Last week I decided to go over some online talks about systems and economy in free to play games. I started with one from Supercell’s Camilla Avellar, which I have seen in the past, but I didn’t make notes for myself from this talk. As I was exploring related videos, I decided to make an article, where I will summarize key thoughts for me from my three favorite Supercell talks. If you haven’t seen them, I recommend watching them too.

And important note: don’t forget about context. It’s a key. Every game is different, have different problems, different needs and different people working on it. There is no one universal solution or trick. For me it is often more important to see a process, how other people think about problems, how they tried to fix them and what was the result. It’s not only inspirational, but it helps you to create your own thinking framework, which is more universal and valuable than just individual recommendations.

Inflation in games – Camilla Avellar

  • Different games and game genres have different economies and different kinds of inflation. The most common problem is in simulation/resource management games and especially in older games with long live-ops. Typical example is, when players progress in a game and the amount of sources growth, but sinks stay the same. This will create an excess of resources and their value is lower. If you create the opposite situation (limited amount of resources and big sink), you create a sense of value.
  • Inflation is not necessarily good or bad. It’s always about context, what you actually need to reach in your game. For example you can use inflation as a tool which helps move players from one feature to another. But if you aren’t careful, inflation can easily devalue your content, which is a real problem. To fight against inflation there is more option than releasing new content: new usables, recurring sinks, speed-ups. Basically sinks which players can use more than once and their effect is not permanent. A mix between content and recurring sink is upgradable content.
  • Try to avoid situations when inflation becomes everyone’s problem. Example from Hay Day. Prices of sold materials between players are capped. So there will not occur a situation, where materials will be sold for prices, which are not affordable for new or casual players. Inflation in this case is individual (some players have a lot of resources), but it does not affect the whole market and playerbase. This was done right in Hay Day. But another example showed us a different implementation. Hay Day introduced mechanics for (visual) farm customization, targeted on players who deal with inflation. Prices were setted high, too high for casual players. Now casual players are a part of a problem too, because they can’t afford it.
  • If you are creating a new system/economy, don’t underestimate a player’s passion. Different players have different playstyles and a lot of them will optimize their strategy and will grind resources. Always consider this options. If you are introducing new currency, think about cap system. Cap helps you to have economy more under control and incentivize players to spend materials.
  • And the special recommendation from Camilla I especially liked: “Don’t make decisions in a panic state – fixing one problem can easily create 10 new ones.” I will add a related issue. Looking for a short-term solution can easily create problems in a long-term. Identifying and fixing this later can be really hard.

Designing Two Tasty Cores Three Times Over: The Case of Brawl Stars – Antti Summala

  • Don’t be afraid to innovate when it works. If not, don’t be afraid to fall back on proven design solutions. At the beginning, Brawl Stars was using portrait screen mode (after Clash Royale success) without virtual joystick. But after several iterations they realized that players don’t interact with the game as designers were intended. User tests showed them that proven design (landscape mode + 2 virtual joysticks) was most accessible for players to enjoy the game to the fullest.
  • Players should be happy about progress and rewards. Sometimes it can mean simplifying the upgrade system. At the beginning, players were confused about many items, which were part of it. Rewards in loot boxes had sometimes almost zero value. They removed a lot of pins, badges, tokens plus they introduced trophy progression. Here players can directly see their progress as they move ahead. Direct rewards are also a part of the trophy progression.
  • Beta version of the game was available only in one country, because there were fewer problems with matchmaking (not so many time-zones). One of the most significant problems was that there wasn’t an Android build. But developers didn’t consider this as an issue for a long time.
  • Work with the community during beta was very important. Players were complaining after every change in the game, although they were always refunded. The community on Reddit was mostly angry, what wasn’t a good sign for a potential new player, who wanted to try the game. At one point, developers decided to focus on implementing fun stuff instead of iterating the upgrade system. They introduce trophy progression, new game modes, new characters, simplified way how to play with friends and finally – Android build. It turned out to be what the people really wanted – to have fun.
  • Community can sometimes point to things, which you already know, but you consider it as non-important (for example because KPI looks good). But it doesn’t mean that players are wrong. One of Antti’s advice is “Implement the fun, don’t take it for granted.”As an example with social features, trophy progression and Android build showed, this decision can determine an overall game experience. Don’t underestimate it.

Clash of Clans: Bigger, Better, Battle Pass – Eino Joas

  • Understanding your game is a key. Every game is different, has different problems and looking for one universal solution isn’t the right approach. The first step should be figuring fundamentals. Collect feedback and look for an answer to question “why people stick with a game”. After this you should be able to identify key problems and try to solve them. In Clash of Clans it was an exponential economy, end game players had nothing to do, social barriers to upgrading and poor conversion. Every issue was challenge, but they had a plan. And at the end of the plan was successful Golden Pass. It’s important to look at a game from a long term perspective.
  • Economy system was tweaked (increased resource income, cuted upgrade times and costs) plus developers decided to introduce a new kind of rewards – magic items with guaranteed effect. It could be for example item which allow to skip upgrade waiting time (don’t matter if it is 5 minutes or 72 hours). This helped to decrease the negative effect of exponential economy.
  • “Stop looking for a silver bullet, let’s give players what they want”. This is characterization, how Supercell approached the end game problem. The last level of townhall in Clash of Clans was capped on 11 for a long time. Instead of designing a new game loop or system, they decided to give players what they want – new content which can be used to fight against others. The town hall level 12 had to be really cool, so they worked hard to make people in the late game excited about the upgrade.
  • During the years, players started to figure out how the matchmaking algorithm in Clash of Clans works. This led to a situation, when the best strategy was to maximize everything in a village and stay on current level – you will get only weaker opponents. This wasn’t desired but reworking this matchmaking system was problematic (there was still a big part of players who didn’t abuse this issue and liked the system). So they decided to create a new competitive mode – Clan War Leagues. In this league you could fight to become the best Clash of Clans clan in the world (in original matchmaking it wasn’t possible)
  • After fixing these issues, they were ready to start dealing with poor conversion. Gold Pass (battle pass) looks like a good idea, so the first step was to find answers to questions “what”, “for who” and “how”. The idea was to create an appealing no-brainer – low price point with great value. Gold Pass should be also about providing additional experience from playing, not just another sell point. At the end, everything worked together and the impact on conversion and total revenues was significant.