[MUD-Dev] D&D vs. MMORPG "complexity"

Dave Rickey mahrinskel at brokentoys.org
Mon Apr 28 15:02:43 New Zealand Standard Time 2003


From: "Marian Griffith" <gryphon at iaehv.nl>
> In <URL:/archives/meow?group+local.muddev> on Thu 17 Apr, Dave Rickey wrote:

>> Nuts.  Economies are about the conversion of one type of value
>> into another.

> Sorry, but no, this is not true.  Economy is created by scarcity.
> What you describe is production. While it can (and generale will)
> have a place in an economy, it is not the same.  Technically,
> economy emerges when people have to choose between different
> commodities based on their own limited resources.  They must
> decide how much each commodity is worth to them, and if they wish
> to sacrifice (trade) their own resources for them.

No, *value* is created by scarcity.  Water and air are the most
important natural resources in existence, but air has no measurable
value and water costs pennies per ton.  That's because air is
omnipresent and effectively limitless, and water easily acquired and
highly fungible.  Scarcity can create value where it would not
otherwise be present, without the efforts of the diamond cartel to
maintain artificial scarcity, those stones would be used only for a
handful of industrial processes and not much more expensive than
tungsten (in fact "industrial" diamond of undesired colors or too
small a size can be purchased by the ton).

In an MMO, all scarcities are artificial and the only essential
limit on a resource (barring failed experiments such as the
closed-loop UO economy) is the time required to gain them.

>> Players squabbling over how many millions of gold a pile of horse
>> dung is worth is a sign of a *broken* economy, not economic
>> forces at work.

> Actually, this is economy at work.  These players are bartering.
> The fact that the game suffers immense inflation makes no diffe-
> rence to that.  The monetary system may be lacking somewhat, but
> that has no bearing on the economic system itself.

I chose horse dung on purpose, because it has absolutely no real
value in UO, in any way.  You can't make anything from it, it
doesn't do anything, it is not even aesthetically pleasing.  The
fact that it trades for millions of gold illsutrates that many
players have huge amounts of money, and absolutely nothing
constructive to use it for.  If that's not broken, what is?

>> Exclusive control of a source of vital resources by a small group
>> is another (that group has power far exceeding their time
>> investment, others cannot have that much power regardless of how
>> much time they invest).

> I fail to see how that is a sign of broken economy.  It simply is
> a monopoly. It may be undesirable from a designer's point of view,
> but that is something else entirely.  The correct reaction for the
> designer would be to allow innovation, or in other words find ways
> around the blockade, or to create other ways to achieve the same
> end as the resource. If there are multiple paths it becomes harder
> for one group to claim the resource.  If the effect that resource
> is used for can be achieved in new ways previously not designed in
> the game (i.e. if it is truly dynamic and driven by player innova-
> tion) then no group can block the effect, only the most convenient
> way to achieve it.

It's certainly broken in game terms (people do not pay money to be
peasants), and I'd argue strongly that it is broken in social terms
as well.  The result in real world situations of that type is
plutocracy, where a handful hold all the power and control
everything, and everyone else lives in grinding poverty (such as
Victorian England, or even more extremely in modern Guatemala).

> E.g.  "black oil" is needed to create a certain fire spell.  There
> are only so many places where this substance can be found on the
> surface. If a guild blocks access to them all then the game desig-
> ners can create more of those places until it becomes impractical
> to block them for any single guild.  Or they can allow players to
> mimic the natural process (in the game world that is) that led to
> the creation of the stuff.  This may require other ingredients and
> perhaps some specialised equipment and/or magic, but it would be
> possible for a player to create small amounts of this "black oil"
> without requiring access to the mines. The process would likely be
> uneconomical compared to the simple harvesting the guild can do,
> but it would be possible to circumvent the monopoly, and for some
> players who can (for whatever reason) not deal with the guild it
> would be economic to pay the higher price.

Nothing hypothetical about it, substitute "pearl" for "oil" and you
have exactly the situation that applied in UO in the days of the
Reagent Cartels.  There was a limit to how many of each reagent the
vendors would stock, and they refreshed on a regular schedule.
Although theoretically anyone could buy the reagents as they were
restocked, in practice the Reagent Cartels had the money and the
organization to buy the *entire* stock just as quickly as it became
available.  Of all the reagents, Black Pearl was the most essential
(being required for all of the teleport spells and many of the
better offensive spells) Some larger guilds were able to maintain
private stocks through PK activities, and small amounts of reagents
spawned into the world spontaneously, but overall the grip of the
cartels on the BP supply was pretty absolute.

--Dave
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