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Oblivious
10-21-2013, 08:46 AM
Economic Balancing

Postmortem

The most important element of any type of iteration is understanding not only how to change something, but why it needs to be changed. You cannot improve something if you donít know what is wrong to begin with, so Iíd like to start this update out by taking a look at the previous economy and what worked well, and what didnít work well.

Face of Mankind has always had an open economy, but there was one issue which always reared its ugly head. There were no sinks. Every time a new player joined, a sum of credits was created from thin air, and when they quit the game, those credits just went to the faction they were part of. The end result of this is that eventually there was so much ♥♥♥♥♥ in the economy that everything was virtually worthless.

The other main issue that needed to be addressed was the economic growth of players. In the past, people would be paid by their faction through missions or groups and produce goods that while sometimes they would give to their factions, more often they would sell it themselves. If they were producing on their own worlds however, all of the ♥♥♥♥♥ would go right back to the faction and then back to them through payouts. In effect, they were creating the items for free. They would then turn these around at a profit above production price, effectively making their ♥♥♥♥♥ twice on the same item.

As a study of economic development however this is very interesting. In a typical economy you get fluctuating prices based on competition and people who are trying to get the most market share, but despite the rapid economic growth and free item production, this never really occurred in ♥♥♥ on any large scale. My thoughts are that this may have had something to do with the massive sums of ♥♥♥♥♥ that players were making, decreasing any true desire and need for growth. Essentially, the game provided the players with far more ♥♥♥♥♥ than they could ever spend, so in turn they were not compelled to make more. The end result of this is stagnation, wherein the economy becomes stale and the players who participate in it bored. ♥♥♥♥♥ has no value, and thus one of the primary motivations for the playerbase vanishes.

At its core I would go as far as to say this is probably one of the major reasons for the game's lack of content at present. Most of the mechanics are about earning ♥♥♥♥♥ in some form or another, and if you give players an infinite amount of funds, they lose their drive to interact with those mechanics. This gets into something called motivation theory, and is in my opinion one of the worst things about the MMO market today.

There are two types of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation comes from a desire to do things just to do them. There's no real reason for doing it, you just do it because you enjoy doing it. Extrinsic motivation is when you are rewarded for doing something, and then begin to do it for the reward rather than because you like to do it. Unfortunately, these two forms of motivation are conflicting. Extrinsic motivation has been shown to decrease intrinsic motivation to a point where they won't do it without the reward, even if they enjoyed the activity to begin with.

In the case of a sandbox game, understanding and balancing this is key to keeping players from saying "what do I do now?" The goals of the game have to be defined in an implicit way, rather than an explicit one. For the sake of keeping this update on topic, one primary goal is "survive," which involves making ♥♥♥♥♥. A goal like this is good because it encourages players to find interesting ways to use the game mechanics to achieve the goal without explicitly telling them how to do it. This core ideal is responsible for the creation of most of the game's mechanics, as many of them provide ways to make ♥♥♥♥♥. Each of these mechanics however is associated with risk and consequences, so the decision on how to play the game comes from what a player is good at and enjoys doing.

Knowing all of this, it becomes clear the most important element of the game's balance is the economy. It has to be fun and interesting, encouraging growth and collaboration. The value here extends to all of the other game mechanics and ties them together. For the sake of keeping the update from becoming too long I'll stop this analysis here. I hope it was informative and gave a clear picture of the old economy.

Faucets + Sinks

In Fall of the Dominion, there are a few faucets and sinks that will control the flow of ♥♥♥♥♥ into and out of the economy in a way that keeps it balanced at all times. While the faucets themselves are a little bit grindy, this is somewhat unavoidable because these entrance points have to be measurable and scale with playerbase size. There's a sort of progression and choice that exists here, but a vast majority of the credits in the game will come statically.

Faucets:

Item Recycling: Any item in the game can be recycled at a recycle terminal. Basic minerals can be as well, yielding a very small amount of credits, essentially converting time to ♥♥♥♥♥. Every new player is given a mining tool of infinite durability which will allow them to mine the lowest class minerals slowly. A progression is created here in that players can sell loot to this terminal for credits. Instead of the economy getting filled with garbage items that get deleted or sit on the market for years, they will instead be destroyed for credits. Every new player is also given an infinite durability alien weapon that can be used to hunt small aliens. Selling their parts to these terminals will yield more credits than minerals, making this pretty much the way that new players make their ♥♥♥♥♥. They will not get any credits on starting the game.
Territory Gain: The static method mentioned before comes from natural gain due to spending. Every time a player spends credits at a territory, they pass through an algorithm that injects ♥♥♥♥♥ into the economy based on the level of the territory. The higher the territory level, the more ♥♥♥♥♥ that gets injected.


Sinks:

Subsidization Prevention: To stabilize player growth, ♥♥♥♥♥ spent on a territory by a member of the owning faction cannot be given right back to the owner. Instead, a portion of it needs to be removed from the economy entirely.
Faction Upkeep: To create faction death, they are now required to pay upkeep costs based on their impact in the game world. The more players and income they have, the higher the costs will become. All of this ♥♥♥♥♥, like other sinks, gets removed from the economy.
War Fees: ♥♥♥♥♥ spent on wars is removed from the economy.

Oblivious
10-21-2013, 08:46 AM
Markets

The market system will remain pretty much the same in Fall of the Dominion, with a minor change to market timers to make them more reasonable. The reason for their existence is technical rather than economical, so the solution should be as well. Instead of being a static timer, there will be a one week timer created every single time an item is not the lowest priced item on the market. If you are undercut essentially, you have the option of putting it back up after the week passes, or competitively changing your prices.

The other addition is the creation of advanced taxes that give factions an unparalleled control over the prices of their markets. Down to items and their classes, faction leaders are able to customize the taxes of their markets to manipulate prices. This creates a lot of interesting gameplay potential, and I look forward to seeing how it plays out.

Player Growth

As seen in this update and the skill system update, a lot of emphasis is being placed on player growth. In any game, this perceived growth is absolutely paramount to success as it gives people a reference to measure how far they’ve come since they began. If you play a game and accomplish absolutely nothing, it’s difficult to feel like any further investment is worthwhile. In the past combatants and those who rose through factions were given this satisfaction, but it didn’t really extend beyond those two aspects of the game.

By starting new players out at the bottom it makes it more difficult for them to get into the game, but it also creates some level of linearity in what is otherwise a very chaotic and difficult to understand gaming experience. It creates a reference for them to look back to and be proud of, and gives players of all type something to look forward to.

This of course means tightly controlling the amount of credits that players get as they progress (with obvious exceptions to those who get helped out by a faction as they will have a different gameplay experience altogether.)

Consequence

The most important element of keeping the game fair is balancing the risk of certain actions against the reward for completing them. Illegal actions must come with the most risk, while giving the most due to the low investment cost. Legal actions have much slower growth, but don’t have any social consequences at all, rather than always being based on luck.

Dropping everything on death is the clearest display of this effect as it creates risk in every action performed alone or near enemies. Carrying minerals and materials around is much cheaper than transporting them, but if you get killed then you lose all of them. A need for ♥♥♥♥♥ and the demand of the economy should also create more competitive prices, rewarding people who do everything they can to cut costs.

This however also means that the costs of items cannot be so dramatic that no one can afford to die. Low class items will be virtually nothing, while high class items will have a high enough cost to discourage their constant use without being too high to ever warrant using. This ties into progression as well because it creates a clear goal for players to move towards, with players of power being clearly recognizable (if they choose).

A side effect is that it is a “universal balancing factor” for the combat system. The risk of losing an expensive item on death helps equalize players of different skill levels in most situations. For large faction altercations there will of course be a lot of people using their best gear, but most random situations will call for a cheaper but still effective middle ground.

Conclusion

The economy is pretty much one of the most complex aspects of the entire milestone. Every facet of it has to be perfect to create the kind of gameplay we hope to see out of the game, and great care has been taken to make sure this is the case and systems have been put in place to allow quick adjustment should this not be the case.