Achieving Game Economy Balance Through Data-Driven Insights

June 30, 2023
June 30, 2023

A ‘balanced’ economy is crucial to the success of a free-to-play (F2P) mobile game. By leveraging data, game managers can effectively address key questions regarding a game's economy. They can monitor player wallets, identify warning signs of an unbalanced economy, and implement strategies to create an engaging and fair game experience.

Where do I start?

To establish a balanced game economy, start by defining the core loop and categorizing key resources. Visualize the inflows and outflows for each resource, identifying earning opportunities (sources) and spending options (sinks).

To track these resource dynamics effectively, utilize event tracking systems and ensure the tracking events include parameters to measure the amounts of resources spent or utilized.

By implementing robust tracking systems, developers can gain insights into player behavior and resource utilization. This data-driven approach enables the identification of potential imbalances and facilitates necessary actions for optimizing resource flows.

Core Loop Mapping Out Resource Inflows and Outflows

Initial Game Design

It is essential to carefully map out the player progression - utilizing tools like spreadsheets or other planning resources, designers can track the cumulative flow of resources, including currency and items, through rewards and expenditures, as players advance through different levels and maps.

Analyzing the resource flow helps designers identify bottlenecks where resource sinks exceed sources and surpluses where sources outweigh sinks. In an ideal world, the deficit between sources and sinks per player would be zero, indicating a balanced supply and demand. However, in the context of free-to-play (F2P) games, intentional design choices must be made to provide players with varying experiences throughout their playtime.

Strategic implementation of bottlenecks can create challenges and provide players with a sense of accomplishment when they overcome obstacles. On the other hand, well-placed surpluses can offer moments of respite and abundance, enhancing player satisfaction. By carefully modeling the deficit and considering the intended player experience, designers can strike a balance that keeps players engaged and motivated throughout their gameplay journey.

Model Deficits & Surpluses for Players over Time

Monitoring a Live Game

Once your game is live, you can leverage the aforementioned tracking events to analyze player behavior and monitor key performance indicators (KPIs) on a daily basis. This allows you to identify warning signs and take appropriate action. Here are some important areas to focus on:

Player Virtual Wallets: Track the average amount of each currency held by players. For example, analyze the average number of gems or items in player inventories. It is also valuable to examine the wallets of highly engaged or your most active players to understand their behavior and assess the effectiveness of your designed game experience.

Currency Rates: Monitor the exchange rates between different in-game currencies, such as "hard" and "soft" currencies. Comparing these rates to benchmarks from similar games helps identify if adjustments are necessary. Understanding player preferences and spending patterns is crucial for maintaining a balanced economy.

Comparing Currency Exchange Rates for Competitor Games

Player Spending Habits: Analyze players' spending patterns, including metrics like average revenue per paying user (ARPPU) and conversion rates. This data provides insights into the effectiveness of monetization strategies and overall economic performance.

Player Feedback and Sentiment: Pay close attention to player feedback, reviews, and community discussions. These sources can provide valuable insights into potential imbalances in the game economy. Addressing player concerns and maintaining a positive player sentiment is essential for the longevity of a game.

Warning Signs

Certain data warning signs can indicate an imbalanced game economy:

Disproportionate Resource Accumulation: Sometimes, certain features introduced in the game can unintentionally create an imbalance within the economy. As these features take effect, it becomes apparent that the resource accumulation becomes excessive, thereby reducing the motivation for in-app purchases. This highlights the importance of carefully monitoring and assessing the impact of new features on the game economy to ensure a balanced and engaging experience for players.

Low Conversion Rates: Below-average first-time conversion rates may indicate a lack of incentives for player purchases and engagement with monetization systems. It suggests that the game's economy may not be providing enough bottlenecks or challenges to drive purchases.

Similarly, if your game's repeat purchase rates are lower than industry benchmarks, it could suggest an imbalance in the game's shop and currency rates. Players may not feel the need to make additional purchases because one SKU is offering enough to eliminate any future bottlenecks. Unless this is intentional design, it points to an underlying imbalance in the economy.

Limited Player Engagement: When certain parts of a game's core loop show minimal engagement, it can be a clear sign of an imbalance in the economy. For instance, if your tracking data reveals that only a small percentage of your daily active users are participating in a particular event map, which was designed to be a significant resource sink, it could be a cause for excessive resource surplus in that game economy.

Identifying areas of low engagement is crucial for understanding potential shortcomings in the game economy and features.

Improving Game Economy Balance with Data-Driven Actions:

To address imbalances in the game economy, developers can take several data-driven actions:

Adjust Resource Sources and Sinks: Analyzing data on player progression and resource flows can help identify areas where sources and sinks are unbalanced. By introducing additional resource sinks or adjusting the availability of resources, developers can create a more balanced experience. Examples of such sinks include new limited time events which encourage players to spend more stamina or new bosses that require additional resources to defeat.

Fine-tune Monetization Mechanics: Analyzing player spending habits and lifetime value (LTV) data informs decisions on pricing, in-app purchase options, and adjustment of the perceived value of virtual goods. AB testing different monetization strategies can help identify the most effective approaches.

Iterative Design and Testing: Continuously monitoring and analyzing data allows developers to make iterative changes based on player behavior and feedback. Regularly testing new features, adjusting economy parameters, and measuring their impact on player engagement and monetization is key to achieving and maintaining balance.

Data-driven analysis is essential for ensuring a balanced free-to-play mobile game economy. By leveraging player behavior, spending patterns, and feedback, developers can identify imbalances and take targeted actions to optimize the game's economy. Remember, striking the right balance in the game economy is key to keeping players motivated, providing them with meaningful challenges, and fostering a sustainable revenue stream.

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