The Best Currency Animations of All-Time

Past core loop, three Cs, and KPI breakdowns lie currency animation breakdowns. It’s an animation that may well play hundreds of thousands of times during a player’s lifecycle; benefits compound. And yes, I really think the animation is just satisfying.

Economy design maintains a UX component. It’s vital for the designer to draw the cause <> effect loop between action and reward for the player. Currency animations, played when players claim or complete a task for a reward, stitch the acts into an experience. Wallet amounts don’t magically increase; the currency flows from the claim button to the wallet’s UI location.

The animations amount to a classically conditioned injection of dopamine, not so dissimilar to the original story of classical conditioning-centering on audio-visual reward cues. In that story, Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov presented a stimulus (not a bell!) before feeding a group of dogs. He would collect and measure saliva volume samples after the trigger but before giving the food. Eventually,

[...] Pavlov noted that the dogs would often begin salivating in the absence of food and smell. He quickly realized that this salivary response was not due to an automatic, physiological process.

Based on his observations, Pavlov suggested that the salivation was a learned response. Pavlov's dog subjects were responding to the sight of the research assistants' white lab coats, which the animals had come to associate with the presentation of food. Unlike the salivary response to the presentation of food, which is an unconditioned reflex, salivating to the expectation of food is a conditioned reflex. [1]

Acquisition of a currency is a step removed from acquiring the items the currency can purchase—the time between acquisition and disposal of currency forms anticipation.

Principles of Great Currency Animation

Great currency animations:

  1. Show the currency directly entering the wallet UI location
  2. Ensure the currency reward is hard to ignore
  3. Make the player feel rich while not cheapening the currency signal (i.e., animate more currency than rewarded)
  4. Match animations to powerful audio cues

Mobile Legends Adventure, above, doesn’t showcase a wallet drop-down and violates 3. (notice the number of purple diamonds, it’s less than 200—the actual reward). The audio leaves much to be desired as it only sounds like a single gem has been earned (4. fails).

Game Dev Tychon

The sheer volume of icons is impressive, but the art communicates low-value “points” instead of currency. The currency flow from the computers to the UI location demonstrates the type of assets each programmer accrues. Unfortunately, the sound is lightweight, and thus the reward feels light.

Spyro

The gems convert to bouncing numbers on collection, providing a visual firework of sorts. The gem sounds are traditional, but the sound scoring effect is dated. Spyro may have very well helped pioneer the “zone of attraction” effect whereby a player “sucks in” currency around them.

Clash Royale

The audio design is top-notch, and so is the UX flow. Players always hit the main menu after receiving gold, so the connection between chest reward and gold balance increase is tight. The sounds indicated a TON of coins. Suddenly I’m Scrouge diving into a pile of copper coins. The only downside is seeing the gold form a straight line in the animation, thereby minimizing the total visual impact.

Runner-Up: Beatstar

Another slo-mo to admire near perfection

Beatstar’s UI oozes sex. It’s as if someone who exclusively works from home in red velvet bathrobes developed it. The UI art merges with animation; coins flip and spin, reflecting light when they enter a player’s balance. The artist again uses the motif of spinning objects with track stars, mimicking the opening of the Paramount “Mountain Credits.”

The stars have only gotten cooler.

Oh my, the music. Everything feels like it’s reverberating from a subwoofer, almost underlining the importance of the reward. Each currency gets a unique sound profile so players can differentiate on sound alone.

Winner: Brawl Stars

Surprise, surprise, it’s another Supercell win, but to be fair, Brawl Stars deserves it. The currency pauses, mid-animation, ensuring players admire it, before directly adding the currency to the power point bar. The amount of currency, in this case, 13 units, is the exact amount added to the power point bar. It’s impossible to miss as the currency spreads around the character portrait (“Poco”) rather than form a direct line, as we saw with Clash Royale.

The audio suggests chips instead of coins, a refreshing break, but the improvement of the power point bar suggests an almost score-like element.

Why Virtual Currency Exists

A recent Twitter thread highlighted a popular Gamer™ belief:

Even within gaming studios, I encounter a similar sentiment. Proponents of this position claim “firms use virtual currency pricing as a behavioral trick!” With virtual currency, there’s a disconnect between the real-world price and the virtual currency (VC) price. While true, there’s no intentional trickery going on. Instead, the reasons for VC are quite straightforward:

Continue reading “Why Virtual Currency Exists”

The Economics of Battle Pass Are Broken. Let’s Fix It.

To be fair “dippin dots” hangs around

Monetization’s modern paradigm is defined by a direct store and battle pass (BP). After years (and ongoing) criticism of loot boxes, Fortnite re-wrote the rulebook in a way that seems to make both developers and players happy. However, it’s important to consider that at sufficient scale any monetization scheme looks like a winner. It’s unclear if Fortnite is a winner because of the pass or despite it. For instance, the collapse of Clash Royale’s monetization can be partly traced to the introduction of its own pass.

Continue reading “The Economics of Battle Pass Are Broken. Let’s Fix It.”

Optimal Area Currency With Milton

Friedman and Mario are about the same height.
Friedman and Mario are about the same height.

In hindsight, one of Friedman’s great predictions is the Eurozone crisis. Despite being a huge champion for flexible exchange rates, Friedman never advocated for a common European currency.

Europe exemplifies a situation unfavourable to a common currency. It is composed of separate nations, speaking different languages, with different customs, and having citizens feeling far greater loyalty and attachment to their own country than to a common market or to the idea of Europe.

— Milton Friedman, The Times, November 19, 1997

The crisis of Greece exemplifies many of the problems Friedman points out. In times of economic recession/depression, central banks devalue the domestic currency to return the country to full employment. When economies are similar recessions/depressions move together, if there’s a crisis in Texas it’s probable there’s one in Washington. This makes central bank policy more effective because capital won’t escape from ‘recessed’ areas to one’s with higher returns – there are none. It can be much harder to accomplish this in Europe where every country’s economy is dramatically different and institutional policy fluctuates widely.

What the hell does this have to do with game design?

Why do multiple currencies exist in games to begin with? Why not just have one type of currency rather then four or five?

Simply put, it’s all about segmentation. Once again, Supercell has provided us with a wonderful example, Clash of Clans (CoC). Consider which items cost gold and others elixir, the choice was not an arbitrary one. After a quick scan, you’ll notice only the defensive items (cannons, archer towers, walls) cost gold and only the offensive items (troops, barracks, spells). Why might this be the case? Segmenting these items gives designers greater control over the economy and minimizes the potential for ‘contagion’ effects. Consider a world in which Clash of Clans only contained gold. It’s possible players might have a preference for attacking rather then defending, encapsulating the idea of capital going to its highest return. If this were the case the game could become unbalanced as all players attack and none spend gold to upgrade their base defense. By segmenting base defense into elixir, you remove any opportunity cost from from spending on base defense. This is similar to giving your relatives a gift card, rather then spending it on whatever they fancy, they must now spend it on whatever is from the gift card’s store. A domestic currency is much like a gift card to that country’s ‘store’ just as elixir is a gift card to only CoC’s offense ‘store’.

If Supercell finds players are not creating challenging defenses, it’s very easy increase the rate of gold production without worrying that money will be spent on offense. They can also do this by lowering the cost of items priced in gold. Supercell has toyed more with this strategy in their other title, Boom Beach.

The rules for when segmentation is worthwhile emerge reading Mundell’s famous paper 1 backwards.

Segmentation in games, just like in real world economies, gives game designers and central bankers more control.