Game Economy Guide – Spend Less and Gain More in Empires and Puzzles

Empires & Puzzles Economy Guide Whale
How To "Beat" Empires & Puzzles By Spending Less and Gaining More … 
And, How To Detect (and Resist) Strategies To Seduce You to Spend More

By Grendel Rose (with a little seasoning by Telly)

Time Is The Key To Winning Empires & Puzzles

Telly’s Introduction: “Winning” is an interesting concept in Empires & Puzzles, since the game is designed by its developers to be never-ending. However, the recent out-of-control stat and power inflation from the developers means TIME is on your side. For every hero you chase this month, even better heroes come out in future months. So savvy players stop chasing heroes, and use time to their advantage. 

This article from Grendel Rose explains how time is the shortage constraint in Empires & Puzzles, and how to use it to your advantage. The basic lesson is: stay calm, don’t chase heroes, play the parts of the game you enjoy, and have fun. And remember, for every dollar/euro not spent today, can be better spent tomorrow, due to the huge power inflation in the game.

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About the Author: This is a guest post written by Grendel Rose. He is a co-leader of an E&P alliance. When he is not playing the game he works as an academic in a university setting teaching strategy and using game-based approaches to learning and teaching. In his free time spends a lot of time with his family and their family cat. 

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As mentioned in Telly’s intro, the defining component of the game economy is time. The game developers - Small Giant Games – have created a very lovable and clever game, which sucks you in to spending real money by promising that will speed up your growth in the game. With enough money, they promise, you can be in a top alliance in no time. 

Indeed, their public relations staff often responds to complaints in the Apple App store stating real money speeds up the game:

“Developer Response: Thank you for your review. Empires & Puzzles is completely free to play. We do offer in-game purchasers for those who wish to play at a slightly faster pace.” (App Store Developer Response from May 28, 2021) (emphasis added).

You can debate whether this is just slick marketing spin. But the fact of the matter is spending a lot can speed up the game a lot, not just “slightly”. Without quibbling over terminology, read this article and you can see just how to play the time game and win.

So, the game economy is highly complex to exploit “time”. Each of its multiple time resources boil down to speeding up time, whether gems, food/iron resources, legendary event heroes, and ascension materials. You can get more, faster, by speeding up your accumulation of these components. In other words, pay for speed.

Stat Inflation is how they Keep up the Time Pressure

Furthermore, the game has followed a trajectory where purposefully any assets you develop in the game become obsolete and are superseded by a next generation of economy components. This is by design, it is a pattern and it is part of the game’s DNA as I explain in the essay below.

Thus, the best way to win the game is: relax, enjoy the game and do not get sucked in by the time/inflation strategy the E&P developers present. Just know that there is no need to chase current heroes, since even more powerful heroes will be introduced in a few months.

We All Love This Game – So Let’s Beat it by Playing Smart

We all love this game; we have been playing it for weeks, months, years. If you are here you are probably here to learn a bit about:

  • becoming better at E&P, or 
  • seeking for ways to beat the system, or 
  • using the game mechanics to get ahead faster, while spending less. 

This is an in-depth guide on the E&P game economy and provides a thorough analysis of its economy components.
By understanding these basics of the game economy, you can exploit them, and get stronger. I hope it will help you re-think how you approach the game and your aims and goals when playing it. It is also an attempt to help you develop a more… healthy relationship with the game; to avoid being seduced by the attempts the game makes to convince you to spend your hard-earned money. 

First, though, some basic terminology. You may have seen some of these terms before, but we will define them here so everyone can be on the same page.

From Free-To-Play Up To “Whales” in Empires & Puzzles

Free-To-Play Players

The Free-to-play (F2P) are players who do not spend money to play E&P. This guide should be useful to them in terms of thinking a bit deeper about the architecture of the game and saving some time when growing their accounts. Experienced F2P players probably will have figured out most of the things I will be discussing below so I hope I can retain their attention with the charms of my writing rather than the contents.

Very Cheap-To-Play and Cheap-To-Play

The very cheap-to-play (VC2P) and cheap-to-play (C2P) players are players who spend a small budget on E&P, taking advantage of certain offers. For the purposes of defining this a bit more I would suggest that C2P are players who usually spend money either for PoV or the VIP, or an equivalent amount on some other offer per month. I (Grendel Rose) am in this category. VC2P players spend even less then that! Experienced C2P players would know most of the things I will cover here but reading this guide will help them consider what constitutes a good deal in the long term.

Pay-To-Play

The pay-to-play (P2P) players are players who are paying to speed up their game; they will spend large sums of money to develop their account. If we were to define the minimum expenditure per month for a P2P would be 30-40 £/$/€ (for example VIP and a 25.99 or equivalent deal) and the maximum… well 1000s of £/$/€ I guess…. I do hope that this guide will help the P2P players to spend less and to spend thoughtfully. 

The Whales

Whales, are a sub-category of P2P in my mind and are players who spend in the upper end of the P2P range, but are not necessarily focused on where they spend, and what they want to achieve the most in the game. Some whales may also have an addiction, like a gambling addiction, and I hope this guide will help any that do.

Play-to-Win

The play-to-win players (and I do prefer to define these players as play-to-win instead of pay-to-win as the possibility exists that one could play-to-win in E&P without necessarily paying) see E&P as an e-sport and thus they may spend money in order to ensure that they are the best. A lot of players in top alliances fall into this category, and a lot of the P2P players and Whales also could be considered play-to-win. I heard from a good source that Telly is in the lower end of this category! 

These players may spend the same amounts of money (or not) as a P2P player or a C2P but there is a focus and determination in the gaming, a sense of direction. Maybe achieving a first place in Ninja Tower, or in a challenge event. I also consider as P2W players, players who have their own internal goals (such as having 50 5* heroes fully ascended or 5 teams for each colour of 4* heroes etc etc). It is that sense of focus and direction and the panache for reaching the target or coming real close that distinguishes them unfocused players. Some talented F2P players are also P2W players. This guide may be useful to the P2W players, as it will give them a sense of future direction concerning their wider aims and objectives within the context of the E&P game economy. Furthermore, it should help them minimize their spending, if they are spending 

How To Win Empires & Puzzles by Specializing

Experienced E&P players have often noted that you do not need to be good at everything. 
Thus, E&P offers numerous ways for a player to specialize around two main and quite distinct sets of activities. 

Pick an Activity To Focus On

Firstly, specializing in one or more of the competitive and timed events such as: the mythic Titan, the Ninja Tower, and other challenge events. Mastery is achieved by a combination of strong mono-color rosters, advanced planning, the ability to create avalanches of combinations and of course the building up of a stockpile of weapons, world flag flasks, and other resources. There are numerous guides on how to best this kind of events such as the ones offered by Telly on this website. While money can speed up the process, money is not enough: the grind is essential, and the player must drill, drill, drill. 
PvP activities offer another type of activities to specialize in: that encompasses a range of activities such as: 1:1 raids, tournaments, alliance wars, and alliance quests. While there are variations, one fundamental difference in PVPs is that you do not have access to battle items and often there are constraints (as with the tournaments). These constraints lead to sub-specializations: for example, 3* bloody combat tournaments require a different approach to managing your resources, your defenses and attacks than 4* no healing tournaments. Some players do create specialized teams for specialized tourneys, for example fully-emblemed, fully limit-broken 3* mono color teams for 3* tourneys. 
Forearmed with this contextual knowledge now we can move to the main article.

A Guide of the E&P Game Economy

The inspiration for this article came from Telly’s article on limit breakers and their impact on the game’s economy. What I realized reflecting on it is that there are a number of components in the E&P game economy and analyzing the various components was helpful to me in understanding how the game operates in a macro-economic sense and the direction SG/Zynga may be taking. 
E&P players would readily recognize the following components of the SG game economy:
i. Heroes
ii. Gems
iii. Resources
iv. Ascension material (Mats for short)
v. Time

Time Management Is The Key To “Winning” E&P

The most important thing I am advocating is that we can reduce all of the above aspects of the game economy to one: time. Time and its management is linked to the monetization of the game. The rest of this guide to Empires & Puzzles looks at its component of the game economy and finishes with an explanation why time is the principal component of the game economy in E&P. 

Heroes Are The Most Attractive Component of E&P Time and Resources

Heroes are of paramount value in the game; much of the buying, producing and using relates to the acquisition, development and updating of your heroes roster. The heroes lead your armies and without heroes you cannot play the game, you cannot compete in events, you cannot acquire for free many of the other components of the game economy such as gems/resources/Mats offered in quests, challenges, tournaments, and other events. 

Heroes are a differentiating and distinguishing factor among players, as many of the 4* and 5* heroes are very rare. Managing your hero roster well can differentiate you from other players. Ensuring and developing a diversity of heroes in terms of: 

i. Stars (rare/epic/legendary), 
ii. Elements (fire/ice/nature/dark/holy) and 
iii. Classes (the ten classes) are paramount. 

A well-developed roster goes a long way in speeding up the acquisition of other components of the game economy as it enables you to secure various rewards from quests, challenges, tournaments and other in-game activities. 

Thus, when you make choices which heroes to ascend all three dimensions of the hero need to considered (stars/elements/classes). In some cases, it may be better to ascend the 4* hero of the right color/class rather than the 5* hero that is not helping you with your mono-color war team nor with a particular duo of class trials.

If you wish to specialize in war then you need a minimum of six war teams to help you with the war attacks. Thus, you need 30 heroes at the maximum strength you can afford. If you wish to succeed in Tavern of Legends, then you need 50 heroes (at the moment of the writing) though not all developed to their maximum ability. If you wish to participate in all the challenge/tournament events you need 75 heroes (25 of each per * level; for each * level at least five of each color). If you wish to succeed in all class trials and avoid wasting battle items then you need an approximate 30 4/5* heroes at high levels of ascension (assuming three in each class). It is challenging and time-consuming to ensure that you have the right kind of hero for each of the activities in E&P. 

Other examples of this complexity include the creation of your war teams during alliance wars where some of the heroes are more useful than others. There are heroes who specialize on attacks and heroes who specialize in defense with endless variations in both. It is not enough to have 30 strong heroes; you need to have the right kind of 30 heroes for the alliance wars. The same applies for any activity; is not enough to have five heroes to take on a trial; you have to have the right mix of heroes to take on the trial quest. The heroes relevant to an alliance war, may not be relevant against the titans and so on and so forth.

The upshot of all this complexity is that you need to ensure that each hero you ascend may meet a multitude of needs. It also means that ascending heroes is a decision that you should not take lightly as your assets (your heroes) need to address competing needs. 

Gems Are Expensive: So, Choose Your Offers Carefully


Gems are advertised by SG as the most important currency in-game. Gems can buy you nearly any of the other components of the game economy.
Through the gem shop you can buy battle items, resources and ascension material, and you can use the gems in the various portals where you can attempt to buy Heroes. You can use gems to speed up building times, or in-game to keep playing a particular quest or a very challenging level even after you were defeated. 

However, Gems are expensive. 

For example; a single pull in Atlantis or Valhalla is 350 gems. In the shop you can buy 10,000 gems for approximately 90 £/$/€ which means that a single hero pull costs approximately 3 £/$/€. Considering that in the vast majority of time such a pull will provide you with a 3* hero to actually get a very strong top ten 5* Hero could cost you 100s of £/$/€. Of course one can opt for the myriad offers provided such as the Valhalla/Atlantis/Underwild offers where 20 pulls may cost 25 £/$/€ amounting to an approximate 1.25 £/$/€ per pull. 

Gems are also given free within the game via the wanted missions, mystic visions, relevant quests, war chests etc. etc. Strong heroes and intelligent use of your hero teams will definitely allow you to accumulate more free gems by successfully winning alliance wars, titans, and the various other activities in-game. It is estimated that an active mid-game player can gain 4-500 gems per month that way. 

Ultimately, gems are the most valuable currency in the game because they can be readily exchanged for nearly any other component of the game economy. 

Resources – Developing Your Home Base

The game provides you with a home base; a castle and the surrounding fields to build farms that produce food, and iron mines which produce iron. Food and iron are the basic resources of the game and are complemented by the third basic resource: recruits.
Recruits can be gained via playing game/quest levels or by building the advanced house. Food accumulated over time in the farms is used to train recruits and convert them to heroes as well as for developing a range of healing and mana-related items. Iron is used to build the majority of the more powerful battle items and to build/upgrade various buildings. You can also gain additional food/iron via raids, map stages, and quests as well as when completing the majority of missions and other quests. All three resources are effectively free if you are willing to wait and grind. However most active players are continuously out of one, two or all three of these resources. 

Ascension Materials: A Choke Point

Ascension material (Mats) is used for advancing your heroes and the 3*&4* ascension material is particularly important as it is used for the ascension of 4&5* heroes. Many new players get caught up with acquiring interesting and cool heroes only to hit the Mats bottleneck soon after. Thus expanding your roster of heroes creates a queue of heroes that need large amounts of food/iron and Mats to ascend.

If you are a P2W or P2P you soon realize you have to pay for Mats as much as you pay for acquiring more and better heroes. Amusingly, the F2P and C2P players do not tend to face these bottlenecks to the same extent because their Hero growth is more or less at the same speed with the Mats acquisition process. 

In the end, if your heroes are not fully ascended they are weaker than heroes who are fully ascended. Heroes who are emblemed are more powerful than heroes who are not emblemed even though they may be fully ascended. And now heroes who are limit broken and emblemed are more powerful than heroes who are just emblemed, while heroes who are limit broken but not emblemed they are weaker than heroes who are both. 

The team of the best and rarest 5* heroes in the game would almost certainly lose if they are at 3/70 and face a fully ascended, fully emblemed 5* heroes team of mediocre quality. Thus, one has to factor the level of heroes and the time it would take to ascend them when making judgements of the value of each hero. This leads us to an important rule: even a mediocre emblemed/ascended 5* hero now (and even a reasonably good 4* hero) is more valuable than the potential, perfect 5* fully-emblemed Hero of the future. Unless you are willing to spend (a lot!!) to make this future hero a present hero. 

Expert Tip: Never Chase specific 5* Heroes: the best 5* hero is the one you already have. 

In the early stages of the game it is these fully ascended decent 4* and your first 5* heroes that will enable you to get rewards quicker, to do well in challenges much faster, to beat enemies in the trial quests. In short, it is these heroes who will speed up the process of building up your assets needed for the future embleming and limit breaking of better 4&5* heroes. 

Time

Which leads us to what I think is the ultimate component of the E&P game economy: TIME 


Within the freemium business model that the E&P operates in, it is possible to achieve all that the game offers if you had the time. However, what I mean by time here is not weeks nor months; I am talking about years, decades, centuries potentially… E&P is a game with no end, what Simon Sinec has called the infinite game. The idea of the infinite game is important for E&P as playing this game means that you are committing yourself to a marathon with no discernible end and no real long-term purpose. A bit like life really.
 
For example: if a F2P player wishes to get Cobalt (of the Ninja Tower fame) for free they would have to use the tower coins or to use gems. The only way for an FTP player is to get tower coins is to play the towers and win as many of the stages as possible (preferably all seventy-five at the time I am writing this). Achieving a good ranking would help as well. Let’s say a good player averages 2 free pulls in each Ninja/Magic tower event, and there are six events in a year (provided that this remains the case of course). That is 12 pulls in a year and 120 pulls in ten years or 600 pulls in 50 years. Your chances to get Cobalt remain relatively small with each pull but with 600 pulls you may get him, or not… If we could live a 1000 years then almost certainly you would get Cobalt for free (well I did add “almost” and yes I do appreciate that we humans rarely make it beyond a 100 years at best).
 
All components of the E&P game economy are subject to these manacles of time. For example: Mats can be gained for free via the rare quests and the challenge events (plus random drops via mystic vision, wanted missions and other activities). Thus, if you were patient, you could get all the Mats you need over time, for all the heroes you have collected without any spending. However, it would require investment in time. 

Thus, the monetization of any component of the E&P game economy is linked to the time it takes to achieve whatever arbitrary aims you have set for yourself at any particular moment. You spend on gems to speed up the process of acquiring heroes, mats, emblems or resources; you spend on food and trainers to train heroes and to speed up the ascension of your chosen 4/5* heroes so that your teams can beat the stages/quests/challenges faster and harder. Doing better in the various activities, quests, raids etc. etc. will then help you speed up the accumulation of Mats and other resources that, in turn, would speed up your advancement in the game. And so on and so forth, the infinite game goes...
The makers of E&P rely on your lack of patience with the infinite game in order to rope you in and encourage you to spend money on whatever components of the game economy you may be missing. Naturally, as the game has a complex economy, there are always things you may be missing. 
What is important to note here is that as the number of veteran players with 60+ fully ascended and emblemed 4/5* Heroes has increased over the last three years SG has used two strategies to add more complexity to the game economy in an attempt to keep these veteran players engaged while attracting new players. 

I have named the two strategies the game developers at Small Giant have been using as i. going deeper and ii. going wider. 

i. Going deeper means that the company expands what you can do with assets you already have. The most obvious example would be your heroes. Your S1 Heroes originally would reach 4/70, that was the maximum they could reach. Then we had costumes introduced: your S1 heroes became a bit stronger and now could double in two different classes as well as possess two different sets of skills. That deepened the value of your hero. Then the emblems were introduced: now your S1 hero could expand their range of skills and abilities and specialize in defense, offence, and other special skills. In addition, now there are specific activities that your various classes (linked to the emblem types) can do. Examples of that include the trials and now the new Tower events (where certain classes have distinct advantages over other classes). After four years’ run the company felt that a further deepening was needed and introduced the limit breakers. For many old-timers, this was seen as a bad move, however, from the company’s perspective, it made sense: it deepens what can be done with the same assets (i.e. your heroes in this case). 

ii. Going wider means that the company has expanded the kind of resources, buildings, activities or heroes that are available in the game (and could be obtained with the right money or time investment). Examples of going wider include things such as adding new 4/5* heroes, new challenge events (such as Starfall Circus, Fallen slayers of fell shadows), new seasons, new buildings etc. etc. From my perspective, one of the most interesting applications of this widening strategy is the efforts the game is making to make your 3* heroes still relevant by recently introducing new sections in the challenge events that are relevant only for 3* heroes as well as adding the 3* variants of weekly tournaments. 
In practice, the two strategies often blend. For example, the Magic Tower could be seen as going wider; a new activity introduced, with a new roster of heroes. However, it is also forcing players to go deeper. The advantages certain classes hold in the event (four classes can sustain five curses instead of one curse) force a deepening of your roster with a more intense focus on a certain class of heroes. This will inevitably lead many players to go deeper with their existing heroes and speed up the development of certain heroes over others. 

Both strategies are aiming to engage players for longer with the game and keep the excitement around the game going. Both strategies are used to monetize the game and the various offers available to the player. For example, offers for multiple hero summons are often appealing to the tendency of going wider (for example by getting new heroes) while offers for Mats, additional trainers and training material are appealing to the going deeper strategy (by making your heroes/troops stronger or enhanced).  

So What?

There are two important thoughts I would like to share with you following the analysis above regarding the components of the E&P Game Economy. 

The first is that when new features are added (whether of the widening or deepening variety) inevitably current player assets suffer inflation. Put in another way, as new features, quests, activities, heroes are added to the game, all existing heroes a player has developed have steadily lost value. The over-abundance of new stuff this year thus has led to an over-heating of the game economy, and a massive inflation of current assets, i.e. a loss of value of assets players have gained over long periods of time. It is totally understandable why many P2W and P2P players are upset and are currently leading a boycott in spending, as they are the ones who would lose the most value from this recent over-heating of the SG game economy. 

SG has attempted to keep the majority of players happy by easing the acquisition of the pre-existing economy components even as we (the players) come in terms with the introduction of new components into the game economy. In the Summer/Autumn of 2021 there were many such examples of this ease of availability of the game’s economy components. For example, SG doubled the availability of the mystic vision pulls, initiated a substantial expansion of emblems that can be gained via mystic vision and an ease in the availability of mats. The easing of emblems acquisition in fact started earlier with the introduction of emblems in challenge events, whose quantity trebled in the last 9 months. At the same time the rare quests that provide for free 3&4* Mats are now available every seven days, a 30% reduction in time needed between rare missions. 

Thus, SG has tried to compensate with freebies for the loss of value of existing assets (see value of heroes) by easing the supply of the economy components that made those assets valuable at first place. This means that, in time, the limit breakers will eventually follow the path of the costumes and the emblems. Now they are rare and expensive to purchase but there will be an easing of supply; probably in a year from now. It is a pattern. 
Schumpeter argued decades ago that in an economy, we have cycles of economic creation and destruction as the new entrepreneurs rise to wipe out the old establishment, and the established lose power as they face the onslaught of the new. SG has followed this Schumpeterian economics approach to gaming for 4 years very successfully. New features like the limit breakers are symbolic of the new order sweeping the older orders (costumes, new season heroes, emblems). 

The problem however is that the established players order (P2W/P2P and the FTP/CTP old timers), which is quite influential, is very, very unhappy and for very good reasons. There is no real reason to play a game other than fun. This over-heating of the SG economy is stifling the fun of the game because the people who have invested their time in it realize now that the game is asking them to invest even more time as it is actively devaluing their assets; assets that they have created over years. Thus the growth of the slow down movement and the November 2021 "No Spend" protest. 

In real world economics a hot economy crashes. There is no reason to think that SG may not go the same way if they do not engage with some serious deflation tactics (which bring back value to existing assets, but would inevitably reduce SG profits). 

The second thought I would like to share is that the analysis of the game economy leads to certain interesting and as far as I can see unintended consequences: 

1. This is an infinite game and any victory you achieve in this game has no meaningful permanence. The game will continue going deeper and wider; that is by design and it was in the game’s DNA from the beginning. Now you may wish to achieve glory for a few seconds by occupying one of the top ten spots in the Ninja Tower, or in a challenge event and yes for that you would need to invest money and/or time. That is unavoidable. For the F2P or C2P players the top ten spots are only achievable through the long grind since when you do not spend money you inevitably spend time. 


2. For the Whales, the P2P and the P2W players I would like to highlight that the company has all the intentions to get you to spend more as you attempt to go deeper and/or wider. If you are a P2W player then that investment may have some meaning (i.e. occupying a spot in the top of a challenge event, a tournament etc. etc.). However, that win by design will not be meaningfully sustainable. The game will continue going deeper and wider and by design it will be more and more expensive if you try to keep following it in its various rabbit holes. 

Thus, as a wise E&P player said once and I am paraphrasing: choose what you wish to be good at and don’t try to be good at everything within the game … If you do spend, decide on a particular goal that is worthy for you. 

Remember to have fun; despite all the above analysis I love this game, I love its infinite nature and the endless possibilities it offers. 

Comments

Unknown said…
Great article, thank you for your insight. I have two questions/observations that I hope you could address.

1) Since gems are so valuable are the better spent in a portal pull, i.e. 2600 gems for 10 summons where you have complete luck of the draw, or are the better spent in the shop for featured items, i.e. might of nature which is 1500 gems with "guaranteed" heroes albeit 3 star and 4 epic tokens which could subsequently be used in a summons?

2) I see no mention of troops in your essay? Was this an oversight or do you not feel they are a big part of the economy of the game. The "whales" all seem to have 4 star maxed troops which must consume a great deal of resources? thoughts?
Anonymous said…
Thank you Anonymous for your kind words and comments.

Regarding Point 1: It depends. If you are in the start of this game having three fully ascended heroes (even 3*) is not a poor decision. They would help with getting resources faster. And the four epic hero tokens give you a chance for good pulls. I would suggest you read Telly's guides on the various portals though. Most of them are not really worth pulling from, an opinion I also share.

Regarding Point 2: Trainer troops are like the trainer heroes, they are the inputs (food) for the troops to ascend in the same way that heroes are inputs (food) for the rise of your heroes. Advanced players (P2P, P2W and Whales :)) have committed massive amount of resources (food, recruits and so on) to reach their troops there, or bought the trainer packages. Troops and heroes that are consumed are not primary components of the economy but secondary as they are constituted of the primary components. And (ofc) time...

Thanks!

Grendel Rose.
Anonymous said…
Thank you Grendel, quite interesting and I surely will reread this several times to implement some of the described ideas/tactics. Can’t wait to see more in depth articles regarding E&P.