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Let's talk about the economy.

economy economics project eternity RPG businesses

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#1
Laos

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The economy of a game is, in my opinion, one of the least discussed and thought, but in many ways perhaps the most important element of maintaining the fludiity and enjoyment of early, mid, and late gameplay. This is for a number of reasons, but it really boils down to the fact the economy of any RPG is dependent on two factors:

1. The player and his current state in the game

2. The world and how dynamic or static it is

I'm no economist, and I do not have a formal education in economics, so I base my ideas and concepts on my experience of playing many games and RPGS, MMOs, etc. with good / bad economies and my understanding of how economics should work to maintain the most important factor: An enjoyable game.

First, let's make something clear. Gameplay in an RPG is exponential, so the economy must be respectively exponential to ensure a fun experience. Many games fail to realize that not only item stats need to be exponential, but the opportunities, costs, and circumstance of an economy must be equally exponential to keep the game's economy exciting and interesting for those who get involved within it.

Second, the economy must remain in a good balance between fluidity and static "constants". This means that the economy should be flexible and dependent on what players (or even NPCs) do, but needs to have a baseline - think a floor and a ceiling, but with plenty of room for excitement along the way. In the long run, the game's overall economic pulse will be going up, but should keep some proportional floor and ceiling to ensure things remain enjoyable.

Lastly, the player should actually have an influence on the economy. It is so depressing when the majority of games ignore the player's input. If he spends two straight days selling gold on the national exchange, the price is going to go down. If he buys every last turtle beak for his strength potions, the prices will go up. In retrospect, NPC agents should have similar influences to make the game exciting. A lot of fun "Space-esque" freelancer games (Evochron Mercenary to name one) that were popular in the late 90s and recently have gained hype focus on the idea of utilizing and manipulating an economy in your favor. I'm not asking for insane dynamics, just a fair balance between exciting economic events (floods raising prices, etc) that will make the player feel like they are in a real, more dynamic, and enjoyable universe that is actually effected by their actions more distinctly.

To recap - Make an economy that is dynamic, fluid, and ever-changing within a proportional ceiling. Let the player figure out, if he really wants beets, that buying them in a desert will cost more (or sell better) than in the farmlands. Let the economy be unique to every play experience and let the player get as much or as little involved as they want. Most of all, the economy needs to grow with the player. Money should have real value, and I should be constantly deciding if an item is worth selling, keeping, or even looting, beyond the simple fact that money becomes an irrelevant element in many late-game experiences.

I'd like to hear other people's input and thoughts on how the economy should operate at this fundamental level. There are more in-depth and concrete ways of approaching this, but I'm trying to stay mostly theoretical with respect to how the game should operate its currency and process of handling funds in a very complex, but rewarding way. If the player feels they are really engaged with the economy there is a lot to be gained in playability. Skyrim sucks in a way because it's got a low ceiling, and no dynamic economy. Sorry this is a bit of a brain-fart and thus poorly structured and organized, but there are a few truths within it worth reading.

#2
PrimeJunta

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Yeah, a dynamic economy would be cool.

It would also be a hell of a lot of work and tune so that it wouldn't be outrageously exploitable or easy to break down. Especially if it's any more complex than a handle of goods, a handful of sellers, and a handful of buyers. Try it for spits and giggles: model the turtle beak market of Chelonia, starting with the following equilibrium:

* Stock: 100 beaks
* Buying price from Chelsea the chemist's: 1 penny/beak
* Selling price to Chelsea the chemist: 1 penny/5 beaks
* Base demand: 10 beaks/day
* Base supply: 10 beaks/day

Now try plugging in a couple of different formulas for Chelsea to decide on her buy/sell prices based on how many beaks she has left at the end of the day, and supply and demand curves that respond to these prices, and then put yourself into the shoes of an unscrupulous trader who wants to make a bundle by cornering the turtle beak market. (That would be you.)

This brings up questions like

* How elastic is demand for turtle-beaks in the short term? In the long term?
* How elastic is supply for turtle-beaks in the short term? In the long term?
* Do I have to factor in a potential crash of the turtle population, if a demand spike drives up turtle-hunting? How do I model that?
* Will an increase in long-term demand be offset by an increase in supply through imports?

And before you know it, you'll find yourself modeling the trade patterns of the continent, the ecology of both nearby areas (which determine the limits to short-term turtle beak supply) and far-off areas (which determine limits to long-term supply through imports), customs and excise, taxation, the economic impact of smuggling, and so on and so forth.

I know, fun.

What's more, it would have major implications for the gameplay -- for example, time would become a lot more important. Normally time doesn't really matter in cRPG's. This would totally wreck the economy since you could just wait out any market disruption you may have caused to the dynamic turtle beak market.

In sum, personally I'd prefer they put in some killer quests, encounters, companions, dialog, story, classes, and what have you, and mmmmaybe deprioritize modeling a dynamic economy.
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#3
Jobby

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As much as a dynamic economy would be awesome i do wonder if it would be a nightmare to balance, although i think PrimeJuntas maybe went a bit too far in regards to elastic supply/demand and turtle ecology lol.

I would imagine that if you buy all the turtle beaks the sellers store will regenerate say 2 per day to a maxiumum of 20 and the price is dependent upon how many beaks they have in stock at any given time, obviously this mechanic will not work if the player can spam rest for 10 days to get the cheapest possible price, clearly the games economy is limited by how realistic other game mechanics are.

Another example in regards to the relationship between the games other mechanics and it's economy, say there were differing prices depending on availability of resources within a region i.e. turtle beaks cheap in coastal areas and costly in mountanious areas, this mechanic becomes skewed and unblanced if the player can at no "time" cost to himself (fast travel) to the coast, stock up on beaks, travel to mountains, sell beaks and repeat the process until the player is a millionaire, clearly to balance this there has to be some cost involved in the traveling process (which i am not nessecarily against).

The occassional scriped economy event could be really cool, especially if it could tie in with some quests the player undertook, e.g. player destroys a dam to kill an oncoming army of goblins, town is saved but the surrounding area is flooded to the extent that traders can't get in or out (**** example i know), now say the player had alternatives to flooding the valley, this scenario could really provide interesting consequence and action mechanics.

I do remember in BG2 there was a weird economy situation going on with the rakashas (SP?) and the traders in trademeet, but none of the traders had anything paticularly useful to buy so it all fell down a bit lol.

At the very least i hope to see limited gold from vendors anyway.

#4
Sacred_Path

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While I'd find it interesting to explore the basics of economy in a game (i.e. shops in remote regions should never carry more than one sword at a time), I find it even more interesting to look at the higher tiers of items. First of all usually shops can be at the end of the known world and still carry a variety of insanely powerful items. Secondly, they always take epic items off your hands.

The reasons for selling these items are usually contrived themselves ("We found a staff of Earth Shattering, but we don't have a druid in the party". *sigh* Or "I need to get rid of this +4 amulet of mind protection because I've replaced it with a +5 amulet of mind protection and longevity"). These shops are always willing customers though, and they can afford those items too! "Luckily, I know a bunch of filthy rich druids. Therefore, I can pay you 50.000 gp. You won't get a better price around here!". Then these items sit in those shop's inventories until the end.
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#5
wanderon

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I'm sorry I just can't see the "fun" involved in spending a huge chunk of dev resources in the creation of a robust and dynamicly operating economy - next we will have a merchant class and banker class and god forbid a politician class - lets stick to having some resources to find and some merchants to sell/buy from and leave it to that and spend the resources on things that are actually fun like encounters, exploration, dynamic NPCs, great companions, awesome enemies... :disguise:

#6
TSBasilisk

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A fully dynamic system would be difficult to implement in-game, and would probably be a major cash-hog for a game that's not focused solely on trading. That doesn't mean there can't be some variations to use, but they'd likely be a bit more static.

One of the games I remember best for trading was Wing Commander: Privateer. Goods were valued based on what each planet produced and lacked, and thus what it would value more. You could buy ore from a mining planet to sell at a factory for finished goods you could sell at a pleasure planet for... items you could then sell to the mining planet.

Applying that to PE, set a price index on all goods. Then each town applies a different multiplier to goods depending on the general supply and demand in the area. Then each merchant may have one or two multipliers based on their own personal needs. This gives every town and merchant a different set of prices which the player can learn to utilize.

The devs could also set trigger flags on certain goods or multipliers based on conditions that could result from player actions, like burning down a major orchard increases the value of apples across the region but an influx of iron from a mine you reclaimed drives ore prices down in the nearby towns.

I'm also not against the player being able to somehow "break" the economy to make money so long as it's reasonable. For example, the player buys up all the apples he can before burning down the orchard, and so is able to make a major profit. That's evil and despicable, but also the sort of thing you'd expect to see from a cunning and amoral trader.

Edited by TSBasilisk, 14 December 2012 - 11:53 AM.

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#7
Atreides

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Crafters tend to target infinite profit loops in the economy. Instead of seeing this negatively and penalising them by making crafting slow or difficult, maybe it can be turned into a gameplay avenue where they can set up an import/export business/factory (in the stronghold?) to do the tedious work and take advantage of it.

#8
Sharp_one

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I don't see it. Either it would need a hell lot of resources to implement fully and correctly and it became a game in a game (which is pointless), or it would be so simple that it would be easy to exploit such system.

#9
JFSOCC

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they tried a dynamic economy in Guild Wars, this led to some items being worth a **** ton, and all the rest was worth practically nothing.
was interesting to see prices spike for certain items when a new area opened up and some crafting materials suddenly had purpose. but altogether I think the player's contributions, at least before they have a stronghold, shouldn't be big enough to affect the larger economy.

#10
Kecaw

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To be frank the question should be do we need a "good" economy in this game? the answer is no, sure there can be certain NPC that require from you more than just gold to make an item but i dont see any purpos in implying a full economy system to a single player game, sure i dont want to see selling an epic +5 sword of dragon's breath to a bartender that sells only drinks (where what you can sell should be limited) but after a while you tend to get ton's of money that you dont know on what to spend so in this situation i would like to see a money dumpster that dose something.

#11
JFSOCC

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but after a while you tend to get tons of money which you don't know what to spend on, so in this situation I would like to see a money dump that does something.

I think the stronghold would be a perfect candidate.
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#12
mstark

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Remember this is going to be single player. You play it through, and that's it. You don't grind and grind and grind for items until your hands are bleeding, unless you're doing something wrong. I doubt we'll ever have to worry about our character being able to make a dent in the economy of a world that you're just passing through.

The thing with a "dynamic" economy is that, in most single player games, the only dynamic part of it is the player. If the played buys 10 beaks, the price goes up. If the player sells 20 beaks, the price goes down.

That's not a dynamic, living, market. That's an annoying mechanic that artificially and predictably limits how much you can sell/buy at any given time. Simulating a real living market, with inflation, deflation, price fluctuations, great depressions... is huge and cannot be emulated by basic "buy x items, price rises by y amount" mechanics. So far, in RPGs, I've found all such mechanics remove from the experience rather than add to it.

It's a good idea, but seems like too huge a task for anyone to bother with building such a mechanic when it's really not core to the game play of something like PE. I wouldn't mind seeing a market with static buy/sell prices. PE isn't going to be much about grinding (I hope), so you'll probably never be selling 100 of item x to merchant y, and, as such, you'd never have a noticeable effect on the market.

Having to travel to different cities to sell certain goods, just because you've inflated the market in one place, just feels "gamey". It's not realistic, because your character is the only one affecting the market, and it's annoying because you have to travel around just to sell basics for maximum profit. If it was a trading sim, that might be fine.

IE games handled this by making basic equipment pretty much worthless. Easy to buy, easy to sell, for low amounts of money. Rares, items that you could never find more than a few of, were given a higher price. Yes, you'd end up with more money than you could spend by the end of the game, but money was never an important part of the game play in any of these games (apart from the beginning of BG2). The best bit: having a lot of money never meant you became overpowered, it was just a convenience in the late game.

Maybe, if the character in one part of the game sets off a huge forest fire, the economy could be affected somehow. Eg. herbs become more rare and valued in the immediate area, or if we flood a mine weapons & tools prices soar, but that'd be one off scripted events.

Edited by mstark, 17 December 2012 - 06:31 AM.

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#13
Sacred_Path

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IE games handled this by making basic equipment pretty much worthless. Easy to buy, easy to sell, for low amounts of money. Rares, items that you could never find more than a few of, were given a higher price. Yes, you'd end up with more money than you could spend by the end of the game, but money was never an important part of the game play in any of these games (apart from the beginning of BG2). The best bit: having a lot of money never meant you became overpowered, it was just a convenience in the late game.


Speaking of which, I was never sure wether I was expected to pick up and sell crap equipment (I didn't). I'd prefer finding small amounts of (weightless?) gold on enemies rather than leather vambraces.

#14
Heresiarch

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I don't like economy and I don't like collecting vendor trash to sell later. It is tiresome and it breaks immersion. Epic magical weapons should be rare enough that you don't just walk into a discount store, saying, "Hey, could you buy some legendary gear off me, my bags starts to get kinda heavy". Neither should you walk around collecting sabres and gauntlets from the fallen enemies like some lowly looter. Wealth should come in a form of gold (preferably chests of it), precious stones (large ones too) and land (well, anything with a steady income qualifies), not tons of second-hand gear collected from corpses and ancient vaults.

Edited by Heresiarch, 17 December 2012 - 10:40 AM.

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#15
jethro

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Well, one thing I would like PE to handle correctly is that money is scarce, even at the end. Why should it be possible to buy all the best stuff at games end?

A party that does all the quests and sells all booty to merchants should still only be able to buy one or two of lets say 10 highest level items. The rest of their equipment should be from loot and crafting, or merchant-stuff of lower quality. Why? It makes gold coins GOLD coins and not "ridiculous counter of my collecting habit". It makes you happy to find a stash of gold even in the later game and looting and crafting never become just icing on the cake because you can't dress your party solely from merchants. You NEED loot because merchants are only a means to fill a gap in your equipment.

Also it adds replayability, "on my next playthrough I really want to try out the gold-plated-latinum staff of wonders instead of the bow of unlimted hurt".

How can this be achieved without having items cost quadrillions of gold coins?

You have a lot of loot you find and some of it must be of your level. To get some approximate numbers, in a typical quest you would find one or two items fitting to your level. At a specific level you can do lets say 15 quests before gaining a new level, so this means you will get 30 items at a specific level of which your party can use maybe a third, i.e. 10. The rest you sell at a ratio 1:4 (in a typical IE game) of what you have to pay for it. Even ignoring a barter skill and additional gold loot you can afford to buy 5 items of your level with that. Definitely too much.

Solution: Merchants don't buy at a ratio 1:4, they buy at 1:10 or even better 1:20. You make money with each piece you sell, but it is small. At 1:20 you could afford exactly one item of your level to buy from a merchant (with my very back-of-an-envelope calculation ;-). And probably another one from the gold loot.

Any hole in my logic?

#16
jethro

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Epic magical weapons should be rare enough that you don't just walk into a discount store, saying, "Hey, could you buy some legendary gear off me, my bags starts to get kinda heavy".


There is a small problem here: If you find usefull magical items as loot you have to find enough so that whatever people you have in your party you find stuff for them. If you train your fighter to use halberds it would be frustrating if you didn't occationaly found a good halberd. Finding only gold and no items isn't as fun and makes the end game boring when you have too much gold (i.e. for those players who do *optional* side-quests)
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#17
Heresiarch

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Epic magical weapons should be rare enough that you don't just walk into a discount store, saying, "Hey, could you buy some legendary gear off me, my bags starts to get kinda heavy".


There is a small problem here: If you find usefull magical items as loot you have to find enough so that whatever people you have in your party you find stuff for them. If you train your fighter to use halberds it would be frustrating if you didn't occationaly found a good halberd. Finding only gold and no items isn't as fun and makes the end game boring when you have too much gold (i.e. for those players who do *optional* side-quests)


The problem can be sold easily enough by not introducing weapon skills. It just doesn't work, since there's always an over-abundant class of weapons (yeah, sword) and most of the other weapon types are exceedingly rare. How many enchanted axes, clubs, halberds, spears, and war hammers there were in BG 2? About three and a half of each.

Another thing is overuse of ever-upgrading weapons and armour. First you find a sword+1, then another one +2, then another +2.5, followed by a plus square root of 5 with additional fire damage and so it goes on and on. Or you end up comparing countless pairs of identical pants with +1 Strength, +2 Stamina and those with +2 Strength, +1 Stamina. While this makes sense to some extent in MMOs and Diablo, which never strived for any sort of realism or RP, it looks completely lame in RPGs, even action RPGs.

Armour and weapon acquisitions make much more impact and have a great deal more sense if they are rare and somehow justified in the plot. Not "hey, I just found a perfectly nice mithril chain in that old chest in a bandit camp, isn't it sweet? Funny they never put it on themselves, right?" But, say, actually prying an fabled blade from some major enemy's cold dead fingers.

#18
Sacred_Path

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I think a lot of problems with excess gold and items come from the fact that most games allow players to harvest the entire world. It usually goes like this: Kill monsters, get gold. Kill bandit leader, get item. Go into a dungeon and pick some locks to get more gold and items. Do a side quest, get paid. Gather up excess items and sell for massive profit.

They tried to do it differently in Lionheart (and failed, but that's not the point). You had one character and you could pick 3 'tag' skills, like in Fallout. This meant you had to choose your ways of getting money. You could build an entirely combat-oriented character, but monsters only yielded low amounts of gold. You could tag lockpicking and pilfer chests. Or you could tag 'perception' which let you find buried treasures and hidden items. Or you could tag 'diplomacy' which increased your bartering skills.

Like I said they failed (lockpicking skill could be entirely gained from items and potions, for example). I expect P:E to do much better.

I expect that fighting, sneaking past, or talking your way out of an encounter will yield different profits at different times. I hope that rather than there being a million different side quests, most side quests pertain to two or three factions, where the solutions are mutually exclusive. I entirely hope that it's possible to fight your way down a dungeon, but if you lack characters with the required skills you won't get to loot the armory, so you only got what killing those enemies netted you. I hope that higher difficulties will require you to make frequent use of money sinks (like donating at temples to get temporary blessings).

sorry if a bit OT :disguise:

#19
PrimeJunta

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Yah, I think the big problem with cRPG economies these days is plain ol' inflation. Epic out the wazoo. Things are way more interesting with scarcity. I wanna be an adventurer, not a pack mule.

#20
mstark

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Well, one thing I would like PE to handle correctly is that money is scarce, even at the end. Why should it be possible to buy all the best stuff at games end?

IE games, with a few notable exceptions, never allowed you to buy end game gear from vendors. You had to go out in the world and find it. Great system.

The items in shops were usually good enough for most encounters in case you didn't like adventuring, but the best stuff you had to fight for.
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