[MUD-Dev] Economic Growth (Was: [STORY] Story and population size)

John Buehler johnbue at msn.com
Wed Dec 12 12:59:30 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001


Raph Koster writes:
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: John Buehler
>> Koster, Raph writes:
>>>> -----Original Message-----
>>>> From: Daniel.Harman at barclayscapital.com

>>>> The next evolution in economies will require server based
>>>> categorisation and valuation of all items. We need the npcs to
>>>> compete in the economy on the same terms as the players, for
>>>> this to work, they need to know supply+demand+value.

>>> Wow, I thoroughly disagree. The next evolution in economies will
>>> involve getting the NPCs out of the loop, as they just distort
>>> it.

>> They distort it in entertaining ways, however.  That is, of
>> course, the goal of the content of any entertainment experience.

> Well, I'd say *some* of the ways they distort it are *sometimes*
> entertaining. For example, much of the entertainment value in
> Diablo II comes from going to the shops, and playing "inventory
> Tetris," sorting out which items to keep and which to tell, which
> to repair and which to use a gem on, etc. But Diablo never
> pretends to be anything other than a huge Monty Haul game, and the
> mechanic they use has been shown to not work all that well in
> muds; if you had as open an item spigot as Diablo II does in your
> mud, you'd find the game overrun and dead in short order.

I won't dispute that it's possible for NPCs to do things that are
not entertaining.

> In a mud, NPCs *competing* in the economy hasn't been shown to be
> very fun thus far. In most games, every NPC that buys goods from
> players is essentially a game-supplied subsidy on that type of
> good, inflating its value when in fact it may be completedly
> useless. As if the game were "gather Hula Hoops from the dungeon
> and come sell them to me, I am a ready buyer." Normally, there'd
> be zero value to Hula Hoops except perhaps as collectibles (and if
> they are in such ready supply, probably not even that).  Since the
> game is based on collecting Hula Hoops, there's no doubt that the
> NPCs add the feedback loop necessary to make the be fun at all.

Again, the creation of uninteresting NPCs is not evidence that NPCs
can't be an excellent facilitator of entertainment.  Apologies for
the double negative.

> Now imagine that same game where the NPCs "compete." Now they're
> going to say, "well, I have enough Hula Hoops." Or the price of
> Hula Hoops will fall through the floor (as it rightly should). Or
> worse, they maintain their desire to obtain Hula Hoops, and start
> outbidding one another for this valueless good, sending the price
> of Hula Hoops into the stratosphere.  Basically, my thesis is that
> as soon as you make the NPCs have to have any brains whatsoever,
> you also have to remove the subsidies. And the fun factor implied
> by always having a market for whatever it is they had you gather
> will go away.

Indeed.  Now we're getting into some entertainment.

The seeming implicit assumption that all those who play the game
should end up being virtually 'rich' is silly.  In capitalist
societies, we assume that we exert effort in order to obtain money
so that we can gain access to the entertainment that we wanted in
the first place.  Why not make the activity of the game entertaining
so that the cycle can be dumped?  Is it any wonder that players use
the word 'work' to describe gameplay?

The 'fun factor' of always having a market can be retained because
NPCs will consume goods at a reasonable rate.  And there are lots
and lots of them.  A knee-jerk reaction to this might be that making
things for NPCs is boring.  Consider that Rollercoaster Tycoon
consists of the creation of an adventure park for NPCs.  This is
entertaining for players because the process of construction and
balance is inherently entertaining.  Make trades inherently
entertaining and making money won't matter.  In truth, I wouldn't
want players to be able to accumulate that much money, nor would I
want money to be a necessary prerequisite to accessing more
entertainment - such as a home.  For those who desire the pursuit of
achievements, make specific homes be obtainable only with cash.

  [Note that I do not want to see instantaneous construction of
  items.  If you want to be a crafter, you should be able to
  entertain yourself in the crafting process.  If you don't want to
  be a crafter, go do what you enjoy doing.  It should be possible,
  whether you have accumulated money or not.]

Let's say that there are some number of NPC crafters who produce
inferior goods at a fairly high price.  As a result, the region's
economy isn't very strong and the quality of life in the area is
also modest.  Introduce players and you find the quality of life
going up as a result of better goods at more competitive prices.
Players have an easy time of it until so many players choose to be
crafters that they are significantly competing with each other.
Prices start to go down, but never below a certain point, as
dictated by the NPC crafters.  The NPCs set the upper limit on price
and the lower limit on quality.  Mythic does this with Dark Age of
Camelot.  The highest quality from an NPC is 89%, while players can
craft from 90% to 100% quality.  NPC prices are 50% above player
cost, leaving as much as a 50% markup available to players for their
superior quality products.  But again, the idea is to disallow
significant monetary gain and to allow entertainment from the
crafting process.

In short, NPCs establish a weak economy into which the players are
introduced to produce a more efficient economy.  The players can
supplant the NPC crafters completely or not at all.  When the
players are absent, the NPCs take up the slack.  The players consume
from the same economy.

> Now you're at the point where instead, you have to have "real"
> value for the goods gathered. And that means, they have to be
> useful to other players so that there is actual demand. You can't
> make them useful to NPCs unless the NPCs engage in the same
> activities as the players, even if only on a simulated basis. And
> you probably don't want to do that ("let's see, we have 200
> shopkeepers who are adventurers, so we want to keep 50% of all
> spawns empty at all times to reflect their activities...") Very
> quickly the task of making them reasonable equivalents to players
> grows out of hand; there's an impressive amount of variables to
> worry about, and writing a decent AI to juggle them *and preserve
> the fun* isn't trivial.

I actually do see the NPCs engaging in player activities, excluding
'adventuring'.  Controlling ravaging monsters isn't 'adventuring'.
A world's activities should be taking place for a clear reason.  If
there is any kind of purpose to a world's combat activities, then
NPCs can engage in them in a meaningful way.  Again, the players can
step in to improve the quality of the world's activities.  I like
NPCs because they are the chess pieces (including many pawns) of
those operating the game.  For example, if the game were following
the story line of "Babylon 5", I might run a Star Fury pilot in an
all-player squadron, surrounded by NPC squadrons.  Together we
address the tasks of Star Fury squadrons as best we can.  But the
overarching story remains in the control of the game operators.  The
players experience it.

So 'adventuring' is simply the unguided behavior of individual
players.  Traveling somewhere, getting involved in a war, making
friends with the town mayor, raising crops, whatever.  It's all an
adventure.  And it should all be entertaining to those who would
normally enjoy each type of activity.  Wherever the players go, they
will encounter NPCs who demonstrate and enforce the structure of the
game.

> The easier solution is to remove them as participants as much as
> possible, should your mud have the scale to do so. Remove the
> subsidies and rely on the player-player market to set prices. Be
> sure you have ongoing costs so that items expire and there is an
> ongoing demand. In most mud economies, this is what I've seen
> happen anyway, as the game matures and players stop using the
> shopkeepers and come to prefer to trade amongst themselves for the
> truly valuable items. Am I wrong in my impression that Hula Hoop
> gathering turns into a newbie activity on most muds?

If Hula Hoops were useful all the time, they wouldn't lose their
value.  If Hula Hoops are the tool of choice today and NOT the tool
of choice tomorrow, of course they're going to be ignored by
everyone tomorrow.  Don't make Hula Hoops obsolete.

That decision eliminates the current progression through equipment
and accrual of loot so that I can buy new eqiupment all the time.
The only reason that I need new equipment is when my Hula Hoop wears
out.  And I get another Hula Hoop to replace it.  Without the
'entertainment' of constantly advancing and being forced to replace
my equipment all the time with better stuff, a world has to have new
forms of entertainment.  All that combat has to be entertaining in
and of itself.  Visually, audially, strategically, tactically - at
many levels.

So I believe that retaining the NPCs is a good thing, permitting a
world structure to be put in place to give players all the hints and
starting points that they need to find the entertainment that they
desire.

JB

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