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Help with game economy

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Hello everyone,

(I sincerely apologize for the long post, this is not really a simple question)

I am a member of a development team for a game that will either serve as an open-world action role playing game or an MMORPG. My team has done immense amounts of research including analyzing over 3 dozen movies, 22 books and counting (not including video game guide books), and several video games (console+PC) including their guide books where applicable. We have analyzed them based on popularity and target audience to find patterns that would help us be successful in not only creating a well rounded game but also being sure to include the elements that have made all of those movies, books, and games successful.

I will not devulge details about the game concept due to the team's desire to maintain security of our creative content, but we are running into a particular issue for which we are now trying to outsource a solution. Like with most any role playing video game there is going to be an established form of currency to facilitate item trade and quest/mission reward as well. We have discovered that the economy of a role playing game must be balanced against several factors and it is not something we can model after a specific set of rules. Everything seems to have too many variables and we are starting to bang our heads against the wall.

We don't want to make money too readily available too early on, but we also don't want money to be so scarce and hard to earn that it makes progress in the game too slow and frustrating. 3 of our members are focused primarily on analyzing other games for their system of economy and they have noticed a few basic concepts:

1) The feedback mechanism: type of system where having enough money can get you awesome things no matter what level you are, but the tasks required in order to get the money end up raising your skills and character level. Like in Skyrim, you can't have the awesome sword without a bunch of money but to get the money you go out and kill things or make things which then raise your skills and thus your level... so the balance of keeping character development in line with the amount of currency you have is sort of a feedback loop.

2) Dangling the carrot: the type of system where there is are ways to earn money through arbitrary means (like in the game Rage, where you can play little tedious side games) but the arbitrary means earn very little money and aren't a viable substitute for the money earned from primary missions, so you are invariably drawn to the difficult missions with the promise of a better payout.

3) The well dries up: type of system where the sources of earning currency will run out for specific parts of the game, forcing you to have to move on to the next part of the game, or to a more challenging area. In games like world of warcraft for example, you can stay in the beginning area and do one recurring mission over and over that gets you something like 10 gold upon completion but you get to a point where the experience and gold earned becomes worthless to your character development and forces you to move on... or there are only a certain number of available quests in an area that allow you to earn money, so once you've completed them all, you must move on to a more challenging area to find more quests.


So once we decide on a concept of how we want to facilitate development vs currency earned, how does one go about the delicate method of balancing 1) experience earned, 2) difficulty of missions/challenges 3) currency earned, and 4) factors that drive a character to move on and explore further? Balancing all of these things properly seems incredibly intricate and if the balance is not met perfectly it could ruin the fun factor of the game.

Does anyone have any helpful suggestions? perhaps some personal experience in dealing with this aspect of game design?

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Whilst I actually intend to give you a more detailed post in an hour or so - I am interested in the following aspect:

What consideration have you given to managing your economy in an environment where the professional gold sellers intrude into your game?


Also a recent thread discussion in Game Economics:

http://www.gamedev.net/topic/622510-game-economics/ Edited by Stormynature

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I am not sure what you mean by "gold sellers", or what you mean by "intrude". If you mean vendors, like NPC types who you buy and sell things from that are the main requirement of having currency in the first place... their place in the game will be fairly paramount from an economic standpoint just like most RPGs.

I just had a short e-mail correspondence with our head of character development and asked if certain character classes would be more married to particular vendors based on the types of things they would buy and sell, and the response I got basically said that she is slowly guiding the design more towards the idea that all vendors entrenched in main areas will likely be all around "buy anything, sell everything" types, so they won't have much specific impact on the game other than being obvious lynchpins of the economy.

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My apologies -- by gold sellers I mean the practice of organisations and individuals external to your organisation to farm "gold" and then sell it to other players for real life money ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gold_farming

Given that this practice can have quite a dramatic effect on a game economy and you hadn't made mention of it in your initial post I thought it a relevant question to ask esp. as you mentioned the possibility of launching your game as an MMORPG.

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Gold farming actually has been discussed a few times. We basically decided that it is not 100% preventable were the game to be an MMORPG. The best we can do is have monitoring elements in place to detect things like code that makes characters able to earn currency while the real world player is not actually at the computer, and limit daily player to player currency transfer (such as set a cap on how much currency can be given to you from other characters in a 24 hour period) this would have to include items as well, so they can't circumvent the gold transfer cap by being given several items to sell to vendors.

After reading the thread you linked me, I was very ...I guess I should say "titilated" at the idea of a pseudo stock type system where certain resources rise and fall in supply and demand which can thereby sway the activity of players. I will bring this up to the rest of our team. Are there any games known to do this already? (like RPGs and the like, not games that would be specifically geared toward economic strategy as a primary focus).

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Three ways to hinder "gold selling," but not gold farming:

  1. There are to be no direct exchange or vendor market.
  2. All transaction must go through an exchange system, not an auction system.
  3. Use Diablo III's Real Money Auction House.


1) Direct exchange is what allows gold sellers to sell gold. They do a direct transaction to players in a price ratio that is unfair to market price. Thus, we have to prevent this from occuring.

2) An exchange system takes both ask and bid prices. This allows the market to say near the running equilibrium that changes base upon the condition of the market. This allow the market to adjust at all times to the demand and supply. With an auction system, the gold seller will farm items and form a cartel with a huge price tag of their items causing players to buy gold in order to buy items on the auction house. Get the trend? That's how the gold sellers make their money. They sell items on an auction house at a ridiculous price, and sell those gold right back to the players.

3) Diablo III's Real Money Auction House seems to help hinder the gold sellers by making all players become gold sellers.
http://tobolds.blogspot.com/2012/06/workification.html
http://www.alexc.me/why-diablo-3-is-less-addictive-blizzard-responds/441/
These two links explain why hindering gold farmers is not the best thing to do. Players like gold farmers even though they say otherwise. It's the game companies that hate gold farmers, not the casual players. The game companies want to maximize profit, and they will do so by hindering third party from making profits off of their game. Diablo III does not have as much fun as Diablo II by players who define themselves as somewhat more core than casual players, yet not as core as the hard core players.

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After reading the thread you linked me, I was very ...I guess I should say "titilated" at the idea of a pseudo stock type system where certain resources rise and fall in supply and demand which can thereby sway the activity of players. I will bring this up to the rest of our team. Are there any games known to do this already? (like RPGs and the like, not games that would be specifically geared toward economic strategy as a primary focus).


None that I am aware of though I would not be surprised if there is some such system in amongst this list or more likely within the realms of indi-built games

http://www.giantbomb...demand/92-2905/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M.U.L.E.

The problem with trying to develop a meaningful economy in a game comes down to one factor and one factor alone: infinite resources. For example: in an MMO that has mining as a profession, the respawning of mining nodes never stops....ever! The respawning of herbs never stops! The respawning of mobs never stops! etc etc. It is an inevitable consequence that players will end up with more ingame currency than get consumed by gold sinks. In real life this does not really happen - an infinite (relatively speaking) resource such as the air we breathe is essentially free and as a resource become more scarce so the price for that resource increases (there are exceptions to this rule but it falls outside the scope of this conversation).

One way in which you might constrain an economywould be creating an environment where the infinite resources you allow a player to access are essentially free and the resources you wish to generate a stable economy with should spawn as they are processed out of usefulness for example a piece of manaufactured armour which cost 5 (raw) iron to manufacture is sold to a vendor - an equivalent spawn is created in the game world. Determining the needs of a player for certain levels of materials could then be balanced against the server population to provide "silent caps" of available resources in the game. Combining this with gold sinks for "novelty" or costs in travel, taxes etc would help erode over excessiveness...this is not a perfect system by any means...but that's the problem with artificial economies - they are constrained by rule sets created for that artificial world. Edited by Stormynature

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Efficiency and Resources:
As players are higher level, they are able to loot low level monsters at a quicker rate, thus leading to inflation. The only way to counter this effect is to either 1) nerf the capacity of high level characters killing low level monsters, or 2) make the game realistic where the amount of resources is throttle similar to how internet service providers could throttle bandwidth of their users. Make the game throttle the resource rate such that there is a cap based on the level of the character. The more the character level is away from the optimal range, the less they could loot.

Summary:
Make resources throttled based upon the character level that should get that particular resource. If they are higher or lower level, then they will loot less resources. Or like Blizzard's WoW, have low level monsters one-shot high level players.

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We are not so much concerned with the creation and maintenance of a perfect virtual economy. The trouble we are trying to overcome at this point is how to balance the acquisition of currency with the acquisition of experience points, skill level, and game progression. We are worried that if we don't get the balance right, as you progress through the game the imbalance will build upon itself to the point where the gameplay is ruined.

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The trouble we are trying to overcome at this point is how to balance the acquisition of currency with the acquisition of experience points, skill level, and game progression. We are worried that if we don't get the balance right, as you progress through the game the imbalance will build upon itself to the point where the gameplay is ruined.


If you do this game as an MMO a player's first alt (assuming same faction, server etc) will pretty much collapse this philosophy unless you constrain the player from being able to outfit his alt with money or gear or making deals with other players to do the same for their alt. Also with real life relationnships between players you often find that one player being more advanced in the game might outfit his/her mate who has just joined the game.

I must apologise that I can't continue on atm - sleep beckons. Will endeavour to address your point sometime later todayish.

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