Payment instead of achievement

Encourage payment as an alternative to achievement. Show impatient people a shortcut to improved status via their wallets.


  • Part of the fun of playing World of Warcraft (WOW) is the social aspect of being online with ten million of your closest friends. The part that turns it into a game is the achievement and status that comes with successful quests. However, it takes time and patience to reach the level of achievement and status that makes the game really fun. Luckily it’s easy enough to bypass the boring achievement part if you want instant status. You just have to pay someone else to do the hard work for you.
  • You can study for years, or you can just buy an academic qualification. Even if you are a cat. Or one of several other animals. There are plenty of “diploma mills” out there ready to serve you.


Dan Arielly, in his book “Predictable Irrational”, shows how providing the offer of payment (even in the sense of a fine) counterintuitively legitimizes an otherwise punishable activity, allowing people to feel OK about doing it because they paid for it. Arielly’s example is parents who were happy to pay a late fee for leaving their kids in daycare too long.

How to use this pattern

  • If your game or product revolves around escalating levels of achievement, it’s likely that people with more money than time will want to pay for a shortcut. Try to find a way to enable this out-of-game purchasing without alienating players who have more time than money.
  • Own the exchange: Make sure that if people can pay to achieve status, they are paying you (or at least performing the transaction via your systems) rather than somebody else. This also allows you to set the exchange rate to maintain the value of status. Achievers should never feel disheartened and payers shouldn’t stop paying.
  • Ensure that there is a sufficient flow of items within the game/product to satisfy demand without over-saturating the market. That may mean creating a steady flow of new items over time.
  • Try to minimize the guilt that people feel about paying instead of achieving. For instance, by donating a certain percentage of payments to a charitable cause, or by giving them the opportunity to “buy back” their payment with later achievements on a credit-like system (they never will).
  • Allow payments as an excuse for not achieving.