How To Build A Smart Game Economy

With game developers’ main objective being to create a really good game with an optimal monetization mechanism to maximize revenue, there are quite a few aspects to planning and implementing one’s game economy.

These may include planning the monetization strategy and in-game economic structure, applying an enticing value exchange and making your monetization options accessible within the game, each a chapter on its own.

Let’s start with a bit of an introduction.

A game economy is a virtual economy that configures all game loops in the game (currencies, time loops, XP, levels, pricing, etc.). Different game economies will structure different players’ behaviors within the same game. 

Now let’s review a few do’s and don’ts.

You must have a game economy. All games need an economy. The game’s economy is the heart of the game’s reward structure and is imperative to its success. Our focus will be on F2P games. Based on micro transactions, F2P games often introduce a dual-currency mechanism, thus allowing the user to further himself within the game using both real-money currency (AKA hard currency), as well as virtual currency (AKA soft currency).

Reel them in first, monetize second. Let your users experience the game. Get them engaged with and hooked on the game. Then, and only then, gently introduce them to the different monetization options. Never start picking their pockets right from the get-go. Moreover, focus on user LTV! Identify those stages within your game where the “tension” created is at its best — not too early, as you will “dis-convert,” not too late — as you will “miss-convert.” You need to get it just right.

Accessibility, accessibility, accessibility.

When you reach the perfect moment when a user is immersed within the game so that he’ll be willing to pay or be monetized to get ahead in the game yet is still able to play but will have a harder time without the benefits — then you’ve hit gold.

Give the user more than one currency, and multiple sources. As mentioned, most F2P games are based on a dual-currency mechanism, and for good reason. If we look into it, the majority of the top revenue-generating games use more than one currency.

Using only one type of currency limits the user’s spend flexibility. If you are using only hard currency in your game, you are literally forcing the user to pay out-of-pocket for any advantage he wishes to obtain for himself within the game, yanking him out of fantasy land and causing him to calculate his/her steps, time spent and actions within your game. Add to that the fact that only about 2-7 percent (on a good day) of users are willing to spend out-of-pocket, and you’re pretty much setting yourself up for failure.

Instead, try implementing more than one possibility to monetize your game, and enable your users with more than one type of currency to spend. Your paying users will continue paying, allowing them to obtain a significant advantage by doing so, but the remaining ~95 percent are a monetization force to be reckoned with, and can make you heaps of money, if you let them.

When you implement both hard and soft currencies, and multiple sources (through in-game achievements, user actions and in-game ads), you not only make your mobile game more interesting to play, but it also provides your users with more ways to spend time in your store.

Balance your sources and your sinks. An imperative key to building an enticing game economy is balance. You must ensure your sources (a user’s buy + earn) are in optimum balance with your sinks (a user’s spend), and that the game’s buy/earn ratio is at its optimum, as well.

Focus on their earnings and not on your sales. The more options users have to gain in-game currency, the better. Let the user earn, and make it fun and effective to spend.

Earning a sum is a pleasure on its own, and watching your in-game currency pile up is rather gratifying — so give your player the ability to enjoy it. However, that, on its own, gets old pretty fast. You have to give your users goals they wish to achieve, and for which they are accumulating funds. As for spending (be it game currency or real money), it should be intuitive and inviting to access, fun and effective, so the player feels it makes his gameplay better.

Never start picking their pockets right from the get-go.

Don’t get me wrong. What you sell is a very important aspect. But the ways in which players can earn currency in your game’s virtual economy is even more imperative. Once you’ve cracked the code for using currency collection as a way to increase engagement and loyalty, you’re halfway there. Now add personalized gain options (in-game, via smart ads) per each user’s preferences, interest and mindset, and you are guaranteed to double your user LTV.

Giving is receiving. A great way to increase monetization of non-paying players is by implementing appealing value-exchange advertising within your game. It may sound simple, but implementing a value-exchange ad mechanism that will enhance your users’ gameplay, contribute to their gaming experience and not only increase monetization but actually prolong their game session and increase user LTV is a bit more tricky. But it’s doable.

Currency balance. If your game generously rewards the user with soft currency, but enables him with spend options of mostly hard currency, well, that’s just not right. It is imperative to ensure that all currencies are of value to the user, and can be used in a manner and frequency that add value to his/her gameplay — throughout ALL levels of the game.

Get the user collection hungry and spend-savvy; start them with a positive balance. Although in many other aspects of our lives “the starting point equals zero,” this isn’t quite the best approach for in-game economies. The best practice is to get your user “collection hungry;” start them off with a little, and make him/her want to earn a lot right from the get-go. Another crucial aspect, and just as important, is to make your users spend-savvy; make sure they are well-informed of what they can buy (be it via their game currency, through ads and/or real-world money), how to buy it and how much fun it is to further themselves in the game through buying it.

“Diamonds are forever,” but not in the gaming world. Virtual goods are the engine that runs your game economy. A user must want to buy, buy more and buy again. If you provide goods that never expire, a user might buy once, but then has no reason to buy more, and definitely not to buy again. Virtual goods must be of evident value, and linked either to consumption or expiration over time, thus driving the user to purchase them time and time again (be it via game currency, ads and/or real-world money).

You’ve got to invest in a dynamic and enticing store. If you play your cards right, your store will be visited by your players often; it to has to deliver a great, game-enhancing experience: accessibility, accessibility, accessibility.

Make it dynamic. Offered store items need to progress as the game progresses. Add new items from time to time.

Make it selective. Different items need to be offered to different players at different points of the game’s flow. Don’t make all items available to all players at all times. And provide multiple access options to the different offers.

Focus on the ~95 percent of non-paying players. Assuming you’ve acknowledged this is an audience you want to monetize, and you’ve provided them with the means to both earn (via smartly integrated in-game ads and game achievement) and spend, there is one huge mistake you want to avoid. Where do you place your offers? In the game’s shop? If you were a player who had no intention to pay, would you go into the shop?

The non-paying audience is comprised of two types of players: Those who don’t wish to pay, yet are aware of a game’s alternative sources and sinks and will actively try to locate and engage with them; and those who are absolutely clueless, will never pay out-of-pocket, will never seek alternatives, will never visit your game’s shop and will never attain visibility of your offers.

Integrate offers both in-shop as well as out of shop; make them clear, intuitive, fun and accessible and watch your revenues grow faster than you thought possible.