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Upper, middle, and lower class. These are the terms with which we define society both in modern times and when we study history. We use them to describe people’s economic standing relative to one another and within the population as a whole. But traditionally, that’s where it stops: as a classification of economic and, to some extent, social standing.

But have we also unwittingly created a similar class structure in the video game community? That probably sounds a little dramatic, and the suggestion is not at all that real-world class identification coincides with gamer status. But when you really think about the direction modern gaming has taken in the last several years, it’s hard to escape the fact that the upper tiers of the gaming world have become a sort-of elite upper class.

For the most part, this has happened because of the growing number of games and platforms that offer a leg up to those willing to pay for it. The clearest examples are in the membership programs associated with leading consoles. For instance, Microsoft’s Xbox Live Gold membership, offered for as low as $4.99 per month, offers players the chance to join a vibrant multiplayer community full of the most serious and competitive players, and ultimately offering the most incentive for advancement. There are specific perks like free games that don’t do much to advance a player’s prowess as a gamer, but generally speaking Xbox Live Gold functions like a paid club for serious gamers. And often they excel so rapidly within this structure that they’re simply beyond other players in multiplayer competition or in chasing achievements.

While not as mainstream, examples of perks for paying customers are perhaps even more overt in the online casino industry, where it’s not uncommon to find significant special offerings. Gala’s online casino demonstrates the structure of high-end gaming, with perks like special bonuses and up to 20% VIP cash back for those who want to jump to VIP status. Other perks include matching bonuses on deposits and even special jackpot opportunities that ordinary players can’t enjoy, even though they’re paying to play casino games as well. Naturally this is a little bit different because VIP status is essentially paying for a chance to win more money (rather than just to dominate a game), but it still divides the userbase into different levels.

A clear divide has also emerged in the mobile gaming industry, where it’s extremely common to find games in which in-app payments can give players significant advantages. Consider Gods Of Rome, described as an epic fighting game set in the age of myth and catering to a huge number of mobile gamers who love one-on-one fighters. In the reviews at the game’s iOS page, one player describes the experience as “pay to win,” which aptly characterizes how plenty of casual gamers feel about popular mobile titles. Sure, anyone can enjoy them, and often for free. But there are inevitably going to be gamers out there willing to sink hundreds of dollars into the game in order to improve and excel. It’s a productive short cut that a lot of people just aren’t willing to pay for.

Given all these examples it’s pretty clear that people who are willing to pay extra can in a sense enjoy a higher standard of gaming, or at least competition. In some cases, the same can be said for gamers who are simply willing or able to invest more time playing as well. For instance there are stories about people who have figured out how to run Clash Of Clans pretty much 24/7 in a way that helps them to become more or less unstoppable! But whatever the specific case, it’s increasingly evident that there are almost class divides in gaming. More often than not, if you’re not willing to invest time or money in improvement, you simply can’t enjoy the top tier of a gaming environment.