Economics Designer

  • Economics Designer

The economy is not just something pundits expound upon on 24-hour cable news stations or people worry about as their mortgage payment comes up. In video games, the economy often makes the game worth playing, creating value and offering rewards to gamers. It is the duty of the economics designer to set and maintain the in-game monetary system for both single-player and online multiplayer titles, including pricing of game items and services.


Duties

Economics designers have a fairly straightforward duty in the realm of video game design: They design the financial system within games. From the rupees that Link collected in Zelda to the ability to buy land in Second Life, economies have been a pivotal part of many games; it is the responsibility of economics designers to see that these economies are viable, fair, and entertaining for the gamer. In recent years, game economies have become increasingly important, with games like World of Warcraft and other massive multiplayer online role-playing games giving gamers endless options to explore expansive worlds, complete with monetary systems and methods of exchange and commerce. An economics designer sets the values for in-game items and services through tactics such as only releasing a limited amount of goods, or making them available only at a certain time; constantly creating new goods that gamers can aspire to at different levels; creating “wear and tear” on items, so gamers have to replace them; creating secondary markets for in-game goods and services where players can trade among themselves; creating auction houses; preventing possible fraud; and employing other strategies that rely heavily on real-world economic principles. Economics designers also create ultra-fine metrics that allow them to track revenue from a specific gamer, group, or demographic so that they can adjust the system accordingly. These designers are even responsible for elements such as mortality of the players; when players in MMORPGs die they often need to repair their weapons or purchase more, which helps maintain a healthy in-game economy and often translates to real profit for the studio.

Skills & Education

Though a career as an economics designer may not require the technical expertise of some other designers, it does require a strong academic background; knowledge of microeconomics and macroeconomics is the foundation of an economics designer’s expertise and usefulness. Most economics designers possess degrees in economics, though some may have degrees in trade relations, international affairs, political science, public policy, and other social and business-related areas of studies. Advanced degrees in economics are common to economics designers. Math skills are a prerequisite, as well as knowledge of sociology, economic theory, and game theory. Though they rely on their knowledge of economics, they must also know what makes a game interesting to gamers, because few gamers are interested in economics alone.

What to Expect

Though the position of economics designer is relatively new to the industry, it has grown exponentially over the past decade as more and more games rely on this specialized expertise for virtual economies. Economics designers are conceptual wizards, and they work with other members of the design team throughout the process; however, they usually have primary careers in academics or economics, and their services in video games are secondary. A career as an economics designer is not easy to facilitate, but for the economics whiz who also has a love of video games, finding work designing virtual economies may be a good sidestep from teaching theories and formulas to college students.

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