In-game currency has only recently become such a controversial topic. However, many people don’t know this specific game mechanic has existed for a while. Blizzard’s World of Warcraft made in-game currency and virtual economies mainstream in 2006.
For those unsure, in-game currency is a virtual currency that players can acquire in certain games. Players can trade currency for goodies, like unlocking new content, acquiring skins, or buying vital gear.
Now, virtual currency is crucial to most games for several reasons. First, it serves to motivate and reward players for progressing. This allows them to unlock new levels, purchase items, and more.
Secondly, it serves as a monetization strategy for games. Free-to-play games like Overwatch 2, Genshin Impact, and Fortnite primarily generate revenue through in-app purchases. This allows game designers to treat game currency as a soft currency that can fluctuate with real-world hard currency and game design.
In-Game Currency Types
Now that you know the basics of what in-game currency is, let’s highlight some of the most popular game currencies. The types we’re going through today can be categorized as part of a closed system, unidirectional exchange, or finally, bidirectional exchange.
Up first are game currencies that are part of a closed system. This means that these currencies do not have any connection to real money or the natural world whatsoever. These currencies can usually be earned only by performing certain in-game activities. Maybe you completed a mission and earned this type of currency, or perhaps you took part in some event to acquire it.
Naturally, because these currencies are strictly part of the game economy, you can only purchase in-game items with them. Moreover, many games lock their premium goods and services behind premium paywalls that can not be bypassed using closed-system game currencies.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that some games allow players to exchange this type of currency with each other. In this scenario, it might become unavoidable for real-world money to be involved, even if the game developers strictly prohibit it.
Games With Closed System Currency
|World of Warcraft
Pros and Cons
- Closed system currencies can promote a more level playing field by ensuring players can’t gain a significant advantage by buying more currency.
- Players must actively engage with the game and its mechanics to earn currency. This promotes skill-based progression instead of the dreaded pay-to-win.
- Players are encouraged to continue playing to earn currency, enhancing player engagement. This can potentially help in fostering a community for the game.
- Earning currency solely through gameplay can be time-consuming. This can potentially lead to grind-heavy experiences.
- Developers might face monetization limitations, potentially affecting revenue generation.
- If earning currency is too challenging or time-consuming, players might become frustrated.
Up next are currencies that are part of a unidirectional flow. These currencies can be purchased using real-world money. However, they cannot be sold to other players or converted back to the exchange currency you used initially.
Game currencies that are part of a unidirectional flow are more commonly called premium currencies. These currencies are usually not obtainable through in-game activities; if they are, they’re tough to come across.
They’re also used to purchase premium in-game items. These items range from premium characters to skins, weapons, and emotes. Unfortunately, giving premium currency holders an unfair advantage is straightforward, which results in the game being perceived as pay-to-win by most of the free-to-play player base.
Games With Unidirectional Flowing Currency
|League of Legends
|Candy Crush Saga
Pros and Cons
- Developers can generate revenue by selling in-game currency directly to players, providing a steady income stream.
- Players who purchase premium currency can access exclusive content that enhances their gameplay experience.
- Premium currency can help players who don’t have enough time to grind catch up with their peers.
- Even if the currency only affects cosmetics, players might perceive it as pay-to-win if it provides advantages to players who pay real money.
- Unidirectional currency’s presence can lead to frustration or a sense of unfairness.
- Players who can’t or choose not to spend real money might feel left out or pressured to pay to keep up.
The final type of currencies we want to highlight are part of a bidirectional flow. This means that not only can they be bought using real money, but they can also be sold for real money. It’s a type of currency that flows toward both sides.
It’s important to note that the legality of selling or buying this type of currency can vary depending on the game. However, many games willingly offer players a virtual marketplace players can utilize to create a virtual economy.
This is mainly seen as a win-win, seeing as how the players can have a more immersive experience and the game benefits from the extra exposure and player interaction.
Games With Bidirectional Flowing Currency
|Path of Exile
|Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO)
|Project Entropia Dollar
Pros and Cons
- Bidirectional currencies give players some flexibility in interacting with the game economy.
- For game developers, bidirectional currencies provide a significant revenue stream.
- These currencies can create dynamic virtual economies with supply and demand driven by player behavior. This enhances the depth and realism of the game world.
- One of the most significant drawbacks is the potential for a pay-to-win environment, as players with more disposable income might get an unfair advantage.
- Too much buying and selling of in-game currency with real money can lead to inflation within the virtual economy.
- The presence of real money in the game’s ecosystem can attract hackers and scammers. These people try to exploit the system for financial gain.
If you want to know more about how to apply these and other strategies, read our guide on Mastering In-Game Purchases.
In-Game Economy Challenges and Considerations
Regardless of what type of game or currency we’re talking about, developers have to face many challenges. They also have to consider many things before introducing any sort of currency in their game.
Balancing Currency Earning and Spending
Perhaps the biggest challenge developers face when developing a new currency is the threat of overpowering the in-game economy. While players should have a reliable and known way of acquiring any currency, getting too much or too little will result in a negative outcome.
If the rate at which players earn this currency surpasses the cost of items and upgrades, then that’ll defeat the purpose of playing the game. This overabundance of resources will defeat any challenge or personal satisfaction the player might have had. While overpowered economies can potentially help developers reach their monetization goals for the short term, they’ll sacrifice long-term player satisfaction in the process.
Similarly, players might get increasingly frustrated if earning or acquiring a specific currency is too tricky or time-consuming. Nothing is worse than working hard for something that might not be worth it.
Ethical Concerns and Player Trust
The rise in the popularity of gacha mechanics and loot boxes has sparked controversy due to their potential to exploit players. Younger players are especially prone to becoming addicted to this constant promise of MAYBE acquiring something good, which can raise several ethical concerns. After all, what’s the difference between loot boxes and gambling?
To tackle these concerns, developers should become more active in ensuring their players don’t get addicted. These measures include implementing mechanisms to limit potential harm and being more transparent in matters relating to currency systems.
Naturally, this means letting players know the value, purpose, and acquisition methods of in-game currency. This ensures that players are aware of their financial commitments. This also includes making the drop rates or success chances of loot boxes, gacha systems, or other probability-related mechanics public knowledge.
Future Trends and Innovations
Before signing off, we also want to go through some future trends and innovations you can expect to see regarding game currencies.
Integration of Blockchain and Cryptocurrency
We’re sure no one is surprised to see this specific point. The integration of blockchain and cryptocurrency has become a significant trend recently, and we expect it to be shown in-game currency.
Blockchain integration can potentially do two things for players. The first is that it can decentralize virtual item marketplaces and ownership rights. This will make the buying, selling, and trading game currencies much safer, as blockchain can quickly establish verifiable ownership rights for these items.
Additionally, integrating blockchain and cryptocurrency can potentially introduce cross-game currency portability. While traditional in-game currency is limited to only one game, the blockchain can create an entire game’s economy. In it, players can easily use currency across multiple titles from different developers.
Personalized Currency Offers
The one thing players value the most is individuality. Well, what if we told you that, in the future, how you use game currencies might be different from everyone else? We are, of course, talking about personalized currency offers.
So, what do we mean by personalized currency offers? We’re referring to having tailored monetization to individual players. By offering suggestions that align with each player’s preferences, developers can potentially mitigate many risks relating to soft currencies. This can also have the side effect of ensuring a steady stream of revenue.
Similarly, what if games utilized AI to give players recommendations on how they can best use their hard currency to make in-app purchases from an in-game store? By basing those recommendations on the individual’s gameplay style, goals, or player progression, it’s possible to create a more personalized and immersive experience.
But these aren’t the only trends in the area of game monetization. For a closer look, we recommend our Indie Developer Monetization Guide.
All in all, game currencies are crucial to keep game economies running. They serve as a way to give players something to strive for, all the while making the game more immersive.
However, before we go, we want to message all the developers. Remember, the players’ experience matters most at the end of the day. Therefore, we urge all developers to ensure their currencies are well-balanced to make for a fair and fun experience for everyone.
Looking for help to balance game economics, add in-app purchases, or make fantastic storefronts? We can help!