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Saturday, August 18, 2018

Economies in MMO Games

MMO - Massively Multiplayer Online - "...an online game with large numbers of players, typically from hundreds to thousands, on the same server. MMOs usually feature a huge, persistent open world, although some games differ."

Let me preface this by saying that I am scratching an itch about laying out my understanding of virtual economies. I am in no way trying to professionally define certain aspects of online interaction. My intention is to explain, largely to myself, how these complex systems come to exist when a simple set of rules is defined to create the illusion of player interdependence within an online game.

What is a virtual economy?

Many, if not most, online games have a simple resource mechanic at the core of their design. In order to obtain some object that helps the player advance, they must first gather resources and craft intermediate components. Often, these games include a time element to gathering. For instance, manually gathering 1 unit of ore takes 2.5 seconds. This is our first economic piece. If a player wanted to gather 10,000 units of ore, it would take them 25,000 seconds, or almost 7 hours. If building a vehicle or structure frame requires a bit more than those 10,000 units, we can relate the time required in-game to our time working an 8 hour shift at a job.

This is the primary economic paradigm that causes my intellectual itch: If I can work 8 hours a day at $30 an hour, that's $240 a day of work (minus taxes, of course). That means the developers of our example game expect you to divert almost $240 of potential earning into creating a digital object that isn't even a completed product! It's still only a frame! Regardless, players world-wide frequently take part in these online economies and happily give up significant portions of their time (mind you, usually it's free-time outside of their normal work) to create digital resources and products. They're just fragments of code that exist as electricity on a computer. Most of the time, this data doesn't even live on the player's computer, it's stored on a large server database of a private company.

So why do we actively pursue these economic outlets, when it provides only intangible goods?

Entertainment. Increasingly, we're relying on our digital products to provide us with ways to pass the time. Especially in areas where the quality of living is relatively high, and which correlate to high levels of automation or white-collar jobs, people have plenty of free time to dedicated elsewhere. The problems arises out of a need to be physically present, or at least available, while not fully engaged. It also arises out of part-time, disability, contract, or temporary work situations.

One of the most obvious fundamental deficiencies of the modern world is a significant lack of purpose.

That's a lot to take in, but consider this: As more and more of our duties become bureaucratic, administrative, or mentally draining in nature, the less we have to help drive our sense of purpose. The disconnect comes from a distinct lack of positive feedback from the way our societies are designed. I don't mean that we need to be feeding happy emotes to everyone when they do a good job. That's simple-minded on the level of Idiocracy.

Tiny design choices can be more than enough to provide positive feedback, while simultaneously extracting vital productivity. For example, effective sound design can and often does define 80% of an experience. A small "boop" noise when pressing a button can help change a repetitive action into one that is more related with progress. When you tie a good sound effect in with a positive feedback loop, such as, "you received 1500 experience!" and a $0.10 raise for every 15,000 + 2,500 * level experience, you've just created a very simple but very effective way to set goals and provide a limited kind of purpose to the "player."

Most games fully understand this in their overall design. Players are driven to gather resources, make components, and fulfill a supply and demand system within an online game simply because they are rewarded with increased potential when they do so. A player can grow in a virtual world, often much more tangibly than they can in the real world. Games are specifically designed to give players more power and control when they succeed according to the rules, while our society often rewards those who simply succeed (regardless of method). To go one step further, our society, and the people in it, can be found to give merit to those who succeed, even when the success is outright fraudulent or even straight evil. We all know the vagaries of right and wrong, and everything in between, but I see so many people caught being carried along by someone's perceived success (when there is only an illusion).

I digress. I wanted to explain being enamored with virtual economies, and concluded with them being effectively designed positive feedback loops. I appreciate this conclusion because it lends itself to explain why some of the most basic human interactions can be so rewarding and purposeful - we see their immediate effect and benefit. The examples I used here are extremely simplified. If someone were to apply this philosophy to their business model, I hope they would take the time to research, test, and iteratively design each division with care.

Tower Seven Now Called Salvage Guard

Just a quick update: The tower defense game I've been working on is now called Salvage Guard.

My plans are to include a skirmish mode with a random map generator, along with the missions in the campaign. The mechanics now include building up a small base, which is straight-forward, but may need some design tweaking. Each of the buildings are currently too necessary, and I want to avoid forcing the player to build at least one of each every single new game. The short-term solution is to provide partial or pre-built bases, but include design flaws which force players to adapt.

I've gained much experience working with data saving and loading, and multiplayer networking. The former will most certainly be used to help with saving player progress. The latter is still being considered, and will likely be left for after the alpha release. I do want to at least give players local or even LAN multiplayer, and I know I can accomplish that goal - it's just a matter of if I can make enough progress in the more vital mechanics in a timely manner.

The visuals are also slowly improving. Each pass I make ends up being a huge boost to how the game looks, but are also costly time-wise. That means that they'll likely get lower priority moving forward.

I hope to make a new demo video and get new screenshots in the coming couple of weeks.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Kynaro Mansion

I may never obtain enough wealth to construct this lovely home, but I've designed it roughly a dozen times in various forms.


The Sims 3 does an amazing job at rendering house designs.
If you'd like to hire me as an architect, I'd happily draw you up official plans, layout, and section, and even do the interior design. I don't even have to live in it!

A view of the atrium pool behind the waterfall.

The atrium pool and waterfall.
 Details:
  • 2 or 3 car garage.
  • Atrium pool with waterfall.
  • 2 kitchens.
  • Full pantry.
  • 2 dining spaces.
  • Den (living space off main kitchen and garage).
  • 3 private offices.
  • 2 studio spaces.
  • 6 storage rooms (3 in right tower, 1 in left at top, 1 in between bedrooms on the 1st floor, 1 above garage).
  • 3 half baths.
  • 6 full baths.
  • 6 bedrooms.
  • 2 laundry spaces.
  • 2 workout rooms.
  • 1.5 living rooms.
  • Nursery
  • In-home cinema with seating for 9.
  • Activity and music rooms.
  • 12,000 book library.
  • Rear tower has reading nook at top floor.
  • Roughly 10,000 sq. ft.