How to Make a Game Economy – Five Mistakes Game Devs should Avoid

We at SOOMLA aim to provide people who make mobile games the know-how to develop better virtual economies in their games. Our commitment to help not only includes making our own turn-key in-game purchase stores and off the shelf virtual economies as good as possible, we are continuously researching existing mobile games for new ways to monetize them with in-App purchases. By investigating the reasons why games succeed and why some fail, we hope to make a difference in the world of mobile game design.

When it comes to virtual economies and in-app purchases, we are always interested in finding examples of games that engage users to spend more time in their stores than others. Here we have assembled a list of key observations and lessons to learn about virtual economies that we’ve presented in past conferences along with some responses from game developers that we think are helpful.

First mistake – always make sure to include a virtual economy in your game

The use of coins in games is the first step to building a Virtual Economy. In fact, game coins are responsible for as much as 90% of all the revenue that mobile games take in, which is 85% of the revenue in the app stores in total. In 2013 this last number was over $10 billion. Selling in-game coins and currencies to players via a store for in-app purchases builds an opportunity to make some real money from users who play your mobile game. However, getting players to collect coins is the first step to creating a virtual economy. This is much more effective than creating a store that expects users to pay for access to game levels or upgrades as players become familiar with using the store and spend increasingly more time in your in-game store.

Second mistake to avoid – being too focused on selling in-App products

Most mobile game developers only think about what objects to sell in their games. While this is an important question in itself to think about, it isn’t as important as the question of how players can earn coins in your game’s virtual economy. Earning coins ought to be part of the fun in playing. Having players involved in coin systems that are both challenging and diverse increases their game engagement. The two most common reasons why a player purchases virtual goods are:

– because he already has coins to spend
– because he is looking for ways to build upon the coins he’s already collected and accumulate more

Both approaches are focused on getting players interested in earning more in-game coins, a key idea for you to pay attention to.

Third mistake – starting balances at 0

Often we make the mistake of thinking that all balances should start at zero, for in-game economies, this couldn’t be further than the truth. While we were in math class, we’ve been taught that all values start from zero and in programming class we are often told to start our variables at 0. For in-game virtual economies, the best practice is to start with a positive balance that gets players interested in collecting and accumulating coins right away. Sometimes games will reward players with a positive account balance or bonus right away. Other mobile games will start the process off with a tutorial showing how to accumulate coins and by making players spend their coins on something in the store. This approach accomplishes the main objective, that is, getting users to spend more than half their time playing in the in-app store. Therefore the first step is to show people where to find the in-app store and how to get them to keep returning to it as frequently as possible.

Fourth mistake – building virtual goods that never expire

Virtual goods that last for the duration of the game is another mistake that is common in many virtual in-game economies. Since very few things last forever in the real world, it is a mistake to make objects so durable. Default settings in programming will have a virtual object remain the same unless it is instructed otherwise. The idea is that if a player buys something that will last forever in the game, there will never be any reason for him to purchase it again. Because there is no opportunity to adjust goods that last forever, this limits the possibilities for your virtual economy – either it exists once and for all or it doesn’t – no items therefore can be something in-between. On the other hand, durable goods that eventually expire or are consumed through normal gameplay allows you to adjust the time and quantity of the goods they get from the store.

Fifth mistake – having only one currency

Building a virtual economy from a single currency into your mobile game might seem like a sensible solution to offer to players but several of the top revenue generating games use more than one currency in their virtual goods stores. Using only one type of coin limits your store’s flexibility. Instead try to use two or possibly three different currencies to monetize in-app purchases in your free to play game. This not only makes your mobile game more interesting to play, it also provides more tools as a developer to enhance the ways for players to spend more time in your store.

Bonus – Sixth mistake – designing a boring in-App virtual store

Developers who design static storefronts inadvertently risk making their games boring to play. Whenever a store always offers the same virtual items or makes them all available to everyone at the same time, players end up spending less time in the store and come back less often or worse, never again. The goal of any virtual economy is to get users to consistently return to your store and as frequently as possible.

In order for players to spend a lot of time in your store you need to invest time making your store as interesting as you can. This process begins by designing a good flow of new items that appear in your store as gameplay advances. Making virtual goods that evolve from other items can make your store that much more interesting. For example, you can offer an engine that will only fit one kind of car or a satchel that will only fit up to two swords with an upgrade for one that fits three or more.

We hope that you’ve found these suggestions useful. Please write us with your comments and let us know your ideas for building better virtual economies in games. You can reach us by email at

Feel free to share:



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here