Our mission at SOOMLA is to help mobile game developers make better in-game economies. As part of that we try to make sure that the SOOMLA off-the-shelf presets or turnkey 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 engage users to spend more currency and more time in them.

We have collected some of the key lessons into this short article that we decided to share with you.

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 talking 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 an in-game economy.

The Mittens: this is not a virtual economy.
The Mittens: this is not a virtual economy.

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 or tools to get more coins

Both of these are focused on earnings and this is where you should focus as well.

Mistake 2 – Balance = zero

Most people think about ‘zero’ as the ultimate starting point. In school we were taught to believe that zero 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 usually start 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.

Simpsons: Tapped Out goes with the loyalty plan

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 them the way to the store and get them used to entering it frequently.

Mistake 3 – Using Goods that Last Forever

Offering 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.

Minion Rush offers exclusive minion skins for a limited time only.
Minion Rush offers exclusive minion skins for a limited time only.

Well, guess what. If a user bought something that lasts forever, there is no reason for him to buy it again. Moreover, there is no tweaking with virtual goods that lasts forever. They are either there or they aren’t, but it cannot be half way. In comparison, for 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 game 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, while making the game more interesting for users as well.

Mistake 5 – Making a Boring Store

Static stores are boring. How fun can a store be if it has the same things all the time and everything is accessible to everyone?

Middle Manager of Justice is very playful in its approach to buying superheroes.
Middle Manager of Justice is very playful in its approach to buying superheroes.

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? Everything 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.

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