Inflation Economics in Game Design

Playing the Auction house and running through various levels grinding gold has got me thinking about inflation and economics in games.  There are quite a few players who are disparaged by the inflation in Diablo 3.  Instead of griping about how the D3 economy is at the moment it would be more productive to think about how different games could be balanced in order to re-leave some of the player tensions.

Open Economy
Diablo 3 has prolific inflation because it has a limitless supply of gold.  Gold enters the economy because players hit monsters, and those monsters drop money.  And there are limitless monsters, therefore there is limitless money.  The Auction House, the repair bills, everything else is subject to gold entering the system by way of players hitting monsters.

This is inherently inflationary because as the player base increases, or the duration of time players can hit monsters the more gold exists.  The more time, or the more people doing the action that generates the gold, generates more gold.

The only way to curb inflation in this system is to in some way 1.) reduce the amount of gold dropped by monsters 2.) reduce the number of monsters hit by players 3.) decrease the number of players hitting monsters 4.) Create huge gold sinks (giant repair bills, huge costs to crafting).   Some of the most popular items in the game increase the amount of gold dropped by monsters so 1 is not a viable options.  Fewer monsters does not a fun Diablo game make.  No game company wants to decrease the number of players in the system, especially not when the game can still make money (RMAH fee’s are pretty sweet, assuming players are buying.)

In some ways this is much like our current monetary system.  The value of money is notional, no more or less real then the value of a gold piece in D3. The main difference is that instead of putting the control of the influx of money in the hands of the ‘players’, the U.S. Mint controls the supply of money and the U.S. Federal Reserve controls the availability of that money.  The value of the U.S. currency is held up by the availability of if, which is tightly controlled.

Unfortunately Blizzard Entertainment has to apply gold as a game mechanic.  There really isn’t an in game item they could buy and sell to reduce the amount of gold in the game. An open economy is a level of abstraction created to move the game along.  Closed economies would have limitations and implications for games that would make them more difficult to play.  But as game designer know sometimes limitations can bring inspiration.

Closed Economy
What would a game with a closed economy look like?  Each peice of gold a player gets has to come from somewhere, and be tracked through the system.  This actually might be an interesting game limitation to explore.  What would a fantasy world look like if something like real world economics were applied to it?  It would be interesting, although not necessarily lucrative, for a game development company to explore closed economies in game design.  It might actually be worth while for real economists to study such a thing.

What would a dungeon look like if real world economics were applied to it?  Monsters exist, magic exists, but when it comes to money each piece of money has to be accounted for.  Adventures are subject to weight (gold is not just a counter on a screen), and space requirements.

One method for game design and development is to take existing concepts, tropes, and well trod paths, and turn them on their head.  Lately this idea has been kicking around the back of my head.  I could create a game development document, but that’s kinda boring.  Instead I think the game idea as a series of blog posts would be more interesting.

1.) A fantasy world. (Has magic, spells, magic item creation)
2.) Closed Economy.
3.) Copper, Silver, Gold, Platinum have weight, and size.

If an adventure enters a dungeon, loots a room, and finds a gold statue worth thousands of gold what would they do?  Well in the real world they would take that one item, and walk out.  They would be done with the dungeon.  For that matter in an economically realistic fantasy world, how did that dungeon get built in the first place?  These are some interesting questions not often addressed in current fantasy games.

Game idea
A fantasy based game where players take on the role of townsfolk who support a class of adventures.  Most fantasy games explore what it’s like to be an adventurer, going about slaying monsters and doing great deeds…  But what about everyone else? Play as the merchants, townsfolk, and who live off of and support adventures.

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