Free Money works well

| Monday, October 21, 2013
Earlier when I'd claimed that free money doesn't work so well. There is one factor that I'd overlooked: how much people care.

I could farm money spiders and dungeons endlessly for more and more gold. Therefore the gold sinks are ineffective; they only remove a finite amount of gold from a potentially infinite supply.

Would I farm money spiders endlessly? If I cared enough, yes. Maybe I really like having a fancy house or shiny armor. Or many houses. So I'll farm more.

However, another player, and I'm guessing most players, won't care as much about the virtual goodies. A basic house and transportation is 99% as useful as a half-dozen decorated homes and several dozen rare mounts. I think we can also assume that a player who is less interested in the extra stuff will be less interested in the game in general. The net result is that they'll buy less and farm less. The gold sinks and farming grow proportionally with their interest in the game.

We can therefore imagine that there is a balance between gold sinks and sources. If we can figure out how they grow relative to each other, then we can design them to grow proportionally. A player who is barely interested will farm little and spend little. A player who is extremely interested will farm a lot and spend a lot. For all reasonable amounts of time spent playing it is possible to achieve a balance between income and spending.

Of course there will always be some players who play a great deal more. They'll burn through gold sinks and amass mountains of gold. They'll break the system. They'll also be a minority. Perhaps a vocal one, given their level of investment, but they will inevitably break any system designed for reasonable amounts of play time, and therefore can be ignored, in a single-player game.

In my earlier post I suggested that a multi-player environment, and the resulting economy, would reduce the gold problem. Certainly the economy has some beneficial effect. However it also means that the typical players for whom the system works are exposed to the super-players who have broken it. While individual amounts of gold will usually match interest, in aggregate it can be ruined by players who have much more interest, and time, and therefore can flood the economy with gold. This ruins the balance and distorts the behavior of less interested players as well.

In summary, fixed gold sinks in a single-player game will work well for the vast majority of players. In a multi-player setting, those few players for whom it does not work will tend to break the system. Therefore multi-player games need something beside fixed sinks, perhaps even something stronger than transaction sinks.


Video Game Philosopher said...

Look at Entropia Universe, an MMO where all the money is backed by real currency (as in all the money in the game essentially comes from players investing real money to convert it to currency, and they can convert it back as well).

Couple points, though:
1. Trade Terminals/Repairs are a drain that go straight to the developers.
2. You can sell things to the trade terminals as well, but players will pay more for them.
3. The game is set up in such a way that buying from the trade terminals, using the items, then selling the results to the trade terminals will typically result in a loss.
4. Because it is more profitable to sell to other players, the trade terminal does not get sold to often anyway. However, money for repairs still gets spent.

That's way over simplifying it, but that is the general idea.

Klepsacovic said...

That system may offer its own sort of balancing. If players flood too much, then in an ideal economic system the value of currency would drop relative to what they'd buy with it, so they'd buy less currency. Perhaps people would make more sensible decisions when actual money is on the line. Or, they'd act as a disorganized system and respond with over-production, as tends to be the tendency of disorganized individual actors who cannot effectively coordinate their actions.

Anonymous said...

I've said this before it remains worth mentioning in discussions about game economies: Path of Exile really has at least one leg down on this race to economic perfection in our virutal worlds.

I think PoE will run into it's own issues eventually in the economy but they will be be pretty insignificant. The key to their economy is that everything has intrinsic value which is traded. An item is always worth something to the player and they can always use it for something else ...and that's *all players can do* is use items to improve their gear. Compare this to almost any game economy other than EVE and it's almost obvious why those economies are poorly executed.

So I think for any sort of systemic balance the items and services being traded must have intrinsic value. When you think about it, this is the only economy that genuinely exist in the real world. An item can either be used for more than simple trade or else it's money.

Oh and I forgot ...the issue I think PoE's economy will run into is the Too Much Gear Floating Around problem, but the reason I think it's a non-factor is because putting in a gear sink is rather simple. This is especially true in PoE where the nature of the game is collection and hunting.

Coreus said...

WoW's Black Market AH is a very smart solution to this. No buyout option (though effectively it's a million gold, the most a player can have to bid with) and regular appearances of otherwise unattainable epeen items like that silly axe guitar and the big robot head. The "game breaking" players need to outbid each other to win, and because these are not player-sold items those vast sums of gold immediately disappear completely from the player economy.

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