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11 in-game currencies you need to know about

From hard currency to social currency, learn which currencies are best for your game and how developers are using them

Types of currencies and their purpose

First of all: What’s a currency?
I’m defining ‘currency’ as an element that has no use value in and of itself, but rather its main purpose and value comes from its ability to be exchanged for something else which has an actual use value.
So in accordance to this, I’m not considering currencies the following things:

  • Progression metrics like Experience Points or Player Level, which similarly are oriented towards representing (or gating) player progression within the game, rather than serving as a means to be exchanged.

1. Hard currency (AKA cash)

A hard currency is a high value currency which is primarily obtained through IAP and is closely related to monetization. Often it allows the player access to exclusive premium content. Examples would be the Gems on Brawl Stars, or the Gold Bars in Candy Crush Saga.

Gems in Brawl Stars allow players to buy content directly or exchange them for coins. And while trophies aren’t purchasable, the player can buy boxes which accelerate the acquisition of more brawlers and upgrades, that ultimately allow the player to move forward on the trophy count.

2. Soft currency (AKA coins)

A soft currency is a low value, general-purpose currency which is primarily obtained for free, either by playing or just waiting. Examples of this would be Credits in Call of Duty Mobile (the main reward for completing matches), or coins in Idle Miner Tycoon (which are automatically generated over time).

Playrix ‘scapes series and Matchington Mansion feature a single currency, which is used on almost anything purchasable. So they only have soft currency. This requires a more strict control of incomes and outcomes to avoid devaluation, which would harm the need for players to monetize.

3. Medium currency

So what happens when you want a currency that players can grind with relatively ease without destroying your overall economy, but your soft currency is too soft to generate monetization around it? You create a mix, of course!

Our friends at Supercell are fond of adding limits to their soft currencies: In Clash of Clans the storage level determines the max amount of gold coins that can be owned. And both Clash Royale and Brawl Stars, have time-based caps to the amount of soft currency obtainable by playing.

Capped accumulation

This may range between a hard limit on how much currency can be stored (like Gold in Clash of Clans), or making harder the accumulation beyond a certain point (like the protection capacity of storages in Rise of Kingdoms).

In Rise of Kingdoms, the accumulation of resources beyond the protection capacities of the Storehouse will be increasingly difficult due to the constant pressure of enemies raiding. This makes upgrading it extremely appealing, totally worth paying real money.

Capped acquisition

On the other hand, the limitation can be on how much the player can obtain within a specific period of time, rather than on how much it can be stored. The hard limits on currency acquisition on Clash Royale and Brawl Stars are good examples.

Limited usage

Another point where gates can be added is on the capacity of the currency to be exchanged into the game element that has the actual value.

In Hay Day, lacking some of the upgrade materials means that the ones that are in surplus are useless. This is a strong incentive to pay for the missing resources in order to use the owned ones.
And in Township, population requirements act as a progression bottleneck, forcing the player to develop all the layers of the tycoon and progress, instead of focusing exclusively on accumulating coins by completing orders.

4. Energy currency

The defining characteristic of energy is that it’s exchanged exclusively for playing time. Usually it’s a price to be paid on every attempt or action (Monster Legends‘ Dungeons), or has to be paid on a retry (Candy Crush, Homescapes).

5. Feature currency

If your game features multiple activities which reward the same thing, players will naturally tend to orbit towards those that are more efficient for gaining rewards. For example, they’ll do Daily Dungeons instead of grinding the single player mode, because Dungeons grant more gold.

  • To isolate an entire system from the rest of the in-game economy, in order to make it easier to manage, balance and analyze.
  • Limit access to a specific feature, whose unmonetized over-usage might be detrimental for the economy.
In War Dragons, making your dragons mate costs Breeding Tokens (and since every time you only have a chance to get the breed you wanted, those lusty lizards will cost you millions).
Since this resource is the exclusive gate to a key game mechanic, devs can use it as a reward to direct the player to any activity they want (missions, events, specific features…).
Feature currencies are great to isolate the economy loop of entire features, therefore making them easier to analyze and maintain.
Idle RPGs like Idle Heroes feature many examples of features which introduce new, single-use currencies that force the player to go through specific activities to gather them.
For example, playing the Brave Trial is the only way to obtain Dragon Scales, the only currency accepted at the Trial Shop, which has some cool exclusive content.
In Clash Royale, unrestricted trade among clanmates could severely monetization (i.e. players optimizing their drop rates, whales or hackers gifting everyone else…).
The solution is trade tokens, which are asked as an additional cost on the trades. Since access to them is heavily gated (a reward on special events, clan wars and offers), they make sure that this feature never gets out of control.

6. Social currency (AKA virality currency)

Social currency is a feature currency which aims to foster a specific game behavior of incentivizing virality, social interaction and connectivity inside the game.
It’s important to note that virality can actually have two meanings:

  • Incentivizing interaction and connection between players that are already in the game, with the objective of boosting their engagement and retention (the neighboring or network effect).
    Usually, this is oriented towards players that are not related or friends outside of the game.

7. Guild currency

Guild currency is intrinsically related to a clans/alliances/guilds feature. What makes it stand out from other feature currencies is the fact that it usually has unique mechanics related to being generated by a group.

  • The currency is entirely individual, but all team members may contribute to the payment, and the benefits are shared (i.e. gold priced City Upgrades in Shop Titans).
  • The currency is entirely individual, but it’s generated by the shared collective effort (i.e. Guild Points in Summoners Wars).
Games may incorporate multiple guild-based currencies, to provide different incentives. Shop Titans feature Guild Coins which provide an individual and immediate reward for completing guild activities, but also Renown which grants long termed, collective benefits.

8. Event currency

One of the reasons why time-limited events are so positive to monetization and engagement is the fact that they can introduce entire layers of game economy which are completely independent from the main game.

In Family Guy: Quest for stuff‘s Star Trek event, its related activities generate a series of currencies (that will disappear after the event expires), which allow to craft several exclusive rewards.
This makes the event more self-contained and easier to manage, and introduces additional spending depth (buy the currency, currency generators, skips on production, etc).

9. Discard currency (AKA dust)

Discard currencies are obtained through the destruction of game items. These currencies pursue several objectives aimed to extend the usefulness of items beyond gameplay itself, or decrease the friction or randomized drops and meta rotations:

  • Grant a use to obsolete items that no longer have gameplay value. For example, repeated items of a type that has been already maxed out.
  • Decrease the friction generated by loot boxes, by allowing players to transform unwanted items into the desired ones, so the bad drops aren’t that frustrating.
  • Help complete a collection, by removing items already owned and allow to craft the missing ones. Completing collections without this would be extremely hard.
  • Helping players to update their inventory to a new set of items, therefore decreasing the friction of having a rotative meta or power creep.
    It also grants more confidence for the player to spend, knowing that even if the dominance of the purchased items is limited, they’ll generate some long term return too.

10. VIP currency (aka Prestige…)

A VIP currency is generated as a by-product of performing an IAP transaction, as a side-incentive for monetization and customer reward.
Note that most games tend to do this not through a currency but rather through a permanent score, which is a greater incentive.

Purchases in Steam (that famous game where you spend real money to buy tons of games which then you lack time to play) grant Steam Points, which can then be used to buy chat customizations and stickers.

11. Informal currency

There’s a saying that goes that money always finds a way, and that if people have a need which can’t be fulfilled by normal means, shadier ones will appear to do it. In many games, that need is the ability for players to trade stuff without resorting to bartering.

Final words

I hope that this list helps you to expand your views on in-game currencies or inspires you to improve the ones you’re already considering on your game.

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JBDev

I’m a game designer, economist and F2P specialist with +10 years of experience on the games industry. I write at https://jb-dev.net/