5 tips for boosting your virtual economy

There are no simple answers when it comes to the best practices for monetizing your virtual goods, but these five tips from mobile producer Ben Sipe are a good place to start.
The following was originally posted by mobile game producer Ben Sipe at the W3i Blog. It is reproduced here with permission. Over the past year I have been helping freemium game developers increase retention & monetization, so I decided to compile a list of tips to help you boost revenues from your mobile games. Here are 5 tips to help you optimize your virtual economy.

1. Don't overwhelm the player

Numerous studies about "overwhelming consumers" indicate that doing so results in lost sales. The most famous study is probably the classic jam in a grocery store study. In the Cliff's Notes version, when 24 types of jam were displayed for a taste test at a supermarket, 60 percent of customers stopped to taste the jam and 3 percent of them purchased. When 6 jams were displayed, 40 percent of customers stopped and 30 percent of them purchased. So how should mobile game developers apply this concept to display content? Initially you should display a small amount of virtual items (around 6) and give hints that more content can be "unlocked" after players achieve new levels. Why 6? Take notes from online retailers, specifically Amazon, and how they display search results. There's a reason they only show 4-7 search results on a screen (depending on resolution) without requiring you to scroll. Applying this concept to your game will prevent players from becoming overwhelmed and they will have a better understanding of the items available. Take this screenshot from Happy Street for example:
A silhouette works as a great hint for players.

2. Make the store easy to understand, navigate and use

This point seems obvious but if your game has hundreds or thousands of items, it can get complex and confusing very quickly. A developer that does a great job with their menus and UX is Gameloft. Take their latest, Heroes of Order & Chaos, for example. One notable design element is their use of scrolling menus to reduce the clutter.
Now take a look at another game in a similar genre. At first I didn't even know where to click, and honestly, I still have no idea what the percentages in the middle of the screen are for.
When you select "Equip" they give a single sliding menu with two items per equipment slot. Needless to say, the UX could be improved greatly and they could offer more items per slot – which is a great segue into my next point.

3. Have massive amounts of virtual items

Stereotypically speaking, your game should have hundreds or thousands of virtual items in order to create a freemium success. There are outliers to this rule like Temple Run, but typically having more sinks in your game will increase revenue -- so long as you follow the points mentioned earlier. It's important to offer items in all price ranges for different types of players. One group of players might be interested in vanity or aesthetically altering items, another group may want a competitive advantage, and another might want to speed up their rate of progress. It's important to offer plenty of goods so players don't run out of ways to spend their currency.

4. Lead the player to your virtual store

Have you ever been to Disneyland? If so, you might have noticed that after riding a major attraction you somehow ended up inside of a gift shop. This wasn't an accident, exiting guests into stores after rides greatly increases revenues for amusement parks. If you have a game with rounds, battles, or levels, don't be afraid to lead players to your virtual store so they can spend some of their hard earned virtual currency. Keep in mind, you don't want to push players into making a purchase so make it easy for them to get out of the store and back into the action. There's a fine line between upselling and pestering.

5. Make the first purchase option something with incredible value

This is a relatively new concept and one that's been blogged about already, but we'll mention it one more time for good measure. Getting someone to convert and pay in freemium is possibly the most challenging task you will face in the freemium monetization process. Once someone makes a purchase, the odds of them becoming a repeat customer increase significantly. A popular example is the counterfeit machine in Jetpack Joyride that permanently doubles coins earned. If you'd like to chat about these points, or anything else related to tech or gaming, you can find me at [email protected].

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