Lead Economics Designer

  • Lead Economics Designer

If you are a hard-core gamer and have an aptitude for financial systems, then the natural combination of your interests and skills would surely make you the ideal candidate for a job as a lead economics designer for web-based games. MMOs like World of Warcraft and popular social gaming brands like Farmville or Restaurant City are built around a virtual economic structure that must be carefully planned and monitored, much like the foundation of a fledging nation or corporation.


Duties

The responsibilities of the lead economics designer include creating and managing the virtual economy by defining an original currency and devising the process by which goods in the game are priced. This involves both creative and critical thinking that combines quantitative and qualitative valuation of virtual products versus the impact on the player’s overall experience and continued interaction with the game. The lead economics designer must build methods by which inflation and deflation are measured and assess findings to determine price adjustments. This person must work closely with other staff (game designers and programmers) to implement the necessary parameters into the game engine, including coding, user menus, and the equations by which purchases or sales are tracked for each player. Similarly, the lead economics designer will cooperate with programmers to build predictive models that will help maintain the integrity of the economy in the game, and control how that economy will exchange with other financial systems across other products operated by a single company. For example, players can trade credits accumulated in Restaurant City for use in Hotel City, as both brands are products of Playfish, purchased by Electronic Arts in 2009. Most online games offer users the option of buying virtual goods or currency with real money; therefore, the lead economics designer will collaborate with the marketing and finance departments to establish the pricing models for the exchange of actual currency for play money. At larger studios, the lead economics designer may supervise a team.

Skills & Education

There aren’t many who begin their education in college as a finance major but end up with a job in game development, or vice versa. However, today one must carefully plan an intended career path much sooner than previous generations. For a job as an online economics designer, employers prefer a candidate with a bachelor’s degree in economics, statistics, or related field. Coursework should be supplemented with classes in computer science and game development or game design. A double major is challenging, but of significant value. Though it is not always required, an intermediate level of skill in coding is useful. The lead should understand the finer points of virtual inflation and deflation of economies in online gaming environments and balance of exchange rates between brands, based on education or knowledge of real-world finance.

What to Expect

The lead economics designer is a supervisor in charge of a larger staff of designers, and will monitor the creation and implementation of individual systems created by the staff. He or she will act to ensure that these systems are cohesively engineered to work seamlessly with the game at large, as well as play nicely with systems established in existing games developed by the studio. As a member of the senior staff, the lead will have creative input on the game’s development during pre-production, and will be the chief liaison between his or her staff and interdependent departments. The majority of positions for economics designers exist within large game development companies that have a vast catalogue of MMO and online games that use some form of currency exchange and player purchase power as a key component. This includes games popular on Facebook, online poker, online role-playing games, and those found on sites like Pogo.com.

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