“Currency” in game balancing



The definition of “Currency” in Collins is “2. general acceptance or circulation; prevalence”. Currency in the game means the measurement and representative to all different elements in the game. Currency which is defined by the designers can help a lot on prototyping the game system.

In Prototype

In this phase, one of the important work is to create contents such as skills, weapons, and enemies. With a currency, creating similar elements with variations are much easier.  Moreover, having a currency makes the whole system more clear which facilitate divergent thoughts.

Case 1 – Hearthstone

Bloodefen Raptor
River Crocolisk
River Crocolisk

The critical principle behind currency is the relationship between the currency and any other elements. There is an obvious currency in Hearthstone, the mana crystal.

  1. 1 Extra Card = 1 Mana;
  2. 1 Attack / Health = 0.5 Mana;
  3. Silent = 1 Mana; Taunt = 0.5 Mana;
  4. 1 Hit Point = 0.33 Mana;
  5. Hero Special Card = 1 Mana;
  6. 1 instant damage = 1 Mana.

Windfury, Charge and Divine Shield are more complex. They highly depend on the attack or the health of the minion. Based on this, creating various and balanced cards are much more fluent. At the early stage of Hearthstone, most of the cards are highly restricted by this currency. For instance, the Bloodfen Raptor and River Crocolisk are 2 Mana cost, so the summed attribute are 2*2 + 1 = 5 (All minions have a base of 1 attribute). Later, with more and more new features introduced into the Hearthstone, mana as a currency has more and more little sense of presence. Balancing different cards depends more on testing and statistics.

Advanced feature – Invisibility

Start with a currency and abandon it later. It is a very popular phenomenon in game design. The reason behind it is that currency has double-edges. In the prototype phase, currency is a good assistant, with its help designers can create a bunch of balanced contents effectively. However, when the prototype grows up, players expect more new things in the experience. Currency makes them think in a same and simple frame which impairs the feeling of having new things. So in refine phase, one of the important feature of the currency is invisibility.

Case 2 – Heroes of Might & Magic 3


Currency is useful in early phase of developing a game. Then it should be hided in the later phase.

4 thoughts on ““Currency” in game balancing

  1. I think currency is the most common and concrete way to measure the “assets” that the plays own during the game. It’s like a frame structure that enables game designer to measure the balance of the game, like you said. The first game that pops up my mind is Monopoly, and I start to think what could happen when this game take away the currency element. Also, it is no hard to find the currency in games is somehow gradually merging to the currency in the real world. There are people even getting troubles with that, too.

  2. As someone who’s played a lot of Magic and Hearthstone, this was really interesting. In Magic, I know the general rule is a plain creature’s power and toughness should be equal to its cost, and there’s a general sense that extra abilities cost an additional mana, but I’d never seen it laid out like that. Like you said, I can definitely see how a system like that is useful at the beginning, but you’d need to get more creative later on. And I liked what you were saying about invisible currency, and I can think of a lot of games that have a “currency” that isn’t referred to as a currency. A lot of F2P games use time as a currency, which is definitely an interesting mechanic.

  3. Good post!
    I love data manipulation in game design. It is like being a magician and playing tricks to players. One thing important is to make the data and the logic invisible to players. I think that might be a reason why currency should be abandoned sometimes.

  4. It took me some time to figure out how to calculate those points in Hearthstone, but I found it totally make sense. Using mana as currency works perfectly in Hearthstone, and in many other games. I agree that currency is a good tool to quantify the design. As for the invisibility of currency, it makes more sense if you can show some examples in your case 2.

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