Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Game Economies

Morrowind, otherwise one of the best CRPGs I've ever played, has the most idiotic economy of any modern game. At the beginning, you're so poor that you can barely afford your first chitin sword. You're hauling wooden buckets and oars from a nearby cave for the few pennies that you can get for them at Arille's Tradehouse in Seyda Neen. You're burglarizing houses and stealing pillows. This is fun and challenging, and it's a real reward when you can buy your first mortar and pestle or decent stock of arrows. 
"A plate, a cup, a fork, and a candelabra?! Soon I will be able to afford a pair of steel boots!"
Then, sometime around hour five, you stumble in to a Daedric ruin somewhere, kill a dremora, and suddenly you have a weapon worth so much that literally no merchant in the game can buy it. You sell it to Creeper for one-third of its value, and money no longer has any meaning. You can buy anything. Two or three trips to the ruins, and you can train your character up to level 100 in any skill you desire (Morrowind, unlike Oblivion, places no limit on the number of times you can train per level). The economy, if you let it, breaks the game. Bad economies, it seems to me, are the rule rather than the exception in most CRPGs. Oblivion doesn't have the training bug, but you do reach a point rather quickly in which amassing a fortune no longer makes sense, even accounting for buying and furnishing houses in every town. I remember in Baldur's Gate II slaughtering an entire map full of fighters with swords +3 and not even bothering to take them to sell them. This is particularly annoying because many of the "evil" role-playing choices in these games center on trying to bully more money out of people, burglarizing houses, selling stolen loot, and so on. What's the point of doing all this if money comes so easily anyway and there's nothing cool to buy? To me, a good CRPG is one in which money has real value--you never run out of reasons to collect it, kill monsters for it, and quest for it. Some of these early CRPGs, like The Bard's Tale II (my current game), sort-of fit the bill because they have one or two expensive things that make money valuable. In The Bard's Tale II, those things are the mystic emporium, where you recharge spell points, and temples, where you heal your characters of death and petrification. Since the costs for these things go up with your level, it makes sense to keep collecting cash. In Phantasie, leveling up cost so much that I was constantly under-funded. But this is a boring sort of economy. Contrast this with Ultima IV, where you had a role-playing choice about whether to cheat the blind herb seller. Some reagents are damned expensive, and cheating is a real temptation. After all, you want to outfit four of your characters with magic wands, and they cost 5,000 gold pieces each. 
If only I wasn't trying to achieve avatarhood.
Always needing cash is not the only part of a good economy, though. I like games in which there's always a cooler magic weapon waiting for purchase, where you can sell looted weapons, armor, and gear to shops (the Elder Scrolls games are particularly good with this), where gold from your fallen foes is a tangible object that makes a satisfying clink as you pick it up (for some reason, I love the graphics and sounds associated with money in Icewind Dale II). I particularly like it when there are goods and services not strictly essential to the main quest that you nonetheless might want to buy: Oblivion's houses are a good example, as are tankards of expensive drinks. You feel like you're really role-playing when your Baldur's Gate crew staggers into Nashkel from the mines and each character gets thoroughly drunk on pints of dragon's blood. 
"Six wyvern kebabs, medium rare."
Let me see if I can recall a few economy-related quirks from other games:
  • If you play a fighter in Baldur's Gate II, you can get a castle for your stronghold. You get a number of stronghold-related quests in which you have options ranging from, say, paying 20,000 gold pieces to strengthen your land's fortifications against outside invaders all the way to erecting no fortifications, executing the person who suggested it, and then levying a punitive tax against your subjects (I'm getting the details wrong, but in spirit this is right). The problem is, by this point in the game you have so much money that you're almost grateful for an excuse to spend as much of it as possible, making what could be a sincere role-playing choice almost no choice at all.
  • In Wizard's Crown and the later SSI games based on the D&D rules, there are multiple types of coins, just like in pen and paper D&D. If you lug around too much cash in Pool of Radiance, it slows you movement and hurts you in combat. Most games treat gold as if it has no weight.
  • In Ultima VII, you can burglarize the royal mint. Since spells and reagents are so expensive, it takes a real role-playing choice not to do this.
Fortunately, you don't actually have to achieve avatarhood in this game.
  • Alternate Reality: the City started you out with a paltry amount of cash but gave you the option to do menial jobs for an honest wage. This took precious game time, but it was a nice touch of realism. I seem to recall that in Ultima VII you can try to make some income baking bread.
  • It's only tangentially related, but I love how in Neverwinter Nights, you've just been given a mission to save the city from destruction, and yet you still have to buy your weapons and armor from the temple shop. A lot of games do something similar.
  • Games in which you can pay for training (not level-increasing training but skill-increasing training) offer a good reason to quest for cash. Aside from Wizard's Crown and The Elder Scrolls games, I can't think of any off hand. I would love it if Baldur's Gate offered you the ability to add a + to one of your weapon skills for 10,000 gold, or add one point to an attribute for 15,000.
Racking my brain, I can think of only two games that have truly "good" economies. The first is Might and Magic VI. First, there are many, many, things to buy: weapons, armor, helmets, boots, alchemical ingredients, rings, wands, and so on. Skill acquisition and training also cost a lot of cash. Fortunately, you can sell items you loot back to the shops. Still, for much of the game, you're struggling to get enough money to train and outfit all of your characters, which is as it should be. Later in the game, you find yourself with an overabundance of money, like in most games, but at that point you find a magic well in Kriegspire that takes your gold for an equivalent amount of experience. Gold, therefore, remains relevant until the very end of the game. Might and Magic VII and VIII have similar economies in general but lack the magic well. The second is the Hordes of the Underdark expansion to Neverwinter Nights. There are two excellent reasons to get rich in this game. First, about halfway through you find a smith who will take any weapon and add a variety of enchantments (increase the +, make it do fire damage, and so on) for lots of money. (I should point out that Wizard's Crown offered this option but I didn't play long enough to get into it.) You never have enough to buy all of the upgrades. Second, late in the game you meet the Knower of Names, who for gold will tell you the "true names" of various NPCs in the game. You never have enough gold to buy all of the names, and which ones you do buy has significant role-playing consequences, since equipped with an NPC's true name, you can order him or her to do all sorts of things. For some ridiculous amount of gold, you can even purchase the true name of the demon prince Mephistopheles (the game's villain) and completely skip the game-ending battle by simply ordering him to kill himself! 
Bargaining with the Knower of Names
I haven't played every CRPG, of course--not yet--so there might be other good ones out there. Let me know what you think in the comments. In the era I'm playing now, economies are very basic, with only a few ways to get cash (there aren't even any side-quests yet) and even fewer to spend it. I'll keep rating this category on the GIMLET scale, though, and we'll see how the economies evolve.


  1. Never played through M&M VI, but I agree that the economy in that series is kinda more balanced than in other games. I'm talking about the seventh installment.

    It isn't difficult at all to obtain absurd amounts of gold in that game, and with the right skill combination of your characters (repair+alchemy+healing spells+merchant) you don't really have anything to spend it on.

    Not to mention that some quest rewards are unreasonably high (100,000/50,000) and to mind comes also the dragon corpse bug.

    BUT there is one thing that is not only worth spending on, but paying for it is essential for your character advancement. Training. At first it's really cheap too, but for example after the 50th level, each advancement costs 3,000 gold, you did a few quests and want to advance all your four characters by 3 levels. 3,000x3x4=36,000. Of course you had to pay for the first 50 levels, and of course for each one character! One of the few RPGs where I actually didn't have unnecessary gold. World of Xeen and Freelancer (if you consider it to be a RPG, that is) also come to mind.

  2. One game which in my opinion had a good economy was Alternate Reality:The Dungeon.

    Not only did you have copper, silver and gold pieces but some establishments would only deal in the much rarer jewels, gems or crystals. Using these items you could have custom weapons made by the Dwarven Smithy or pay the weapon enchantress to add enchantments to your weapons. You needed serious amounts of gems, jewels or crystals to pay for these services. In addition items like crystals were used to power the various magic wands you could find so there was a trade off for using crystals as currency.

    You could also pay for training to increase your percentage success in casting specific spells. Stealing from the two bank vaults was also a possibility (but as you'd expect had consequences and risks).

    Shame the PC version was never completed.

  3. IMHO, the fundamental problem here is that the gameworld economy makes no sense. If game developers set up a world that made sense, economically and otherwise (given the fantasy premise, of course), they'd have an easier time making player character economics and motivation make sense.

    Ideally, in an RPG, you want player characters and NPCs both to do what makes sense for the kind of person they are, and that means having realistic rewards AND consequences. (There's a reason not everyone is a pickpocket in RL!) Of course, the player should have the freedom to do whatever he can think of, but some things might be tried only for laughs, followed by reloading a saved game.

    Money is valuable for what it can buy, but there are consequences to murder and theft (not just to the individual, but to the whole society). All that should be modeled. In RL, you never have too much money, because there's always more you can buy (including property and social status). If the gameworld had a more realistic economy, that would be easier to model in a game, too.

    PS. In the Magic Candle games, you could leave a character behind to earn money at honest labor. I don't remember the details, except that I liked it. Money was short, at least at the beginning of a game. But those characters wouldn't gain experience (and, obviously, you'd lose their help in battles and other situations).

  4. You make excellent points, WCG. Later, as I get into more advanced games, I'll talk about what an ideal economic system would look like (to me). My biggest problem is that in most CRPGs, the "evil" choices are about getting more money but there's so much money to be gained by any character--good or evil--that there's no real incentive. If evilness led to shortcuts and real rewards, including money you could actually spend on stuff, it would be a much more difficult choice and thus an enhancement to the role playing.

  5. The trouble with modeling realistic economics in many of these fantasy games is that there is no realistic analogy for an adventurer's activities. In terms of pure danger, the hardships of a wartime soldier might be the best approximation to the dangers faced by an adventurer, but they pale, really. Fighter pilots are considered "aces" if they've defeated five enemies- what about our stalwart adventuring band who will easily defeat 5000 or more?

    In a lot of games, the characters agree to go off on a dangerous quest for a monetary reward. But with the dangers as steep as they are, what lunatic would ever agree to do this unless the financial rewards were equally steep? Case in point: The Hobbit. Bilbo goes off on one adventure, faces a dragon, comes home, is set for life. I think that's how it would have to work in any fantasy setting, really. Why risk your life for enough money to buy a new sword?

    I agree that it makes for less than compelling gameplay, however...

  6. they had pickpockets in ultima vii:black gate. pickpockets who stole your mission-critical, and one of the bastards is an important NPC! impossible to beat this game w/o using your other party members as mules OR kill almost everyone to find back your stolen items!!

  7. I killed the NWN demon with his true name. I'm such a hoarder with wealth, I never buy anything because games usually only sell crap equal to your level (and give you 10% of what you are selling.) I figure there is something better to find if I just wait.

    So I hoard my gold. But I figured, might as well use it on the Big Boss. If not then, when else? It was anti-climactic... but by then I just wanted it to end.

  8. You almost always do by the end, don't you? I used to care if my entire party survived the final battle and such, but now by the end of the game, I usually just want to see the "you won" screen and move on to the next one. It's rare to find a game these days that ends before its time.

    That said, I found the whole concept of "true names" to be a bit absurd. I don't know if they exist anywhere else in the D&D multi-verse, but I rather hope not.

    1. "That said, I found the whole concept of "true names" to be a bit absurd. I don't know if they exist anywhere else in the D&D multi-verse, but I rather hope not."

      I have come across this in a few fantasy books. If memory serves, the excellent "Earthsea" is one such book where knowing the true name of someone gives you power over them. It might even be a feature of Tolkien, but after a while all these fantasy books blend into one, don't they?

    2. The concept seems old, but all the sources listed on the wiki page are within the last half century or so.

      If you can imagine the true name of something like a password to unlock its inner-workings, then it's not quite as absurd. Using it to circumvent the final boss is a bit silly though, not sure why they put that into a game.

      As for D&D, I think the lore goes into some detail about demons and angels true names holding power over them.

  9. "It's only tangentially related, but I love how in Neverwinter Nights, you've just been given a mission to save the city from destruction, and yet you still have to buy your weapons and armor from the temple shop. A lot of games do something similar."

    This seems to annoy a lot of people, but I find it utterly understandable. The PC(s) is/are usually 1st level newbies, who will regularly die in the first dungeon (I seem to recall a few posts of the proprietor to this effect...). What kind of ruler in his right mind would hand expensive magical items to such newbies? Especially since it is far from certain that they will actually try to save the world, not suddenly disappear with their equipment?

    No, far better to call for any and sundry to come, survive the first couple of dungeons and prove their seriousness at saving the world. We can always give them equipment, gold, spells or whatever once we have weeded out the weaklings.

    As you mention NWN: it is actually mentioned that lots of low-level adventurers are called to help Neverwinter, and AFAIK, we are never told that the PC is the sole survivor of the attack, so it appears at least possible that Nasher and Aribeth are crowdsourcing saving Neverwinter, at least in the first chapter. And as you progress through the game, recall that you *are* given gold, which you can use to buy stuff from Aribeth, which in turn is not so much different from getting equipment straight away (better, IMHO, since I get to decide myself that I would prefer my mage to get a two-hander instead of some wands and stuff).

  10. Yeah, I've played a number of CRPGs where at the end I just walk into town and buy the best gear in the game. Dragon Warrior I was the worst for this. BG was good at this until I decided to explore every wilderness area in the game, then I had way too much gold.

  11. Gorgasal, you have a decent point, but if I recall, following the prologue of NwN, Arabeth is pretty much putting everything on the PC. Still, I agree with your rationale in the last paragraph.

    Canageek, having "way too much gold" is one of my biggest pet peeves in CRPGs.

  12. It is one of mine as well. It reminds me of my early days as a DM, eager to please my friends I would dole out huge amounts of gold and magic items with every encounter. When you have something to look forward to spending your gold on (be it a powerful weapon, or simply gaining a level like in Phantasie) it makes every encounter that much more rewarding. Theoretically, too little cash could be a problem, but I've never played a game where that was the case.

  13. "You never have enough gold to buy all of the names" -> Wasn't it possible to purchase or find out the name of the Knower of Names, and then just force her to give up all the names for free?

    Anyway, your statement that a good RPG should as a matter of course make money a constantly desired thing is strange to me, and stranger still is that you think this feature is so important it should be a part of your scoring system. This sends me the message that, in your eyes, no matter what the genre or topic or setting of an RPG is, it simply must have money and shops and purchasable things in it, and even more, these should be carefully adjusted so that you're constantly balancing your budget.


    What if your character is a demigod, like in Torment or at the end of BG2? The Son of Bhaal realistically would have no need for earthly goods to begin with. If anything, disregarding the piles of magical treasure as worthless and beneath his concern is a roleplaying opportunity, that reinforces how powerful he has become. Why should he still count pennies like a peon?

    Or what if the setting of the game is one that, realistically, would not have a meaningful economy? I winced when you bashed Dungeon Master for not having a shop to spend your money at - why would there be shops set up in Gray Lord's basement?

    I'm saying, this criterion seems so absurdly limiting. It would be like deciding that a good RPG must have a good magic system - a requirement that makes sense at face value, but disallows any game that doesn't have a magic system from being a good game, even if the game is set in the modern day or otherwise has no reason to have a magic system of any kind in the first place.

  14. "This sends me the message that, in your eyes, no matter what the genre or topic or setting of an RPG is, it simply must have money and shops and purchasable things in it, and even more, these should be carefully adjusted so that you're constantly balancing your budget."

    Yes. Exactly what I was trying to convey in the posting.

    The GIMLET is a measure of my own personal enjoyment of a game. I'm not suggesting that Gamespot ought to adopt it for its reviews. Some people don't care about economies, but to me it's one of the most fun parts of playing a game. Naturally, I don't bash games that exclude them for plot reasons, but it has to be a good reason. DM's reason isn't that good--there's no reason there couldn't be a peddler at the top of the dungeon or whatever.

  15. I got SO frustrated in Oblivion when the treasure chests and mobs started spawning Dwarven hammers and Ebony maces...

    I remember getting jumped by a bandit wielding a Dwarven battleaxe. Instead of fighting him I wanted to give him investing advice.

    "Dude -- don't you know you can schelp that down to the black smith and get like 800 gold for it?? That'll set your whole family up with a nice cottage and a couple of cows and feed them for the rest of their lives, with enough left over to dower your daughters?"

    On the other hand I'm a total whore for money. I'm playing Fallout: New Vegas right now and I spend time picking up single pencils and cigarettes because they weigh nothing and have value... (Probably has something to do with my IRL pathological miserliness.)

  16. I remember there was one game, a sci-fi exploration game called Protostar (1993) that had you acting as the financial supporter of a besieged Earth.

    Whenever you returned from a long haul and liquidated your minerals and other stuff you'd collected, you could wire money to the head of Earth resistance. At first he had a bandage on his head and was surrounded by wounded fighters -- after hefty support he looked better, and was surrounded by more well-equipped soldiers.

    Once I wired him like 500 credits and he said something like, "500 credits -- are you joking? It costs over 15,000 credits per day to fund the resistance at the lowest level!" After that, I gave much more generously and more often.

    I thought that really, really simple addition made an incredible sponge to soak up excess money, even though donations didn't affect the player at all (as far as I can remember).

  17. That sounds like a GREAT economic feature. Protostar is on my list for 1993, so I look forward to that.

    I finished playing Dragon Age on the X-box recently, and they have this whole bit that allows you to contribute resources to your various armies, but I'm not convinced it actually does anything, game-wise. I also would have loved it if in Oblivion the beggar who said, "One more coin and I can buy a pair of shoes" actually GOT a pair of shoes once you gave him or her the coin.

  18. Oblivion being a fantasy realm still does not help me make the leap of imagination to think beggars actually use the money you give them for what their pitch says.

    Prolly just used that coin for Skooma. I mean you have the government programs that fill barrels and crates in the street with all kinds of things that could be traded for shoes.

    No more likely beggars just see adventurers as good marks because they have deep seated issues that make them compulsively help when asked. Who else spends time doing all those favors for people, when there is an army of demons marching to take over the world.

    1. Oh, I'm *positive* they only see adventurers as marks. Remember for whom they work, after all. =D

  19. I love your last sentence. My favorite part of Oblivion is when I'm racing from the Imperial City to Weynon Priory, bringing both the Amulet of Kings and word that the just-assassinated emperor still has a living heir...and I stop to help a fisherman collect scales from slaughterfish.

  20. It's funny the games with the best economy are those where the exchange of goods are mainly controlled by players, as in the MORPGS Eve Online and WoW. Eve probably has the most realistic economy ever modeled in a game and is half the experience. In WoW if you ignore the Auction House, you'll go broke very soon and have a hard time doing anything without needed player created items. In RPG's these dynamics don't exist so I rarely ever buy anything at all(unless it's a quest related purchase) but sell a whole lot...that being anything that is a duplicate of something I already have as I'm a terrible in-game hoarder.

  21. It's kind of a capitalism/socialism thing. When the game designer tries to "program" the economy (i.e., socialism), it falls flat. Merchants continue to buy long swords +1 at the same price no matter how many they already have, and players can't get goods they really want. But when you let market forces rule the economy, everything turns out better.

  22. So your a very liberal leaning capitalist? I hesitate to start the whole political discussion online and bring out the crazies, but now I want to have a drink with you and discuss.

  23. I make one joke about the Tea Party, and everyone thinks I'm "very liberal."

  24. I thought you were liberal because you said "Yes, I'm a liberal and an atheist." I said a very in the aspect of if your a capitalist you lean towards the liberal side of the spectrum very much, I could also have said a very capitalistic leaning liberal.

    I said I would like to discuss over a drink, mostly because then we wouldn't get interrupted by idiots who see any intelligent discussion of viewpoints as an opportunity to vomit emotional garbage all over the room. I guess their rational is that if they make the room so toxic that everyone leaves they win something, though all I see them win is a room full of stink.

    Anyway, I'll still offer you a drink regardless.

  25. American politics are *funny* kinda scary, but also funny. Seriously, dress each guy up in an Uncle Sam outfit in your head, and give them a bible to thump and you'll be getting close to how they appear to much of the rest of us.

  26. I have a feeling its like that in every representative government but by dint of being in the spotlight on center stage for news companies the US gets more attention to its silliness.

  27. Well, the US has a very condensed political spectrum compared to most of the world, so to us the parties look very similar. The sheer amount of religion in US politics also is quite off to Canadian's at least.

  28. As with any republic since the Romans it comes down to who will actually vote and who will pay the expenses. You find who will actually show up and cast a vote and then you promise them you are on their side and will work for them. It makes little difference if what they want is silly or not the smartest way to do things as long as they are happy with you by the time the next election roles along. Also if you can get enough people to vote by paying the right PR guys then you need to make the people with money think you are on their side also. It matters little if you actually believe in what you stand for or not, the disingenuous and the sincere can both fall into this range and get elected. Oh and it's better to be pretty than smart, but politics is not alone in that.

    It sounds all rather bad when you see it in this light, but it still is more palatable than any functioning alternative I have seen.

  29. I apologize, UbAh. I did say that. I had forgotten.

    Being a social or even an economic liberal doesn't mean that I have anything against capitalism, though. Only right-wing nutters think that liberal=communist.

  30. George, that Oblivion peasant parable is hilarious!

  31. During act 2 of NWN:HotU you find a stack of 99 poison bolts. You have to split them into stacks of 2 to avoid going over the 10k sell cap if you sell it to the most generous merchant. Straight up that's 450k. You can work out via the bottled djinn which of your items are worth the most so you can hold onto them till act 3 where the sell cap goes up to 50k. Your money at this point is basically infinite. You could go back to the surface, take a trip to Thay, hire every Red Wizard therein and take over Faerun =P

    1. Huh. I had no idea. Why would poison bolts be worth so much?

    2. It's truly strange. They're quite potent as well, not that you'd ever want to fire one! The poison arrows are also worth a lot, ~100k per stack of 99.

      Spiderweb Software's games usually have pretty good economies. It may be impossible to buy every stat increase in many of their games. Early on you have to scrounge just to find the money for raising characters that have died. You're in for a treat when you finally play them.

  32. In Fallout New Vegas, NPCs have a finite amount of cash. They do not protect it very wisely, so you can usually bankrupt them one way or another. At the limit, though, you can't take more money from them than they actually have.

  33. I'm in complete agreement with your basic opinions on game economies. I want my money to mean something. I want it to be hard to get, but not impossible. I want a message saying "You just gained X gold pieces!" to brighten my day. Some games do a great job of this in the beginning, but most fall flat by the end.

    I do have one point of disagreement, however: in games such as Might & Magic VI (which is a favorite of mine!), the primary use of money late-game is training and then the well, and both of these seem less like economy and more like artificial money-sinks purely to pretend that there's an economy. They do still make money tighter, which is a plus, but contrast with, say, Star Control II, where outfitting your whole fleet the way you want it is very difficult even late in the game, and even though none of the prices of anything has changed since the beginning.

    1. I see what you're saying, but even the "money sinks" are more than most games give us; most games just leave us with hundreds of thousands of gold pieces at the end, and nothing to do with them. I haven't tried SCII, but if it's as you say, I agree that's a better approach. Star Command was a recent game I played in which I never got anywhere near the best ship or equipment before the end.

    2. Agreed.

      SCII has action-based combat, which is good and bad. One side effect is that once you're good enough as a player, the entire game can be won off of a single escort, making money far less useful.

  34. I agree that it feels wrong, really wrong to have reached a point where you've built up too much money. It's immersion breaking; it calls to your attention that you're playing a game. I guess one of the major problems in trying to solve this is that the best solution can also break immersion: an economy too tailored toward the player sticks out, after all, like 2d4 points of damage to the thumb.

    In that, it's a little like another, much more-commonly observed RPG design rule, that every optional area/nook/side-corridor leading away from the main quest/dungeon breadcrumb trail should have a chest, unique NPC/encounter or other reward at the end of it, placed there by the developer to reward curious players and to make them feel they didn't get their chain yanked by a 'smartass designer' who sent them on a fruitless goose chase (uh, gooseless goose chase? Fruitless fruit chase?), fighting a half-dozen additional encounters for no good reason.

    On the one hand, this makes a game world more provably fun and less frustrating to explore. But if it becomes obvious that *everything* in the game has been placed there for the players benefit, the authenticity of the game's fiction and world-building will take a knock in the player's eyes. Some call this 'theme park' design.

    The other problem is balancing the economy for the wide, wide spectrum of possible player types. This runs the gamut from profligates to hoarders, and neither of the extremes nor anything between them is provably the correct approach because you'll typically have no idea what exactly you're going to need. A splurge on 10 stacks of antidote might seem wise if you then, three hours later, encounter Snakes eight times, but needlessly spendthrifty if you only encounter one, needlessly skinflint if you encounter eighty and painfully insufficient if you encounter nine.

    Beyond this, the hoarders have their own subtypes. Some will never buy consumables. Some will never *use* consumables. Some will even skip non-consumable purchases, such as better armour and equipment, reasoning (usually correctly) that better gear than is available in town shops awaits them in the dungeons below.

    But the game has to be balanced to make it playable for all of these potential types of player - and the player who finds themselves with too *much* money presents a much smaller problem than the player who, having spent the lot on item X, has too little for necessary item Y and thus is unable to complete the game.

    1. ...painfully insufficient if you encounter *eleven*, that should read. :)

    2. Good analysis, and thanks for commenting on an old posting. There are, of course, myriad ways to design the game to account for some of these problems; for instance, through an NPC that warns about the snakes, or a shopkeeper who sells the antidotes closer to where you encounter them. I agree with what you mean about different playing styles. I suppose I would object to an RPG in which you absolutely HAD to spend money to win, but in such cases it would be hypocritical to then object that you end the game with too much money.

      It would be an unforgivable design mistake to force the player to buy a certain quest item (or to make the game functionally unwinnable without certain weapon and armor purchases) and then put the player in a position where he or she doesn't have enough money. Almost all games support grinding for gold for just this type of eventuality. Can you think of any games where it's really possible to get into a "no win" situation because you spent all your cash?

    3. Yes. In Might & Magic V: Darkside of Xeen, at a certain point you have to progress to a difficult dungeon, with all other accessible dungeons usually being plundered empty by then. Progressing from level 4 to 5 in this dungeon requires a "donation" of about 300,000 gold. The first time I played the game I had been very careless with money (also, levelling up is an incredible money-drainer in that game), and I barely managed to proceed by selling a few precious pieces of equipment.

      Of course, if you're playing modestly reasonable (like keeping your bank account filled for interest from the beginning etc.), this isn't too much of a hurdle, but the possibility is definitely there.

  35. Thanks for the reply! I'm working through the archives, and loving every minute of it!

    Yeah, you're definitely right there. I don't think players should be protected from 'welp, gotta grind', exactly - and if anything, 'I spent too much money on s*** I didn't need, now I gotta raise a bunch more!' is a problem to which RPGs are perfectly situated to provide potentially interesting solutions, both from a mechanical and a role-playing perspective.

    My favourite bit of Baldur's Gate 2 is at the beginning, where you're balancing a budget, actively seeking income to reach a set target but sometimes having to making purchases from those funds to equip the party with. It's a brilliant meta-goal that I'm amazed more RPGs haven't made use of - far more dynamic and rich (sorry!) than your usual motivational backside-booting of 'go thou and collect these four plot macguffins, - and be grateful I'm letting thee pick the order!' It allows for your progress to go backwards as well as forwards. It allows for short-term pain vs long-term gain type scenarios. It makes window shopping for all the top-level gear *deliciously* painful.

    Woah, totally straying from the topic. Yeah, I don't think players should be protected from misspending their money. But I think developers do all the same, to an extent. For example, and totally challenge this if you think it's off, but I suspect there's something of an inverse law of utility to expense in RPG prices. If you *need* something, it won't be crazy expensive*. Whereas if it's a luxury, the price will be higher**. Combined with other mitigating tools available to the developer that you rightly pointed out - townsperson warnings, mysterious riddles, other hints - a player can make the right purchases necessary to progress without going broke.

    Of course, this will make the life of a savvy hoarder that much easier, leading back to a potential problem of excess wealth..

    * Okay, so there are clear exceptions. Resurrection spells in Wizardry and Stone-to-fleshification in the Bard's Tale notwithstanding!
    ** all of this in line with the general inflation that occurs as you move up the levels, natch. Nothing's quite so flagrantly game-y as the prices of inns going up in a perfect line with your quest's itinerary!)

  36. I totally agree that the economy in Morrowind is broken - as it is in every Elder Scrolls game - especially if you don't use a mod to postpone the Dark Brotherhood attacks introduced by the Tribunal Expansion, as the assassins leave you with the second best light armor in the game in potentially unlimited amounts - keep one and sell the rest, and you can pretty much skip all the low-level equipment and never have any financial problems. It really ruins the early game for me. On the other hand, while you do end up with staggering amounts of money nonetheless in the later stages of the game, you can also pay A LOT for having items enchanted, so at least some of it can be put to good use. Of course, all this just serves to make your character even more overpowered, especially in the unmodded game, to the point of being virtually invincible.

  37. I can't remember the game... can't even remember the context... but, painfully, I remember an occasion where cash was food. Where I was starving. Where every step that didn't yield cash, shortened my odds. I think healing was also tied to cash. The outcome was, every fight didn't provide enough cash to both heal and eat. I remember running a spreadsheet to try to maximize cash per encounter by type. I remember having to restart several times. Funny, I can't put it in a specific game context...

    I'll look through my games directory to refresh my memory.

    Could it have been very early in Bloodstone?

    Maybe early Dungeon Master?

    I'm sure that it wasn't one of the roguelikes, because you can seldom count on a nearby shop when you need food, in a roguelike, so money wouldn't likely affect starvation.

    Gosh, a mind is a terrible thing to waste. Don't ever get old.

    Bottom line: vague recollections of a game which was actually winnable if you could survive early game starvation. Only after a lot of play, learning to maximize cash just to eat enough to survive. ...and in which I realized, several times, oh my goodness, I've got a lot of TURNS before I die, but I'm not gonna make it unless I get enough lucky loot just to be able to eat! ...and heal.

  38. One of the most interesting examples of economy in game that I've seen was in Pathologic, a 2005 game whose remake/reimagining was released a few days ago.
    The premise was that you are stranded in a small town quarantined due to an outbreak of an epidemic, and economy reflects the changes that happen in the town over time. Prices fluctuate as you expect them to do in an isolated location with little to no hope of external supply of food and medicine. You can earn money, but the prices are so high that you are going to spend it only for the absolutely necessary and rare things, and mostly resort to barter: different categories of people are interested in different things, and you have to figure out what they want, what they have to offer and where you can get the stuff they need.
    As a result you get an economy that feels alive and logical - something that can be said about very few in-game economic systems.

  39. As an economist, I keep searching for a game with a great economy. I played EVE Online, but came in too late to feel like I can do anything.

    I play on an Ultima Online shard and the NPC shopkeeps will only buy so many of an item before they cut you off, but that respawns every hour, so uou can get around it.

    I'd love for supply and demand to show up in a CRPG so I wouldn't be tempted to horde anything with a decent value:weight ratio. The amount of stuff in my Fallout houses/settlements is stupid.

    1. Trading is a monotonous way to make a buck in an RPG though.

      If you like economics, the best game for you is Victoria 2, imo.

  40. I agree with the thesis of the post, I like good economies, too, and find that they're rare in games. At one stage I was obsessed with how the ludicrous economy of Skyrim should be overhauled, but I'll spare you. Right now I'm playing Wasteland 2, and I'm very happy with the economy so far. There's lots of truly useful things to buy, consumables, weapons, armor, etc. You can never afford everything you want, but you have sufficient cashflow to keep yourself reasonably well equipped and stocked as you go.

  41. I'm reading this blog chronollogicaly, every single post and comment, cause it is a great blog and I love retrogaming, but I am not a fan of CRPG games. Recently I finished my first CRPG: Mass Effect. IMHO, it is a little overrated. A lot of side missions are dull, the interior settings in most planets are very similar...but what shocked me most, being a first timer in a RPG, was that halfway through the game, Ireached the limit of having 9,999,999 credits and all the economy system felt pointless by that time

    1. Yeah, I'd say ME is great despite its gameplay, not because of it. The storytelling and world building are top shelf but it's not that great at scratching the rpg itch.

    2. The BioWare style isn't for everyone. It feels like modern RPGs are dominated by four approaches, exemplified by BioWare, Bethesda, Diablo, and Dark Souls. Even though they're all "RPGs," it's hard to love all of them.

    3. Oh, but I missed the fact that you're commenting on an economy-related entry specifically. Agreed on that. There should always be something to spend money on. Irene and I are replaying Dragon Age: Origins where, if nothing else, you can pay insane amounts of money for skill books that allow you to gain additional skill points, as if you had leveled up. You can also contribute money directly to your army, which I think has an impact on the final battle. I don't know why they didn't offer such options for Mass Effect.

  42. Yeah, not only I had more money that I could spent, the problem was that the most expensive weapons I could buy were less powerful that what i'd already got. That was why I meant that the economy system in Mass Effect is broken way before the end of the game


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