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Jeshin Offline

[Article] Games & Economies
« on: April 23, 2017, 11:02:00 PM »
This article gives some context to game economies not only for MUDs but other genres. It explains the different challenges and provides two suggested methods of handling economies in your own games.

The Article

Many Faces Offline

Re: [Article] Games & Economies
« Reply #1 on: April 24, 2017, 10:01:33 PM »
Both of those economic models are crap for MUDs, especially the Planned Growth Economy.  If there's anything MUDs don't need, it's exponential growth based on player activity.  It's like a pyramid scheme except with RAM usage and staff time.

The issue with economics in online role playing games (the kinds that are supposed to have role playing, not WoW) is that economy design is approached with a fundamentally flawed mentality that prevents any possibility of success.  It's not that these systems themselves are flawed or shortsighted.  They can't succeed because the goals they were designed with are antithetical to the game they are in.  No amount of sinks or planned expansions can change the fact the game's economy has been set up in direct opposition to providing players with the experience they came to the game for.

The reward is supposed to be immersion.  Possibly escapism.  Well... very probably escapism.  Yet these immersion games get designed like they were just single player games where the reward is loot.  It doesn't matter where the tasty pellet comes from or where the byproduct goes; you feed the mouse its pellet for running in the wheel.  If you want it to keep running in the wheel, you need tastier pellets, and if you want it to feel challenged you make the wheel harder to move.  Of course, these are multiplayer games, so you have different mice with different pellets and different wheels.  Then the mice figure out they can pay a farm of Chinese mice to run on that first wheel for 5,000 hours to get pellets to trade for more pellets.

No part of that mentality will result in an economy that has any business in a role playing game whether you involve metaphorical kitchen sinks or wet sand.  Don't try to plan how you're going to do it wrong by studying games doing it wrong that aren't failing as hard as other games also doing it wrong.

Economics are a game play element, not a reward system.  You have to design economics to be an activity in the game players participate in to get to their goals by looking at the human experience.  In the real world, most people don't compete to have the most money when they die.  Death doesn't give you a rain check because you happen to have enough money to defer your end for a few more years.  You die when you die and how much money you had when you died will not matter to you after you're dead.  Doing better economically does mean you can pursue your goals, takes measures that might extend your life, protect yourself from fears (rational or otherwise), and even though people can treat it as a means to itself they usually have other motives it fulfills (e.g. source of esteem, a resource to achieve a goal through other people, something to win over a certain person or just use other people).

If we were going to describe it in gaming terms, economics is an environmental effect and personal wealth is a resource.  What your players actually want to do in your game is a bit of a laundry list, but it can be boiled down to the following: defeat others, gain esteem, be unique, encounter drama, be entertained, explore, socialize, become part of the lore, build something lasting, gain access to more gameplay elements as the result of efforts, have an adventure, and/or live a totally alien life to their own (escapism).  Where game designers go wrong is they try to provide those experiences and give you loot as a reward participating.

What needs to be done is having players participate in the economy as one of the means of pursuing those experiences, and for it to be an on-going environmental effect they have to account for.

First, you need to create resources that will not gather themselves.  Second, you need to create places where those resources are needed.  Third, you need to create things made from those resources which will not exist without those resources.  Fourth, you need to set the price based on the supply of those resources and relate it to the demand for those resources, which should reflect in the cost of items made from those resources and some degree of profit margin.  Fifth, the supply of items made from those resources should also be impacted by how many people are buying or trading for them.  Sixth, make some if not all resources and items eventually expire.  Seventh, track personal wealth at a merchant and country level, so after their finances dip below the baseline they start raising prices on everything to make up the difference, then drop prices dramatically if they get desperate.

Last but not least, every part of what I just described is the only economy players participate in.  It's not the experienced player economy.  It's not the model you use for weapons and armor but oh hey food is plentiful so it's basically stable.  That is how every good and service in your game is priced.  Everyone feels what's going on no matter how far removed they are from it.

If there's some blight that wipe's out a years worth of cotton crop, players (and NPCs) can't pick cotton.  The price of cotton will begin creeping up with unmet demand.  By extension cotton goods, and by extension the cost of other goods dependent upon people who consume cotton goods, will also increase in cost.  If the price were high enough, either people just wouldn't buy (let's say) shirts for a while or they might go with another material that otherwise would have been comparatively expensive.

This does more than impact your PCs' and NPCs' shirt purchasing habits, however.  If someone knows about the cotton blight in Country A, they might have the good sense to get to Country B before the news spreads and buy as much cotton as they can afford.  Then they could sit on it until the price has been driven up.  Alternately, players might think to cause a crisis, by cornering a market legally or through sabotage.  Then again, maybe the cotton plants didn't get wiped out.  What if the government was mismanaged and jacked up import fees on all the docks?  That would have almost the same economic impact, but might inspire some players into smuggling and others into operating a black market.

It also helps if there are things in-game they need resources to make, so that the economy is a means they can gather resources.  For example: don't just have an NPC that sells boats as the way players can own boats.  Have boats be something that can be built with skills and resources.  You can have NPCs with the resources and skills to build them but you can't have that as the only option for acquiring a boat.

If a player is wealthy enough to buy a boat, they can just buy one.  If they're driven enough or connected enough, they can build one.  Then again, maybe they're wealthy enough but they need to build their own boat because they don't want it on an official registry and plan to arm it with illegal weapons.  If they're ruthless enough, they can seize someone else's boat.  If they're wealthy and looking to cut corners, they can pay someone to seize one, then bribe someone else to change the boat's registry.

Simulating an economy is complicated, yes, but it's mostly a one-time cost.  The price of not doing that is you have an on-going requirement to come up with carrots and sticks to drive player activity, because there are hard limits to how much they can do on their own and every reward requires you to weigh the consequences to both the game world and future playerbase demands.  Look at the previous paragraph.  All of those things I listed are economic consequences of a player wanting a boat for some reason that happen without staff having to lift a finger.  They're not quests where you get a boat at the end.  Yeah, a player might be tempted to try and grind so they can buy a boat from an NPC, but now they have a dozen other options that might fit their character's background and goals.

Your article is very timely.  I've literally spent the last day and a half thinking about economics for that Hollow Earth game I still haven't named yet, to the point I've actually fleshed out a militant capitalist and a militant communist nation that have trade relations with each other.  That's despite none of the nations (there are 6) using the same currency, despite the communist nation not even having currency, and despite the two nations ideologically hating one another.
« Last Edit: April 24, 2017, 10:03:04 PM by Many Faces »

Jeshin Offline

Re: [Article] Games & Economies
« Reply #2 on: April 30, 2017, 02:18:00 AM »
Both models will work fine for a MUD, but as with all things they need to be the proper fit for the goals of a game. The planned growth model would be good for a game where you wanted development and invention to be core aspects of gameplay. I am biased towards the flow-thru model because it is more applicable than other options and is fairly simple to understand. After reading your post and our discussion on discord it is really a semantics argument though as both Planned Growth and Flow-thru can meet many of your goals as stated in the post.

1 - Resources that are player gathered not generated in market
2 - Locations within the gameworld that need/want the resource
3 - Products from the resources
4 - Pricing based on supply/demand
5 - Availability of product based on resource supply
6 - Fragility of resources/goods
7 - Rate of Return / Profitability factor

I rephrase a few of them so if I mischaracterized them I'll edit this post afterwards. Now in the interest of defending my original article I'll briefly walk through some terminology cross over on Flow-thru and then continue on with the elaboration. In my original example of Flow-thru I provided this:

Jeshin creates a new character called Jeshin
Jeshin is given starting equipment and money [ faucet ]
Jeshin begins a newbie quest
Jeshin defeats the mouse lord for the newbie quest
Jeshin is given cheese and reward money [ faucet ]
Jeshin uses the reward money to repair his armor [ sink ]
Jeshin sells his cheese to an NPC for money [ faucet ]
Jeshin purchases additional equipment [ sink ]
Jeshin seeks a new quest

I presented the flow-thru model in a simplified manner and from the perspective of an RPG or a game moreso than an roleplay experience so it would be easier to understand for those just broaching the topic but we can easily make some changes. First thing is first lets modify quest to activity and clarify that cheese is a food/resource. Next lets mixup the example a little bit to make it more closely resemble the action loop in an a roleplay game.

Jeshin creates a new character called Jeshin
Jeshin starts with 3000 coin and some rags to wear [ Faucet ]
Jeshin purchases some gear from the OOC newbie area [ Sink ]
Jeshin enters the game world
Jeshin purchases a mount to leave the city for hunting [ Sink ]
Jeshin leaves the city to go hunting for wild dogs and kills 3!
Jeshin gathers bones, meat, and hides from the dogs [ Faucet ]
Jeshin sells the supplies at market to NPCs
Jeshin rents a cheap room to live out of and keep some of his supplies that don't sell at market [ Sink ]
Jeshin tries to find a hunting partner for their next hunting trip

Functionally very similar but different terminology and maybe a different way to frame the example. Now because of our discussion on discord and in the interest of not debating semantics I will from now on refer to Flow-Thru as RP Centric Flow-thru! Now lets discuss some economic, nitty gritty.

When I approach a game with an economy or a model that needs implementation the first thing I do is break it into levels of design. We'll go through those briefly.

1. Game Themes
2. Roleplay Culture
3. Desired Model
4. Framing of Model
5. Feature & Mechanic Compatibility
6. Projected cycle
7. Return to #1 and compare projected cycle to all previous levels of design for integrity

Game themes are such things as exploration, survival, freedom, politics, intrigue, horror, suspense, invention, corruption, etc etc. Games with clear themes are easier to develop econmies for because you can position them in such a way to promote and strengthen those themes. After you've identified existing themes or decided on themes for a game in development you need to consider the roleplay culture. How are people playing this game, what pace will they be playing, what kind of playstyles will be pre-dominant and supported. This can be things like a more RPI paced short emotes/says with code equating to roleplay or something more even paced with lengthier 4+ line emotes with code either equating to RP or code being done before/after roleplay about it is done. Normally in faster paced games with more direct roleplay you'll find more activity oriented economies versus even/slow paced games with more dialogue in their roleplay having social, mercantile, deal based economies. This isn't to say that those games have those style of economy or model implemented just that those are how players will often engage with whatever existing economy the game has.

Once you've identified themes and roleplay culture you can select your model. This can be something you make up or the RP centric flow-thru or planned growth or whatever you want to pull out of your hat. What is important is that you understand how the model works. Does it hum along on its own? Does it require staff participation? Does it require conflict or pvp to motivate activity? Does it resist conflict because it reduces economic activity? All that jazz For the purpose of continuing we'll say we're choosing the RP centric Flow-thru model which was described above as items, resources, or currency entering the gameworld and then leaving the gameworld after circulating through it for a time.

Framing your model is important because just selecting a model doesn't really do anything for you except provide goals and guidelines for how you want to handle resources/currency/items. So we're using the RP centric Flow-thru model and we're in a survival game. Well we want to frame this model within the realm of collecting, making, using, and bartering. This game is about getting things done, having the right supplies, and trading off what you have excess of. That would be completely different than a political intrigue game that might use estate/territory/land acquisition as a way to gain resources/currency/items that are treated in a more abstract fashion because you're playing someone so wealthy and politically connected that a single high value item isn't significant to you but land holdings are. An RP centric flow-thru model can handle both of these but you need to frame it properly with what your game is actually going to be because a gritty activity and individual item based survival economy isn't going to mesh.

In the interest of keeping this easy for people based on their roleplay experiences we'll stick to the survival game economy and move onto identifying features & mechanics. This is the layer of design that most people interact with and think of when they think of economies on games. This is the place where activity X leads to resource Y which is valued at price Z depending on location. So for a survival game you'll probably have some sort of foraging/search/harvest mechanic and lets say a makeshift mechanic which allows you to combine items/resources into functional tools or shelter. You may be thinking "Jeshin this doesn't sound very economical!" to which I would refer you to the fact economy isn't about loot or currency it's about value.

Jeshin harvests timber from a room with trees/forest
Jeshin harvests stone from a room with a stream or quarry
Jeshin decides to build a shelter from stone
Jeshin sells the timber at market to PC/NPCs

In a functioning economy my choice is determined by value. I value the stone more for shelter because it's more durable and perhaps is not worth very much in currency. Meanwhile timber makes a nicer shelter, maybe even quicker, but it's more valuable to me in currency. Now this is situational because maybe I don't care about money maybe my character wants the nicest shelter possible which is timber and not stone. To draw a brief real world analogy some people value keepsakes and sentimental items more than their actual currency value. In the same way you may pay 100 USD for a gift for someone who would only have paid 25 USD for the same gift. They keep it because it's a gift and if they sold it they'd be willing to sell it for less than you bought it for. Just different valuations of objects and their uses.

Once you've built up the understanding of your game, the roleplay in it, the model you want to use, and how the model will integrate with the mechanics/features you need to map out a theoritical cycle of character action. This can be very specific or you can generalize.

Jeshin logs on
Jeshin checks his shelter for degradation/damage
Jeshin uses some of his stored stones to repair degradation/damage
Jeshin gathers gear
Jeshin goes out to the river to catch fish
Jeshin kills a deer on the way to the river and collects: pelt, antlers, bones, and meat
Jeshin catches 3x trout and 1x catfish
Jeshin cooks the trout before selling antlers/pelt/catfish to NPC/PCs
Jeshin logs out

So lets suppose that shelters are not provided and need upkeep based on the materials used and the weather or something. This means a lot of player time/effort will be centered around their shelter and possibly finding good locations for their shelters. This also means the materials related to shelters could have a higher value to players because of its dominant use within gameplay. Food is evidently plentiful in this game in the example there's a river with fish and a deer on the way to it. Perhaps catfish are rarer and thus a luxury food item and so Jeshin sells it instead of eating it himself. Pelts and antlers could be used to make makeshift tools or proper craftables (assuming there's a distinction between them) so they likewise have more value to someone with the proper skills than Jeshin who is just a gatherer. Now that is important Jeshin's character/role values things in a certain manner but Jane's character/role might be more mercantile despite the survival element and value resources that make complete crafts instead of makeshift crafts more highly. So you should map out as many cycles as you can think of.

Once you have your projected cycles of activity, you back to #1 and make sure it matches your previous decisions/observations about the game and systems you want to be in place. If it does then you're into implementation and player-testing where you don't provide them with much information and see if they naturally come to the same conclusions as you as to how the world will operate. If they have similar or consistent economic valuations on actions then you've probably done a good job. If they're completely off the reservation you might want to re-examining aspects of your model, framing, and mechanic/feature compatability.

EDIT: Fixed the inappropriate [faucet] tag that Many Faces pointed out.
« Last Edit: April 30, 2017, 03:48:49 PM by Jeshin »

Many Faces Offline

Re: [Article] Games & Economies
« Reply #3 on: April 30, 2017, 03:39:20 PM »
To this day you have not presented a single complete example of the Flow-Thru Model.  Where is the bit about keeping the economic level relatively stable?  You're just calling all gains and expenditures "faucets" and "sinks" respectively, which would make every economic model a derivative of Flow-Thru.  Also, exchanging something of value for raw currency is called a "converter" not a faucet/tap.

My problem is not with the model being used in games.  My problems are 1) that both economic models you presented are used to fight inflation in games where the economy is a reward system, and 2) you telling people to use the Flow-Thru model for MUDs while only defending your version of the model which you haven't bothered to communicate that is highly modified while still, confusingly, calling it Flow-Thru.

To point 1, the Flow-Thru model (including your version) and Planned Growth model are both built around the idea the economic system is the game's (tangible) reward system.  I believe that is a terrible approach for creating a game where actual role playing is the goal, because it puts too much emphasis on acquiring wealth as the reason for playing.  Endlessly trying to redefine what the model is (while still calling it the same thing) does not change the fact its application is as an economic reward system designed in the hopes of limiting inflation due to players grinding economic rewards.

To point 2, if you want to create your own version of a thing, you need to indicate that your version is not the original model by calling it something different.  Because when you talk up your derivative model while calling it by the same name as the original, and without citing what changes you made, you mislead people even if you don't intend to.

Edit due to Discord clarifications:

The problem with your version of Flow-Thru by either name that is you have so loosely defined the model that every game with economic growth and attrition could be treated as a derivative of it.  The problem with that is it makes it very hard to pin down what it is you are recommending people do.  You've included a decision-making process that has nothing to do with how the economic model works but is, instead, an extremely high-level list of bullet points.

I'm not arguing with you that I hate you and your system.  I am arguing you have communicated your system so vaguely that a person wishing to take your advice over someone else's would not be able to.  I believe it would greatly increase the coherency of your communicated idea to explain what is not encompassed in "RP-Centric Flow-Thru".
« Last Edit: April 30, 2017, 04:27:57 PM by Many Faces »

Lore Offline

Re: [Article] Games & Economies
« Reply #4 on: April 30, 2017, 04:23:31 PM »
1. Game Themes
2. Roleplay Culture
3. Desired Model
4. Framing of Model
5. Feature & Mechanic Compatibility
6. Projected cycle
7. Return to #1 and compare projected cycle to all previous levels of design for integrity

Personally, I'd start with 1 and 2 to get an idea of what I was doing, then prototype #6 to have a good understanding of what I want the person to actually be doing. I find mapping out discrete actions to be quite necessary to design: otherwise it is a bunch of unguided theory.

Once I have #6 understood, and I have a full model of what I want the player to experience in the economic cycle, I can write the tests to find out if it is happening; then formulate the models and features that would allow me to reach my exact goal.