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AngleWyrm

iMMOrtal economics

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Hello, fellow explorers and scientists. Imagine, if you will, an MMO that has a closed economy. You can hear the screaming already? Great! The open economy model of coins flowing from faucet to drain somehow fails to enact a sense of value for me. Controlling the stream seems a contrived artifice that obscures some failing of the system at a deeper level. And so I wonder if perhaps it is an artificial black box solution that hastily sketches over some interesting detail. On closer examination, the main reason put forth for an open economy is the arrival of new players in a world of old players. Which looks a lot like the cycle of youth growing to adulthood. On the one hand, economic growth from poor to rich is a significant game motive, but on the other hand, the outcome of that drive is listed as the main problem! It's as if the closed economy is a race to gather all the golden apples from the Magic Tree, but some players start first. Clearly a game of "He who dies with the most toys wins," except that death is ill-defined. It's more like "He who currently holds the majority of toys, with little chance of losing them, is the winner." Not a very satisfying victory, and maybe it's because the game fails to acknowledge the directly competetive aspect of gathering resources: In order for there to be a winner, there must also be a loser. On to the hard stuff: "But I just started!" Yes, and it seems that a victory by howitzer vs stilletto should be...Insignificant? What if there are only two apples left on the tree, and somehow the newbie gets both of them? Doesn't matter how many are stashed away in the old barnyards, it's still a good showing! But more importantly, doesn't this problem seem to address a more basic issue, that of how to handle youth growing into adulthood, and senior retirement? [Edited by - AngleWyrm on July 1, 2008 4:19:45 AM]

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What about a closed economy that grows whenever more people log on or join as newbies, and shrinks when people log off / become inactive? So its like a closed-economy in the sense that there is a fixed Constant, but in this case that I'm talking about, that Constant would be the wealth ratio per player to which the designer sets. So basically, the universe shrinks or blows up according to its population, so that the sense of a close economy could be simulated while taking into account of population changes.

For instance, if a server receives more people, then the rate of monster and resource spawning would increase to hold such a number of players, or more resource sites will be opened. And when a server receives less people, then monsters and resources would spawn much less frequently to that many people, or more resource sites will be closed.

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Using your analogy, what if there is nothing left for the newbie not even the two apples on the tree?

No gold coins, no wooden sword, no tunic to dress in, he can't even try to make a sword himself because all the iron in the world has been mined and hidden away even though the players hiding them has no use for them.

There is no way a closed economy can work unless you find a way to force those players to put excess resources into the world. For example, taxing players for the amount of items they own. Each item cost 1% its worth to be maintained. This won't work either, players will just start farming and if they can out-farm the cost of maintaining their hoard we are back to square one.

If they can't they will keep the bare minimum amount of items they can maintain with farming, this will just create a tier items ownership, where the richest and most powerful players are able to hoard the best items in the game, since they are able to maintain all the items. The next tier of players will get the tier-2 items, so on and so forth. At the end of the day the latest newbie will be stuck with nothing at all.

Then there is the problem of players leaving, Player A played for 6 months ranks as top 10 players in the game world decides its time to move on and logs out forever. All the gold and items he owns are gone forever.

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No system is truly closed. If you have monster spawning and crafting in your game, you have value creation. Nor, as others pointed out, is a closed system desirable. I think that even if you added senility and permanent death the system wouldn't be stable.

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What you are looking at here is a Tragedy of the Commons ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons ).

Because the system is finite (closed) and there are lost of people (players) competing for them (they need the resources/items/gold) then you end up with a TotC.

Also if you have the resources give an advantage to players in collecting resources (gold buys better weapons, better weapons allow you to kill monsters faster, monsters give you gold), you end up with a Run-Away-Leader Problem due to the positive feedback loop of Gold -> Weapons -> Monsters -> Gold.

To correct this you need to provide Negative Feedback Loops to counter any runaway leader problems. Negative Feedback Loops will make it hard for players who accumulate resources to further accumulate them (or hold onto them depending on how you set up the loop). You can make this interactive (other players can take resources from other players), or passive (taxes).

In either method, you want inactive players to return their resources to the world somehow. One method is to detect how long they are off-line and then once they have exceeds a time threshold have the account return the resource to the world. If you state this clearly, up front and include the reasons for it, then players will understand and not be too annoyed. If the process and reasons are not made available, then players will become annoyed at the unexpected tampering with accounts.

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I think that there should be parts of the economy that are closed. For example the relics in DAOC are limited. People fight over them and over time they change hands over and over again. A similar mechanic can be applied to a large number of other rewards, and the rewards can be temporary.

For example you could win a buff for your guild/alliance that lasts 7 days. After 7 days that buff can be won again.

The problem is if these rewards are the only thing people are fighting over. Eventually most players are just trying to tread water and either feel like they are getting nowhere, are sinking. Some will be rising at time but over time they won't have that more continuous positive feedback that other games have.

Positive feedback leads to them paying to play your game.

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A fairly common parallel is that of land vs population growth. What do we actually do about it?

We build multiple story buildings, effectively adding new surface area. And we time share some of the space; bathrooms, gardens, theatres. We also invent technology that can get more use out of less space; fast-breeding cattle, water treatment plants, high-yield grain. Much more use is squeezed out of each square foot, so that the needs of the many are met with less square feet per person.

We find ways to reduce the individual's need for land. Which is a statement that directly conflicts the often quoted notion of infinite needs vs limited resources. It seems that the measurement of value is one of relative merit.

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I think the problem of a closed system is not of the system itself, but of the players. An example would be Ultima Online, I have not played the game myself but from what I read the problem of hoarding is a very serious issue in the game.

Players hoard items for no reasons at all. A high powered player who is probably using the "Ultimate Doom Sword" has about 50 iron swords at home for no other reasons other then having it and denying them to other people.

So, no matter how you reduce the needs and wants of players, they will hoard. For a closed system to work you will need to solve the problem of players hoarding.

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A closed economy is an idea that I tend to favor in MMO design, and one that seems relatively simple to implement as well. At least, no more difficult than an open economy, since both require tweaking to work reliably. Keeping in mind that your mileage may vary, and other design elements need to play nice with it, here's my solution to the apparent problems of a closed economy:

Step 1: A global resource pool is filled with an arbitrary number of "resource units" dependent on the number of currently active players, say 20,000 + (<number of players> * 5,000)
Step 2: The server distributes resource units from this global pool to various "nodes" where they can be gathered by players
Step 3: (may be combined with step 2) Resources are compiled into items with a certain "resource value" and may be employed by players in their day to day activities
Step 4: Items "wear" with time and usage, losing resource points which are returned to the global resource pool as they become available, producing a constant trickle of resources back into the pool. Items also return all their resources to the pool when destroyed by their owner.

And that returns us to Step 1. Repeat the process for every type of "resource unit" you have and you have a closed economy that could theoretically work. For the system to really work though money would have to also be a type of resource along with other considerations like "repairing" items by restoring their lost resource units with resources of the same type.

Resource units are arbitrary and could be anything: you could have resources like wood and iron or you could have abstract resources like weapons and shields. Similarly "nodes" could be anything from mines to planets to individual monsters, as long as they're sufficient in number to prevent easy monopolization of them.

Also, the system inherently discourages hoarding by requiring players to pay an upkeep of sorts on their items as they wear over time (online or offline), but for the sake of fairness to players this kind of wear should happen over extended periods of time, so other anti-hoarding measures may be required.

The most obvious solution is to simply limit the player's storage space, but once again other game play mechanics have to play nice: If your game is about gathering the best items and reaching the highest level, then you shouldn't severely limit the player's storage capacity and you probably don't even want a closed economy in the first place.

That's my take on the problem anyway. Both systems have their place, but the genre seems to be dominated by the open economy system, even where it may not necessarily be appropriate. [smile]

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If I may ask, what is the point of a closed economic system? Is it that some people think it would be more realistic? The workarounds suggested here to make it work certainly aren't realistic, so I can't see why that would matter. Is it supposed to be more fun? I'm not quite sure why that would be the case either. In fact, with some of the workarounds suggested (like spawning nodes as other players use up resources), I don't think an average player would even realize the economy is closed, so it can't increase the fun for them. It just seems like a lot of work for no good reason.

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