Game Development Reference
about your game, and start out by rewarding them with in-game soft curren-
cies for their successes. Once you have them hooked, then hit them up for
money; you'll likely keep them interested for longer.
2. Balance your cash sinks. Users will want to see value in both types of cur-
rency. If the game rewards them with loads of soft currency, but really
allows them to spend only the hard currency, users are likely to see that
the soft currency is a sham. Instead, try to ensure that both currencies are
consumed and valued in the game systems at a rate that makes them both
feel valuable, at all levels of the game. This last bit is quite important. It's
easy for a game designer to mistakenly balance a game such that the in-
game soft currency is valuable for only the first hour or two of the game.
Thereafter, all the higher-level items are based on hard currency alone.
This is the sort of flaw that often isn't revealed until a game is in the wild
with a dedicated user base, but it is a serious issue, because it will end
up causing your more advanced users to get bored and “churn out” of the
game once they've put a few hours investment into it. Balance your cash
sinks so that both hard and soft currencies have and retain values across
all levels of play. As long as the integration of your monetization is a gen-
tle, seamless, balanced portion of your game, your users will focus on the
fun, and not on the money.
3. Offer multiple sources for both currencies. Reward users with soft in-game
currencies, for a variety of activities. For example, in World of Warcraft , the
player can pick up gold from slaying monsters, completing quests, selling
items, crafting items and vending them to other players, playing a commodi-
ties game in the auction house, and so on. This variety keeps users from
getting bored and allows the designers to have a number of subtle levers
with which they can balance the in-game soft currency economy. For hard
currency, the challenge has less to do with game design; you're typically not
going to give much of this out in the game, anyway. Instead, you need to
ensure that users with different spending habits and mechanisms can buy
your currency. As we've discussed previously, offering credit card process-
ing, PayPal, cell phone charges, offer walls, and generally supporting as
many different payment systems as possible is important to monetizing the
greatest possible percentage of your users.
4. Spell it out for your users. Modern games are complicated. Even when the
UI has been simplified to a single-click mechanic, simply understanding
the complexities of an in-game economy can be a daunting proposition.
Consider, too, that the definition of “gamer” has become exponentially
broader with the advent of social games. The old-school systems are new
to a great percentage of the gaming population; you can't rely on your
users “getting it” on their own, because for many, the idea of playing these
games at all is something new. Offer your users tooltips and other kinds
of contextual help so they can understand how the game works and how