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Designing an Economy

January 24th, 2009 by Troy Goodfellow · 5 Comments · Blogs, Design

Even though our leaders have no clear idea about how a modern economy actually works, Maxis’s Soren Johnson has put a lot of thought into how to make a economy work in games.

Unfortunately, the market dynamics of these games tend to repeat themselves, with prices usually bottoming out once the players’ total production overwhelms their needs. This effect stems from the fact that the game maps emphasize economic fairness – in AoK, each player is guaranteed a decent supply of gold, stone, and wood within a short distance of their starting location. Spreading resources randomly around the map could lead a much more dynamic and interesting market mechanic but at the cost of overall play balance for a game with a core military mechanic. If your opponents attack with horsemen, what if there is no wood with which to build spearmen, the appropriate counter unit?


5 Comments so far ↓

  • JonathanStrange

    Can’t even afford pointy sticks for spearmen? You have bigger problems than enemy horsemen. I suggest hitting “Restart”.

  • Alan Au

    Civ 3 and Civ 4 are funny about that, where it’s completely possible to start without the resources to counter your opponents. Late-game resources can also be rare, giving you casus belli against your blustering rival sitting on the local oil deposit.

  • Troy

    That was a bigger problem in Civ 3 than 4, Alan, too. There were many times where I would start a Civ 3 game having to rely on a warrior/archer rush because the nearest iron or bronze was too far away. Civ 4 made these resources more common – I don’t think you can have a continent with neither.

  • Michael A.

    There’s an idea for a future feature series. The diversity in how these are implemented in grand strategy games is – I think – quite interesting (as opposed to Sørens more general discussion). Just looking at Paradox’s games on the EU engine for instance, you find a handful of different models for an in-game economy.

    One ever-present problem, of course, is how to avoid players building up enormeous (and unrealistic – except for Norway) money reserves. I thought the inflation system introduced in EU (first time I saw that used, I think) was quite ingenious, even if it didn’t work properly. Reasonable trade systems are another big issue, IMO; I rarely feel they work well in the “closed” game worlds of strategy games.

    You know you want to write about this… ;-)

  • Troy

    That was on my short list of topics, actually, and I may go back to it.