Faucets, Sinks, and Markets

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Faucets, Sinks, and Markets

John Scott Tynes addresses why single player economies collapse and how to fix them.

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Perhaps one day we may have a full blown stock market in a game.

But I doubt it.

And also, you've been around since '69?

Nice one.

Christ, my head hurts from all that. Never was great shakes with maths. =]
Still, it sounds like an opportunity for greater depth in games, and I'm down with that.

I don't know about spending that much time on the market in Assassin's Creed 2, since most people would probably just overlook it anyway, but it could certainly work for an RPG. Good article.

Provided you can spend money on things that will actually have a gameplay impact, that would actually be a good system. You need to give the player a reason to try to get money.

The authenticity of a market in MMO games is a large part of the fun of playing it. There's a competitive thrill. I can't see how playing an AI-driven market would be any more joy than owning 'bots in Unreal or what have you as compared to human players.

SFJ:
Christ, my head hurts from all that. Never was great shakes with maths. =]
Still, it sounds like an opportunity for greater depth in games, and I'm down with that.

Where I'm on the reverse end and loving every second of the maths fluctuations.

I was always drawn to MMOs not for the worlds as such, but for the economy. I love the cut/thrust of the market, and a MMO without a volatile market is dead to me.

However, I did hate PotBS because it pulled a trick on me I couldn't forgive.

As a Spanish Merchant, I was sailing between two quiet ports setting up my first real building, but as I landed in port, I found that the one part I needed was back at the first port. I was sure I'd moved it to the boat, but c'est la vie. In their look for "realism", I couldn't move it from one bank to the other, despite the fact that my farm blueprint took up the same space as a crate, but whatever.

On my way back, I was just nudging into port when a lag spike gets me, and then there's a Pirate Battleship bearing down on me. I start tacking away like crazy but this thing pulls up to me, blasts the crap out of my ship and I swim away on a plank.

Two days of trading gone due to a lag-spike. All of my spare money, and it's charging me to get my ship back from the port away from where all my money is.

That got it deleted from my system. The boarding parties of "Find The Captain, Stun Captain, Stab Repeatedly until Crew Surrenders" was just the finishing touch.

Nimbus:
Provided you can spend money on things that will actually have a gameplay impact, that would actually be a good system. You need to give the player a reason to try to get money.

Without a reason to risk your money its all pointless. There should be mor sinks then faucets.

As you said, Eve and Pirates does this as you can lose everything.

Money in single player games is simply "resources" and not treated as money.

However in MMOs the economies are better because people treat money as money. The more you make money like money, the better the market. You cant do that unless you give the players control.

Lets take Eve Online. In eve you can get minerals that you use to build stuff, and then you sell the stuff at a profit, to get your own stuff. But if many people are doing this, then it becomes a competitive market.

Simple economics is what you proposed. ie. Thieves disrupt a trade route. But its not organic, is just a mini-game.

In an MMO like Eve, if a group of players decide to invade someone else, the mining operations and flow of minerals is disrupted. This causes a shortage in a certain mineral, and all items that need that mineral to be produced go up in price.

Things can get more complex, like economic wars.

When you give many players control to act in a group, then you create an economy. If there is only 1 person, its simply a resource, and not currency.

-Stranger-:
I don't know about spending that much time on the market in Assassin's Creed 2, since most people would probably just overlook it anyway, but it could certainly work for an RPG. Good article.

Certainly. I mean, a little tweak here and there to the system and it could incoporate some pretty nice elements

There was something similar in the first Pirates Of The Caribbean game, by boarding all of the (for example) English ships, English ports would pay more for goods. It's all fun and games, until the 10-galleon fleet of a pissed off merchant comes to find out why the corn isn't arriving on time...

It does like they blew it with AC2 at that.

Heck, you can even hire mercenaries... going along with your example, why not hire them to defend your caravan from thieves?

Main issue would remain the same tho - there just isn't much to do with gold in AC2... the investment game would give you something to screw around with, but unless they add several 10,000 + item to buy... what's the point?

I remember once back when I was playing WoW, when I found something that I could get or make fairly cheaply that sold for a good deal. A couple weeks later when I checked back to make a bit more money, I found that a lot of people jumped on the market and it was flooded with goods. I find the same thing happens on occasion with Kingdom of Loathing as well, although there are a group of players dedicated to just playing the market.

But as stated before, the key is to have lots of worthwhile sinks for people to use their money.

I know it's not in the upper echelon on gaming greats, but I remember playing Maxis' SimFarm when I was a kid. I grew up on a farm in rural Saskatchewan, and my parents grabbed it for me from some bargin bin. Seeing as how I was between games at the time, I loaded it up, and found it more interesting than I could have thought it would be. I'll get to the point, it had a basic market system, whereby crops you grew in game then had to be sold on an open market. It even went so far as to include a futures system with price forcasting. Eventually, my interest waned and I moved onto something else, but for just a little bit I was making a fortune on the strawberries futures market.

You mention sinks and discuss consumables and item degredation. However one obvious sink, particularly when games go into the real estate biz, is estate maintenance and payroll. I don't know if that gets addressed in AC2, but I've yet to see any game that allows you to buy a property and then realistically deducts upkeep. Ships, castles, houses, bordellos - they all have ordinary annual costs of one kind or another, which, if not paid, lead to reduction in value and ultimately destruction of the asset. Extraordinary events - a fire, an embezzling employee - incur greater costs with swifter reductions in value.

It's not something I'd want to see in every game, but if the system says you can buy a property, then you might as well have to manage it.

Great article! How about a hybrid MMO/single player?

In other words, your game is your own, but to take Fallout 3 as an example, all the 'Moira's of the online community are linked together. All the Megatons of the world consume what the players dump there; if everyone is bringing back, say, cups and no one is bring back, say, dishes, well, the price of cups will fall and the price of dishes will go up. If everyone is dumping their stuff in Rivet City the prices in Rivet City will be lower than the prices in Megaton and you can make money doing the arbitrage between the two.

Sort of the limited MMO aspect I've heard exists in Demon's Souls--not enough to make you feel like you're playing an MMO or for it to be anything but a single player game, but just enough to make it feel like you're not the only person in the entire game world who ever takes a step outside to go collect stuff. Like those wandering merchants from Fallout 3: what did they do before I came along? And why don't they just follow me around instead of wasting their time because none of those NPCs seem to ever buy or sell anything!

In my opinion, economy has no place in AC2. I actually enjoyed the whole upgradey stuff of AC2 for a while, but as you said, it quickly became clear that it was a shallow and brief section of gameplay.

It's a game about assassinating people, for god's sake. At least Fable 2 had a precedent to have an economy, as crap as it was, it was an RPG.

madbird-valiant:
In my opinion, economy has no place in AC2. I actually enjoyed the whole upgradey stuff of AC2 for a while, but as you said, it quickly became clear that it was a shallow and brief section of gameplay.

It's a game about assassinating people, for god's sake. At least Fable 2 had a precedent to have an economy, as crap as it was, it was an RPG.

Agree, but I still feel AC2 could do sooo much more in terms of assassination, there is too few options for sneaking and planning...

Miki91:

madbird-valiant:
In my opinion, economy has no place in AC2. I actually enjoyed the whole upgradey stuff of AC2 for a while, but as you said, it quickly became clear that it was a shallow and brief section of gameplay.

It's a game about assassinating people, for god's sake. At least Fable 2 had a precedent to have an economy, as crap as it was, it was an RPG.

Agree, but I still feel AC2 could do sooo much more in terms of assassination, there is too few options for sneaking and planning...

True, but at least 75% of the game isn't spent eavesdropping on conversations and beating up heralds. xD Maybe they'll get it right in AC3.

Nimbus:
Provided you can spend money on things that will actually have a gameplay impact, that would actually be a good system. You need to give the player a reason to try to get money.

Exactly. You were on to something for a while (really liked the analogy), but regardless of the element of risk, spending money to get money isn't exactly a sink. Now, if there were expensive upgrades to weapons, armor, or buildings (if they could be made relevant) in Acreed 2, then that would be a nice sink.

Really the overlying problem with the game is that it's way too easy, even for today's casual market. The low cost of everything in the game, along with the retardedly easy battle system, really shows that the designers underestimated the ability of the players, which is an easier mistake to make than one might think.

I think most games should do the exact opposite: focus on combat or stealth, quests, etc. and REMOVE the stupid economy.

The main gameplay aspect becomes too easy when you let players grind for money and upgrade their weapons/gear.
If a game needs merchants for gear, they should only sell to you. Money and loot should be handed out at predefined acts within a game. This way a designer can maintain the sense of game progresion without making the game trivial.

In game economies seem to work best in the space traders that have come and gone in the past. I'd give a nod to Elite (or Elite 2: Frontier) and Freespace. The economies took real work in order to seek the upgrades you wanted. You could spend days getting up the kind of money needed for a decent ship and there was a significant sense of achievement. Of course once you'd got your massive transporter you could make your investment back in a few trips, but the build up was fantastic.

What was worse is that you could have a fully laden transporter and still risk losing the lot to a particularly vicious set of pirates or worse yet drop out of warp in to Thargoid space.

Secondly I wonder how many gamers today (and particularly kids) have the patience to commit to such long term investments in time as those old titles if you liken them to todays games Eve, WoW not many enjoy the grind and those who do (in my experience of course) are usually a little bit older.

The thing is Creed 2 or Fable 2 aren't really about that, sure it helps but they're merely side games. But it would be nice if side games should had a bit more thought given to them.

I can't believe no one said this yet:

Let's play money making game!

Currently in love with the trading system in X3: Reunion :D

The system suggested in the article fails to attack the actual problem with single-player game "economies". That is, after a time, the player simply has -too much- money with which to acquire shiny things, and at a point the player has all of the best shinies the world has to offer, with no real reason to buy more of them. Even with the elaborate market fluctuation described in the article, someone will find a way to game the system, earning the best reward for the smallest risk, and what has been done is the implementation of yet another avenue to get rich quick, leading to the same issue of, "I have too much money."

Sadly, I have to point at the economic model of World of Warcraft to propose a reasonable alternative, though Borderlands has a similar concept. The concept: don't let the vendors sell anything you would actually want, so that money becomes mostly irrelevant and you can play the game.

Weapon merchants in World of Warcraft are the saddest group of people I have ever experienced. They sell sub-par gear at ridiculously high prices, and I doubt any rational being ever has purchased more than two weapons from one. (I bought crossbows, but only because when I played there were nine in the game and the white ones didn't drop.)

The Marcus weapon-vending machines of Borderlands suffer a similar problem: most of the time, the gear that you have is considerably (and noticeably) better than the weapons that are sold, encouraging you to stockpile your money and play the game.

I should note that in both cases, there are vendors with things you would actually want to buy - the reagent vendors for the professions in World of Warcraft sell items that you cannot acquire anywhere else, so that you can hand-craft weaponry and armour that is better than anything sold in shops (sometimes), and in Borderlands, the Dr. Zed machines occasionally sell good mods and the bullet machines sell bullets, which are a welcome necessity. They won't bankrupt you, but having to buy 1200 combat rifle rounds can be somewhat relieving.

Another single-player game where the economy shines is System Shock 2. The reason the economy is so good in the game is that money is used for the important mini-game tasks (except for the actual mini-games...) such as hacking, repairing, and modifying. Each hack attempt has a money cost associated with it. If you break the terminal you are hacking, repairing it has a money cost. If your weapon jams, that too has a money cost associated with it, and if you want to double the clip size of your pistol, it will cost you.

Couple this multi-avenued sink with the fact that money is in short supply (sure, you -could- trigger an alarm and fight swarms of goons that drop money, but for most players, that's undesirable) and even the psionic skill that turns random junk into money does so at a PSI cost that is non-trivial. The entire game's economy--that is, the entire game--is built around the concept that you, the player, have limited resources and need to survive by your wits alone. And your free cyber modules.

There are still games that I enjoy where I have an overflowing purse, such as the earlier Final Fantasy games, but I find that walking around with the ability to buy everything is not made more challenging or more fun by introducing new ways for me to potentially get more money (even at the risk of a mild loss). In the end, the player controls time with the ability to save and reload, even if the Mister Resettis of the world get mad at me. I just have to remember to save before I embark on a dangerous venture.

Invariel:
The system suggested in the article fails to attack the actual problem with single-player game "economies". That is, after a time, the player simply has -too much- money with which to acquire shiny things, and at a point the player has all of the best shinies the world has to offer, with no real reason to buy more of them.

Pretty much this.

Even with all of that in Assassin's Creed 2, it's a self-contained system of gains and losses. Everything else is still, well, everything else. You are able to purchase the best town upgrades before you're even halfway through, and the only thing keeping you from purchasing all the nifty art, weapons and gizmos is needing to "unlock" the town.

Another option for AC2 would be to modify prices based on how much you were earning. Start with a base cost of, say, 1000monies for a sword. Increase the price of the sword based on maybe 10% of whatever it is you earn every 20 minutes. So if you're getting 50,000 every twenty minutes, that sword now costs 6000monies. If the ultimate blade that can be purchased in the game costs 10,000, it now costs 15,000.

Hrm, 10% may not be enough to truly make a difference.

Still, it's a potential balancing act that could slow down a player's progression to last a bit longer.

Great article, the first (that I've seen at least) to explicitly take the system dynamics approach of sinks & faucets to an in-game economy. One tiny nitpick: Markets aren't sinks. To the individual player the risk is a sink in that they will sometimes bust on buying an herb or whatever at far higher than what they might have paid had they waited, but a sink is something the actually removes money from the game-world. A purchase at the auction house in WoW is simply a transfer from one player to another (ignoring the tiny posting cost, which is actually a sink). The problem we are talking about when we say "broken economy" is that, essentially, the GDP of the player is out of control, they are creating new value, not transferring money around to other players too much.

In a real economy sense, the problem with not having enough sinks is that there is too much money floating around and, without prices that respond to the increased money supply (which is the case in a single-player game) the player is the new King of the Planet. A simple inflation mechanic, while boring and probably not fun, would fix this. If you walked back to town after murdering an entire dungeon and started blowing gold like you were Donald Trump, then health potions would go from 1 gold to 1,000 gold just because there is so much money floating around now it is worth less. Since any money spent on merchant items is a sink (as noted in the main article) then inflation basically makes the sinks bigger.

The risk market thing in AC2 is a pretty cool idea. Comments above are saying that people will game the system somehow, but whatever, that's going to happen to any system. The point is that it sucks money out of the game-world since no gamble is 100%. The key is it needs to be fun, not just a big middle finger to the player (like inflation would be), which is what this shipping system tries to be.

veloper:
I think most games should do the exact opposite: focus on combat or stealth, quests, etc. and REMOVE the stupid economy.

The main gameplay aspect becomes too easy when you let players grind for money and upgrade their weapons/gear.
If a game needs merchants for gear, they should only sell to you. Money and loot should be handed out at predefined acts within a game. This way a designer can maintain the sense of game progresion without making the game trivial.

...but in a RPG you could easily break the economy. The amount of work it would take to prevent you from breaking it would be monumental and even then it would come off as unrealistic and strange. If you start making enough money that health potions are incredibly cheap you can just buy a ton and call it a day. If the price goes up with you then you can save up, buy a bunch early on, and sell it later for a profit.

I don't think what you described could work in assassin's creed 2, i'll explain. Better weapons unlock as you complete missions, so playing the market early in the game wouldn't benefit you at all because you have to wait for the weapons and armor anyways. Yes you would have money saved up when they were unlocked, but the problem for AC2 is that you have too much money anyways (more faucets than sinks). My point is that you are saying that it would be good to be able to risk money, therefore making this another "sink" but why would i risk my money? even a 30% gain is only 3k on your recommended 10k minimal investment, you said you would have to bribe people every five minutes for 30 minutes until your investment played out. Near the second or third assassination i was making like 7-9k every 20 minutes at my villa. Why would i bribe people every five minutes for 30 minutes to possibly make 3k returns on my investments when i am making around 15k every 40 minutes regardless?
I completely agree with you that the assassin's creed financial system is broken, i easily maxed my villa before i was halfway through the game, ended the game with hundreds of thousands, and didn't really care at all. I think a better way to fix the system would be to add things to buy and make things more expensive. The problem with AC2 wasn't that it needed a "stock market" option, (in my opinion) but that money was so easy to come by it felt like a minor annoyance to have to go buy the weapons. In order to make money acutally "important" in the game they could have made things more expensive (so that it would take more time to be able to afford them) and given side quests for fully upgrading the (now uber expensive) areas of your villa, so that there was actually a game play reason for upgrading them.
Sorry to disagree with your very well thought out stock market system for AC2, but for me the money problems of assassin's creed cant be helped by a risk/reward system because the real problem is that money didn't feel important at all, so i wouldn't have cared if i could risk it and whether i gained or lost it, because i was rolling in it. It would be like playing the stock market with monopoly money, even if you win big theres nothing you can do with your money...

I just started playing X3 terran conflict and the in-game economy is extremely shelled out. In game you can build factories and stations. You must think about location and where you will have a constant flow of income from them, say for instance you build a mine in a location where ore is highly valued but the only mine is many sectors away and the only way to it is through pirate infested space. You can reap huge profit margins however you risk the threat of flooding the market and then making your mine worthless.

Risk of certain goods bring in large profit margins as would be expected, however the ai in game does a very good job of constantly keeping you on your feet because there are other traders trying to do the same thing you are. You might even get into a race with one trying to reach a buyer before the game does and subsequently ruins the market.

Eventually you can have a fleet of ships running all sorts of routes as long as you are able to keep up with prices.

More OT and less me gabbing about a game I am losing sleep to. In game economies like Fable 2 are more about a side hobby then it is about the actual game. However I know more then once I put the game in PIP and watched tv while I was chopping wood to buy a bar. The economical aspect took over the game for me.

The villa thing in AS2 seems to me more about something that you can throw in to say your "innovative" then it is something that was fully thought through. But that is how most games are. The game is still fun it just has a few half baked gimmicks.

feather240:

veloper:
I think most games should do the exact opposite: focus on combat or stealth, quests, etc. and REMOVE the stupid economy.

The main gameplay aspect becomes too easy when you let players grind for money and upgrade their weapons/gear.
If a game needs merchants for gear, they should only sell to you. Money and loot should be handed out at predefined acts within a game. This way a designer can maintain the sense of game progresion without making the game trivial.

...but in a RPG you could easily break the economy. The amount of work it would take to prevent you from breaking it would be monumental and even then it would come off as unrealistic and strange. If you start making enough money that health potions are incredibly cheap you can just buy a ton and call it a day. If the price goes up with you then you can save up, buy a bunch early on, and sell it later for a profit.

You would not have an economy to break if merchants, only sell to you.
With that I meant they won't take your trash, only your money. Think of it like shops irl.

The only work left where a designer can still go wrong then is hand out too much money to the pc. All money should simply come from unique encounters and quests, not from repeating the same thing over and over.

Simple and effective.

Wait... I thought the point of the villa in AC was to become a font of unlimited cash and power so that you could afford whatever you wanted?

I mean, it -seemed- like the point to me, that you invested stuff now to get infinity stuff later. This way I didn't have to go hunt down every treasure chest just to buy that suit of armor. Or pick a million pockets. Collection quests are boring. I don't want to have to do them if I can avoid it.

Why do single player games that have NOTHING to do with economic warfare have to have 'working economies?' Is the name of the game Banker's Creed? No. It's Assassin's Creed. People are not buying it to simulate the running of a villa in Tuscany. They're playing it to stab people in the back. Or the face. Or the back and the face.

See. It's about -power fantasy- and the correct tone for power fantasy is to make power available for people to fantasize about having.

If that means having a fat wallet so you can do so... then -that- is the correct course of action.

Remember that. The game's money does not exist to feed the villa. The villa exists to feed the game's money. So that time played doing fun stuff you enjoy (see above: Stabbing) transforms directly into florins you can either invest in more florins, or on better weapons and armor.

You have the villa so you can spend more time stabbing faces. You do not stab faces so that you can spend more time in the villa.

I like this idea much better than the last one I read. (Something about collectibles?)

However, I must say, while it seems to be on the right track, it seems a bit... boring. If we have to constantly be manipulating the market, how are we going to go around murdering the people we need to murder?

Wasn't this part of the problems people had with the original Assassin's Creed? Not enough assassinating? And what about us who don't like to gamble or play the odds?

I think it's really much more simple than you are trying to make it. The reason we have so much money in AC2 is because we spend our time making it for the sake of completion. Really, it's the same problem as in your article on collectibles. There are going to be some people who love to do everything in the game. There are also people who are only going to play through the main storyline once, maybe twice, and then never play the game again. These people are the majority, and you probably have to cater to those people. So, do you want those people to get every weapon they want to have, or do you want to make them do things in the game that they don't want to do to get it?

So, here's the real problem. People like us who like to spend time on the more economic side of our games get our money too early. We make all of this money earlier than other people do and then we spend it. We think, since we spend all of it, that we're still not making enough, so we spend more time on making money.

So, I propose a simpler solution. Turn down the faucet, expand the sink. Sure, the majority of players won't ever be able to buy that awesome weapon, but that's because they aren't doing everything in the game. It seems fair that if they are only playing part of the content that they should only get part of the content. And in the end, they probably won't care. It's the same thing as a special ending for 100% completion. You reward your players who spend time on the economic system of the game with awesome game content.

To put it more simply, most everyone who plays the game can get Altair's sword in Assassin's Creed II, despite whether or not they spent time upgrading their town. Why? They only played part of the game. Maybe we got it earlier than they did, but that's not a big deal, is it? I think that, in Assassin's Creed II, there simply needed to be less money. Let us big property tycoons be able to purchase everything, and let the simpler people who are just there to save the world do their job.

Oh, and let's not forget, that having that nice sum of money sitting there is it's own reward in and of itself. It doesn't need to be gratuitous, just enough to feel good about yourself. =P

SFJ:
Christ, my head hurts from all that. Never was great shakes with maths. =]
Still, it sounds like an opportunity for greater depth in games, and I'm down with that.

Your head hurts? I think my brain just exploded.

May I just say, with all due respect, that this is a terrible idea?

I mean, I agree with the basic notion: single player economies can be hard to balance or become afterthoughts easily because money flows to the player from a primary resource and the player spends it at will. Some of them are wound too loose (AC2, Fable II), some of them are wound too tight (Devil May Cry, Bayonetta).

But the truth is that if I suddenly heard a town crier in Assassin's Creed say that grain is going to drop price and it made sense for me to rush to my trade agent and tell him to sell fast... well, that would definitely take away from the "I'm a cool assassin on a mission" vibe of the game.

The problem in AC2 isn't that you max out your town so fast. That's okay, in such a big game, some mechanics get exhausted early and others are introduced later. The real problem is that there is no endgame goal after you max out your town. All that money is basically useless, since it was primarily a resource to purchase items and other town upgrades. Once the town is fully upgraded, there is no insanely expensive item that you can buy with the money you get. All the endgame gear is obtained by performing gameplay challenges, rather than purchased. If there had been a big, expensive item that you could actually work for during the whole game and NOT GET. That would be a proper reward, without the need of turning the game into a management sim.

The best example of this? Of a single player economy done right in an action game?

The Ratchet & Clank series.

In the Ratchet series you get an insane amount of cash virtually all the time. There isn't a steady flow of income through properties, but the money you get during gameplay is certainly enough to buy all the stuff in the game soon after it's made avaiable, if you play the game with money grinding in mind.

The genius stroke isn't providing sinks for the player (in fact, the cost of ammo is negligible), but that once you purchase and max out every item in the game... you get more items. Very, VERY expensive items. They are not needed to finish the game and they don't need to be collected on a single playthrough, but if you get enough money on your first playthrough you can get them right away.

That means you don't have any other limitation to when you buy them other than the amount of cash you have. You can buy them the first time, if you grind enough, or you can buy them on your next playthrough, and they'll be an excuse to replay the game.

It works perfectly, encouragles continued play, keeps the economy relevant and doesn't take away from the action core of the gameplay.

why would you want to mess with an economy that complex in Assassins creed instead of assassinating people. It simply isn't worth it in such a focused game. In a game such as oblivion of fallout this would make much more sense because you are not as directed in those games

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