Wednesday, January 03, 2007

On Money Sinks

Resource sinks, the much debated way for developers to insure that players never have too much of a resource at hand, have always been contested by players wanting to keep their hard-earned money. The best known type of resource sink is the equipment decay, which forces players to go to town when their items have been used for a while, so they can talk to a blacksmith to have them repaired (let alone the fact that player blacksmiths more often than not cannot repair items themselves).

Players do not like the feeling of wasting money on sinks. What can be done, then, to prevent the need for money sinks? Item wear could be removed, decreased or prevented; the latter would give players the choice between extra power or item indestructibility. The need for one-shot items (potions and the like) is only necessary as long as there is no alternative; give the players a reliable healing spell or good re-usable healing items (like bandages), for example, and you greatly reduce the need to buy healing potions on your trip to the nearest city.

Another potential solution, albeit a weaker one, is, of course, to decrease the amount of money that enters the game. Make money-dropping creatures (usually humanoids, unless giant spiders happen to have a liking for shiny coins) rare, and non-money-dropping creatures (typically animals) drop resources that are only useful once harvested and properly crafted (not everyone can get the leather, tusks and meat from a boar, so killing one is only really useful for those who do have some or all of these skills). Decreasing the amount of sentient creatures also solves the problem of overkilling; you don't want your players to kill actual people all day and you don't want your players to get more money than the economy can sustain.

These solutions, however, fail to address the main problem of resource sinks, that is, the need to reduce inflation or deflation. With too much money entering the game world, items tend to become more expensive as players can afford to pay more and more for a single item. On the other hand, if resources enter the market too quickly, crafters will be able to make more items than the market can sustain, and their price will drop. Those two problems have to be carefully balanced in the game, which makes me wonder why no game developer has yet hired a market analyst to help them develop their in-game economy.

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