When players engage in a mobile game with an economy, they obtain and use assets such as currency through both paid and unpaid ways. A good game economy design is essential for effective in-game purchase monetization by connecting engagement to monetization possibilities in the player’s core game loop.
Game economies serve two objectives.
A well-designed game economy aims to balance these goals so that neither outweighs the other in importance.
Here are some questions you have to keep in mind throughout this post!
How to think about in-game assets
“I understand that my mobile title may feature an in-game economy, but what is the best approach?”
“Assets are a useful keyword when considering what makes up a mobile title’s in-game economy. Assets are in-game items that help a player progress through game loops. Let’s investigate the various forms of consumable assets in mobile games.”
What are consumable assets?
Consumable assets are in-game goods that players often use and/or consume during gameplay. Consumable assets are classified into three types:
One of the most common in-game assets is in-game currency. The currency asset can do many things from allowing players to:
- Access or acquire additional content and gameplay.
- Accelerate unlocks or upgrades of characters or other in-game assets.
Currency is most commonly acquired through real-money purchases in mobile games. Occasionally, although rare, currency can be acquired via gameplay rewards such as quests or daily login bonuses.
The energy asset in mobile games is a way to constrain gameplay frequency or duration.
Energy most commonly regenerates over time. However, players can sometimes optionally refill or speed up their energy regeneration via in-game currency.
Resources are usually acquired through gameplay rewards and activities since they are often the primary metagame resource. However, players can sometimes optionally purchase additional resources via in-game currency.
It’s important to note that there are many game economies where assets are not separate entities, as explained above. Many mobile game genres have a singular currency that acts as energy, cash, and a resource.
For example, in a mobile slot or bingo game, the amount of currency you have will limit your gameplay time. The available cash can sometimes unlock additional features and is mainly acquired through real-money purchases.
Assets are linked to in-game actions.
Note that this approach should be taken with each consumable asset you have available in your game to monitor and balance the economy of each purchase. This will further help you understand how each in-game assets may impact a player’s engagement with the core game loop.
Consumable assets are usually linked to in-game actions or the core game loop. Here is a simple example of what the interaction can look like.
It’s important to note that not all mobile game genres reward players with in-game assets for engaging with the core loop. For instance, asset inflows and/or replacement rate is zero for many mobile genres.
In match-3, for example, players rarely earn in-app assets for engaging with the core gameplay loop. The only asset outflow for character-based role-playing game battlers is energy (or stamina), not the in-game currency. This is why monitoring and balancing each in-game asset is crucial to understanding how each may impact a player’s engagement with the core game loop.
A basic approach to balancing an in-game economy
You must monitor your player’s in-game asset balances, inflows, outflows, and the average price you charge per in-game asset. The main levers you, as a game developer, have in your control or that you can impact are the in-game asset outflows. This can be done through event optimization or LiveOps and tuning any free inflows available in your game.
For a game to have a healthy in-game economy, the ultimate goal is to maximize the in-game asset outflows of your players. This means that for a given time, you want the following to be faithful:
- Inflows minus outflows are less than or equal to zero.
Note that this doesn’t consider the player’s available balance size. It simply points out that players consume more than they acquire in a given time.
This is why monitoring the consumption rates for all consumable assets in your game is crucial. Usually, there may be the case that certain assets are less balanced than others. Holistically, your in-game consumable assets should be balanced to maximize revenue in your mobile game.
For some game genres, it’s crucial to consider non-gameplay asset outflows. These in-game asset outflows are usually driven by game features such as character acquisition, upgrades, season passes, etc.
While the player doesn’t have to directly engage with the core game loop, non-gameplay asset outflows are still indirectly related to gameplay. Players use these game features to help them progress through the core game loop. For example, a player may need a specific character to have a higher chance of beating the next boss or level in the mobile game.
Non-gameplay outflows provide another place for players to consume their in-game assets. However, you still want players to finish more than they acquire in a given time.
- Implying that even with this new additional outflow point, inflows minus both outflow types are still less than or equal to zero.
Free non-gameplay asset inflows are another critical thing to consider when balancing your game economy. Mobile game features such as daily login bonuses or achievements provide players with additional in-game assets without the need to engage with the core game loop.
This additional inflow can impact your economy, especially if gameplay asset outflows need to be balanced by introducing these free asset inflows.
- You must ensure that gameplay and free non-gameplay asset inflows minus gameplay and non-gameplay asset outflows are still less than or equal to zero.
This equation is currently less than or equal to zero because you are missing the last piece that can feed into the player’s asset wallet.
As you begin integrating in-app purchases into your mobile game, these purchases will be the final non-gameplay inflow that feeds the player’s in-game asset wallet.
You’ll notice that now the final in-game asset inflows or Paid Asset Inflows have been added, the equation has changed from less than or equal to zero into an equal sign. This is because, at the highest level, these are all possible points of asset interaction within a mobile game. You want this equation to hold true to ensure that your asset economy is balanced.
The equation in number 4 is under two assumptions:
- Players always start with zero in-game assets.
- Players will consume every asset they are given.
As game developers, you know that this isn’t true. Players rarely consume the entirety of what they earn or have available in their asset wallet.
Therefore, you can modify the equation to consider how the player’s asset wallet has changed. To do this, subtract the starting asset wallet size from the ending asset wallet size.
Inflows, outflows, and how they relate to revenue
Now that you have an equation that provides a simple approach to balancing an in-game asset let’s walk through how this is directly related to your game’s mobile revenue.
You have already seen the paid non-gameplay asset inflows. However, for the assets that are available for real-money purchases, this inflow is directly linked to revenue.
You can understand mobile game paid asset inflow as a function of income in the period divided by the asset’s price.
Let’s briefly cover what is meant by the cost of the in-game asset.
If you are a mobile game developer pricing items for players to purchase, you create an average price from the purchasable asset.
For example, if you sell 100 in-game assets for $10, you charge $0.10 per in-game asset. In many mobile games, there may be bonuses on higher-priced packages, which means the price per asset may change. If you want to keep this game economy equation simple, you can use an average price of the asset. This means you sum the revenue you earned in a period and divide it by the total number of in-game assets acquired through those purchases.
You can then plug this equation into your economy balancing equation.
You can then re-work the equation, moving all the inflows and outflows to the right side of the equation.
Using your good old math skills, you’ve added the Gameplay and Non-Gameplay Asset Outflows and subtracted the Gameplay Asset Inflows and Free Non-Gameplay Asset inflows to both sides of the equation.
The final step to understanding how to proxy revenue using your in-game economy flows is multiplying both sides by the asset’s price.
You can now proxy how much revenue you made in a given period by understanding the inflows and outflows of your in-game assets.
Impact on revenue: example
As this economy balancing equation built up, you learned that it’s vital to link the game economy design to the core game loop to impact revenue. Let’s walk through how each portion of the economy balancing equation can affect your mobile game’s payment.
As mentioned, asset outflows are directly linked to engagement with the core game loop and are typically positively correlated with revenue.
More engagement means there is an opportunity for more asset outflows, which will drive more demand for purchases and, therefore, more revenue.
In-game asset inflows (both from gameplay and free non-gameplay features) generally negatively correlate with revenue.
- It’s essential to ensure that if in-game asset inflows increase, there is a correlated increase in outflows, likely focusing on driving more engagement from your players.
- Ultimately, the goal is to find the balance of how you can provide these assets to your players while still driving strong engagement and continued consumption of these assets.
High starting balances, or seeing that your players are hoarding in-game assets, will typically drive less demand for purchases or less revenue. This is because if a player has a large asset wallet, they must first engage and consume these available assets before purchasing.
Drive successful in-app purchase monetization by linking engagement to monetization opportunities in the player’s core game loop.
Since in-game assets help players progress through core game loops, identify which asset types make the most sense to implement in your game. The Understand player motivation course is a fantastic introduction to how to approach monetizing what your players value in your mobile game.
Once you have implemented an in-game economy, use the economy balancing equation to help optimize your mobile game’s performance by understanding how each core game loop action is related to revenue.