You’ve been playing a game for a while, and you see something that you really want. You go to buy it, and you have a look at the price. Odds are good that the price isn’t going to be in dollars or your country’s local currency. Instead, it’s going to cost you an in-game currency. There are two general types of in-game currency; Soft currency and hard currency.
Soft currency is the type of money you might expect to be in games. This is the money you win after RPG battles. You get a constant steady flow of soft currency as you play through the game.
Hard currency, on the other hand, is tough to get. In fact, in many games, you only start with a limited supply and can’t earn any more through play. The fastest way (or only) way to get hard currency is by spending real life money. These are things like Riot Points in League of Legends or Gold in Candy Crush Saga. The best items in the game are going to cost hard currency, and this is how the game makes money.
So why use hard currency? I’ll get the cynical answer out of the way first. Converting dollars (or your local currency) into hard currency obscures the value of the real currency. $5 American gets you 650 Riot Points. That’s 130 points per dollar. The Forecast Janna skin costs 1820 Riot Points. That’s $14, but it’s not a calculation people can intuitively perform. It works, though it’s cynical, and to me, it’s the least interesting part of hard currency.
When a game has a hard currency, it opens up a lot of interesting design spaces. If you have a hard currency, you can start the players with some. It’s awkward to tell a user “We’re giving you a 60-cent credit toward in-game purchases”, but it’s natural to say “We’re giving you 100 gold.” You can also have sales and discounts on hard currency, encouraging players to fill up their account instead of making purchases as they go. You can allow players to slowly earn hard currency through gameplay without worrying about them feeling insulted at the hard currency to real currency exchange rate.
I’ll go further in depth on these things you can do with hard currency (and possibly speculate on why Valve and Blizzard don’t use hard currency in their freemium games), but for now, I hope this serves as an introduction to the possible uses of hard currency.
What do you like or dislike about hard currency?
August 28, 2014 at 11:28 am
What I like about hard currency is what currency is usually good for– flexibility. It means that instead of being forced to always get a fixed reward for a task or a purchase (such as an item or a card), I can hold out for something else that I actually want or want more (like more play time or a different item or card). Also, the hard line between a soft and hard currency creates a sense of stake in the game and what you earned in it, which greatly contributes to personal investment in the game, and to some degree immersion.
What I do NOT like about hard currency is the lack of transparency in its execution. As you said, the primary purpose is obfustication anyway, but even a smokescreen can show whether any effort is put into it or not. As it is, values appear completely arbitrary and quasi-random at best to manipulative at worst (think Micrososft’s strategy of making it only possible to buy XBox Live points in certain increments, and those increments are just short of actually being able to buy anything useful in-game, thus making it necessary to buy ANOTHER increment, etc.). If companies were more up front about the thought that goes into cash equivalencies and sales and pricing, it would go a long way toward fostering goodwill with its player base, or at least make in not look so much like they were scamming everyone all the time.
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September 12, 2014 at 9:18 pm
Good point on the flexibility! Being able to save up gives players a lot of power over their progression.
Bringing up Xbox Live points is an interesting case. It’s a hard currency, but it’s in relatively large real dollar amounts, which leads to frustration. I’ve got a hypothesis that hard currencies are less effective when you’re regularly dealing with amounts of over $20 or so, but more effective if you’re just asking for a steady stream of very small sub-dollar transactions.