Fixing the world economy

By | June 13, 2012
Appeal to game designers

Yes, games and the real world are different, so what works in game theory can't directly apply to the real world. But it seems that game designers are good at figuring out the sorts of problems we have in our world now. In fact, economist theories include some of the game controls, to a simpler extent than +Sai describes in his post.

So dear game designers (and want-to-be game designers), how would you propose fixing the economy?

Reshared post from +Sai

Something curious from my experience with game design (and in particular, my knowledge of how deeply fucked up some of Zynga's economies were and the things done to prevent it): our real world economy has many of the same problems. In particular, they are mostly related to the exponential growth of capital.

I say 'problems' here from a fairly pragmatic POV: in a game, if one player has multiple orders of magnitude more of a currency than another player, there are a bunch of things that just break. E.g. you can't let them have any kind of transaction relationship, because if you do then any other incentives you might want to use become moot. You get hyperinflation and recalibration of expectations that become extremely difficult to control or correct. You are forced into a vicious cycle of further exponential challenge, which is hard to sustain.

There are a few ways to correct for this, in game design.

1. Forbid players to transact except in very limited ways. (This is also necessary because of gambling related issues. E.g. Zynga Poker has a team dedicated to using ML to determine whether accounts are using faked games to effectively transfer chips, to prevent chips from being sold off site, because that would make it a bona fide gambling operation rather than just a game. Which is really really not allowed.)

2. Impose time costs on transactions, to at least slow the possible rate of exponentiation to something vaguely feasible. E.g. this is often done by having a soft turns-per-day limit (unlock 1 turn every x seconds, default to n available) coupled with a buy-more-turns-with-USD mechanic. If you don't do this, any opportunity to gain some percentage of your current capital converts to an opportunity to have infinite cash.

3. Don't give percentage-based rewards at all, only ones from a ~geometric scale tied to the same constant amount of performance. E.g. +Triple Town does this — the amount of stuff you have does not, except to a minor degree, influence how much more stuff you can get. There's a ceiling function, where you are maxed out in advantage; having yet more stockpiled doesn't change things.

4. Have multiple currencies, some of which are more protected than others, phasing out the ones with runaway inflation (either over time for the game, or over playtime for a player).

5. Have absurdly expensive moneysinks that grant virtually no significant benefit except to show off.

Hopefully I don't have to spell out the analogy to real world economy. Though unlike a game, that one's rather a bit more difficult to control.

11 thoughts on “Fixing the world economy

  1. Vahid Masrour

    +Dieter Mueller a new system might be unproven, but the current system is proven to be "good" for a few people only, and is proven to NOT provide prosperity for mankind nor the planet itself. 

  2. Michael-Forest M.

    While the Federal Reserve does 'print money out of thin air', in essence, it does not (yet) do so on a constant and unlimited basis.  We have inflation, but it has so far generally kept to the single digits annually.  If videos games wanted regular but limited inflation, they could increase the currency available in the game world at regular intervals, much as our own government does.  This is not how such games generally handle currency, however.

    I'm not aware of games like Warcraft having inflationary problems, though, Sophie (as expert players usually try to spend resources just as quickly as they can get them, and, TMK, it is impossible to 'purchase' something from another player), and I definitely don't think that that's the sort of game that +Sai is talking about in his post.

  3. Sophie Wrobel

    "this is a sort of 'money-printing' without limits." – +Michael-Forest M. 

    Isn't this strangely similar to what we have in the world today? Lowering the reserve requirements allows banks to print money out of thin air. A game in which the resources are limited is one in which the reserve requirement is 0: the 0% reserve requirement is always met, and so you have infinite resources. If games are designed to be dysfunctional, then we're actually no different: our current economy fits the gaming model quite closely.

    By 'quite closely' I'm not referring to simulations like SimCity – those have an infinite resource supply. Rather, consider typical multi-player strategy games  – like Warcraft – players have limited resources; endgame (if the players get that far and are well-matched enough!) relies on controlling the last available resources.

    +Dieter Mueller You do have a strong argument on pillaging techniques from elitist individuals. I doubt there is any system that can effectively eradicate that problem, though.

  4. Michael-Forest M.

    Game economies generally only need 'fixing' because they're designed to be dysfunctional in the first place.  When players earn currency in most (all?) games, there is usually no system-wide limit.  No one has to pay them; the money they earn from NPC's/the game is generally just fabricated out of thin air.  When this is so, and players are allowed to engage in transactions, you can expect runaway inflation corresponding with the degree of earning occurring in the world (so long as it exceeds the amount of spending occurring in the world sent to the same magical source); this is a sort of 'money-printing' without limits.

    The way to 'solve' such economic problems in a game is to actually introduce economic systems into the game, where, when players earn money, someone (or something), which has limited resources, actually must pay them.  And when they spend money, that money must return to the system, enriching these system elements (people/things), and freeing the currency up for others to earn.

  5. Sophie Wrobel

    +Dieter Mueller I think what we (+Sai and +Vahid Masrour too) are hinting at here is not an update, but rather a system reset. That's essentially what happens when you render a currency worthless, twiddle the strength / effectiveness of the various units, and let the nerds rediscover how to best game the new system – and what constantly happens in the history of the world.

  6. John Kellden

    thanks much for asking +Sophie Wrobel !  In the midst of drawing diagrams as we speak, and as soon as I have a decent set, I'll put them up here on Google+ – will add them in this thread as well.

  7. Sophie Wrobel

    +Vahid Masrour Agree! Thanks for pointing out the subtle difference between fixing and transforming – anything that would fix the current problems would imply a complete transformation on the economy.

  8. Sophie Wrobel

    +Sai maybe it's because the finance industry buys out too many programmers, that the gaming industry is looking for revenge. 😉

    But seriously, even though I see most gamification attempts (in education and corporate teamwork) as questionable, I do think that we could learn a lot from gaming.

  9. Vahid Masrour

    May i suggest there is no fixing this economy. There needs to be changing this economy. I even daresay that transforming this economy and no less is what is required.


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