Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Economy and Inflation in MMOs

There was a post the other day on Kill Ten Rats discussing MMO economy and the rampant inflation that seems inevitable in today's games.

The problems stems from the fact that you can't have an economy with an infinitely open source and sink for goods and gold. There needs to be some sort of a mostly-closed enviroment (though, of course, it's always wise to leave options open for outside manipulation in case things start going wrong). Those gold coins dont make themselves. For every stack of gold coins added to the world, there needs to be a chunk of gold ore or a gold goblet that was melted down to create those coins. For every sword that's made, a plowshare or something equivalent should be removed from the world. And, once the sword is made, it goes somewhere. Either into the hand of a player or an NPC.

NPC vendors shouldnt just buy everything a player owns and then toss the items into the limitless void. Items should either be available for resale to other players or NPCs, gathering dust in a storeroom (where it can later be retrieved or stolen) or be broken down and used to create other items.

The concept of a semi-closed self-sustaining economy goes hand in hand with the idea of Logical Loot. If Mobs are dropping gold coins and Gloves of God-Spanking from their butts, any attempt at an economy is immediately thrown out the window. Instead you have simply created a whack-a-mole vending machine with infinite resources, and a player economy that will end up suffering from a rampant level of inflation that makes post-war Germany seem like a stable system.

But monster drops arent the only key to creating such a system. The resource harvesting and crafting systems have to work together as well. If you're going to have unlimited harvestable resources, then there needs to be a throttle on them to keep players from constantly flooding the market. Practicing your crafting skills shouldnt result in a lot of useless bracers or other items (anyone remember walking through the woods in UO an finding piles of bookcases sitting around?)

I think that the concept of attempting to balance gold fountains against gold sinks has proven that it wont work effectively. So its time for MMO developers to start thinking in new directions if they want to avoid the uber-inflation that is rampant in pretty much every MMO. And the first step of that is creating a cause and effect, sensical, self-sustaining economic system. Not an easy task. But it is needed if we want to move beyond the amusement park ride type MMOs.


Anonymous said...

Tholal you make a good point, we need more people like you in this world. Yes the idea is a great thought, but thier is a problem with your theroy, and that is the programing. An idea like this would work but the server would have to work constantly on this, following a set algorithm it would cause lag for every player. Or in games like Runescape, where you can change severs at any moment, the computer would have to recaluculate the entire resoruse to item equation. I have thought of the same thing as you, but when it comes down to it, you need a lot of horse power to run a game like that.

Tholal said...

I don't think it would be that intensive. As it is in most MMOs, the server is having to calculate what loot the mobs are dropping anyway. This would do away with those calculations completely, because the only loot the mobs have would be what they've picked up. Of course, you have the tradeoff of the mobs needing to assess things they see lying around and deciding if they want them or not, but hell, UO does that and its using a cobbled together engine from over 10 years ago!

Programming it would certainly be a pain, and would require a strong, solid, defined framework before you start thinking about how mobs gather, create and take items.

pattymanatty said...

I see a major flaw in this entire thing.

At face value reading it you're thinking, these are brilliant obvious ideas! why don't we do that!.

The answer is simple. You are trying to turn the economy of an online game to a realistic world in which we live. Which is obviously unrealistic.

Let's look at it for a second. If you made the amount of resources in the game, constant Then you CANNOT have monster spawns, as monsters that spawn bring items into the game.

The simple solution to economy, is to try to force any gold brought into the game, out of the game, so the amount of total gold in the game is approximately constantly divisible over all active players.

Too see what i mean by this, look at a game like Tibia. Virtually NO inflation, WHY? cause the developers are smart, they cap the price of everything with npcs. If you make the price of buying a shield from an NPC 100 gold, then as soon as enough money comes into the game that would cause the street price of a wooden shield to rise above 100 gold, people will buy from the npc, causeing that gold to leave the game. Thus we maintain a relatively static level of money among players.

This obviously would ruin ANY MMO.

Tholal said...

re: pattymanatty

You're assuming that mobs would spawn with bags of gold and useful items out of the void. This is NOT how I would design a game. Check out the 2nd part of this post about Economy and Inflation - http://tholal.blogspot.com/2007/05/economy-and-inflation-in-mmos-part-ii.html

Everything should be interconnected. Using mobs as loot pinatas is a poor design idea that is only fit for the themepark MMOs. And even those suffer from rapid inflation and devaluation of items as time goes on and items are thrown away for new items that have an incremental increase in stats.

Your suggestions about creating gold sinks to balance out the infinite gold supply otherwise known as mobs, are basically how most MMOs currently work. And though it's a viable system, it's not what I want. I'm not really interested in designing the next WoW.