[MUD-Dev] [STORY] Story and population size

Timothy Dang tdang at U.Arizona.EDU
Tue Dec 4 19:53:50 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001


On Tue, 4 Dec 2001, Christopher Kohnert wrote:
> Derek Licciardi wrote:

>> IMO the first aspect of the game that should see a dramatic
>> improvement is the economy.  I believe it will be easier to
>> manage an economy given 50,000 or 100,000 plus players.  Today's
>> games are fragmented populations that do not have statistically
>> large enough numbers to sustain the proper buyer/seller
>> relationship.

<snip>

> Let me begin by qualifying and saying that I am neither an EQ
> player nor any sort of economist. However, I really have a bit of
> a problem with people claiming that simply increasing the number
> of players somehow magically solves some of the problems in
> today's systems.

I'm not going to make any claims about it solving the economic
problems of any particular game, but the idea of population
affecting commerce goes back at least to Adam Smith:

  "There are some sorts of industry, even of the lowest kind, which
  can be carried on no where but in a great town. A porter, for
  example, can find employment and subsistence in no other place. A
  village is by much too narrow a sphere for him; even an ordinary
  market town is scarce large enough to afford him constant
  occupation. In the lone houses and very small villages which are
  scattered about in so desert a country as the Highlands of
  Scotland, every farmer must be butcher, baker and brewer for his
  own family. In such situations we can scarce expect to find even a
  smith, a carpenter, or a mason, within less than twenty miles of
  another of the same trade."
         -Wealth of Nations

So, the population size effects commerce by increasing the
practicibility of division of labor. Thinking of it in terms of
division of labor, rather than mere population size, might help
determine the effect of increasing population.

If the game system is limited, so that there are few economic niches
for players, then increasing the number of players will probably
just tend to increase the number of players in each given niche,
rather than making new niches feasible which weren't in smaller
populations. Having many players in each niche may be a good or a
bad thing. It could increase market liquidity, which might be
considered positive. But at the same time, it is likely to decrease
the benefits (monetary, social, and fun) of a player inhabiting a
particular niche where they are one of many.

If the game system is such that there are many possible niches, then
it is likely that as the population increases these niches will fill
in to some degree. As the population gets larger, it will become
more noticably diverse. There will likely still be a great number of
"commodity" playstyles, but there will be more ideosyncratic jobs as
well.

This may be the implication of what Derek calls "statistically large
enough numbers" of players. In economics experiments, it generally
doesn't seem to matter whether there's 5 sellers and 5 buyers in a
market, or 30 and 30. The markets will behave largely the same. But,
if there's a lot of players, there may be more variation in what
kinds of roles the players would like to fill in your game world,
and there will be the economies of scale to support them filling
those roles.

Lots of this depends on other aspects of the game. If a game is
designed to attract a very specific type of player, then niches
might remain unfilled (on the other hand, unfilled niches might
attract new and different players).

There's also the question of the benefits to players of division of
labor.  Lots of players like to experience every aspect of a game,
avoiding specialization. It's hard to say how much they'll benefit
from increased population size. Again, there will be increased
liquidity, but somtimes less fulfillment in being one-of-many. Even
the generalists are liable to benefit from those who do choose to
specialize, though.

------------------------------
Timothy O'Neill Dang / Cretog8
520-884-7261
One monkey don't stop no show.

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