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5 Mistakes to Avoid with Virtual Economies for Mobile Games

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Yaniv Nizan


Our mission here at the SOOMLA Project is to help mobile game developers make better economies. As part of that we try to make sure that our off the shelf presets or turn key virtual economies are already as good as they can be. We investigate and research the market all the time and try to analyze why games fail or succeed. Why some games monetize better than others and why some stores engages users to spend more and more time in them.
We have collected some of the key lessons into this short presentation and presented them in 2 conferences. The responses we received were very positive and so we decided to share it with you as well.


Mistake 0 - Not Having a Virtual Economy in Your Game
In game coins or Virtual Economies are powering 90% of the revenue in mobile games and about 85% of the revenue in mobile apps. We are taking about selling coins and in-game currencies to users via in-app purchasing. A virtual economy is defined by the ability of a user to collect coins inside the game. In other words, selling levels or features really doesn't count as in-game economies.
Furthermore, in successful games users spend more time in the in-game stores compared than in any other part of the game.
Mistake 1 - Focusing on Selling
The first thought a game developer has about in-game economies is "what do I sell in my game". This is important but not as important as the question of how does the user earn coins. How do we make the experience of earning more diverse, challenging and fun. The earning part of the coin system is what makes the game more fun for the user. There are two reasons why a user buys virtual goods:

  • He already has coins that he needs to spend
  • He is looking for ways ore tools to get more coins

    Both of these are focused on earnings and this is where you should focus as well.
    Mistake 2 - Balance = 0
    Most people think about 0 as the ultimate starting point. In school we were taught to believe that 0 is the beginning of all numbers and in programming classes it's often recommended to initiate a variable to a value of 0. In game design however, the rules are different. Many successful games are staring with a positive balance for the user. Some games do it with a loyalty plan while other use a welcome bonus. It's also common to see games with a tutorial that gives the user some coins and then forces him to spend them.
    The reason for this is clear. If we want the users to spend more than half the time in the store, we need to show him the way to the store and get him used to entering it frequently.
    Mistake 3 - Using Goods that Last Forever
    Goods that last forever is another common mistake and is a default for many in-game economies. In the real world, almost nothing lasts forever but in a digital environment, the default for any object is to stay the same until told otherwise.
    Well, guess what. If a user bought something that lasts forever there is no reason for him to buy it again. More over, there is no tweaking with virtual goods that lasts forever, It's either there or it's not but it can't be half way. In comparison, goods that are naturally consumed, rented or regularly used inside the game, you can tweak quantity and time parameters.
    Mistake 4 - Having a Single Currency
    Having a single currency seems like a natural choice but most top grossing mobile games have more than one currency. Having just one type of coins in your game means that the user can earn coins and buy the same things that are available to users who paid with real money. This creates a very big problem to games that wish to monetize their virtual economies.
    If you want to truly harness the power of virtual economies as a monetization tool, one type of coins is simply not enough. Two or three currencies will give the game designer more flexibility and control and can make the game more interesting for users as well.
    Mistake 5 - Making a Boring Store
    Static stores are boring. How fan can a store be if it has the same things all the time and everything is accessible to everyone.
    Let's hope that your virtual economy succeeded in getting users frequently and consistently to the store and they are spending a big chunk of time in it. Shouldn't you invest just as much time into making the store a more interesting place for them to be? It starts with a flow of new items that becomes more and more advanced as the game play progresses. Virtual goods that depend on other virtual goods can make it even more interesting. Examples could be: an engine that will fit only one type of car and a pouch that will fit up to 2 swords while a big pouch can fit 3 swords and a dagger.
    I hope you found this useful. Be sure to check for more advice at our Blog and on our Fan Page. If you want to brainstorm about the virtual economy for your game, feel free to reach out - project@soom.la.

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