So here is the promised post that I have delayed for multiple days. Again, sorry about the delay. I hope it’s worth it.
Something that often doesn’t get talked about in games is economics. To start with I think it’s helpful to define the type of economic system that I am talking about. For the purposes of this post, “Economic system” refers to the ability of the player to trade resources for other resources.
At its most basic selling an item to a shop for gold is trading resources. Gold is a common currency for good reasons. It’s easy to imagine enemies having spare change in their pockets. It’s shiny. It’s easily divisible, so a skeleton, and elite skeleton and a super elite skeleton can carry balanceable amounts.
You don’t need gold however. Some games let you break items down into components, and in that sense, you’re converting one useless item into many small currencies. The problem with this system is that normally one component is rarer than the other ones and becomes a bottle neck. If you’re limited by how many of a single component you find, why not just make that the currency?
Unfortunately, both above systems have a fundamental problem. Gold and components are almost always useless. In most games of a sword swinging nature you can’t buy the best armour or weapons with gold. In “Skyrim” for example you can’t buy dragon bone armour. The best weapons come from quests. In "Diablo 2" gold is basically worthless, and people playing it use gems as currency instead. If you can’t buy anything useful with a currency, then what is the point of having it?
Even if the best items in the game come from a store, gold is only useful if you haven’t acquired it. As soon as you buy Excalibur and a set of diamond Armor from the corner store you don’t need any extra gold. At this point most players continue to collect gold out of habit more than anything.
Some games let you buy useful things with gold. I think for the rest of this post I will be referencing “RuneScape” because it’s probably the game I am most familiar with where gold is an important resource. For the uninformed, RuneScape is a browser-based MMORPG that has existed for about 18 years or so. Most of my information is outdated but is no less relevant. “The names change but the streets stay the same”.
In RuneScape, there are four resources that players care about. Money, experience, time and Items. Money is self-explanatory. Experience is how many experiences points you have in each of your skills. Unsurprisingly, time is just how much time you spend playing the game. Lastly, items are desirable things that players want.
Gold is used as the primary currency because you can buy meaningful things with it from NPCs. Whilst basically all good weapons and Armor come from monster drops you can use gold to buy supplies, repair equipment, to pay for transportation. Some gold sink skills explicitly need gold to train.
Let’s look at how everything fit’s together with an example. A common way of training magic back in the day was casting a spell that effectively sold an item to a shop for a good rate(High level alchemy). Casting that on a Yew Longbow would ‘sell’ it for 768 coins. The runes required cost 300 each. And you could make a yew longbow with some yew logs (Costing 300 ea) and a bowstring (100ea). So with 700gp worth of materials, and time, you could make a slight profit. Initially, it seems like a good deal, and back in the day it was but there’s something not accounted for here. Opportunity cost.
Lets say for example that making and aching 1k yew longbows takes about three hours and grants you 75k fletching exp, 75k magic exp and generates you about 68k. Let’s say another money-making method exists that makes 400k an hour. Also, let’s say a faster method of training magic exists but it costs 1.2 million an hour for 200k magic exp and 90k hitpoints experience. If you do both methods for twelve hours you end up with 600k magic experience and 270k hp exp vs 225k fletching and magic exp and 204k gold. The “More expensive” option turns out to be cheaper when you factor in the time spend earning the gold. This leads to counter intuitive scenarios. For example, its better to drop most raw resources because the time you spent banking them could be better spent earning money to buy them later in larger quantities. If you need any raw resource, it’s often better to just make money and buy it.
Back in the day this used to be tempered with the time it took to buy and sell things in large quantities. A large transaction could mean an hour or two of trying to find people to trade with. The more expensive method is still more efficient, but only once you pass a certain gold threshold. Since it’s easier to buy and sell in bulk the paradigm shifted.
It’s an interesting dynamic.
Normally of course, if a resource is consumed but not obtained then supply and demand will equalise things. But when you get more logs by killing monsters than by, well cutting logs, the whole thing sort of unravels.
So let’s imagine a world where the pendulum swings too far in the other direction. One where cutting logs is super-efficient and is even good money. Then bots arrive. Accounts run by scripts for the sole purpose of making money to sell to people over the internet. Bots exist for all content, including killing enemies. However, making bots to gather resources seems to be considerably easier; at least it seems to take less time. This is a rather unique economical problem and I don’t really have an idea of how you would solve it.
Lastly, items can be broadly divided into four categories. Stuff you can sell, items you need to do content, items that look nice, and items that save you time. You don’t need a teleport from one side of the map to the other, but the time saved is often worth the cost of the teleport. You need weapons and armour to get better weapons and armour. You need an axe to chop wood. You need herbs to make potions. You need that party hat because it looks snazzy. Upgrading your arsenal often leads to upgrading how much gold you can make, and therefore how much experience you can earn. 10 million looks nice just sitting in the bank, but using that to buy some items that make you stronger means that it won’t take so long to earn the next time.
I think this is naturally ending. This topic is broad, and I feel like I kind of hit the mark. It’s a tad difficult to order my thoughts regarding this because there are so many ways to look at it. The time was not spent editing this monstrosity.