Inflation / Deflation

Now for the final post in this triptych on game economies, of course with Ms. Moneypenny:

moneypennyHullo again! For our final topic, I’d like to discuss inflation, and its equally annoying counterpart: deflation. Both of these phenomena are caused by a growing imbalance in supply and demand between money, and goods. If money enters the market at a higher rate than it is removed through money sinks, players will find themselves with an ever growing bank account. As much as we all like those, if this happens server-wide, money will become less and less valuable. People will be able to offer ever more money for the same goods, and will be willing to do so especially when supplies do not increase.

When the opposite happens, we speak of deflation. Given a huge oversupply of goods and items, players will not need to spend a lot of money to obtain their share, In effect, their money seems to be becoming more valuable; they can buy more with the same amount of cash.

Both of these trends can be detrimental to an economy, especially if they occur at a fast rate. Players will be unsure what their items or money will be worth in a day or week’s time, and the initial balancing as set out by the game designers may become invalid. For example, the balance between vendor-bought items and the free market may become totally skewed, or players may end up with completely twinked out characters because items are too easy to obtain.

Actually, I’d like to also discuss another type of inflation, which is not directly related to currency. Anyone who has played World of Warcraft and some of its expansions must have noticed this. With ever new expansion, items become suddenly more powerful, with a great rise in stats. Old items become obsolete, and are quickly replaced by newly released items. The general idea behind this is that players need new challenges and new rewards to go with them. If the rewards wouldn’t be an improvement over their old gear, they would feel cheated. It also makes for a nice sink for old items to disappear into.

These are good points from a design perspective, but there is also an inherent inflation going on. Not so much with the items themselves, but with their stats. If the new items suddenly provide twice the stamina of the old ones, stamina will become less valuable. This is especially true if all other stats (agility, critical strike chance, etc.) scale accordingly.
On a side note: such power inflation reminds me a bit of Dragon Ball Z. cartoons, where each new opponent needs to be more awesome than the previous one, quickly leading to strange situations where an enemy can destroy whole solar systems at a whim.

crit rating tooltipSticking with the example of WoW for a moment, we can actually notice a point where power inflation became problematic for the item designers. Stats like stamina were easy to manage, because they could be increased indefinitely, But with percentile stats such as critical strike chance and dodge, they ran into a wall. You can’t simply keep adding more crit %, because it doesn’t make sense to exceed 100%. Also, tanks having 100% dodge is not a good thing from a Raid boss perspective, as Gruul must have realized when he was being tanked by certain rogues during The Burning Crusade.
WoW’s designers solved this problem by turning crit, dodge and other percentile stats into a “rating”, where rating translates to a percentage based on your level. Higher level gear has higher amounts of crit rating, so the conversion rate goes down. This is again a form of inflation: as time (or in this case character level) progresses, a single point of crit rating will become less and less beneficial. Again, it also made for a good “item sink”, because the percentile stats on old items now become less useful as you outgrow them, the same way that stamina does.

Stepping away from WoW for a moment, we can see power inflation in many other games. For example in the Yu-Gi-Oh BAM game on Facebook, where a player can collect monster and spell cards to duel other players. With each new card pack that is released, the attack points and life points of the monsters tend to increase. The damage dealt by special effects goes up accordingly. This sadly means that power inflation is again taking place, and existing cards may quickly become obsolete. In a game where people can pay cash to buy cards — the game is free to play, but has the option of buying credits — it seems a little disappointing that cards or even whole decks can become outdated and obsolete when a new deck or new season comes out.
Don’t worry, the game is otherwise very entertaining, and we’ll look at the ins and outs in a future post.

Well, this was it for this small expose on game economies. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to talk more about this wonderful topic at a later time. As we say in Orgrimmar: thanks for shopping, please come again!

—Penny

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