Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Getting game economies right is hard

I mentioned before that I was in the Football Manager Live beta, that it has no NDA, and that the economy wasn't working yet. Please keep in mind that I'm talking about a beta, and of course the problem might be fixed before the game is released. But I found it a good example of why game companies might want to hire an economist, like the makers of EVE have done.

In Football Manager Live, you start out with a small amount of money, and a daily income of about £100,000. You select a team of players and substitutes, all of which want a daily wage. Those daily wages are your only expense (up to now), so you take players whose combines wages are less than £100,000, and there you go. If you make a profit at the end of the day (or rather accumulated over several days), you can invest that money into buying better players from other managers. By having better players, and by winning competitions, your reputation goes up, and so does your daily income. So, does this sound like a good economic model to you?

If you said yes, or are a developer for FML, you overlooked a small problem: Nearly everybody will be clever enough to pay less wages than his daily income. So every day the amount of money in the system is increasing. Managers on average get richer all the time. And as they can only spend that money on player transfers, this causes a huge inflation in the market value of all good players. On the game world I'm on, top players can go for over £10 million, and the prices are constantly going up.

Now originally the idea was that if you buy an expensive player, you would need to balance the added income he brings by increasing your reputation and chance to win competitions against his wage and the money you pay for the transfer. But if you know that the same player will be worth more tomorrow than he is worth today, you don't need to worry about whether he wins games for you any more. You don't even need to worry whether you can actually use him in your team, or you already have far too many strikers (they tend to go for the most money). If you bought the player for £3 million, and sell him at the end of the season for £5 million, the trading gain you make far exceeds any potential effect of the player on your match win ratio.

So some people now play Football Manager Live without actually caring a damn about line-ups or tactics. They just scout the markets daily for promising young players, or cheap offers of middle-aged players. If the managers have been playing a while, they got the "judge potential" skill, which shows them how good a young player will probably become when he gets a bit older, huge advantage if you're trading. So they buy cheap, sell at huge profits, and quickly amass great fortunes. And the sad thing is that because they have their teams stacked full of superstars, they also tend to win games a lot. New managers coming later into the game don't have a chance.

Fortunately the devs are on the right track, and are talking about adding other money sinks to the game. I hope that in the release version there is something resembling a balanced economy. Hyper-inflation destroys economies, whether they are virtual or real.
Easy fix.

Player wages have to scale with the transfer fee paid.

This discourages paying a fortune for players if you then have to continue shelling out each week.

From your description the only money sink is wages, therefore the wages need to increase.

Another option is to have some sort of tax when a large profit is made.
How about a balancing mechanic: If the players are priced like superstars, they'll start acting like it. Lavish parties, fights, trouble with the law, scandals and other PR nightmares scare investors, and that in turn reduces your income.
Your post reads like a description of the real-world football market. Unfortunately, it seems, the real world economy where the big clubs buy promising young proto-stars with no intention of putting them on the field only to sell them at a huge profit a couple of years later doesn't really make for a good game.

Instead of hiring an economist, maybe the designers should focus on making the game significantly *less* realistic :)
And this, pretty much explains the trouble with the inflationary economies of games with a neverending supply of resources.

I'm not saying we necessarily need zero-sum games, but what happens here is they end up needing artificial money-sinks, which tend to be more of a duct-tape solution than good solid gameplay.

As for EVE Online, what most people underestimate is that they have an inherent gameplay-driven money-sink. In PvP many players lose their ships on a daily basis, destroyed ships are (aside from minor salvage) a financial loss overall, not just to the specific player but the overall economy-- thus allowing a good deal of balance. This becomes especially true with the huge capital ships that take significant resources to construct.

And all this I'm learning from my first day playing the game. =)

IMHO we need more player-driven and gameplay-driven economies overall. Money-sinks just aren't much fun.
I play the Sports Mogul games regularly. They have several mechanics which work to combat this particular problem. One is 'player happiness'. A player begins to decline when they feel they are under paid.

Not starting, being stuck in the minors, etc also effect player happiness.

In the end though, players always want to be first...and players that stay in last, or are below 50% will dislike the game. It is a game and people want to be the best in the games they play.
I play OOTP (baseball), and here's another reasonably easy fix. Add in some randomness + chance of failure.

If a superstar ends up being a bust, as well as if top prospects don't pan out, then there's a lot more risk to the owners gaming the system.
One point of interest is that CCP only employed their economist relatively recently. The core economic elements for the game (shiploss, insurance, mining, missioning, salvage, invention) were already in place.

I believe one of the most disappointing economic changes of recent times - the failed tritprice-uncap debacle - happened under the economist's watch.

Funny old world. :)
In any real or virtual world economy, trading is the fastest way to amass great wealth. No one hit the gold cap in WoW by grinding dailies.
Hattrick ( did this right. I played that for a couple of years a while back.

Player wages scaled exponentially with talent, so it was essentially impossible to maintain a top flight team - you would go bankrupt.

You had to strike a balance that suited you - stack some positions and go for tactics to exploit that, or go for a balanced team that was more affordable, or spend some time earning some cash, spend up and make a run for the top and see how long you could hang in there before your wage bill broke you.

I had a central midfielder who had the max skill possible, and as his wage bill was more than half of my total team bill. He really performed but I certainly sweated it each week that he might get injured.
I am not sure that adding more sinks will fix the problem, as long as money pours into the system in every inactive/minimally played account.

The simplest and most realistic fix is probably to seperate out income and capital into two distinct numbers, rather than adding income to capital every day.

That's the way most management sims do it - you just have a budget of X million to spend on buying players, a weekly wages cap of Y million, and transferring money from one budget to the other is a matter of high financial wizardry, not straightforward addition.

You could make it a special skill: if you have the trait 'financial wizard', then for as long as your weekly wages are at least 10% under cap, you may add 1 million to your capital budget. If you don't have that skill/trait, you don't get any benifit at all from underspend
Another possible money sink - if a player is performing at a superstar status, have him pout and hold out for superstar $$. That way, the owners will either have to pay him or trade him.
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