Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 for Wii U

Bring Real World Prizes to Mainstream Video Games (Opinion)

No one thinks twice about paying entry fees for competitive events like charity races or basketball tournaments, but few examples of pay to play for prizes exist in mainstream video games. That needs to change as gaming continues to move towards more online and competitive experiences

There’s nothing illegal* about giving away real value prizes to competition winners. And there’s nothing illegal* about charging a fee to compete.  Rather than reward only the best in the world at video games, online communities like Xbox Live and Playstation Network should offer real world prizes daily to gamers of varying location or skill.

With microtransactions occurring in more and more games, there’s no reason players shouldn’t be able to pay into daily or weekly tournaments assembled automatically by region or community. Game developers can then keep a portion of the entry fees, sold as microtransactions to gamers for few dollars, and give the rest out as prizes to tournament winners.

Fans of Madden football games should be able to spend five dollars to enter a weekly Madden circuit, with a real value prize for a virtual SuperBowl winner. Guilds in World of Warcraft should be able to pay into important battles, with the hopes to win something real if they do better than other guilds.

Developers looking to monetize their most active users using existing content should be all over this. The margins can be dramatic.  Rather than building out new level packs, they can sell tournament prize access for existing multiplayer levels, for minimal development effort.

My thoughts here originated from a blog post by Ned Lerner, where he outlined specifically how real world prizes can be incorporated into successful console games.

This hypothetical examples explains how Call of Duty could offer special competitive contests for gamers, for a fee.

To enter a CoD contest players would buy a bandoleer of Special Contest Ammunition for one dollar. That single dollar purchase then becomes the contest entry fee. The players’ money would enter into a pool with 100 other competitors, where they would compete against one another to win the challenge. The winning individual or team would split the prize money from the pool. For example, if 100 people bought the Special Contest Ammunition to enter the contest and a team of 10 won, the winning team would split the $50 prize, and earn a free ticket to the next, more difficult (and higher stakes) challenge. Activision would pocket the other $50.


Of course, the full price game would come with a few free tickets, to whet new players’ appetite for real competition. For the uninitiated in game design, loss aversion is a more powerful incentive than curiosity. To trigger this sense of loss, after players consume their free tickets, they either must buy more tickets or lose their ability to join real competitions — just at the point when they are starting to have a chance to win.


To make contests viral, winners would also be rewarded with free contest tickets to give to their friends. If game companies want to abuse social marketing, they could require winners to post their victories to Facebook to collect their prizes.

Publishers are already starting to experiment with real world prizes.  Just last week, Take Two announced $100,000 in real world prizes for Borderlands 2.  Virgin Gaming provides cash prizes for games like Halo 4, Madden 25 and NBA 2K14.  All that’s needed next is storefront integration with Xbox Live and Playstation Network.

It’s time to let gamers actually win. Gamers of tomorrow should win with more than leaderboard rankings, they should win with tangible prizes. With online consoles and microtransaction models, entry fees and real rewards are ready for the masses. Everyone should have a chance to win.

Ned Lerner’s blog, which represents his personal opinions and not his employer’s, can be found at

*I am not a lawyer, and this article’s viewpoint should not be used as legal advice. This article contains personal viewpoints and readers should seek legal advice from a lawyer on this topic.

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