Steps to Design Balanced Game Economy

By juegoadmin | Game Design | March 22nd, 2022


Want to make money from your game? Then, make sure you design a balanced game economy.

Your game’s in-game economy is a virtual economy that facilitates the exchange of virtual goods within your game. This exchange can be between your game and your players or between players themselves.

The latest stats from the industry prove that developing a robust in-game economy can help you create profit from your game. For example, the in-game economy of Honor of Kings generated $2.9 billion in 2021. Likewise, Genshin Impact generated $2 billion and PUBG Mobile $2.8 billion.

These 3 are just a few games making huge profits from building a game economy that is well-balanced. Even lesser-known game titles generate consistent revenue from a game economy designed with strategy and proper plan.

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How to Design a Robust Game Economy

All good game economies share two things:

1) The economy provides players opportunities for economic advancement within the game

2) The economy provides developers opportunities for monetization.

The former relates to the satisfaction players enjoy, like rewards and challenges that prompt them to continue playing. The latter relates to how you can use the same experiences and tie them with your monetization strategy.

It is hard to design a balanced game economy that serves both your players and you. It requires a lot of research, planning, implementation, and iteration. As a result, the task might seem daunting to most.

However, you can follow the below step-by-step process to create a thriving in-game economy:

Top 4 Steps to Design a Balanced Game Economy:

Step #1: Research Other Games in Your Game’s Genre

Other games in your game’s genre are good sources for ideas to start with for your game economy design. So, seek and list out other games within your game’s genre. As you do so, make sure you list both successful and unsuccessful games of the genre.

Then, play all the games. And observe how the designers have done the game economy design. Take your time to deconstruct the game elements and analyze them. Also, try to understand how all the elements combine to create a balanced game economy.

By the time you finish the analysis, you will get multiple ideas. You will get ideas you can implement (from the good games), and you can avoid (from the bad games). Furthermore, you may even get new ideas that none of your competitors have implemented.

Step #2: Craft the Basics of the Economy

1. Understand Player Motivations

Players will have different motivations to play your game. Some of them will play to get achievements, some will play for the PvP mechanics, others for socialization, and others to relieve their boredom.

These different motivations affect player decisions. For instance, players with achievement or PvP as motivations may purchase more in-game items compared to players whose motivations are socialization or boredom relieving.

(Side Note: Player motivations are not binary. The same player can have multiple reasons to play your game.)

So, when you design your game economy, you should consider these different types of players and their motivations. Then, based on your game’s goals, you can tailor your game experience to suit certain types of players more than the others or all types of players equally.

2. Create Currencies

Players make purchases in your game using in-game currencies. And your game economy must have two types of these currencies: soft and hard.

Soft currencies are pure in-game currencies with no connection with real money. Soft currencies are the type of currency you reward your players with when your players perform specific actions, like daily logins, level completion, or objective fulfillment.

Meanwhile, hard currencies are currencies your players can buy with real-world money. You sell these currencies to your players through your in-game store.

Soft currencies should be neither easy nor difficult for your players to obtain. You should reward your players with soft currencies for everything. You should reserve them for when your players complete hard challenges.

Hard currencies, on the other hand, should be effortless for your players to obtain. You should make your in-game store experience seamless so your players can purchase hard currencies with only a couple of steps.

3. Create Taps and Sinks

Taps are sources from where your players obtain in-game currency. For soft currencies, these sources are daily logs, objective completion, other performance metrics, etc. For hard currencies, your in-game store is the primary source.

Sinks are where your players can spend the in-game currency they obtained from these sources. These are things your players can purchase, including gameplay items like weapons, armor, and power-ups, aesthetic items like skins, costumes, accessories, and exclusives like additional levels, extra content, etc.

To make your game economy design balanced, you must create a sufficient number of taps and sinks. This balance encourages spending among your players.

4. Avoid ‘Pay-to-Win’ Trap

The ‘Pay-To-Win’ trap is when you force players to purchase hard currency for in-game advancement. In a ‘pay-to-win’ game, players who refuse to buy in-game rewards either cannot advance in the game or find it hard to do so.

On the surface, this approach looks better for monetization. But the strategy backfires because your players eventually feel like you are forcing them to pay to win your game (hence the name, ‘Pay-To-Win’). Even players who are ready to pay get turned off by this approach.

The approach also trivializes the effectiveness of soft currencies. Soft currencies can help players get a taste of in-game rewards. This exposure to rewards eventually leads many players to purchase hard currencies.

Step #3: Playtest and Iterate

Playtesting can help you improve your game experience before you release it. You can find errors, bugs, and issues and also receive feedback on your game’s economy design.

To playtest efficiently, get playtesters with no prior exposure to your game. Preferably, they should belong to the same demographic as your game’s target audience.

You should ask them for their opinions and observations on your games’ design. In addition, you should also observe them play and gauge their reactions and in-game decisions.

If you find most of your playtesters negatively react to a design element in your economy, you have to remove or iterate it. On the other hand, if their responses are positive, you can keep them.

Step #4: Further Improvements with User Feedback and Analytics

You should not continue to tweak your economy design post-release using audience feedback and user behavior. Both reveal insights into your game economy design you otherwise might not get.

For user feedback, there are different review sources you can rely on. Your game’s app store page is one of them, and you can get reviews your players have written. Likewise, game-related blogs and news websites are sources from which you can find expert opinions on your game.

For user behavior, game analytics is your source. You can obtain in-depth and accurate data on player behavior using analytics software like deltaDNA and GameAnalytics.

Suppose reviews or player behavior data reveal your players’ are averse to certain aspects of your in-game economy design. In that case, you can remove those elements altogether or tweak them to make them better.

Then release the changes in the next update. You can then find new reviews and data and make further changes for the following update.

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Final Thoughts

Few game designers have created a robust game economy. Many do not know the basics enough to make their games monetize.

The process outlined here can be a good start for you to design your game’s economy. But you must do additional research, comprehensive planning, and proper execution to work in your favor.

But if you end up designing a balanced game economy, you will have a gift that keeps on giving in your hands. Moreover, it will be an asset that generates revenue for years to come.

Juego Studios is a game development company with a team of top mobile game designers. Our designers use modern design principles, behavioral psychology, and creative skills to create designs for games of all genres.

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