[MUD-Dev] Value in the Economy of the MOG

J C Lawrence claw at kanga.nu
Tue Jul 3 23:27:38 New Zealand Standard Time 2001

On Thu, 28 Jun 2001 00:00:40 -0400 
Delphine T Lynx <lynx at bestweb.net> wrote:

> I'm sure everyone's noticed it - in most cases, hard coded money
> has zero value in these games. 

Umm, no, I haven't noticed that.  I notice that money in games which
attempt to pre-set or dictate pricing levels for commodity items
tend to produce unstable economies, I notice that games whichdon't
provide sufficient drains for money, or reasons to have/need/want
money tend to devalue their currency to the point of dead weight, I
notice that duping bugs which replicate money are a favourite
passtime, and I notice that the exchange rate between UO gold pieces
and US $dollars was tracked with much of the fervour and detail
normally brought to the RL stock market and currency exchanges.  I
also note that that latter market seems to have rather collapsed.

Economies are a hard thing to get right.  They're also a fairly easy
thing to get stumbling along in a rather painful and mostly useless
parody of what they could be.  Thing is, even stumbling is better
than nothing.

> No matter how hard to obtain, or how useful as far as NPCs go
> (healing, equipment, etc), money eventually undergoes such
> inflation as to have no value whatsoever for Player<->Player
> interaction.

I'd argue that the utility of gold (I'll use "gold" of "GP" as the
shorthand to refer to the local currency) is highly underrated on
most games and that the games are specifically built to not require
economic transactions to play effectively, or that if they do, there
are other, more interesting and more rewarding (if in other
fashions) of gaining the same benefits.

Yet UO gold is still sold on EBay.  I count near 200 auctions of UO
gold going on now.  Starting out an analysis with, "Its all broken
let's figure out why," without also noticing the numerous example
where economies have worked (even the Habitat Papers have examples)
is short sighted at best.

> The question is, why?

Inflation, which you mention is certainly one key.  Other keys would
seem to be: 

  -- utility costs (banking effort, transactional effort, transport
  effort, etc)

  -- gaps in the purchase scale (eg itsm for sale for
  30gp and items for sale for 30,000,00GP and little/nothing
  interesting between)

  -- necessity or utility of gold as economic tender for game play
  (why bother with gold when you can get all the EQ you want from
  NPC's or favours for other players?)

  -- constraints on spending (can't by from mis-aligned
  players/NPCs, can't buy mis-aligned objects, can't use in XXX
  locations or at YYY time)

> First, there's the 'supply and demand' theory. Even if each mob
> only has a 1% chance of dropping a coin, you're still left with:

> Newbie kills 1 lvl 1 monster/minute: 1 gold/100 minutes High level
> kills 20 lvl 1 monsters/minute: 20 gold/100 minutes

> In fact the scale is even more twisted than the above example. The
> result is that there will generally be a *huge* difference in the
> earning potential of the old vs the young. The result of this
> portion of the supply/demand issue is that in order to balance
> costs, things need to either cost more than a newbie can afford,
> or too little to be significant to a high level player.

This ignores the presence of drains such as item decay, character
support costs (rent, repair, resuscitation), and facility costs
(guild dues, clan dues, local taxes).  You can't build a balanced
system which has only inputs with the drain to be accomplished by
purchases alone.  You have to destroy the value introduced by player
leveling *AND* player acquisition as fast if not faster than the
players do to keep the scales in check.

> The next issue with supply is tied to locality. In most MUDs, one
> can obtain the uber trade items from only one or two spawn
> points. 

EQ distribution from fixed/campable locations introduce an invariant
constant-rate value injection into the game.  If you don't balance
that with a matched similar-rate drain you're going to have run-away
inflation.  There's no rocket science here.

> In a MUD, if I have a 'sword of dragon slaying', it may be worth
> nothing *on the market* tomorrow, but it'll always (read: until an
> expansion) be the best sword in the game. This means it retains
> it's root value even if the market value drops. I can *always*
> slap it on a character and kick butt with it. What can you do with
> gold if no one wants it? Make pretty piles?

You are characterising the value of gold as being subject to the
fact that the economic systems on many games are broken, and
therefore player trust/value in gold is broken everywhere.  This
ignores the case where players do have trust and reason to have that
trust in those game systems where the economic system actually

> One way around this I'm looking into now is something akin to what
> Herbert did with the Dune books....water as a currency on
> Arrakis. You *need* X amount of it, otherwise you die.

Translation:  An enforced drain.

> If you have more than the amount needed to survive, you have
> power, as you can 'give' it to people who have less than X.

Translation: You want to run a starved economy where the consumptive
rate of the enforced drains approximates or exceeds the injection
rate of the economy.

> Has anyone experimented with an economic system that can keep the
> value of hard coded currency, assuming a game with an erratically
> increasing player base?

The earliest documentation on the area I'm aware of is the Habitat
Papers.  A little has crept out in annecdotal form from UO,
Furcadia, BatMUD (IIRC), and a few others.  IIRC Raph had a small
stack of examples of non-traditional/unintentional (ie not designed)
currencies and their use in various MUDs which he brought up a
little over a year ago.  Raph?  You remember anything here?

> I'm aware of the theories for a 'zero sum economy'....but none of
> them really provide the key point, the desire to *use* money.

Most of the concentration on economic systems have been on systems
with a single currency.  Little attention has been paid to systems
where the currency has been unplanned (again cf the Habitat Papers),
or where there are multiple ad hoc currencies which are use per
case.  This is understandable as the abstracted case is more complex
and so less inviting to players at a presentation level.  I also
find it the most interesting (cf earlier discussions on particle
base economies).

J C Lawrence                                             claw at kanga.nu
---------(*)                                http://www.kanga.nu/~claw/
I never claimed to be human.
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