Game Economy Balancing – 3 Ways to Prevent "Pay to Win"

Free to play games often face a paradox. On the one hand, players are willing to buy their way out of challenges, but on the other hand they will only want to keep playing if they continue to find your game challenging. In other words, they want it both ways. They would gladly pay you to help them overcome challenges in your game, but players will only keep playing if there are more challenges ahead that they can’t overcome too easily. Here are some strategies to solve the “Pay to Win” paradox.
Balancing cash purchases in a mobile game economy and preventing a pay to win situation.


If you’re like me, you’d like to shake the hand of every player who pays you money, offering them the world if you could. However, since Purchase Ratios are usually only between 1% and 2% of your total downloads, you can’t really get that much revenue if every paying user pays only once. Wanting to give players a good user experience is a very important,but trying to give them a big “bang for their buck” will hurt you in the long run and will work against you in the end.


Don’t give away all keys to the castle at once. When you give players the keys to unlock everything in your game, the challenge of it suddenly stops, everything becomes instantly less interesting. What’s crucial to understand is that in order to solve this paradox, you should only sell gamers virtual items that provide immediate reward in the short term but that will also lead them to encounter future difficulties to overcome in the long haul. This makes the user think with two hats simultaneously. Give players the ability to overcome the immediate challenge within character, so that once he is past the difficult level, he deflates in stature and goes back to the character he was – leaving the challenge still intact.

A Few Approaches to Solve the “Pay to Win” Paradox

The Razor Blade Strategy

This tactic cuts out benefits simultaneous to giving them. Whenever you sell a great Power-up for coins or real money, make sure that the paid upgrade also uses up another energy resource, one that players only have limited access to. To explain this in greater detail, let’s look at a couple examples. If in a driving game you sell players a new car, make sure that it uses up more of another resource like fuel. Or if you sell players a weapon, make sure that it consumes energy or time whenever it is used. Barracks sells a Level 5 upgrade for training super troops, but it also costs a lot of gold coins to build.


It’s easy to design a narrative around why these upgrades use up extra energy points and there are lots of articles in the Soomla Blog with advice for building energy consumables that make sense in the gameworld you’ve designed. Plan for what happens after players buy your virtual goods, by making sure that they are faced with some tough decisions about when and where to use their new abilities. This way you’ve kept the game interesting and rewarding for players who buy, while still keeping it challenging for them to keep playing.

Make the Next Level of Difficulty +n Rather Than Just +1

Here is the math formula on this for all the geeks out there: O(n^2) / O(n) for a good difficulty curve. For the rest of you non-math people, all this means is that future levels have to become exponentially more difficult than the previous ones when you have purchases on offer in your store. You could still build in easier levels and mix them in with the hard ones, but overall the hard levels need to get increasingly more difficult.


Take for example Clash of Clans, where building a City Hall in Level 5 costs twice as much as a City Hall in Level 4 (as a post to a linear increment of 1000 coins between levels). This presents a situation where the paying user might have to skip a couple levels but sooner or later things will catch up with him.

Randomize Everywhere

This is a good practice to get into regardless of ‘pay to win’ but it really helps here as well. Most recently, showed how effective this can be with Candy Crush Saga. Games built with a certain component of luck are proven to engage players longer compared with ones that have more determined results. Team sports in real life all have random elements like weather, players health, etc.imagine how sports games would be without luck factors. They would be totally boring to play if that randomization element were missing and the superior team would always win. Without randomness built-in, why would teams bother even showing up to compete?
Games just work better when each team has a chance at winning. Luck gives your game a feeling of real competition. This is even more important for paying players, to keep games challenging. As they say, ‘You may be able to buy better odds at winning, but you’ll never buy total victory’. This is more in tune with real-life anyway, so use randomization as a strategy to keep your game challenging. If it normally takes 5 shots to destroy a tank, instead of selling a weapon that blows tanks up in a single shot, sell players a weapon that increases the chances of making that critical hit on the tank by 20%, or else it will still take five shots to blow it up.


Some of these strategies are used exclusively by some games, but the most successful games have balanced game economies that use a mixture of all three approaches. In order to prevent players from “Paying to Win”, game developers might have togive characters less value in in order to give paying players more enjoyment.


We at SOOMLA are interested in hearing from you about your experiences with balancing game economies, please hit me up with an email at or via twitter @y_nizan


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