No drain, no gain

Time for another “game economy” post with Moneypenny:

Moneypenny

Hullo! And welcome back. In this post, I’d like to discuss money sinks, and why they’re so important to a game’s economy.
Now, I can imagine you’re all wondering: “But Penny, aren’t we interested in making money, not losing it?” Of course, but consider my example in the previous post, regarding the auction system in Diablo III. Items kept piling up, because they were being found faster by the players. than they could be gotten rid of. Some mechanics were in place to make players destroy items, but they weren’t working well enough. An oversupply of items didn’t do the game much good.

If we think of money as “just another item” that can drop (blasphemy, I know!), we can imagine what would happen if money never left the system. Money would keep piling up, and quickly become worthless. Notice that if we buy items from other players, money is not leaving the system, it’s simply moving around from one player to the other. To prevent such massive inflation (the topic of our next post), we need some ways to automatically drain money. This should happen at almost the same rate as new money enters into the system. There should be just enough incentive for players to spend time playing (to earn money, of course!), but not so much that inflation will run rampant. Players should have a more or less stable sense of what their money and items are worth.

Some good examples of money sinks are repair costs, fees for the auction house or profit cuts. and costs for cosmetic customization. Some of these sinks are more or less unavoidable, while the optional ones should become attractive to players when they become rich enough. I mean, who cares about $100 for a virtual manicure, if you have a million in the bank, right?

The thing that actually triggered the topic of money sinks was the Facebook game The Hobbit: Armies of the Third Age. In this game, resources are gained by conquering land and building farms, gold mines etc. The more sources you have, the faster the resources are produced. Then, resources can be used to build more structures and create armies. Armies can be used to conquer cities and steal their resources. In other words, your basic, solid R.T.S. setup.
As nice as the game is, its economy leaves room for improvement.
Hobbit_armiesThe game initially has plenty of money sinks, the most notable being the need to feed your troops, and the fact that you lose part of your resources if your city is defeated by another player in PvP combat. It can actually feel like a challenge to gather enough resources to upgrade your buildings.
However, when you reach the “endgame” stage, you can’t upgrade your buildings anymore (or very slowly at best). All of a sudden, the excitement of the game seems to stall.
Sure, you can build bigger armies. But the question is: why? You have nothing left to spend your money on, aside from maintaining your army. Which you need to protect your resources. Which you need to maintain your army…
Hm. it seems we either need an additional money sink, or a clear goal in endgame that does not focus on gathering resources. Because there is no campaign setting, the game never ends, and should have a worthwhile ongoing purpose.

Without anything to spend it on, earning or owning money quickly becomes meaningless. Without some “pointless” money sinks like repair costs, inflation will soar, and all your money will lose value faster than you can say: “invest in gems!”
So, the next time your armor-smith presents you the bill, don’t forget to tip the man. You’ll be doing the economy a favor.

—Penny

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