Course:ASIA319/2022/"Pay" (氪)

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Introduction - 氪 Ke: From Esoteric Science to Everyday Gaming

Chinese character of "pay" ke

How did monetization in China’s current gaming industry affect Chinese gamers and the global industry? The rise of microtransactions in the global video game market has prompted Chinese gamers to reinvent existing words like 氪 Ke evolving it from a purely scientific term to an everyday household phrase. 氪 Ke is an expression of how microtransactions in video games and how gamers experience them, changing the video game landscape forever.

The genesis of the keyword: 氪 Ke's Rise to Prominence

Ke ("pay") first emerged as a Chinese internet buzzword originating in the early 2000s, from the top-up systems of video game microtransactions that rose to prominence during this time.

In the early 2010s, the trending popularity of the Japanese hit mobile game Million Arthur (2012) catalyzed the widespread usage of Ke through the burgeoning popularity of the mobile gaming industry, its communities, as well as their business models, where oftentimes mobile games will flood players with advertisements, promotional pop-ups, and microtransaction incentives.

Khorium Ore (氪金) depicted in World of Warcraft (2004).

The word itself is a term which originated from the game World of Warcraft (2004), describing Khorium, a rare ore that can be mined in the game. In Chinese, Khorium had been directly translated to '氪金' (Ke Jin), referencing the item's in-universe rarity and value, comparing it to real-life Gold. 氪金's connotation with in-game microtransactions/top-ups comes from the Japanese term 课金, which has a synonymous pronounciation in Chinese. In Japanese, 课金 means "recharge" or "top-up", in reference to spending money on in-game microtransactions to refill one's virtual wallet. Likewise, the cross-cultural synthesis between Chinese Khorium (氪金) and the Japanese term 课金, birthed the pun of "氪金": “buying (virtual) gold”, coming about thanks to both the extrinsic value of Khorium as a metaphor for real-life capital and the growing relevance of microtransactions within the East Asian gaming world influencing the lexicons of gamers in both countries[1].

Glossary of its explicit dictionary meanings

The word 氪 originally is the Chinese name for Krypton, a Noble gas (Atomic number 37) on the Periodic Table of the Elements[2]. In this context, 氪 would only refer to the Krypton element with no other existing meanings prior to the 21st Century.

“氪” in Contemporary Chinese Popular Culture

Related words:

Ke Jin (氪金) (Buying Gold)

The act of purchasing premium currency and/or content in-game most prominently within video games containing microtransactions[3].

Ke Jin Dang (课金党) ("Pay Party")

Refers to the collective of gamers who spend money on video game microtransactions.

Wei Ke (微氪) (Little Buyer)/ Xiao Ke (小氪) (Small Buyer)

Spending small amounts of money on in-game content.

A emoji sticker depicting a 'African Chief'. The captions say 'A miracle will happen eventually'.

Fei Qiu (非酋) (African Chief)

A term directly translated as 'African Chief', describing Chinese video game players who believe they possess a metaphorical 'curse of bad luck' when attempting to summon or otherwise acquire new, rare, and/or powerful items that are locked behind Loot Boxes, random percentage drops (RNGs), and other sources of probability-based content. According to Chinese cultural superstitions, their misfortunes are linked to fate itself, to the extent in which even purchasing in-game currency would be ineffective in remedying their bad luck[3].

The Chinese gaming community has often associated Fei Qiu players with proverbial phrases, such as '玄不救非,氪不改命' (Metaphysics is not going to save the African [Chiefs], paying is not going to rewrite their fate)[3]

Ou Huang (欧皇) (European King)

The opposite of Fei Qiu 非酋. This term describes players who experience relatively good luck in acquiring probability-based items from video games, although oftentimes they may be obligated to purchase in-game currencies from time to time when their luck is not absolute[3].

Ke Jin Da Lao (氪金大佬) (Godfather of Paying)

A player who spends large sums of money on in-game currency.

Pian Ke (骗氪) (Pay to Win)

This term refers to forms of exploitative systems existing in video games containing microtransactions, such as secretly modifying the winning percentage of the lottery system, high imbalance between top-up players and free players, or releasing premium items that require large quantities of top-ups.

Pin Min Wan Jia (平民玩家) (Plebian Players)

Players who do not spend additional money in the video games they play.

Ren Min Bi Wan Jia (人民币玩家) (RMB Players)

Another term for describing 氪金大佬, players who spend large sums of money on microtransactions.

Western counterparts of 氪

Free to Play (F2P)

A term that either refers to a game being free of charge to download and play, or a classification of gamers who do not spend money on microtransactions whatsoever, often playing games without the microtransaction experience and/or purchasing only the base game. Analogous to Pin Min Wan Jia.

Pay To Win (P2W)

A classification/judgmental remark towards certain video games whose monetization practices can be considered exploitative, unethical, and strongly incentivize players to spend money before they can win the game. Analogous to Pian Ke.


Gamers who spend less than $50 on video game microtransactions. Analogous to Wei Ke/Xiao Ke.


Gamers who spend over $100 but less than $1000, although gaming community definitions vary significantly.


Gamers who spend over $1000 on video game microtransactions. This term originates from the "Whale/High Spender" terminology from the gambling world[4]. Analogous to Ren Min Bi Wan Jia/Ke Jin Da Lao. This term can also be used as a verb to describe spending any amount of money on microtransactions in a video game[5][6].

Social, cultural, economic and political problems


氪金 as a method of quick profit

Ke Jin is a symptom of the growing trend of major game development companies around the world embracing anti-consumer practices as the games they release to the general public contain more and more microtransactions every year. The growing culture of microtransactions that the 2010s had jumpstarted in the gaming world has led to them becoming an integral part of the gaming experience, especially for AAA games. Additionally, the growing relevance of the "Games as a Service" (video games that receive continuous updates over the span of years as opposed to being released completely finished with no additional updates) [consider footnote] model of game development, has facilitated these changes when games in this genre, including Free To Play games Genshin Impact (2020), Fortnite (2017), and Mobile Legends (2016), have broken sales records in the gaming industry as some of the most popular and most profitable games of all time.

Namely, Genshin Impact had made back its own multi-million-dollar budget in the first two weeks of its release[7], subsequently making over $2 Billion in its first year by the end of 2020[8], becoming one of the fastest-growing and highest-grossing video games of all time. Genshin Impact's resounding success has become a trendsetter for the Chinese and worldwide gaming industry, with video games from its genre such as Tower of Fantasy (2021) and Wuthering Waves (upcoming), following in its footsteps. Similarly, Fortnite's "Battle Royale" Game Mode generated $5.8 Billion in the year of 2021[9].

These staggering successes have generated much backlash from the international gaming community to the point where gamers have strongly critized and video games that possess a large number of microtransactions on social media websites like Reddit, YouTube, and Twitter[10]. Similarly, gamers have stigmatized Gacha games (a game genre revolving around Random Number Generators and Loot Boxes) as a distasteful and exploitative genre that is comparable to virtual gambling[11].


Ke Jin primarily takes the form of Microtransactions in video games, but they are unified in the goal of having the player spend money for commercial profit in exchange for a service. Microtransactions appear most prominently in:

  • Online competitive games (Fortnite, Overwatch, Call of Duty, Valorant, DOTA 2, League of Legends, Mobile Legends)
  • Sports Simulation Games (NHL, Madden, FIFA)
  • Open World Games (Grand Theft Auto, Assassin's Creed)
  • MMORPGs (World of Warcraft, Black Desert, Lost Ark, Final Fantasy XIV)
  • Gacha Games (Genshin Impact, Arknights, Raid: Shadow Legends, Counter:Side)

Monetization Models in Video Games

Video games containing strong levels of monetization often have varied microtransactions for players to consume, such as:

  • Premium subscriptions: A supplemental microtransaction or set of microtransactions that allow players to gain premium benefits, such as periodic payments of premium currencies, for example the Blessing of The Welkin Moon (Genshin Impact), Memberships (Club Penguin), and the VIP system (AFK Arena).
  • Battle Pass: A seasonal, rotating list of challenges and tasks that players have to complete to gain rewards, which usually cost the player around $10 (dependent on their currency)
    • Two tiers: a Free tier available to all players, and a Premium tier where players who purchase it gain access to all of the rewards
    • Earn progress toward certain rewards through playing matches/Grinding
    • The Premium tier is essentially a paid subscription that expires when the current Battle Pass iteration expires, prompting players to repurchase the Battle Pass when a new "Season" begins.
  • Subscription-based games: video games such as WoW & FFXIV charges players ~$15/month to play past a certain point in the game
  • Downloadable Content (DLCs) & Expansions
    • Substantial amounts of paid content released in updates following a video game's release, which are varied in their contents. DLCs are an umbrella term that encompasses a variety of different content, big and small, whereas Expansions usually entail a major content update that continuously the game forward with one iteration after the next. Examples of video games containing DLCs and/or Expansions include Destiny 2, World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy 14, Hearts of Iron IV, Europa Universalis IV, Kingdom Hearts III, and the Call of Duty franchise.

Many of these monetization practices have come about as a result of the Games as a Service Model, where gaming developers have shifted towards releasing video games that can receive multiple periodic updates over the span of years. However, players have accused game developers of releasing unfinished video games with the narrative that the games will be finished later as they are constantly updated.

Premium in-game currency

A screenshot of Genshin Impact's Top-Up Shop. Notice the Bonus currency stickers. This is one of the direct ways in which players spend real-life money to fill up their virtual wallets.

Many video games contain premium currency that the player can purchase, such as V-Bucks (Fortnite), Genesis Crystals (Genshin Impact), and Riot Points (League of Legends, Valorant). The usage of premium currency with respect to the video game's experience is to allow players to purchase or access premium content and/or items that are unavailable to Free to Play players or functionalities and benefits such as ad removal or cooldown reduction which can reduce waiting times for Grinding, accelerating or skipping the process entirely.

Apart from purchasing in-game content that directly affects gameplay mechanics, the purchase of virtual skins for characters is another reason players spend money on premium currency. Some players find that changing the appearance of their avatar through swapping their cosmetic skins contains emotionally/aesthetically fulfilling effects, which they believe would affect their performance in gameplay.

Gacha system

An example of a "Multi Summon" or "Multi Roll", a common feature in the Gacha system in many Gacha Games. These results highlight the euphorica and psychological techniques employed by Gacha mechanics.

One increasingly popular iteration of microtransactions within the gaming world today is the Gacha system, where a player earns a special "summoning currency" through playing the game, for a chance to acquire a rare item, usually taking the form of a limited rare playable character and/or rare weapon, usually referred to as "5 stars" or "SSRs", for example. These limited rare characters and weapons are periodically rotated in and out of the game's Gacha system, during time periods referred to as "Banners". In such instances, players may spend summoning currency to have a chance of randomly acquiring these limited playable characters, weapons, and/or miscellaneous items they may add to their roster or inventory, oftentimes with the highest rarity characters/weapons having anywhere from a 0.5% ~ 2% probability of appearing when summoning.

Additionally, players are incentivized to acquire duplicates of the same playable character and/or weapon to improve their abilities and skills, adding to the aspect of FOMO that these Banners carry with them. For example, in Genshin Impact, to maximize a character or weapon's true potential, they must acquire seven copies of the same character, and five copies of the same weapon, respectively.

Alongside the summoning currency given for free, players can Top-up to acquire more summoning currency by converting the paid premium currency into summoning currency, which is the crux of this monetization model.

As a result, the gaming community has criticized video games containing Gacha elements as an extremely predatory monetization model that preys on several aspects of human psychology, comparable to that of a virtual casino[12][13]. Said business practices have also contributed to the stigmatization of Gacha Games within the gaming world[14].



A fan made .gif expressing love for playable character Kaedehara Kazuha. This particular .gif format is typical for the Genshin Impact fandom when discussing "Waifus/Husbandos."

In Role Playing Games and other genres of video games that feature a large cast of playable characters, gamers may participate in the culture of “Waifu/Husbando” Worship, where they will identify with and assemble sub-culture fandoms centering around certain playable characters. For example, the most popular Genshin Impact "Character Mains" sub-community on Reddit, "r/KeqingMains", has over 64,900 members[15], being one of many subreddits dedicated to the playable cast of the game. These fandoms represent the collective and individual sentiments of gamers who develop a level of Parasocial attachment towards fictional video game characters, which is one of the many tactics that video game developers employ to encourage spending money.

Misappropriation of Parent’s Credit Card

With respect to the growth of Individualist ideologies in China, adults who decided to top up for games are usually respected and unbothered given that it is a free and personal choice. Nevertheless, payers below the age of majority face several risks when consuming microtransactions. With the growing pervasiveness of microtransactions especially among the general public, news stories and headlines describing Chinese youths misappropriating their parent's credit card to Top-Up in game are now commonplace. Said youths who indulge themselves in game tend to be financially dependent on their parents, having a lack of self-control and a basic understanding about the importance of financial management. As such, they lack awareness pf the consequences when they decide to Top-Up in games, and so they would dump a stunning amount of money into the games without remorse. For instance, in 2016, an 11-year-old in China stole his mother's credit card and spent 100,000 Yuan (£11,400) on online games in just one month. The boy and his mother were spending their summer holidays in Shenzhen from July to August when the boy spent large sums of money on mobile phone games.[16]


State control on 氪金 Ke Jin Behaviour

Apart from imposing regulation of time spent in games for the Chinese amateurs, Top-Ups of virtual currencies and other types of microtransactions in games are another area where the Chinese government has expressed concerns over. In response, they have introduced brand-new regulations and rules that not only targeting the sets of behaviour that will amend the gaming contents and violate the rubrics of the game operation, but also to prevent Chinese youths from unwittingly spending a huge sum of money in games[17].

In 2021, several major video games corporations like Tencent and NewEast were summoned by the Propaganda Department, New Publication Bureau, Internet, Cultural and Tourism Department of the Central Government, with the intention of reminding gaming corporations that they must fulfill and implement every single requirement listed out in the “Notification of a step further to tighten the regulation in order to prevent the addiction to games of Juveniles”. Slogans like “Be determined to resist the cult of money worship”, “Reinforce the “Pay” regulation”, “Be resolute to restrain the wrong guidance of “only money matters” and “only popularity matters”. These policies also require the corporations to facilitate the regulation of games live streaming channels, prohibiting Chinese youths from spending large amounts of money on the live streamers who stream video games as well[17].

Opposing (overly) Capitalistic Business Practices

The Chinese government's seeks to tighten regulations on the behaviour surrounding 氪 Ke and the culture of Paying for microtransactions in an ideological battle against Capitalism. Despite how post-reform Neoliberal China has largely eschewed the economic policies of Communism, the government hopes the further the ideological policies of Communism that had served as their roots, hence the reinforcement of this regulation is a great opportunity for the state to reconsolidate the Communist influence and to convey the sense of anti-Capitalism in the name of protecting juveniles from being indoctrinated by the cult of money worship and exploitative hyperconsumerism[18].

Studies related to 氪 Ke

The Psychological Effect of Skins

In this paper, Memmot outlines the underlying reasons of why gamers would want to or be incentivized to “Pay” from a psychological perspective.

Firstly, players believe that the more attractive and stylish outfits distinguishes them from other players, giving them confidence, and even improves their performance. Some even suggest the enemy is more likely to be unnerved when going up against a player with such a skin in their lobby, thus it contributes to engagement as this brief moment of intimidation works in their favour. This point shares commonalities with the Chinese idiom “人靠衣裝,佛靠金裝”, i.e., the tailor makes the man, which explains why some Chinese gamers indulge themselves in this “Paying” trap of cosmetic items

Furthermore, she believes that the human condition is mainly to blame, as users are given free reign to be greedy or not, yet they choose to consume the ever-present trends within corporate sponsorships (such as Fortnite X Marvel), and therefore they are subjected to the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) when a new skin appears in the shop for a limited time. There is also a sincere “desire to collect” when it comes to these cosmetic items, when the clever packaging of “sets” of items appeals to players, making them want to purchase the skin for their character, as well as the accessories to build up their cosmetic collections[19].

Loot Boxes, Cosmetics, and Pay To Win Microtransactions in Steam, 2010-2019

Zendle, et al., (2020), discuss the presence of microtransactions in video games. As seen in various different studies and statistics, “profits were largely based around the sale of copies of games” in the beginning of the video game industry[20], while in recent years the industry has changed to publishers “offering gamers the ability to purchase additional items, bonuses, or services[20]”, all within the game’s platform itself. The article also suggests that the earliest instance of ‘pay to win’ microtransactions; the instance of players exchanging real-world currency that “increase their chances of in-game success”[20], was seen in the side-scrolling MMORPG MapleStory (2003). In this study, the authors analyzed the presence of both loot boxes and cosmetic transactions within the top 463 video games on the video game digital distribution service and storefront Steam. According to the statistics provided, in 2010, 5.3% of players from the sampled video games had been exposed to loot boxes, while 8.3% were exposed to cosmetic transactions. In 2019; however, these statistics had risen to 71.2% who played games containing the mechanics of loot boxes, and 85.8% of those exposed to cosmetic microtransactions. Overall, as found in this study, only a minority of games actually contain the mechanic of loot boxes, in specificity: “75 of the 463 games analyzed during this study contained loot boxes”[20].

The Life of the Chinese Gold Farmer

In this article, Dibbell discusses the phenomenon of 游戏工作室 youxi gongzuoshi, also known as gaming workshops or gold farms. As introduced by this article, gold farming is a transaction that does not directly involve the game, but rather a service that allows one to level up without participating in the 'Grind'. Although these services are available for purchase in many different popular games, this article focuses on gold farming in regards to World of Warcraft (2004), the incredibly popular MMORPG, in particular. Through this service, players exchange real world currency in order to have gold farmers collect in-game virtual items and currency for them. Despite there being "strict rules against the practice"[21] in many popular games, many have found loopholes in order to sell. This phenomenon is called "real-money trading"[21], R.M.T. for short, and it originated on eBay in the late 1990s. Another service that these gaming workshops offer, in exchange for real-world currency of course, is power levelling. In this service, gold farms "[offer] customers an end run around the World of Warcraft grind"[21], and play the customer's chosen character and "raise [the] character from the lowest level to the highest"[21] within a relatively short amount of time. Although there are many who take part in both the buying and selling of these various different services, there still remains risks to the practice. Players who take advantage of a gold farm's services can be at risk of being banned, and farmer accounts themselves can also be banned. In 2006, "more than 50,000 World of Warcraft accounts belonging to farmers" had been banned, and more are being banned to this day.

Chinese gold farmers represent a facet of the shanzhai/hacker culture that seeks to subvert hegemonic systems to level the figurative playing field by giving players an option to skip the Grind[22], yet the problem of monetization still remains when the gold farmers are offering a new kind of service where the consumer surrenders their gaming experience and money in exchange for not having to spend time on their video game that is being power levelled.


The official meaning of the term 氪 used to be a noun that represents a chemical element with symbol Kr and atomic number 36. Nevertheless, it has transformed into a verb and has the meaning of “pay” ever since video games have gone viral in China starting in the early 2000s. There are several assertions of where 氪 stems from, however the most common one is that it is an altered version of the term 課金 originated from the popular Japanese mobile games and what makes it popular in China is mainly due to the rise of video game named Million Arthur.

With respect to the transferred meaning of 氪 from noun to verb, a word cloud of game top-up related terms advents, where a hierarchy of game payers is even established from these associated words ranging from the Pay Little (微氪) to The Godfather of Paying (氪金大佬). Being a part of the video gaming experience, several social, cultural, economic and political issues are effectively raised by 氪 Ke.

Given that 氪 has become such a frequent-used term by wide population of gamers in China nowadays, it surely would provide a great room for scholars to conduct research and expand the academic discourse on this term.


  1. "What is the term Ke Jin that so many weebs are referring to??? (二次元人们经常说的氪金是什么呀????)". Zhihu. Retrieved November 10, 2022.
  2. "Krypton (氪)". Wikipedia. Retrieved November 10, 2022.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 "Ke Jin, Ou Huang, Fei Qiu, what are the meanings behind these terms from "Onmyoji"? (氪金、欧皇、非酋,这些《阴阳师》里的词汇是什么意思?)". 澎拜新闻. Retrieved November 10, 2022.
  4. "Whale". Real Online Gambling. Retrieved November 10, 2022.
  5. "Can someone explain what a "whale" is?". Reddit. Retrieved November 10, 2022.
  6. "What EXACTLY is a whale? And how much does it take to become one?". Reddit. Retrieved November 10, 2022.
  7. "Grossing over $100m, Genshin Impact recoups development costs in two weeks". PC Gamer. Retrieved November 10, 2022.
  8. "Genshin Impact earns $2 billion after 'unheard of' success in first year". BBC News. Retrieved November 10, 2022.
  9. "Fortnite Usage and Revenue Statistics (2022)". Business of Apps. Retrieved November 10, 2022.
  10. "Seriously? I paid 80$ to have Vader locked?". Reddit. Retrieved November 10, 2022.
  11. "I Spent $1000 Buying Waifus in Gacha Games". YouTube. Retrieved November 10, 2022.
  12. "A Little Bit Addicted: How Gacha Games Brought the Casino Experience to Your Phone". A Little Bit Human. Retrieved November 10, 2022.
  13. "The Genshin Impact saga of a YouTuber's $2,000 blowout". Polygon. Retrieved November 10, 2022.
  14. "Gacha Games: Not Even Once". YouTube. Retrieved November 10, 2022.
  15. "Keqing Mains". Reddit. Retrieved November 10, 2022.
  16. "Every parent's nightmare: 11-year-old Chinese boy steals his mother's credit card before blowing £11,000 pounds on games in one month". Daily Mail.
  17. 17.0 17.1 "Strengthen regulation over Ke Jin, be willing to change the rules causing player addiction (强化"氪金"管控 下决心改变诱导玩家沉迷规则)". Sina Finance.
  18. "Regulate control over Ke Jin, be determined to resist the influence of negative culture such as golddigging etc.(强化"氪金"管控 坚决抵制拜金主义等不良文化)". Sohu.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 Zendle, David; Meyer, Rachel; Ballou, Nick (May 7 2020). "The changing face of desktop video game monetisation: An exploration of exposure to loot boxes, pay to win, and cosmetic microtransactions in the most-played Steam games of 2010-2019". PLoS One. 15. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 Dibbell, Julian (June 17 2007). "The Life of the Chinese Gold Farmer". The New York Times. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  22. Liboriussen, Bjarke (2015). "Amateur Gold Farming in China: "Chinese Ingenuity," Independence, and Critique". Retrieved November 10, 2022.
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