Swagbucks. Mistplay. Inbox Dollars.
Maybe you’ve heard of these apps that actually pay you to play games and take surveys. And you’re thinking: What’s the catch?
Surely, there’s not just some billionaire on a boat somewhere paying Gen Zs to play Solitaire on the metro. So what’s in it for the app developers?
Moreover, do these things even pay out like they’re supposed to? Or are they total scams, designed to waste your time and steal your personal data?
Well, the answer falls somewhere in the middle.
So let’s investigate: are paid gaming apps legit?
What are paid gaming apps?
“Paid gaming apps” is the term I and many others use to describe apps that actually pay you for playing games and taking surveys.
Take Coin Pop, for example. You download the app, generate an account, and it gives you a selection of simple games to play to make cash.
As you’ll start to notice, some of these games are surprisingly recognizable, like Angry Birds or Poker. But most of them are cheap knockoff flash games, such as “Family Farm Seaside.”
Anyways, you choose a game, and here’s where things get interesting.
How do paid gaming apps work?
Paid gaming apps don’t pay cash directly. Instead, you generate “coins,” which can be redeemed for gift cards, PayPal, or other cash equivalents. Some paid gaming apps let you cash out your coins in increments as small as $5, while others have pushed the goalpost farther and farther to $30+ (more on that in a bit).
Anyways, you can typically generate coins in one of five ways:
- Automatically, by simply spending time playing games (i.e., 100 coins/hour)
- By completing certain missions or objectives within games
- By sharing the game or the app on social media
- By completing surveys
- By referring friends
Take Cashyy, for example. Cashyy is more mission- than time-focused, meaning each game will have specific goals or milestones to reach to receive a bundle of coins all at once.
Before discussing how much you can reasonably earn, it’s important to understand where the money is coming from. Who the heck is paying you to play obscure flash games, and why?
Why do apps pay you to play games or take surveys?
These paid gaming apps generate revenue in a few ways.
Some, like Mistplay, charge the developers a fee to have their game featured. In effect, players like you and me are “testing” these games for the developers and Mistplay is kicking back valuable data like what demographics are playing, who’s getting stuck on what missions, etc.
Others go the more traditional route of simply pummeling you with mobile ads between surveys and gaming sessions.
Finally, and I’m just speculating here, but my experience so far would suggest that many of these apps are simply harvesting your data. Not to the benefit of any game developers, but to sell to a third party in a way you probably wouldn’t approve of.
Heck, one of these apps wanted my facial ID while another required my SSN… to play Angry Birds.
But anyways, the more legit ones only seem to want you to effectively test mobile games for them.
How much money can you make on paid gaming apps?
Not enough to make it worth it.
At best these paid gaming apps generate around $2 per hour. And that’s only when there are plenty of games and surveys available to harvest coins from.
Plus, the typical minimum payout threshold is $5 worth of coins. So you may play games and take surveys for an hour, run out of stuff to do, and have to log in a few days later to find new stuff and generate the remaining $3.
Moreover, since the pandemic, more and more users of paid gaming apps have complained that the cashing-out thresholds keep rising: $5, $10, $30, sometimes even more.
They also complain that they can never reach them, because the goalpost keeps moving and there just aren’t enough opportunities to generate coins.
Which begs a serious question:
Are paid gaming apps legit?
The vast majority aren’t.
Out of the several dozen I researched or tested firsthand, only a half dozen stood out as legit and possibly worth your time:
- Swagbucks is the king of legit paid gaming apps, with chances to earn “SB Points” from games, surveys, or simply watching ads and videos. You’ll generate up to $2 per hour redeemable in $5 increments. Cashouts are via PayPal, gift card, or you can even donate your SB Points to charity.
- Mistplay lets you earn “Player Experience Points” or PXP for helping developers test their games. You’ll earn ~$0.50 to $1.50 per hour, and sometimes the developers will even ask for your opinions via feedback surveys. You can also cash out in increments as low as $0.50.
- Long Game is like a gamified savings account, where you actually earn coins for depositing more into savings. You can then use those coins to play slots, spin the wheel, and other Price is Right-type games to try and win regular jackpots. It’s not a cash cow, but it does make saving much more fun and interesting.
- InboxDollars is Swagbucks’ most direct competitor with a similar setup and daily offerings. The payouts are a bit lower (~$1.50 per hour versus ~$2) and the first payout threshold is eye-wateringly high at $30. But I still know people who have both Swagbucks and InboxDollars downloaded so they can regularly check both.
- Rakuten isn’t really a paid gaming app in the traditional sense. It’s more of a cash back rewards program with random deals from retailers for up to 40% off. So while you won’t be playing Solitaire, it’s still fun and game-y and you can save way more than you could earn with these other apps.
- Google Opinion Rewards doesn’t do paid games but still deserves a shoutout for being the best paid survey-taking app out there. It’s stable, it pays, and Google already has all of our personal data so there’s nothing to lose.
Read more: Best game apps that pay real money.
The rest of the paid gaming apps I surveyed were either abandonware at best, malware at worst.
By abandonware I mean they hadn’t received an update on the App Store or Play Store in years. BananApp, for example, hasn’t been updated by the developers since December 20, 2020. Swagbucks, by contrast, was updated within a week of my writing this.
But the illegitimate “abandonware” just keeps getting downloaded, luring users in with no mechanism for paying out.
On the flip side, there are apps like Cashyy and Coin Pop that are being updated, but still aren’t paying out like they’re supposed to. Multiple users report getting within $1 of a payout threshold, only to be automatically logged out for good:
Refusing to pay out isn’t the worst crime these apps commit. Some ask for detailed personal information like your facial ID or SSN to “verify your identity,” which is an early warning sign of identity theft.
You could argue that these fraudulent paid gaming apps are even worse than malware. At least malware doesn’t deliberately waste your time!
So be careful when choosing a paid gaming app — or any app, for that matter.
Read more: 7 Signs You’re at Risk for Identity Theft
How to spot a fraudulent paid gaming app
Here are the most common red flags I encountered when spotting fraudulent data vampires masquerading as legit paid gaming apps.
Bad user reviews
While a single bad app review could be attributed to a competitor or a goofball who didn’t use the app right, a litany of bad reviews all saying the same thing is a clear red flag.
A disconnect between ratings and review scores
Despite hundreds of one-star reviews claiming the apps are phishing scams, Cashyy and Coin Pop both have 4.3-star ratings on the Play Store.
Thing is, ratings are easier to forge than verified reviews. Trust the latter. And if there’s a huge disconnect between anonymous ratings and verified review scores, that’s a big red flag.
No recent developer support
I mentioned this one above. If the app hasn’t been updated since Trump was in office, it’s probably a security risk at best.
Asking for a scary amount of personal information
Hopefully this one is a no-brainer, but any paid gaming app that asks for your Facial ID, SSN, or frankly any information you’re not comfortable giving a stranger should be deleted and forgotten.
Confusing reward system
This red flag was less common, but I still encountered coin reward systems that were complex enough to give FOREX traders a run for their money.
The only reason a paid gaming app would do this is to deliberately confuse you and reduce payouts. Anyone who’s been to Chuck E Cheese or Dave & Buster’s knows that coin/ticket reward systems are so easy that children can understand them.
An unreachable threshold for cashing out
InboxDollars made it harder but not impossible to cash out in 2022. Other apps, however, have gone the more sinister route of raising the threshold and making it impossible to cash out.
For example, they’ll say the cashing out threshold is $15, but the total number of coins you can earn only equates to $14. So, as a victim of the sunk cost fallacy, you keep logging in for weeks to play games and just reach your $15. But the developers never let you get there, and continue mining your data in the meantime.
Tricking you into playing for free
Finally, many paid gaming apps simply won’t make it clear if and when you’re earning coins. Swagbucks is good about this; they tell you upfront which games just aren’t paying at the moment. But others will let you guess and get frustrated ad nauseum.
Better ways to make money from your phone
Now, just because the six I named above are legit doesn’t mean they’re worth your time. After all, $2 max per hour isn’t much of a payout.
Therefore, I’d say that if you’re already playing the games on those apps for fun, you might as well play them through the apps and get paid.
But if you’re trying to make real money from your phone, there are better ways to do it.
Taking surveys tends to pay out double what paid gaming apps do. Plus, they’re significantly less battery intensive and take up way less space on your hard drive.
Read more: Best survey apps and sites to make easy money.
Consider also that a penny saved is a penny earned. $3.50 per hour taking surveys isn’t bad, but if an app can save you $50+, that’s even better. So consider a cash back deal app like Rakuten.
Read more: Are cash back and rewards apps worth it?
Not all paid gaming apps are junk. A handful are totally legit, paying you real cash for enjoying mobile games on your own time.
Even still, $2 per hour is hardly a serious payout. Unless you find joy in playing these games or helping the developers test them, there are better ways to earn money from your phone.
Featured image: ymgerman/Shutterstock.com