What is game economy design

As players engage with your game, they gain and consume assets (XP, currencies, items, etc.). Game economy design handles the crafting and balancing of these game systems to translate player engagement into monetization opportunities and embeds them into the core gameplay loop.

There are two purposes for game economies. One is to provide players with opportunities for economic advancement within the game setting. The other is to generate revenue for the game studio. The goal of a well-designed game economy is balancing these purposes so that neither overwhelms the other in importance.

This blog post will discuss how game systems and game economies work to create an enjoyable gaming experience.

The basics of game economy design

Game economy is an integral part of your game, and it goes beyond both your in-game store content and the revenue it generates for your studio. It’s a system of game loops that support your core gameplay to create an engaging experience for your player. Crafting and balancing these loops as a whole will improve metrics across your analytics dashboard. Including revenue, yes.

First, you’ll need to figure out what data you’ll show players so they know how their in-game actions have affected things like how much currency they have for purchasing items or advancing skills/levels/characters within the game world itself.

Then comes determining what economic activities will drive your game forward and give players opportunities for advancement – whether those activities require spending large quantities of currency (like buying houses) or simply doing routine tasks repeatedly (like killing monsters).

And, finally, you’ll need to decide when the game will reward players for participating in these activities. Will it take place after spending a certain number of hours playing the game? After performing an equivalent amount of virtual labour within the game’s economy? Or both? You might even consider rewarding players at different times or amounts depending on how much they’ve invested into your game overall (like giving them discounts off purchases if they have spent more money purchasing items).

There are many ways to approach this sort of thing, and every good designer should know which options work best given their goals for each game system that helps drive player behaviour inside their games.

Learning to use taps and sinks

One of the most fundamentals of game economy design is how to give the player resources and how to make them spend those resources. The game designer needs to know how much the player should earn and spend to balance systems accordingly.

The game’s economy is a resource distribution, acquisition, and expenditure system within the game world. This is true for every game but it becomes more complex when discussing multiplayer games where multiple players share resources that need to be managed by someone (the game designer). If you want your game economy design to work well, you’ll have to consider what we like to call taps and sinks.

Taps are activities that give your players resources like currency, and sinks are systems in which the player can spend that currency. The game economy designer needs to balance taps and sinks for players to get enough currency to spend but not too much where they don’t need to purchase anything.

It’s also essential to distinguish between in-game currencies, which can be spent on microtransactions or distributed as rewards, versus out-of-game currencies like real money. You want your economy design to reflect what kind of game it is you’re creating. If you’re aiming for an expensive Triple-A title, then having lots of different ways for people to obtain resources will be critical. In contrast, free-to-play games tend to rely more heavily on only one way (or set) of receiving items/currency because everything else would require some form of purchase.

Implementing an in-game currency

The first step in setting up a game economy is to create an in-game currency that players can use to buy game items. Designing economic systems for video games is difficult because game designers don’t want to make their game look like a store.

A standard solution for avoiding this “store” feel is to use a resource that’s not tradeable outside of the game ecosystem, which means that these resources do not have a real-world value assigned to them. Otherwise, there’s a risk of devaluing the economy. If you are using the free-to-play model, in-game purchases are usually your primary means of profit. In any way, game designers need to be very careful when looking at any sort of resource, whether it’s tradable or not.

You need to keep an eye out for any game systems that might cause players to devalue the in-game currency by buying and selling these resources outside of the game. This requires simulating the systems you craft before launch to account for emergence.

Monetizing your in-game economy

Creating a balanced in-game economy is hard enough, but it becomes even more complicated if you’re actively using that economy to make real-world money.

If your game is free-to-play, one of the best ways to monetize your game economy would be with in-game purchases, which means your economy needs to be finely balanced to make their purchases seem as alluring as possible while still being fair to the game.

Essentially, you want to make sure that it is possible to get the highest level rewards in the game without buying anything while balancing that process on a knife-edge between just tedious enough that people will play to speed it up, and unplayably boring.

Making a game economy can be a complex process. You need to have an idea of what you plan for your game, but it is crucial that the entire team understands how money flows through each system as well as how those systems interconnect with one another.

As always there are many different ways to approach game economy design and it’s important that everyone involved in making your game has a unified vision or at least respects other opinions on how things should work out.

Avoiding the ‘pay to win’ trap

One of the most common criticisms of the free-to-play model is that players can pay to win. There are many game economies out there that make this a possibility in order to encourage the so-called ‘whale spending’.

The fear of a game turning into the next ‘pay to win’ game is ever-present for a lot of free-to-play developers and it’s something you need to plan for from day one. Having your game categorized as ‘pay to win’ can cause you to lose players as well as damage your game’s community and reputation.

The first thing to keep in mind is that there are different types of players out there, just like not everyone who plays a game will spend money on it – some may never spend any money at all! It’s important to recognize the difference between what you want from your game economy and what others expect or demand from their games. This might mean compromising certain features but if done right can lead to greater satisfaction for everyone involved.

Game economy design needs data

Understanding player behaviours using data gathered through analytics tools helps developers understand their gaming audience better than ever before and allows them to develop more engaging experiences.

Analytics has become an integral part of game economy design. In-game economies, analytics can help determine player behaviour and spend rate. It’s important to consider how a game will monetize before designing the game economy as this impacts all following decisions.

However, in preproduction and production, you will not have live data to guide your decisions. You will need to use a simulation tool for balancing your economy before (soft)launch. Python scripts, VBAs or Machinations, will produce data based on your game design and help you predict player behaviour. 

It is also worth remembering that game economy design is an ever-changing and ongoing process. Rather than a “set and forget” approach, games designers need to look at an effective in-game economy as being a project that lasts the lifetime of the game, especially in free to play models, as new content, events, and meta-changes will require the economy to be constantly rebalanced.

There are no set rules on what works best for every game so it’s important to stay up to date with new trends in order to push your own games further. There may be times where you need to change direction entirely but that doesn’t mean it won’t end up working out better than originally planned!

It takes time and patience, along with plenty of testing and tweaking, but building great game economy mechanics through analytics enables you to create unique experiences which help draw your audience into your game.

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