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Use of Currency in Game Design ("It's the economy, stupid!")

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Here's the basic structure of a simplified empire-builder type game i'm designing from scratch: 1) collect resources off a map 2) convert resources into usable game units, cash, and Points Of Special Usage 3) use converted resources to leverage position and win game So one thing you can turn raw resources into is MONEY. My plan was to use money to A) finance expansion, and B) maintain current game units and position. ISSUE: i want money to be something you can't ignore, so i'm planning to not only make building new things cost money but also require the things you build to be maintained. PROBLEM: What happens when you spend all of your money or maintenance > income ? OPTION 1: you can't build anything more if you can't buy it. (cash < price) OPTION 2: you can't build anything more if you can't maintain it. (cash < maintenance_per_turn) OPTION 3: things fall apart if you can't maintain them (income < maintenance_total) Which do you think is the better way to treat money? #1 seems pretty straight-forward - please shoot it down #2 seems abusable because it's lets you build and use things until you're broke then not feel anything bad because of it #3 might be hard to implement mechanically. (How do you decide precisely what breaks or gets scrapped? Automatic or player chosen? How mind-numbing). I'm looking for the simplest solution that yields the most strategic options. Thanks for your input. You rock!

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How about instead of things falling apart, they just stop working until you can afford them (e.g. factories stop producing, turrets stop shooting, etc)?
Instead of having to choose which ones stop working, just make them all stop working!

This might seem dumb (coz if you go over budget by $0.01 the whole economy shuts down), but it will really encourage people to keep their budgets out of the red.

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You can try Imperialism/Imperialism 2's method.

Depending on the size of your economy, you are allowed to spend your money into negative value. e.g. a decent economy can goes into debt of 500 dollars.

If the limit is exceeded, e.g. the economy goes into debt of 1000 dollars. All available resources will be used to repay the loan as well as keep the bare minimum economy running. You may lose army units or research will go down, but the economy will keep running fine.

This allows an economy to keep functioning even if it runs into $0.01 debt, but makes sure that the player does not overspent what the empire's economy can support.

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I was thinking that you could assign priority numbers as well as economic values to each unit (as part of its stats). In this way, you could replicate the gradual shut down of the economy without the effect of a mouse chewing through the "Ultimate Source of Power" cord and shutting everything down all at once. Simplifying in the extreme, you could assign all auxiliary "upgrade" buildings a value of 1, defensive buildings a 2, and primary unit producing buildings a 3. Add on top of this the fact that you might assign a "Heavy Turret" a $100 upkeep cost every 10 minutes (as opposed to a "Light Turret" $25) and you would have quite a nice little system going on. Similarly, if you wanted to add a another level to this, you could have players (or civilisations) specialise in different economic structures (i.e. the priorities inverse so auxiliary buildings stay functioning longest), forcing them to manage their economy in a way that other games might ignore.

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Quote:
PROBLEM: What happens when you spend all of your money or maintenance > income ?

OPTION 1: you can't build anything more if you can't buy it. (cash < price)
OPTION 2: you can't build anything more if you can't maintain it. (cash < maintenance_per_turn)
OPTION 3: things fall apart if you can't maintain them (income < maintenance_total)

Which do you think is the better way to treat money?

I think you could include aspects of all of them.

Cash < Price: Have the player able to cue more, but either slow all work on all build ques, or have them build one after the other.

cash or income < maintainance: Instead of just shutting down production or trashing buildings, have them loose efficiency. Slow them down (and maybe even keep them slow for a while after, and/or temporarily increase their maintainance costs). You can then increase their speed once the deficit has beenn paid for (either in time and or money) and it might be an idea to provide a cap (probably around twice the cost to build the facility in the first place).

So basically a player can go nuts and over build their economy, but if they can not meet the requierments of what they built, then they will be penalised, but as there is now no hard restrictions, a creative player might be able to work their economy and develop a good strategy that gives them a good ecomonic start.

It also provides a strategic opening for their opponent. Now they can sabotage a building at the right time and cripple the enemy economy. Imagine a strike on a major enemy income source at a time when the player is expanding rapidly. This might send them into debt on their current projects, and then because these then suck up resources to get them out of debt, it might have knock on effects whereby they can't meet the maintainance requierments and their economy goes into a downwards spiral (this is why you need to place limits on the amount of debt that the facilities can go into debt). If the enemy then times their attack to coincide with this economic crash, it might allow a smaler force to effectivly combat a larger force (the smaller force being able to spend resources on resupply and re-enforcements, as their opponent is needing all their resources on getting out of debt and recovering their economy and production rates).

However, judging when and what facility to sabotage is the key aspect to this strategy so it would take a good player to pull it off consistantly, plus if a player can stockpile "Strategic Reserves" (which would cost to create and maintain) then they might be abel to counter such a strategy (unless the strategic reserves also got hit :D ).

So to sum up:
Allow the player to go into debt in that work and production slows if they exceed their income/savings.

Going into debt will cause "interest" to build up in that it takes more resources, money and time than the actual debt originally was.

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You guys are awesome. Some of you read my mind, evidently.

So, i've got the following ideas in my basket now:

1) Deficit spending with max cap and penalties (interest %)

2) Ability to scrap game units (either for cash or just to free up maintenance fees)

3) Prioritized reduction in game unit efficiency.


#1 and #2 i already had on the books, but #3 i thought of last night and Edtharan obviously did too. Here's how i think it could work:

You've got per-turn income (I) (this is a TBS by the way) and per-turn maintenance (M). If I < M, then game_unit_efficiency = I/M across the board.

Say i overspent this turn by 25%. Now all my units perform 25% worse. My roads are 25% slower, my combat units are 25% less effective, and i produce 25% less output.

Now the warmonger in a fight might want to deep-six production and crank up the war machine, so there needs to be a global way to say "fund combat units 100% if possible, take the bite out production instead." That can just be a simple slider or pie chart.

And as brought out, this also creates a strategic option of crushing your opponant's financial engine and hobbling his other efforts as a result. So if i'm getting attacked i could A) retaliate, or B) destroy his financial center which might force him to scrap his fighting units or at least give me a chance of winning.

So that's where i'm at now. Good ideas. Anything to add or critique?

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I feel somebody should take a second to bring up a different argument when looking at an economy. Most professionals will tell you there exists 4 different types of gamers, those who enjoy Exploration, Expanding, Conquering and Social Interactions. And most gamers enjoy several of the categories. An economy would fit under the Expanding category. Why do i bring this up?

When you begin to talk about developing an economy in your game, its important you don’t go overboard. An economy shouldn't be everything in your game; as a matter of fact it should be maybe 1/10th of your focus. I'm sure you have heard this before, but you have to keep these things simple. Gameplay is about balance, not more tasks. I feel that a system like this does very little to add to gameplay and makes it so a player must spend a majority of his time focusing on his economy. Why is this bad? Because a lot of people don't enjoy the inner workings of balancing an economy. If you are trying to build a game that focuses entirely on the gamers who enjoy expanding, then I would go nuts with it. Develop an in game stock market and full blown economy. You could do some research on the early buttonwood agreement in the United States for some inspiration.

If you want your game to have a unique economy without making it the central focus of your game. I would look more into jobs and taxes other than natural resources. Natural resources are very basic and work well because most players enjoy focusing on conquering and warfare over developing a stable society. Blizzard obviously proved this by having an extremely basic economy and they still had lots of success.

So be careful with a system that would require constant upkeep of the economy to be competitive, because with such a focus on economy you might lose a lot of gamers who don't enjoy dealing with the struggle of balancing an economy. I'm not saying go the most boring and overused route either. But a player shouldn't lose a game because his economy goes under, it's bad balance.

I would look into taxes and job based economies like black and white or pharaoh. These games don’t leave out natural resources but there is obviously a lot more depth without making it “the most important thing”.


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I'm not interesting in simulating a full blown economy like SimCity. By "economy" i mean "acquisition, conversion, and maintenance of resources."

I'm designing a "distilled 4X" game. I'm taking the basic framework of games like Civ and MOO and stripping it down to the bare metal - getting rid of unnecessary features and abstracting the rest.

Economic concepts exist to regulate expansion. A player needs to have a limit to the number of, say, combat units they can build; otherwise what's the point?

The basic premise of my design is:

- collect resources
- convert resources into usable game units
- use game units to collect more resources and win

pretty simple. The strategy will be in choosing which resources to collect for your situation and how to deal with neighbors who are trying to do the same thing. like any other 4X, eventually you'll need to use force to keep expanding.

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If you want simple, then why not simply go for no upkeep, instead having various differnt competing uses for gold (research, economy, population, happiness, etc.)? Upkeep is inevitably more complicated than no upkeep.

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