The Joy of Rent: Making Work and Upkeep/Expenses interesting and appealing

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:

1. Put the act of paying into the player’s control.

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.

2. Make the workplace an important location for the player

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!


There are a few tweaks to the way money is handled in the next version of my game. Be afraid… :stuck_out_tongue:


Personally, I feel like the key here is to make a player get something out of work beyond just making money. As you mention, tiggertoo’s The Weighting Game does a great job of this by creating special work scenes and a whole character to interact with based around work. So work doesn’t feel like a chore, but rather something I enjoy for the scenes that also happens to make me money. This can be done either through actions/events that can be done at work or through good descriptive text that changes throughout the game (i.e. describing work at 150 pounds vs 300 pounds).

I think another option here is just to make it so that your character automatically goes to work between the hours of X and Y (9 AM and 5 PM?). For a game that doesn’t want to have any scenes at work, this is likely a better way of handling it in my mind than forcing a player to hit a button to go to work and say you made money.

Finally, I think it is important for the game creator to consider whether having work and money related considerations are necessary at all. For most realistic sim-like games you probably want this, but there are definitely games that could get away without having this dynamic at all, especially in early versions.

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This. Oh my God, so much this.

This is one of the things I find so annoying about sim games, as a general rule. Most jobs don’t let you choose if and when you go to work. Your shifts are scheduled, sometimes weeks or months in advance, so why does the PC get to decide every morning whether they go to work and for how long? It’s completely immersion breaking.

This problem is made worse if the job has some negatives attached to it, as well. “Oh, hey, you need money to live, and every morning you have to choose to make that money, but you’ll gain stress every time you work, so you’ll have to spend some time or money OR BOTH decreasing your stress so you don’t lose.”

It’s needless padding, it is tedious, and it sucks every bit of fun out the game. It should not take me 3-4 real life hours to get my character to put on a mere 10 pounds IN A BLOODY WEIGHT GAIN FETISH GAME, but I’ve seen it happen. At least a Korean MMO would let you buy an item to skip the grind…

Hey, I think I just figured out how to monetize a WG game!

Tiggertoo’s game is probably the best example of how to do this right. I went in expecting the same grind, but it wasn’t there. I actually looked forward to the work scenes, and it was glorious. It was something I needed to do, but I was actually happy to do it. I really hope more devs take a cue from this. Please, please, please, don’t make money a central mechanic, and then make acquiring it painful, or have it lost to the aether of bills or stress relief. Either automate the system and give me my net amount every couple of weeks, or make it interesting to acquire, whether because of coworkers or other events, or whatever. No one, except maybe Disgaea completionists, enjoys constant, grinding drudgery.


Hah, slight aside but working from home this past year has allowed my work to be more freeform, to the point where it’s been reminiscent of the life-sim style of “hit the ‘work’ button → receive money (+ stress)” :joy:

Some good points all round so far!

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