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

Travis Nixon tnixon at avalanchesoftware.com
Wed Dec 12 13:16:07 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001


From: "Koster, Raph" <rkoster at soe.sony.com>

<snip some stuff about collecting hula hoops and how diablo's
mechanics don't work in muds>

> 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.

But here is the point I've tried to make a number of times
throughout the past year or so.  You cannot remove 99.99999% of the
participants in an economy, leave only one very specific class of
participant, and then hope it will work.  It will not.  I can
guarantee it.  You may be able to come up with something that will
work, but it will not be the traditional supply-demand type of
economy that everybody seems to want.  Well, it might be, but it
certainly won't be fun.  Because most of the people in the world
want the exact same things you do, and they want to get rid of the
same things you do.  If I have a hula hoop that's useless to me, and
it's useless to you as well, guess what the odds of me being able to
sell it to you are?  If its useless to 99% of the rest of the world,
guess what the odds of me being able to sell it at all are?  If all
the shopkeepers in the world, all the NPCs in the world (whether
they be present in the world or simulated) want the same things I
do, guess what the odds of me being able to sell it are?

Bingo.  Zero.

However, if you bring back in the neglected rest of the population,
the farmers, the streetsweepers, the city foot patrol, the
basketweavers, and all their children (we are talking about hula
hoops after all), bring all those people back into the economy and
who knows?  Maybe hula hoops will be popular.  Maybe they'll be a
fad, selling for high prices for a while and then dwindling til
nearly nothing.  Maybe every kid in the city will own one at some
point.  There you have at least 2 possible interesting economic
effects based on one simple little item.  Give me a few minutes and
I could come up with some more.

But really, who else can those people be but NPCs?

Of course, then comes the argument used in the simulated ecosystem
threads, because obviously that many NPCs cannot (at this time,
anyway) be placed in the world, so the masses would have to be
simulated.  And the argument goes: "Why bother with a simulation
when you can just come up with something much similar that looks the
same on the outside?"  And of course, there's really no reason not
to do just that.  Fluctuate prices.  Make some things "go out of
style".  Create fads.  Of course, doing it that way creates problems
of its own.  For example, you can't just fluctuate randomly, or
you've created a neverending money fountain, unless the fluctuations
are smaller than the transaction cost (which is another term I'm
probably just making up to mean the difference between buying and
selling).  Of course, a little bit of that is interesting to players
who want to be traders and merchants.  The biggest problem in my
eyes though, is that players never see the reason for things.  They
never see (or hear about) all the kids playing with the hula hoops
they found.  They may see the price go sky high and then drop, but
they don't know why.  Of course, you could do that sort of thing in
your "simpler than simulation" but then you're really approaching
what I'm talking about by simulation anyway. :)

> 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 I understand correctly, the reason people turn to trade is not
because that's the best way to handle things, but because the
economy is hopelessly broken and impossibly deflationary, and that's
the ONLY way to do things.  Some people enjoy bartering.  The rest
do it because they have no choice.  Regardless, for the reasons I
stated above, a purely player-driven economy probably will not work
at all.  I say probably because I suppose it is possible to create
varied enough needs in player characters that they don't all want
the same things.  Possible, but not probable.  Supply and demand
only works if there's supply and demand.  If everybody demands the
same thing, there's no supply.  If everybody supplies the same
thing, there's no demand.

And just for the record, 10 or so distinct economic classes (is
there a real term for the thing I'm talking about?  I'm pretty sure
'economic classes' isn't it) even if their needs are completely
different (which they usually aren't.  given the stereotypical D&D
classes, fighters need the same armor as paladins) isn't nearly
enough.  Go up an order of magnitude or 3 and you'd be closer,
depending of course on your total population.

Sorry for the hostility, but I feel like I keep saying the same
thing over and over.  People say "well, a supply and demand based
economy cannot work", and I say "well, duh, of course it can't work
if you ignore the rest of the world and only take players into
account."

Of course, it's entirely possible that I haven't said that as many
times as it feels like I have, although I know I made at least one
post a while back on this very topic, but I've certainly thought it
that many.

:)

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