Sky Economy Q&A
Hi, all! Whirthun here on behalf of the Community team. I hope your 2023 is off to a great start, and that you’re enjoying Season of Remembrance.
We’ve seen a lot of feedback about Sky’s economy across the various Sky community hubs. Jenova and Samantha, two of the designers in the studio who work on Sky’s economy, are going to share their answers with you in hopes of providing more insight into the why or what we do when it comes to Sky’s economy.
This is longer than our usual blog posts, but we wanted to take time to address some of the big concerns we’ve heard from the community, so let’s get into it!
How do you decide in-game currency (IGC) item prices?
There are a lot of factors that go into pricing IGC items in Sky. Some include:
The size of the item
The finished quality of the item—which is usually finalized after beta testing and seen for the first time when it’s released to the live servers
The rarity of an item’s material and shape, or its functionality
The how long an item is available, such as during a limited-time event or seasonal promotion
Why are prices for items always raised or kept the same, but rarely if ever lowered?
That’s a good question. I (Jenova) want to start by saying that our former games such as Flower and Journey are premium games that don’t have an ongoing in-game economy. Sky is the first video game that we’ve ever had to create and balance an economy for. Inflation is a common challenge that exists in almost all online games, and there are many theories on how it can occur, but preventing it is much harder. We’ve learned through trial and error over the past three and a half years.
In July 2019 Sky launched with 37 spirits and a small set of items to discover and collect. We designed the economy around players discovering and acquiring all items within three to six months. There were only two ways players could earn Candles: from Daily Quest rewards, and lighting the Candles scattered around Sky’s realms.
In the beginning, Candle collecting was linear and limited only by the number of Candles in the game. Determined players could earn 12-15 Candles per day, taking around two to three hours if they wanted to sweep the entire world.
The overall balance of the economy was stable.
More Candles, More Variety
We added new content for players in the form of Seasons, but by 2020, players who joined us at launch had run out of things to collect. Since then we’ve had 16 Seasons, and the size of Sky’s world and content has tripled, even quadrupled.
Initially when we added new areas to Sky, Candles were extremely rare in those areas. That preserved the balance of Candles earned and Candles spent, and it meant the effort to earn items would remain the same over time. One result, though, was that players seldom visited those new areas after their first visit, and most people stuck to collecting Candles along established routes. The biggest complaint from the community at the time was the mundane repetitiveness of the Candle grind.
To give players more variety, we decided to place more Candles in those new areas to provide alternative routes. Collecting Candles became more varied, but it also was clear that as we added more content, daily farm time was increasing.
Gradually the total number of Candles available to players had inflated beyond our initial balance. At the end of 2020, players could earn 18-19 Candles a day, up from 15. In early 2021, that had risen to around 20 Candles—a 33% increase—and even if they didn’t reach the max daily Candle limit, some players were still spending three hours or even longer to collect as many as they could. It was never our intention for players to spend this much time focused on Candles.
Faster Collecting With Daily Light
Our studio aims to make games that are a respectful and positive influence on people’s lives. Sky is no different—we want it to help facilitate genuine human connection and meaningful experiences. However, by 2021 the game was at a point where the Candle structure did not facilitate those goals, so we decided to make systemic changes.
This was when we introduced a feature called Daily Light. Daily Light uses a nonlinear reward pattern that allows players to earn Candles more quickly up front, while discouraging the sort of prolonged grinding we had seen before it was implemented. It would still allow for more varied routes to collect Light, and also decrease the total amount of time a player needed to spend traversing the entire world. We also made the new feature to match the 20 Candle daily maximum from before.
As more and more events and Seasons passed, the number of returning items had increased. Players pointed out that as Candles became more useful and desirable, they felt disincentivized from making new friends and that it was more important to save Candles for upcoming events and Traveling Spirits. Players also shared that they felt they didn’t have time for socializing, as it seemed more important to acquire Candles.
So, in early 2021 we began experimenting with another new source for Candles, Social Light. As long as players stay active and hang out with their friends in a social area, Social Light allows them to gather Light which can be forged into Candles. This drastically increased how much social interaction and conversation players were sharing while also collecting Light, through features like the blossoming trees during Days of Bloom or the Felicitous Visitor during Days of Fortune.
Social Light Exploits
Throughout 2022, with the intention to give players more opportunity to socialize and connect, we expanded Social Light to be permanent installations in almost all the realms. That decision actually ended up hurting social activity more than it initially helped. Once those permanent locations were introduced, we gradually discovered that over 90% of the players in these areas were players who had stepped away from their devices, often leaving them on from midnight until the next morning. Sleeping overnight at these campsites was equivalent to collecting 500 to 1000 pieces of Light, offsetting the usual Candle earnings by a huge margin.
Not only did these players find exploits and mods to skip idle detection, they also compromised the active social atmosphere at these destinations. We saw regular feedback from players looking to socialize in those spots who instead found other people fast asleep, making them feel more alone, not more connected.
Based on this, we have decided to pause most of these permanent versions of Social Light until we’re able to build new ways to prevent such exploitation.
So, to recap: Over the past three and a half years, we made a number of changes to Sky's gameplay to improve the quality of life for our players. Slowly, side effects of those changes began to pile up. To add variety to Candle collection, more Candles were added in more locations, and the maximum number of Candles that could be forged daily increased by 33% from 15 to 20.
To save players from grinding across every inch of the world, the Daily Light system reduced the total time required to reach maximum Candles from three hours to less than two hours for players more familiar with the world. To encourage people to spend quality time with friends, Social Light allows players to earn Candles without running around in the world. But, AFK exploits made it possible for players to acquire Candles from Social Light beyond the usual hours.
As a result of all these changes, we are now seeing more players earn on average twice as many Candles as they did in 2019, when most of the pricing was initially set. Generally, when an event occurs, we aim to price IGC items such that players would need to log in and participate in gameplay for more than half of the event days to earn event items. Therefore, with more Candles added to the game, even if the event remains the same duration the Candles to unlock the event’s IGC items need to increase to keep players engaged throughout that event.
We want to maintain a healthy and sustainable level of player engagement so that everyone has more chances to meet with their friends in Sky, which is vital for the social experience of the game.
What is the team planning to do to address the impact of increased IAP prices on players? Because of ongoing inflation and real-life events, these IAPs are no longer in many players’ purchasing power.
Prices for in-app purchases (IAP) outside of the US increased unevenly for some countries last year when Apple and Google adjusted prices to reflect changes in the real-world economy. In response, publishers with games in certain regions increased the amount of virtual currency given in each purchase to try to offset the new price. They were able to do this because their games were available in only a few countries, or even just one country. Sky is available in dozens of countries, so this kind of offset may help in one country but create additional problems in others.
The Sky team has considered setting different prices for different countries based on the strength of their economies, but not everyone on the team agrees that it's the best strategy. This is because it comes with cultural costs.
We want to create a positive online community that promotes good behavior like inclusivity, compassion, and generosity. It moves us to see that this has led to people from different countries forming genuine friendships, even if their nations are in conflict. Meanwhile, a popular feature in Sky that we added based on player feedback is the ability to gift items to other players who can't afford them. We've made many in-app purchases giftable, and have even introduced Season Passes that can be gifted.
However, setting different prices for different regions can have certain consequences. One is pricing arbitrage, where people profit by exploiting price differences through trading. While we limit trading in Sky, people can still make a profit by scaling the number of transactions with enough buyers. We've seen similar arbitrage in other countries with mobile phone carriers and discount coupons, for example. In games, this leads to fraud, stealing, and toxic behavior in a community.
These harmful impacts could be prevented in the community by limiting players to servers for only their specific region or country. But, this would hurt our community's ability to meet friends outside their own country. Some of us at the studio think the trade-off would be worth it, while others prefer the current simpler approach that allows more people to be together. We want to know your thoughts too! Share them with us by using the hashtag #SkyRegions on social media.
Lastly, while foreign currency rates are improving over time, Apple and Google haven't adjusted their prices accordingly. We may need to reevaluate our prices if they don't change.
What plans does the team have to make it so that the number of IAP and IGC items that appear with each event don’t feel overwhelming?
Our intention for items is to be optional souvenirs for players who enjoy and have fond memories of an event—not to become an overwhelming task list. Something we’ve been doing more of lately is relocating Spirits who offer collectible items to other parts of the world. We don’t want players to log in and immediately be bombarded with a bunch of things that they can purchase. We’ve seen that that sort of experience can be stressful, especially for newer players.
We’ve also talked about retiring items from previous events in order to reduce the sheer volume of available items and thus the related sticker shock. This is complicated, though—for example, some players have given us feedback that they want items to stay around so that they can pick them up in the future, or so that friends who are new to Sky have the chance to get them.
We’re continuing to discuss this very problem, and some within the studio have even proposed the idea of a catalog of all past items. We will share any decisions as soon as we reach consensus.
Why do some events have cheaper IAP items, while others do not?
We believe in inclusivity and ensuring that players from all income backgrounds have the opportunity to participate in our events. We understand that affordability can be a barrier for some players who want to purchase IAP cosmetics, and we're actively exploring ways to address this issue for all of our events.
However, we also hold ourselves to high standards when it comes to the quality of what we put into the game. During the development process, if an item fails to meet our quality bar, we may have to make the difficult decision to remove it from the event. Unfortunately, this sometimes includes the lowest cost items.
We want to assure our players that we're continuously striving to find a balance between affordability and quality, so that everyone can enjoy the “souvenirs” of our events to the fullest extent possible.
Why has the team changed Social Light areas so that players can no longer passively collect Light? Why has the team kept pushing to remove AFK Light collection?
This was touched on in our earlier explanation about Social Light a couple sections above, but we’d like to share a bit more about this.
We were truly moved by the feedback from players who wanted more time to socialize with their friends in the game, instead of just focusing on completing tasks and Candle runs. That's what inspired us to create the Social Light system and things like blossoming trees that give Light, which we first introduced during Days of Bloom in 2021.
At first, we were thrilled to see players using the Social Light to come together and interact in the game world. It felt like a huge success, and we were excited to expand the feature to other parts of the game. But as we mentioned above, over time we started to notice more players disengaging from the social aspects of the game and using AFK exploits instead.
As a team, we created Sky to inspire genuine connections and human interaction, so it's disheartening to see players disconnecting from the social elements of the game and using exploits and mods that result in active players feeling more isolated and alone. For now, we’ve temporarily paused all hands-free Light sources until we can prevent AFK exploits and ensure that the social aspects of the game are having the effect they were designed for.
Why were changes made to the amount of Light needed to forge Candles at certain chevron levels in the Daily Light system, and why didn’t TGC share that information?
When we made the decision to change the Candle collection curve with Daily Light, we knew it would require fine-tuning to create an optimal play experience. Recently, we balanced the curve to make it less steep to forge Candles towards the end of that collection curve, while keeping the total number of forgeable Candles the same.
This was based on data that came in over time, which indicated that the initial Candle reward was tuned too high, leading new players to stop daily engagement with the game prematurely compared to earlier economy balances. Our intention is to encourage new players to explore the world a little more while Candle collecting, hopefully creating opportunities for them to meet other players and build new friendships.
While we get a lot of good information and feedback from our passionate beta testers, data from live servers is generally more helpful for fine-tuning the economy curve due to sheer volume and variety of play styles that simply wouldn’t be possible in beta. We don’t generally announce these sorts of changes and fine-tuning as we view them as work in progress.
As we strive to strike a balance between engagement and the speed at which new and veteran players earn Candles, we will continue to make more changes in the future. Our ultimate goal is to create a satisfying and rewarding play experience for all players.
Is there any plan to raise the max number of Candles that can be earned each day, given the increased number of items in the game and higher IGC prices?
As we explained for some of the questions above, there’s been an overall increase in the total numbers of Candles being earned per day as the game has grown.Because of this, we have no plans to increase the max number of Candles again any time soon, but as we continue to adjust the economy and build out Sky, things could change.
Why are players no longer able to collect Light after being AFK for 2 minutes?
It actually came to our attention that this is a bug that slipped through in a recent patch. We want to clarify that the intended behavior is for your character to display signs of sleepiness after two minutes of absence (represented by the small zzz's) but still be able to collect Light for some time thereafter. We fully recognize that players may need to take breaks for various reasons such as grabbing a snack, playing with their furry friend, or using the restroom. Our system is designed to only mark players as idle (with big ZZZ’s) after an absence of a significant amount of time.
The bug was from a typo introduced in our efforts to block third-party mods that were bypassing existing AFK detection. Unfortunately, the 2-minute “sleepy” timer was mistakenly applied to the AFK timer. We have since made a server-side change to use the longer timer for both. It should return to what it has always been in the next patch. Sometimes bugs happen to evade detection in the QA process, particularly ones like this affecting a system that hasn't changed for years and is still functional, it’s just using the wrong timer. It’s very tricky to discover, unless our QA folks know to be on the alert for it.
A similar bug was fixed in 0.20.5. That bug caused Light from the Spirits in one of the final Eye of Eden sequences to no longer appear. That was caused by a feature created for the AURORA concert that unintentionally affected this area. The AURORA concert uses that area of Eden, but having the entire player population suddenly use the same area and earn Light at the exact same moment would have overwhelmed the servers. So Light collecting for that sequence of Eden was turned off for the concert, but a logic error remained that only checked if the level belonged to the concert, not if the concert was happening.
How can you balance the Candle economy for new players and existing players?
We strive for fairness and inclusivity in the game economy. We believe that both new players and veterans should put in an equal amount of effort to earn things. While we recognize that it is difficult for new players to “catch up” in a short amount of time with existing players who have collected almost four years’ worth of collectibles, it’s also true that, due to changes to Light acquisition since Sky’s launch, it’s generally easier for newer players to gather Candles than it was in the game’s earlier years.
The changes we’ve made to the game’s economy since 2019 have increased the number of Candles that can easily be earned per day, which means that items from Sky’s earliest years have essentially become more affordable.
Regular Candles are a universal currency you can exchange for a range of useful things. We appreciate that over time stress has developed around the choice of whether to invest Candles in friendships, new cosmetics, or returning items, and we’re working on changes to how building relationships works in order to ease the strain. We’ll have more to share on this later in the year.
We have also witnessed reactions to how IGC prices evolve with each year’s set of event items. These change over time both as a result of how many Candles are available in the game, and the length of an individual event. For example, Days of Bloom: this event is longer this year—three weeks instead of two—and meanwhile the rate of Candles being collected daily is much higher than when the event debuted in 2021. Developers are looking to maintain engagement in events, while players are expecting items from the same category to be similarly priced. These misaligned expectations have generated a lot of player anxiety.
We are investigating the possibility of creating an event-only currency (often used by other games) to decouple engagement requirements and price expectations, which would work similarly to Seasonal Candles. This would impact many different aspects of the game, though, so we appreciate your patience as we assess how this new approach would affect different aspects of the game.
The TS system is frustrating to deal with. Are there any changes in the works?
We hear you on this point and will have a blog in the near future detailing some plans to adjust the cadence at which Spirits return.
Is Sky still a relaxing social adventure game at heart?
We built Sky to show the world that video games can be a powerful medium to create artistic, emotional, and enriching experiences for players of all ages. We want to show the world that an online community doesn’t have to be toxic, and with careful tending a game should foster genuine human connections and inspire compassion and generosity among the players.
We understand and acknowledge the concerns expressed by the community regarding the current state of Sky. It's disheartening to hear that what was once a relaxing and social adventure has become less so. We hear you and want to assure you that we are actively working to address these issues.
Candles are an important part of the game, not just as a currency for collecting items, but as a way to build and strengthen relationships with other players. It's essential to us that players feel valued and appreciated when others choose to spend Candles on them, rather than on material things. We understand that the increase in Seasons and events has led some players to feel that their priorities have had to shift and focus on cosmetics, and that the value of investing in friendships has diminished. This isn’t in line with the values of our game, and we’re actively working on resolving this.
That balance is not where we would like it to be, and we’ve heard from you how it's causing stress within the community. But, we are still committed to creating a more inclusive and welcoming environment where players can build connections with each other. Our teams are working on an updated social system so that we can meet these concerns and provide more opportunities for players to be generous towards each other and build meaningful relationships.
Thank you for your patience and understanding as we work towards implementing these changes! We’ll keep you updated on our progress and look forward to creating a more enjoyable and rewarding experience for everyone.
Hopefully these insights were helpful, and as always, we thank you for taking the time to share your feedback with us. Please continue to do so on social media with #thatskygame, or in the feedback channels on our Discord server as well. We’ll have a lot more to share in the next few months about what’s coming to Sky.