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Economics in RPGs
#1
I'm nearly finished with 'Witcher 3,' and I've put my finger on the thing that bothers me about this game.  In fact, it isn't just this game: the same criticism applies to 'Assassin's Creed: Odyssey,' 'Skyrim,' 'New Vegas,' and more. 

In short, the in-game economics needs to improve.  It hurts the immersiveness of the experience.

If you've read this far, you probably already know this: all games have a basic economy, even card games.  The game provides "sources" and "sinks."  The sources can range from new cards dealt at the beginning of every round to $200 when passing "Go" to the loot and cash an RPG player amasses by finding treasures, earning rewards, or looting the bodies of fallen enemies.  For a game to be fun, players must be able to access sources with an amount of difficulty that's challenging, but not impossible.  Similarly, sinks need to be sufficiently compelling to keep the player coming back, thus spurring a need to find and exploit more sources.  With RPGs, however, simple sources and sinks don't cut it.

An RPG's character choices should affect more than which allies will show up for the final battle.  Those choices should impact the economies of their worlds.  When a character shows up in some village and starts eliminating threats to life and commerce, that village should grow.  Shops, artisans, and homes should proliferate.  Prices should change as the market floods with, say, secondhand swords or dragon treasure.  As roads around the village become safer, traffic should increase and neighboring villages should share in the benefits of being sited near the region's new economic powerhouse.  Banks and guilds should form, places of education and worship proliferate, etc.  NPCs should create businesses to exploit the natural resources now accessible thanks to the character's elimination of indigenous wildlife or bandit tribes.  Larger governments, friendly or no, should take notice.  Competing heroes should appear, having got wind that there are rich pickings in the hills and forests around this prosperous new market.  Should a player choose to play on Team Evil, the opposite should occur: slaughtering villagers should create flight, economic decline, and perhaps even refugee crises.

As the character advances in wealth and experience, the character should be able to invest, a la 'Fable.'  "Hey, you're welcome for cleaning all the bandits out of the old silver mine.  No, I don't want a reward per se.  I want 2% of the profits.  Oh, and here's 50k florins to help you get started.  Let's make my cut 20%."  A designer could take this kind of game in interesting places, branching per character choices.  Wanna be evil?  Wind up playing a game in which you're basically running Mordor.  Wanna be good?  Wind up playing a game in which you're basically running Gondor.  Not interested in running anything?  Fine: give your money to charity (The Slasher McSlashy's Home for Orphans) and keep on fightin' monsters.

Just make the world of the game come alive.  Make it more than "Go on a quest, get some loot, sell it at the same shop until that vendor runs out of money, buy a thing, go get some more loot."  Basically, I'm looking for 'Sid Meier's Pirates!'  But I'm looking for it upscaled.  I'm looking for a world that breathes.  Is there such a thing in the modern RPG?
I've seen so many good people in my life that I've almost lost my faith in the wickedness of humankind.

--Will Durant
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#2
Closest I can think of would be Dwarf Fortress or Rimworld. If you want to stick to “pure” RPGs I guess a mmo like WoW or FF14 kind of do the thing. Of course you generally have to sacrifice immersion since you’re going to be engaging with real people.

Maybe a game like Endless Legend? It’s basically Civ but with fantasy.
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#3
(02-11-2020, 09:26 AM)frankcobretti Wrote: Basically, I'm looking for 'Sid Meier's Pirates!'  But I'm looking for it upscaled.  I'm looking for a world that breathes.  Is there such a thing in the modern RPG?

I was reading your post and thinking, you know Sid Meier's Pirates did this. You could directly affect markets and had a benefit for running goods from one side of the Caribbean to the other if you wanted to be more merchanty. I really like all the things you are looking for. Not to get on a pirate theme, but Yohoho Puzzle Pirates and Pirates of the Burning Sea were basically economy MMORPGs that also allowed you to shoot cannonballs at each other. But that is an MMO. Where do you find that in a single player RPG?
"Wilford Brimley can't be bothered to accept praise. He doesn't act because he thinks people will enjoy his work. He acts because it's his goddamned job." --Will Harris, AV Club
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#4
Sounds like strategy/4x games are the go to for economic complexity. I can't think of any standard RPGs in recent years that go too in depth on it. There's a bunch I haven't played though, like Divinity 2 or the Pillars and new Wasteland type games.
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#5
I think, ultimately, this runs up against the same two things that are behind most other common simplifications of complex systems in gaming: A. the more expansive and immersive you make the game world, the more labor it takes to create it (sometimes this can be abstracted away with procedural generation, but only so far, and it tends to hurt the immersiveness if it's relied on too heavily and what the player is meant to perceive as a "real" world is exposed as just a bunch of simplistic automata,) and B. often enough, the reason it's abstracted to the extent it is is because it's not what people are playing the game for to begin with. Cars in GTA-alikes handle nothing like real vehicles, but nobody cares, because if they were looking for that they'd be playing straight-up realistic racing games. Economics in RPGs are simplistic to nonexistent, but that's okay because the majority of people playing RPGs aren't really interested in realistic economies (though inevitably there's mods for this in the Elder Scrolls games...there's always somebody who wants a thing, but not most people.) And so on and so forth.
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#6
I'm not a gamer, but some years ago there was a New Yorker article about Ultima Online in which they talked about the difficulty of maintaining both an economy and a playable game. Basically, the multiplayer environment had been seeded with finite resources, on the expectation that people would make things from the materials at hand, and trade them for things they needed. Instead, what happened was that players hoarded items and materials, taking them out of circulation and leaving newer or less experienced players nothing to work with. So, y'know, reality, but the admins eventually gave in and 'artificially' replenished the resources.
"I'd rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on Earth."--Steve McQueen
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#7
Lol at the trusting the player base to play nice. Oh ye of too much faith.
Git' in under mah belly!
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#8
Of course, you can also look at EVE Online, where "monopolize all the limited resources in order to force newbies to become corporate wage-slaves" is basically the literal goal of the game and the spaceships and lasers and shit are all just there to sucker folks in.
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