So you’re creating a WG life simulator game with a semi-realistic tone and setting and you run into the issue:
“What do I get the player to spend money on to keep things challenging? Rent? Bills? Expenses? They aren’t particularly fun…”
And as realistic as it may be to to have an expense upkeep, there’s no getting around the fact that bills are a drag. Even if it’s a minor inconvenience to click a button to receive cash, it’s still a plate that needs to be kept spinning by the player, adding to the overall burden of playing the game. Working in-game is what they “should” be doing, the game demands of the player, and not what they “could” be doing…
Two ways to jazz up the expenditure situation:
We can all relate to the situation that it’s a more pleasant experience to tidy your room than to be told to tidy your room. The same thought applies to games as well. Forcing the player to recognise they need an income because of their draining bank balance or looming rent due notice is not a pleasant experience and makes the act of working in-game feel akin to, well, work.
Another way we can put a demand upon the player without holding it over them is to repackage it as a quest or an objective for the player to fulfil.
We can borrow this concept from Animal Crossing. In the game, you’re swiftly saddled with a debt to pay, but this isn’t a period, automatic drain on your bells. You have all the time in the world to repay your debt; you could merrily keep playing without ever talking to Nook if you so choose. However the player knows that there is a debt to repay at some point - and it’s this detail that is key “at some point”. The player ultimately controls when to repay the debt, allowing them to explore and play in the meanwhile. The game will finally reward the player when they have repaid, unlocking new content. There is no punishment for lack of payment, only positive reinforcement.
Back to our life-sim game, imagine the scenario in which the PC arrives in their new lifestyle and their roommate informs them that they’ve covered their bills for them (yay!) but there’s the expectation that they will be reimbursed (ahh.) But no pressure! They know that the player is still settling in so there’s no rush in repaying. An objective starts: “Repay roomie $X”. A player could approach this in two ways
If the player pays promptly, the roomie is duly impressed and thinks more favourably of them, improves rep, unlocking new scenes etc
If the player can’t or won’t pay, after some time the roomie is… less impressed. Perhaps the PC earns the reputation of a deadbeat, sours the relationship with the roomie, unlocking new scenes etc.
In either of the two cases, play is allowed to continue. If the game must force a loss state onto the player, then this should come with a significantly advanced warning so as to allow a player time to alter their gameplay to include income-generation.
Some game narratives may lack for convenient roommates to allow for the above scenario, or it would simply make more sense for a game to have a regular upkeep (say, in a business management game). In that case, give the player more reason to go to a workplace in-game beyond the need do a task or click a button to make money.
Try and repackage the workplace as one of the focal points for the story. Allow multiple characters to interact and create new events and story beats to immerse the player in. This all serves to alleviate the feeling of drudgery and feeds into the first notion of putting the choice to work into the player’s hands. It’s a plus for both game and the player in which the player actively wants to go work so this should be duly rewarded by the game.
A game I want to highlight as an example of doing this impressively well is tiggertoo’s “The Weighting Game”. There is a weekly upkeep that encourages players to spend time at work, however the player is treated to special scenes whilst there and can even get to unlock a whole new NPC and start an event sequence with them.
Also, the game rewards diligent working through bonus pay and pay promotions, lessening the need to keep the player at the office because they simply need to, replacing that need with a desire to visit the office for the other benefits, which puts it back into the player’s control.
In short: Work doesn’t have to be made to feel like work if the player is choosing to do so. Let’s encourage and reward that behaviour!
If there are any further ideas or comments you’d like to add, possibly of good work and/or upkeep systems that you have encountered, then please share!