Designing Game Economics
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Designing Game Economics
15 September, 2015

There are many games today that have an economics system implemented where you have in-game currency or experience points. This element to gaming can greatly add to the overall positive experience of the player, or it can be done in a way that makes the whole system seem pointless and boring. Daniel Doan, CEO & Co-Founder of Black Shell Media, talks about a few things to keep in mind to ensure that the economies within the game only add value.

Various Forms of Currency

In games, currency comes in many forms besides the obvious form of “money”. As long as it is quantifiable with numbers, it is still technically “currency”. Understanding that there are multiple types of currencies and using those to help direct the gameplay around it can add an extra element of fun and excitement for your game.

A simple example of this would be with experience points. In an RPG you’ll have coins to buy better weapons or items, but you’ll also have experience points that you gain that can be exchanged for better skills or other boosts to your in-game character.

Two Categories of Currency

Infinite Currencies

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Just as it sounds, these currencies are usually the most abundant, and they come in the form of coins or dollars in the game. Because they are acquired so easily, there isn’t as much value put on them and in the end, they are somewhat worthless in the eyes of the players.

A way to counteract that outcome is to have two systems set in place – Investment Sinks and Upkeep. Investment Sinks are the systems you would see in games like Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row where you can spend huge amounts of money to buy businesses or property. These high prices are put there to make sure that the player doesn’t have an easy time buying everything or has too much money.

Upkeep is there to make sure the need for money exists. This can be seen in Skyrim with the weapon repair fees. It’s important to make sure that the upkeep of the games aren’t too expensive or too cheap. If a player can easily afford upkeep, it ruins the fun and challenge of the game. A player should have to think about their choices before they make them so that there is still value.

Finite Currencies


Finite Currencies, on the other hand, are not in abundance. These are much harder to acquire, thus, raising the value of them. These can come in the form of stat points or rare collectibles. An example of this could be in The Legend of Zelda with Gold Skulltula tokens. These are finite currencies because they are so rare. They also make a player feel very rewarded when they get them.


You can also sometimes have a currency “conversion” if there is a need to balance out the systems. So in The Legend of Zelda, Pieces of Heart would be thought of as a finite currency, but there are specific Pieces of Heart that can only be bought, in which this case it is a finite currency acting as an Investment Sink.


Word of caution though. Much thought must be put into what currency is Finite or Infinite. In an older Spyro game for the Gameboy, there was a limited number of a certain currency throughout the world. Some parts of the game required that you pay a fee to a character to move on. You would think you wouldn’t need to go out of your way for all the currency but by the end of the game you find out that you, indeed, do need pretty much all of them to beat the game. The game had no respawning currency so it really put a lot of strain on players to find these currencies. This can completely ruin a game.

The best thing to do is to spend some time thinking about the currency system. What role does it have? How will the player obtain it and when? Where can this be found? These are all critical questions that should be answered in your mind before it is applied in any game.


Daniel Doan, CEO & Co-Founder, Black Shell Media

Source: LinkedIn

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