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The ridiculous economics of Real Racing 3

I used to play a lot of Real Racing 3 (RR3), an iOS auto racing game. Like, quite a lot. At one point, I owned all 132 cars available at that time, and had completed all the events.

To reach that point, I spent about $60 on in-app purchases—RR3’s in-app purchases were really expensive. And yes, that’s a lot, but I didn’t own a console at the time, and I judged the app worth the cost of a console racing game. (I also took advantage of some programming glitches that enabled occasional free in-app purchase items; without these glitches, I doubt I would have made it as far as I did.)

Once I’d spent $60 and could go no further without spending more, I stopped playing; $60 was my limit. I did keep my iCloud save game file in case I wanted to revisit it someday. That someday was yesterday.

Since I left, the game has grown a lot: There are now 171 cars available, or 39 more than when I stopped playing. To finish the game again, I’d need to acquire (and upgrade) all of those cars (and race a huge number of new races). I thought “maybe it’s OK to spend another $60 or so; it’s been a few years.”

But as I looked into what it might cost to finish the game, I found that the economics are still absolutely ridiculous. How ridiculous? About $3,665 ridiculous. Yes, I estimate it would cost me $3,665 to finish RR3. At that spending level, though, there are some other purchases I could consider…

Instead of finishing RR3, I could purchase a commercial-grade 48″ gas range. Or I could buy a loaded Touch Bar Retina MacBook Pro with a 2.9GHz Core i7 CPU, 1TB SSD, and upgraded graphics.

The third option, though, is the best comparison: For $129 less than what I think it would cost me to finish RR3, I could purchase all of the following:

That’s a full console-based driving setup, including a 65″ 4K TV, for less than what I’d probably have to pay to finish (temporarily, until the next expansion) Real Racing 3. Yes, I’d say that’s ridiculous.

But where do my numbers come from, and how could I possibly think it’d cost that much to finish the game?! Read the rest if you’d like the nitty-gritty on my $3,665 estimate.

Like most all “free” iOS games, in-game currency is required to actually get things done in RR3. And like other free iOS games, you can win the in-game currency by playing the game, or you can buy it with real world dollars.

In the case of RR3, the currency is both something called R$, and gold coins. You spend your in-game currency on cars, upgrades to those cars, and maintenance of the cars—sometimes you have to use R$, sometimes you have to use gold coins. But because R$ are relatively easy to earn by playing, I’m not worried about having to buy those to finish the game. The gold coins are another story.

Gold coins are much harder to earn, as you only get them for completing portions of racing events within a racing series, and for certain other special activities. Here was my reward for finishing a portion of an event in the NASCAR series, for example:

Four gold coins. Not bad, you might think? Well, here are the next four events in the NASCAR series:

I don’t own any of those four cars yet, so I can’t enter any of the events. How much does one of the cars cost? Here’s the Ford Fusion, required for Joey Logano’s event:

Yes, 500 gold coins. For one car. And I just received a whopping four coins for completing 25% of an event (about 15 individual races). For completing an entire event, the total gold coin payout is somewhere between 30 and 70, depending on the length of the event. There are only so many events to complete; I don’t have the 40 or so left that it would take to win those 2,000 gold coins!

Hence, to “win” the game (complete all the series, own all the cars, have them all fully upgraded), you really do have to spend real world money, or invest a lot of time playing RR3. (You get a total of 100 gold coins per month, assuming you play the game at least once every day of the month. Miss one day, and it resets.)

To see where my $3,665 cost estimate came from, here’s how I calculated the total cost of acquiring and upgrading the 39 cars I’m missing.

Acquiring the cars

Some cars can be bought with R$, but most require gold coins. How many gold coins? Well, in the case of those four NASCAR cars, 500 gold coins each. Of the 39 cars I need to buy, there are 14 that are unlocked and buyable already. (The others would be unlocked by completing more events). Of those 14 cars, just one can be bought with R$; the rest require gold coins. The average purchase cost for those 13 cars is 581 gold coins.

13 cars * 581 coins/car = 7,553 gold coins

But that’s just for the 13 cars I can see now; there are another 26 that I can unlock to purchase. If the same 93%/7% ratio of gold/R$ holds for those cars, that means another 24 cars to purchase with gold coins:

24 cars * 581 coins/car = 13,944 gold coins

Maybe these other 26 will be cheaper (I can’t tell yet), so let’s simplify the math and just say the average cost is 500 gold coins per car for all 37 non-R$ cars:

37 cars * 500 coins/car = 18,500 gold coins

To acquire all the cars, I’ll need 18,500 gold coins. So much for buying the cars; now they need upgrades…


Upgrades are sold in levels (one through five, usually) and for multiple areas of the car (engine, suspension, wheels, etc.—four to six areas, depending on the car). So any one car could have between 20 and 30 available upgrades.

Dive into one of those tiles, and you’ll see the current available upgrade and its cost:

50 gold coins to gain 1mph in top speed and reduce the 0-60 time by .04 seconds. Holy cow, that’s a lot of coin for a tiny improvement! And that’s just one upgrade in one of the categories. Upgrades can require R$ or gold (but not both).

Each level of upgrade is more costly than the prior level, and as you move up the scale, the high-end upgrades tend to be sold only for gold coins, not for R$.

As an example, here are the in-game costs for a level one to level two upgrade on a single Formula E SRT_01E race car:

Area Gold Coins
Engine 50
Drivetrain 50
Body 40
Suspension 46
Brakes 35
Tires/Wheels 42
Total Coins 263

That’s 263 coins to buy just one of the four remaining upgrade levels on this car—and upper levels are more expensive. Assume they increase by 10% (it’s more than that), then to fully upgrade this one car, I’d need to spend:

263 [Level 2] + 289 [Level 3] + 318 [Level 4] + 350 [Level 5] = 1,220 gold coins

There are some complications to this math (not all levels have the same number of upgrades, some can be bought with R$), so let’s make it easy, and say it takes 1,000 gold coins to go from no upgrades to full upgrades on one car.

Not all cars are the same, though; this one is a high-end racing car. So let’s further assume that all the upgrades on a more normal-tiered vehicle could be done for 350 gold coins. Looking at the acquisition cost of the 13 new cars I can see, roughly 30% are “normal” and 70% are “high end.”

Doing the final math, my gold coin cost to fully upgrade the 39 new cars comes to…

(12 normal cars * 350 coins) + (27 high-end cars * 1000 coins) = 31,200 gold coins

I’m no math whiz, but that seems like a lot of gold coins…

From virtual gold coins to real dollar bills

If I’m to complete the game again, I’ll need to come up with 18,500 in gold for the car purchases, and another 31,200 gold coins for the upgrades. That’s 49,700 gold coins. Now, you can win gold coins by playing—but very slowly, and in very low numbers. If I play at least one race very day for one month, for instance, I’ll earn 100 gold coins. That won’t even pay for two individual upgrades on one high-end car.

But let’s be generous, and assume I can earn 25% (12,425, which I doubt is even possible) of the gold coins I’ll need. That leaves me with a required balance of 37,275 gold coins.

As noted, I decided I would be willing to pay up to $60 more, bringing my total RR3 cost to $120, if I could finish for that amount of money. So could I get all 37,275 for $60? Not even close!

Here’s how gold coins are priced in the RR3 store:

The cheapest cost-per-coin is (of course) in the $99.99 bucket, which provides 1,019 coins. Again, time for some math…

37,275 required coins ÷ 1,019 coins/pack = 36+ packs

Buying 36 of the $99.99 coin packs gets me almost there—it’s “just” 591 gold coins short. Add in the 476 pack ($49.99), 87 pack ($9.99), and 42 pack ($4.99), and I’ll be done, and have a whopping 14 gold coins in the bank.

Add all that up:

(36 * 99.99) + $49.99 + $9.99 + $4.99 = $3,664.61

To finish RR3, I’d be required to invest $3,664.61—plus countless hundreds of hours of gameplay to try to win the 12,425 gold coins I’ve assumed I can earn—just to finish the game.

That’s completely insane.

I have no problem paying for games. I have no problem paying $60 for $120 for an exceptional iOS game if its gameplay and features make it a console-worthy alternative. But in what universe is paying $3,664.61 to finish playing a game make any sort of sense at all?

(Note that if you apply my math to the entire game—buy and upgrade all 171 cars—it’d cost you perhaps 122,512 gold coins, or roughly $12,021. Holy cow…)

Sorry, RR3…your economics don’t fit in my wallet. Back to the trashcan you go.


Add a Comment
  1. Outstanding article. I’ve always found P2W games an absurdly inflated measure of the value of the software/IP. This proves it.

    (For pay-racing games I recommend F1 2016)

  2. Thanks. I knew it was expensive, but that was the first time I sat down and figured out just how expensive. I was quite shocked by the results.


  3. The EA always play dirty with us … It has changed a lot in a few years, with the new “market” (stupid people) …

  4. Fink I’m gonna stop playing ha eat wasted real money yet and don’t plan to fuck that

  5. Ok – but I own 106 cars, reached Elite Racer (level169) earned 12864 Gold and 121.864.664 R$, NEVER cheated and I spent so far ZERO US$…. all I did was driving… :)

    1. Alex:

      I believe you; I think I was up to 80 or so cars before I got so frustrated by the massive time commitment that I looked for other ways to play. However, I don’t think you can “complete” the game without spending real world dollars. And by complete I mean owning every car, every car with max upgrades, and all events completed. The longer you play, the harder it is to earn gold coins, because your primary method of doing that (completing events) is gone, as you’ve completed most events. So you’re left with winning gold through weekly trials, etc.

      It may be possible to complete without ever spending a dime (or spending only a reasonable number of dimes), but that’s going to take an incredible amount of time spent in the game.


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