Let’s talk about game economy!

I am old and thus I still remember these pretty days of Diablo I, back in 1996 -- where each and every pieces of Tristram was filled with a pile of 5 000 gold pieces (the biggest amount you could store in single map's cell) -- because Diablo I's economy had so poor design that most of the players were earning millions by the end of the game, without a real ability of spending this.

Game economy is an extremely important part of each game design and you are deeply wrong, if you think that it plays key role only in economy-based games. I have intentionally mentioned Diablo 1 to show you an example of a dark fantasy game. Some economy-related mistakes for match-three like game are also mentioned here.

In this article I would like to focus on some economy-related issues and mistakes that you must consider when designing money and resources layer in your game, no mater what kind of game you're currently developing.

Crafting is an important part of game economy, but I have written a separate article on this subject.

Inflation, you fools!

Your game characters lives in a virtual world, yet economy rules are most likely quite the same:

  • if you earn more then you can afford for better goods,
  • some things are completely not available in the beginning (too expensive),
  • if years are passing in game, prices changes (inflation!),
  • buying or selling a huge amounts of goods may affect local market (inflation, again!).

There is this idiot, Clive Cussler, who writes these stupid books for similar idiot-readers like him. In one of his books, about neo-nazi world supremacy, he "discovered" this idea of some organisation selling gold worth 200 billion dollars that international market didn't noticed.

That's an obvious absurd. It is impossible for single entity to gain that much money or gold without being noticing by the market. It is also completely not possible to sell that much gold in a reasonable amount of time without completely not ruining world economics.

Please, don't be an idiot like Clive Cussler is and don't designs economy-based stupidities like this in your games, OK?

Things you must consider or at least carefully analyse:

  1. Some resources, tools, weapons, services, places must be unavailable or inaccessible in the beginning. If you can purchase the highest crystal available from the very beginning then either it is too cheap or you earn too much.
  2. Prices changes during years. We call that an inflation. If your in-game forge sells weapons for exactly the same prices after years (or hours of playing) then your game designer needs some economic lessons.
  3. Rate of earning money and rare of purchasing stuff must be equal on each game level. It is completely wrong, if you're earning at a rate of 200 times more late in the game than you were earning in the beginning.
  4. Rate of gaining and spending resources must also be similar. It is also very bad, if you have millions of gold or thousands of stones close to the end of game, and you completely don't know what to do with them, while you had a trouble getting one of it in the beginning.
  5. Buying a really huge amount of stuff, resources or services or selling a huge amount of gold or other currency can't remain unnoticed by the market. Prices must adapt after that.

This problem is already partially discussed in this part of my other article.

A gigantic resources stack

How do you define a currency or resource? For me it is:

  • something that you can gather in game,
  • something that you can exchange for something else.

The second point is about receiving something in exchange for something else, not just about purchasing something. If you unlock some game feature for loosing any kind of amount of something, that you previously had to earn or get, then this is a currency for me.

And you should reeeeaaaaly go steady on that!

Even pure economy-based game, like management of some company or city or ruling in some kingdom, must have a limited number of resources to not overhaul players. Even very experienced and mature economy games players will get completely lost after they find what EA folks have prepared for them in SimCity BulidIt:

You don't believe it? Well, let me start counting.

When it comes into currency only (no resources!) we have:

  • simoleons (coins) -- for simple and every-day purchases,
  • SimCash (paper money) -- for bigger investments and changes,
  • neosimoleons (different coins) -- for purchasing future-like things,
  • gold and platinum keys -- for unlocking special features to the whole city,
  • ice-creams and 4 similar time-limited things -- for purchasing things to the part of the city (beach in this case),
  • snow-balls and 3 other season-limited resources -- for purchasing something available only during i.e. winter,
  • fishes and 3 other location-related resources -- for purchasing regional things that are available only in certain places,
  • speed-up coins -- for increasing speed of development and buildings.

Shall I mention more? Because when it goes for the resources you can produce there's a lot more:

  • pieces of wood, pieces of steel and four more base resources,
  • 6 building materials: nails, planks, bricks, cement bags, glue tubes and paint buckets,
  • milk, cream and four more nature-like resources or vegetables,
  • 6 different kinds of cakes and desserts,
  • 6 different garden tools like shovels etc.,
  • 6 clothing types,
  • 6 furniture kinds,
  • 6 household goods types and
  • 6 more things that I forgot because I've got lost and stopped playing this game.

This way, SimCity BuildIt offers its players:

  • nineteen different currency types to get and spend,
  • fifty four different resource types to be produced and used in various processes and combinations.

Put together we have seventy three economic factors that a regular game player must control in order to achieves some results and progress in game. They are, of course, not available in the same time, because -- as you can see -- many of them are time- or location- limited. But they do exists and are used in game.

Well... what kind I say?

After exactly thirty years of glorious game development, EA has served us an unbelievable piece of shit that is game designer's schizophrenia and the biggest economic games maniac's nightmare in the same time.

Indirect purchase relation

As we said in above, some things, tools and services shouldn't be available in the beginning of the game, because you should be too expensive for the very beginner.

But, in the same time -- if you are developing a mobile game -- you must encourage players to purchase as much through in-game purchases as possible, because this is the key way for your company to profit. This could lead to a situation like the one discussed in here where certain players works hard into getting something for free and other one are simply buying this.

How to merge these two things? How to let your company profit and not ruin gameplay in the same time?

Well, one of the solutions are indirect game purchases:

  • in-game purchases are used to purchase some "middle currency", i.e. resources,
  • resources itself are to produce expected weapon, tool or device or to get access to some place or service.

You can add time component into second point.

This way, players must still wait some time or work a little bit before getting some valuable or expensive game addition and in the same time they are still interested in using in-game purchases and let you profit.

This point can be safely ignored, if you don't have in-game purchases and profit by selling the game.

It is NOT all about the money

Certain things in game must be achievable by means that are not directly related to money or in-game purchases. An example, again in Puzzle Forge 2, is a the betting functionality.

From time to time any customer that visits your forge can bet with you. They force you to do something (i.e. craft six weapons in a single combination) or achieve something (i.e. have no weapons or no hot slots on board by the end of day). And if you succeeded, you can get the money. The highest amount of money you can earn this way is 2 000 gold pieces.

No, try to figure how much high-level game player will be interested in this game aspect, if he or she has... 210 000 gold pieces in the pocket (that is 100 times more) and absolutely no idea on spending it.

With above design and assumptions, a nice-looking functionality was completely wasted.

And all the game designer would have to do to prevent this, was to simply figure out that customers visiting forge could offer anything else except the money as a reward for a won bet.

Examples? Some script (Live Regeneration and You Shall Pass are very rare and thus very welcomed even by high-rank players). A piece of collection, etc.

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