Let’s talk about Game Design Economy

I’ve decided to write this post for probably the same reason why you came to read it. What is about Game Economy Designer or Monetisation Designer? It seems that the story of freemium, in-app purchases and other aspects came really to stay. And it makes totally sense.
As a designer, I was questioning myself about the skills for this type of job.
First, let’s try to analyse what do they really mean by Game Economy Design.
In this article, published almost 2 years ago, the focus of the economy in game design was strictly in virtual currency. As we know today, the game economy expanded to free-to-play games and IAP. It’s not about virtual currency anymore. It’s a combination of real-world money and virtual goods.
The amount of examples of mobile games that have IAP is huge. In order to progress in the game, the player might have to buy some virtual goods with real money. That’s how it works. However this could be more complicated.
How to make it work great in the game not influencing totally on the gameplay?
That’s the main challenge. In order to combine money and gameplay, the designers need to pay attention to a lot of details, including the gameplay journey and price.
How to know if people are really keen to pay a certain amount to proceed in the game? And if the player doesn’t pay, is he/she able to continue playing?
So in this article I will try to show some of the patterns of game economy design like waiting, asking for friends’ help and virtual money.
But the question is: how to make it better?
I think that for IAP, it should work as different journeys for the player. Let’s take as an example the Four Bartle’s types of players:

  • Killers: influence the game world or the play experience of other players
  • Achievers: want to achieve everything in the game, focused in challenges and levelling up
  • Explorers: discover the game world
  • Socializers: create social relationships with other players

And the Four Keys for Fun, from Lazzaro:

  • Hard Fun: personal achievement, strategy
  • Easy Fun: related to curiosity, exploration
  • Serious Fun: excitement, relaxation
  • People Fun: amusement, cooperation, collaboration

So, let’s try to combine this with the “Game Economy Patterns”:

Candy CrushWaiting…
Most of the things that some games do is that they make you wait. You wait. And wait. If you don’t buy more lives, you will need to wait. Nice. That’s good for games that are quick and simple. Fast feedback, fast achievement. So points and levels are important game design elements to invest. It matches serious fun and achievers.

A little help from your friends
If you don’t pay, you will need to ask your friends to give you something in return. It’s like showing to everyone that you need people’s help. Your experience becomes other people’s experiences, because you will depend on them. It could work for games that have leaderboards. It matches people fun and socializers.


You don’t have virtual money anymore
You can buy with real money! So if you need more goods and superpowers, you can buy them. Fantastic! It could be good for players that like to customise the game or to have more freedom to manipulate the elements of the game. It matches hard fun and easy fun. It could also be work for explorers and “killers”.


However, again the game could get boring after a time if there is no element new, or that could add more value. For example, maybe a new challenge in some games could influence achievers to play more. Or the addition of more social features could be good for people that love to compete with their friends. It’s a way to say that games are quite “organic”. For this reason, data is one important element to add in the combination in the Game Economy. It is important to know what the players are doing and measure it.
No wonder some of the skills necessary for the role in Game Economy Designer involved data analysis and deep knowledge in Economics.

For example, most of the job posts that I’ve found in my Linkedin asked the candidates to at least:
1- understand how a game works as a service
2- develop purchase drivers
3- data-driven recommendations on design
4- define metrics

For me it’s a kind of combination with Game User Experience with Economics. But the most important thing is to think about the USER. Players will pay for something that MATTERS for them and not what is imposed. It’s hard to play games that force the player to pay a certain amount to proceed. That shouldn’t happen. The idea of paying to play is not that new. Remember fliperamas? We had to buy coins to play. It’s a bit like that. But everything could get wrong. If the player is “forced” to pay something to proceed in a game and there is no other way, this is not good.

I’m not familiar with Economics theories, but they might have something to add! :) That’s a work in progress.

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photo credit: what kind of gift can I buy with $11.52? via photopin (license)

Colour blind mode: a way to include more players into the game

Playing a game is more than just connecting your devices with a new system. It’s being part of a context that makes sense, a magical world, full of new experiences, stories, characters and challenges.

The way colour blind people perceive this image

For a game designer, it shouldn’t be different. In the book Rules of Play, the authors Salen and Zimmerman argue that the creation of meaning (and, in that case, a meaningful play) should be the goal of a successful game. So, considering this, the role of the designer is to build significant systems, that will be the encountered by players and then, create experiences.

Now imagine the scenario. You’re a game designer and you have to create a game that is suitable for colour blind people. How would you proceed? And why?

First, it’s known that are lots of levels of colour blindness. People that have this problem can’t perceive the colours very well. As a designers, we could work in a palette of colours that are considered as “safe“. Or there is another process that is adding symbols to each colour, the Coloradd, that tries to translate the colours into forms. Designers can also transform their computer into a colour blind mode, using tools like ColorOracle, that create a simulation of the environment.
However, is that possible to create a colour blind mode to a game and not compromise the system?
Well, Supermagical is a game that tried to do this. Created by a japanese company called Gala Pocket, the story is about Nina (a cute witch) and her evil sisters, living in the world full of magic and colourful monsters. The mechanics of the game are a mixture of different worlds (levels) and matching colours. It seems fun, right? More than that.
Supermagical is a game full of surprises and the best one was the color blind mode. But how did they manage that? The game uses aspects of the default interface, adding icons for colour blind (as the gameplay is like “matching colours and elements”). With that, the gameplay basis is not affected.

default version

However the experience might be still different. For players that see colours without any problem, this is just colour matching. But, for players that are colour blind, the basics is matching icons. The initiative is good, because it includes more people into the gameplay, transforming them into participants of this magical world. The aspect of “inclusion” is part of the meaningful experience. Why? Because the game can understand people’s skills and limits and can also create an environment that matches the player’s context.


version for colour blind

This is why a meaningful gameplay should take as principle not only rules, environment, culture, structure, mechanics and design elements. It should concentrate also in the skills of the player. This is what we call as “flow”. Flow is a concept very used in games, as an aspect of success or well designed gameplay experience, when you “lose time” or “forget to eat, because it’s so immersed into the game”. What we know too is that flow it’s the relationship between challenges and skills of the player, where everything should be balanced.

So, is Supermagical a good case of games for colour blind? Let’s say that yes, it is. At some point it includes more people to the game but some aspects are still not the same (e.g. inclusion of symbols). And maybe it won’t be. Who knows? Perhaps it should be different anyway. What we can see is that this is a good case study of games that encompasses more people and this concept should be adopted by games designers in the whole world. Just because playing together is more fun!

Further reading
Why games need color blind modes – see SimCity with simulated color blindness
Flow in games
Why all designers need to understand color blindness
Tips for Designing for Colorblind Users

Storyboarding: a tool for game user experience research

User experience research is a field in design that includes research methods, iterations, insights and maps of experiences. A lot has been done regarding the evaluation of interactive environments, including the analysis of the gameplay experience.

There are a lot of tools that can be used to collect relevant data from users, like physiological methods (Biometrics) and physiological processes. In the case of gameplay experiences, this is not different. The use of integrated methods is each time more common. The challenge is how to be clear and logical.
Studies show that designers don’t want to get the solution from an user research report, they want to know what is the main problem first. In other words, that sounds obvious but, the story that the data tells is more important then finding an answer at first sight. The objective of a report is to show where is the problem.

Biometric Storyboards: visualising meaningful gameplay events from Kiel Gilleade on Vimeo.

There a few ways to tell stories, like data visualisation, texts and storyboards.

Tools like Tableau could help designers to understand the process. However, considering the features of a game, the aspect of the data collected is more linear, as it is related to a level or a journey, combined to the story from the game.
This is why storyboarding could help to tell the story from the player experience. The format and logical process of the data drives us to an insightful evaluation.

A lot of researches have been done regarding the methods of user experience research in games. Biometrics storyboards is a method of user experience research that helps the designer to map the gameplay experience through storyboarding, that combines the designer’s intentions, UX evaluations and physiological player reactions. The combination of iterations, like traditional user test (surveys, interviews), physiological reports and a creation of a game as a control model based on designer’s expertise. The data is arranged according to the time and game events (combats, mechanics, etc).
So, if we consider the analysis of a game level, this is a very interesting approach to help designers to optimize their work, according to the problems highlighted in the reports.

Other formats of collecting data through games show us that the game itself has a lot to bring in terms of information about engagement and feedback. ResearchThroughGaming is a project that does market research using game mechanics, narratives, sound effects and graphics to collect data in an immersive survey. A very interesting approach using games to collect relevant data.

And what the data can teach us about storytelling?
Everything. If we could test the games with people of different backgrounds, including cultures and genres, it could be possible to create a framework of a general gameplay experience. Also it could be possible to include the context and medium of the gameplay design. In which situation is the player? At home? In bed? Playing during the morning? Is he/she playing a game in a mobile phone or console games? Those could be questions to be considered.

At some point, the context seems to be hidden. It could be interesting to establish a way to understand the aspect of gameplay during the day of the player. However, this doesn’t underestimate the value of this research. The evaluation of a positive experience is extremely clear by the Biometrics Storyboarding.

Presentation is everything
It is possible to collect data from different methods, as we know. However the way we present that information is still one part that needs attention. The research is only “over” when it is possible to highlight a problem or an insight. The storyboarding fits the gameplay research because games are systems that have elements like narrative and story. So the format of a storyboarding is totally applicable.

Using this approach it could be possible to measure the aspects of immersion in a game and positive/negative reactions to each event. When game designers create a game, the plan and objective is very clear, however it is not known if the response form the player will be the one as predicted. Also, the use of this approach in game design could bring contributions in designing “behaviour” in the gameplay. It is evident that a lot of publications and tests will still bring us more findings not only in Games User Research, but in all User Experience Research field. So, let the games begin! :)

Read more
Biometric storyboards: visualising game user research data
University of Sussex
Video game storytelling: The real problems and the real solutions
Storyboarding for Games User Research

Why is everyone running?

Everyone is running. Competitions are happening all the weekends and people that used to be sedentary are now moving their body and burning calories. The competitions became a party where people meet each other and share their new accomplishments. Is this the consequence of the healthy apps rise? Why is that happening now?

Mobile and health
Have you ever had the opportunity to see your friend’s apps? Well, I bet that if they are trainning for running, they must have a run app. I have one friend that said that the trainer on the gym said to her to download an app and she sent the right trainning for beginners. So why are those apps becoming famous? Well, they help people to get prepared for running anytime you want – without a personal trainer – and some of them are game-like. A good example of games and running is the “Zombies, Run!“, That’s a fun and healthy app, that creates a scenario of zombie invasion, and then you need to escape from it.

Being social
The apps are also connected to socialmedia, so people can see when you achieved a goal. One example is Runkeeper, that helps you to track your workout and also share your results. Due to it, your friends can also create a motivation for running, thinking that well, if someone can do it, why I cannot?
I personally hear this a lot, like “how can you manage to run at 6am?”. Yep, it’s possible become a “morning person”.

In this context, I think motivation comes from:
– Part of the community: “Everyone is running, so why am I not doing the same?”
– Apps that simulate games: “The zombies are going to attack me, I must get prepared”
– Physical sensations: “Yay, serotonin!”
– Health: “I want to be healthy. This is good to me”
– Competitions in unusual places: “I want to run through the Chinese wall” – Experiences :)
– Medals: “One more medal to my bedroom wall” – Taking a picture and posting of Facebook

People are now training for the competitions that seems more like a big event. “When I’m running I feel free” – I’ve heard this from one friend. People are looking for experiences, more then being healthy. They want to run the Chinese Walls, mountains, old cities. The objective is not being a professional runner, like Bolt.

The color run, for example, is one big event that creates an experience. You run 5k, and in each km people will throw colored powder on you. By the way, I’ve found out that it’s part of indian culture. During the spring time they do exactly the same thing… Curious? On 16th december we will have this running on Rio de Janeiro and, well, I’ll be there.

The prize now is not only a medal or just being healthy. What you win is the experience. So, what are you waiting for? :)
The author will post about this experience in the next week. I hope to survive!

Read more
Can apps and GPS watches really make you run faster?
10 Essential iPhone Apps for Runners
The Great Wall Marathon
Midnight Sun Marathon

photo credit: 100B6323.JPG via photopin (license)

Creating meaningful interactions through games [#isa2012]

Yesterday, I posted about Prototyping experiences. Last week we had a conference about interaction design(#ISA2012) in São Paulo and I decided to make separated posts about the talks.

During the third talk of the day, Olli Leno, explained why the future of games is emotional and how we can relate experiences and cognition.


Meaningful playability

We create meaning from the quest for more emotional computer games, transforming games into playable artifacts. Olli Leno says that emotions define the way we relate to experiences, that’s why it’s important to design meaningful and emotional playability.
The future of games is emotional, not technological. Games are in pre-Citizen-Kane Era. They need to be reinvented in terms of content and address some issues from the real world. You need to feel the game as you are feeling the real world.

Playing is believing
Play is a primal mental action and emotions are judgments and interpretations of the world. The more we care, stronger is the emotion. This is known as a relative intensity.
The origins of the emotions in play is the interpretation of the game. The system’s content is the object of emotion.

Engagement and context

Caring about is a necessary condition for emotional judgment. So, why do players care? They do it because of threats of violence, rules, goals, challenges… Therefore if the challenge is right, the game is fun.
Games can also transform the context and its artifacts. Playable tools and elements can be meaningful if we create playable forms from this context. For example: a pinball machine it’s a game that became material.

Game-rules x rules
The players can get a positive description of the game behavior or rules that they need to incorporate. We are responsible for the freedom we enjoy and choose.

The possibility of failure makes playability
The GAME OVER meaning is that, you can fail in your quest. What makes Tetris playable? That you can lose. Failure is about significance. It provides a baseline for caring about in-game objects.
The Sims, for example, is a sandbox and it has no pre-defined goals but lots of opportunities to fail (like setting fire into the kitchen and letting your Sims to die)

But how to create caring?
Players need to survive in the game world. This creates a fear of failure that moves the game forward and gives an emotional commitment to the scenario.
The context became material and meaningful, so the players don’t want to lose the game, because it’s important to them to maintain this relationship.

Interaction through meaning
So when we create emotions through games, it’s possible to understand and offer more experiences for the players through meaningful choices. In order to create a complete interaction, we need to consider the logic of caring, emotional cognition and feedback.

On simulation, aesthetics and play: Artifactual Playground
Bringing emotions to video games
What is Love?
Social psychology
Emotions about the Deniable/Undeniable: Sketch for a Classification of Game Content as Experienced

photo credit: Art of Video Games Exhibit 15104 via photopin (license)