are, or using the nDeriv( ) button to tell you what the derivative of a function is at any point, which will help you get through most early science and precalc classes easily enough. With high end graphing calculators like the ti-89 platinum though, which cost about $150 each, you can just enter the problem into the calculator and watch as it gives you an answer. Things like giving you derivatives and anti-derivatives in the form of equations instead of only telling you their numerical value when X is a certain number. That's the answer to test questions on 200 level calculus classes right there. Some teachers try to mitigate this by requiring students to show their work, but working backwards from the answer is still much easier than finding it yourself, and few check shown work that closely.
Hence why most teachers ban the calculators on tests if it would give you an advantage. Depending on the punishment for cheating, it's probably not worth trying to sneak one in. Obviously different if the class requires said calculator to perform the maths, in which case the calculator is required for the course, and can be paid with student loans/ financial aid. (Speaking college level here... if it's in grade school, most teachers just ban the calculators outright).