ID:153097
 
I'm fiddling around a bit on a vaguely builder-ish type RPGesque thing-like game. I'm operating on the theory that it would be a pretty fun game if ever completed, but by its nature, it takes a lot of in-game resources to get started; you have to obtain land, construction materials, construction labor, supplies, hire NPC workers, etc. That represents a lot of money, and there's a problem when starting out takes a lot of money.

The standard RPG solution to this problem is to start players out with three pennies, a stick, and a piece of string, and expect them to work mindlessly for a couple hundred hours to save up money so that they can get to the real meat of the game, but I'd rather avoid this.

The quick fix here would be to just give new characters a sizeable wad of cash to work with so that they can at least get a good start, but this leads to easy abuse because players can just create new characters, hand off their cash to a friend (or an alternate key!), delete, and restart. Making new characters would be more lucrative than any in-game venture could possibly be.

Of course, it's entirely within my power to simply design the game such that all necessary resources can be obtained quickly and easily. But this undermines the idea of being a game; what's the point to trying to build up a successful logging enterprise when anybody can get all the wood they'd ever need within 3 seconds, or a farm in a world where there's abundant food available to anybody? At this point the game is no longer a game; it's just a fancy toy world (I think it would still be kind of neat, sure, but that's not what I'm aiming for).

So, anybody have any ideas on how to fix this problem? Is it feasible to do so? Is it actually necessary to do so?

I'm currently leaning towards giving new characters the money they need but keeping some strings attached, but I'm still unsure of what restrictions I should go with. Limits on how often a key or IP address can create a new character and/or recieve the full starting cash would be a start, but these limits would be insanely easy to get around. Giving the money out over a new character's first several hours of play time rather than an instant lump-sum payment wouldn't be too bad, because players could still start doing whatever it is they want to do and they'd be getting supplied as they go along, until the point where they should be self-sufficient (or at least close enough to it). This wouldn't really stop players from harvesting the starting bonus by continuously making new characters, though. I could have it keep track of "newbie money" (I don't like calling it that, but I just know the players would be doing it anyways) and resources purchased with it, and having it all deteriorate once the new character is deleted or goes inactive, but this would add a lot of overhead and could still be circumvented.

The most comprehensive solution, I think, would be to force new characters to be manually approved by an admin (by which I mean "me"). Hedgemistress was talking about something along these lines for HrH towards the end, but I'm kind of leery of the idea because I know it would turn off a lot of players from the game. And while there are plenty of players who need turning off, these wouldn't necessarily be the ones who were actually turned off by the approval delay; I know I myself would probably not bother with a game that had a system like this unless I was already familiar with the game or was really bored. Builder-type games, even ones with a focus on autonomy, don't work nearly so well when there aren't enough players to play them.

And, duh me, I just realized that I could let players make characters and play around and make it so manual admin approval is only necessary to get the cash bonus itself, which I think is about as good a solution as is going to be possible. But since I already typed out the whole post I'm going to go ahead and post it and see if it brings any good discussion.
Honestly, I wouldn't be worried at all starting players off with a very small amount of cash. So long as you have alternative ways of earning cash other than just fighting mindlessly (although that CAN be a viable way), players can be up on their feet in a relatively short amount of time, without unbalancing the economy. Here's some ideas:

-Have an NPC-run logging mill, which will loan the player a cheap axe, and pay him/her a set amout per tree cut down.

-Allow players to work on a fishing boat, and be paid a small amount per fish caught.

-For combat buffs, you could supply an arena to battle in, or perhaps offer bounties on local pests.

This way, players can build up much-needed skills while earning money, and once they'd earned enough, perhaps they could start their own business venture (perhaps by allowing them to instantly transform supplies like wood, ore, fish, etc. into currency by "shipping it" elsewhere) and employ other players. If you're wanting everyone to be able to build/expand right off the bat, why not just supply them with a basic "building stipend," which can ONLY be used for building/buying a business. A lot of table-top RPGs start players off with a point-based creation system that completely defies how the game mechanics work after the game has officially started. Mimicing something like this with money shouldn't be TOO hard. Anyhow, just my 2 cents. Hopefully I've supplied at least SOMETHING that you can think about :D
Instead of giving the players more money, you could always make the various services cheaper.

Also, you could try the loan system. Basically, the character would start out with alot of money, but it would be in the form of a loan; the players would start out indebted to some NPC organization. They wpould, over time, have to pay it back.

As for making manual admin approval the only way to get the cash bonus, I think that that's ridiculous. It would put the admins in charge of micromanaging other people on a potentially large scale, and it could ruin an otherwise fun game. Remember, an administrators job should, ideally, be to keep the server under control; not manage the game.
In response to Igmolicious (#1)
Igmolicious wrote:
Honestly, I wouldn't be worried at all starting players off with a very small amount of cash. So long as you have alternative ways of earning cash other than just fighting mindlessly (although that CAN be a viable way), players can be up on their feet in a relatively short amount of time, without unbalancing the economy. Here's some ideas:

-Have an NPC-run logging mill, which will loan the player a cheap axe, and pay him/her a set amout per tree cut down.

-Allow players to work on a fishing boat, and be paid a small amount per fish caught.

-For combat buffs, you could supply an arena to battle in, or perhaps offer bounties on local pests.

Have you ever played Runescape? The second and third ideas are extant there, but frankly, they're still pretty mindless. I mean, think about fishing. Without some sort of fishing rod-shaped controller, it would have to take the form of clicking on the water at timed intervals or something of the sort. It could be a minigame, of course, but players would get bored playing one minigame over and over.
In response to Wizkidd0123 (#3)
Actually, I was envisioning something similar to the system in Breath of Fire II. Basically, you see a side-view of the ocean, and lots of fish. You have a little bit of control over how the hook falls, and you have a chance of catching fish or treasure, depending on how well you can time/guide your line. It's relatively addicting.
In response to Igmolicious (#1)
If I wanted to make a game about fishing, I'd make a fishing game. I want to make a game about building farms, businesses, settlements. Entrepreneurship, you might say. And that takes capital. I don't want to force players to play a fishing game for 20 hours just so they can build up enough capital to play the real game.

The building stipend idea is a good one and I've had some thoughts along those lines, but the problem is that by and large there's no real way to track it. If you want to set up a bakery, you don't go to a shop and buy a bakery. You buy construction materials, hire workers, and buy raw materials (for a bakery, probably just flour and firewood, mainly; I don't want things to get too complex). How is the game supposed to tell between a new character who buys these things because they want to be a baker, and a new character who buys these things just so that they can get a lot of supplies for another character really quickly? About the only solid thing I can do along these lines is to include a parcel of land in the start-up package, since any large-scale enterprise would need that anyways (and it's handy even if you don't plan on building a large-scale enterprise, because you can always just build a house) and it's something that I can easily control (so that players can't just start a new character, hand off their starting land to another player, then keep making and deleting new characters and dumping their free land into the economy).
In response to Leftley (#5)
Leftley wrote:
The building stipend idea is a good one and I've had some thoughts along those lines, but the problem is that by and large there's no real way to track it. If you want to set up a bakery, you don't go to a shop and buy a bakery. You buy construction materials, hire workers, and buy raw materials (for a bakery, probably just flour and firewood, mainly; I don't want things to get too complex). How is the game supposed to tell between a new character who buys these things because they want to be a baker, and a new character who buys these things just so that they can get a lot of supplies for another character really quickly?

Easy. Make those items non-transferrable for characters below a certain level and impossible to use in another project without a nearly equivalent trade. Entrepeneurs who are just getting started aren't ephemeral beings who will go away and never have to pay back their debts.

Or better yet, go with loans. What I just said got me thinking: If you give everyone a line of credit to start out with, then they can't just dump off their stuff to someone else because creditors would track down their assets and would hit the new owner for the cost. An item bought with credit could be tagged to the credit account, unless an item of almost equal worth was traded or a near-retail value paid for it. If it's paid for in full (or almost), the credit tag would be removed.

For example: Joe is starting Joe's Muffins, so he buys a bunch of the material he needs. But to make his shop even grander, he gets his friend Eddy Flybynight to take out a line of credit and buy him even more materials. Eddy does so and promptly vanishes. The bank wants its money back, so where does it go? It follows the trail of the items purchased with that credit, and holds their new owner--Joe--responsible for that portion of the debt. Joe can give back the materials or pay back the loan. It will not however be added to his current loan; he must pay immediately, or at least in much less time.

Lummox JR
In response to Wizkidd0123 (#2)
Wizkidd0123 wrote:
Instead of giving the players more money, you could always make the various services cheaper.

This works up to a point, but if anybody can quickly earn all the lumber they need, what point is there to setting up a logging enterprise? The difference between the two approaches is that from the perspective of any individual player, the starting money is a one-time boost. If players walk into a world where lumber is pricey but they start out with the ability to buy all the lumber they need to get started, there's still a healthy market for lumber because players will burn through their starting package and still need more lumber for expansion, repairing and replacing walls, furniture, etc. But if players walk into a world where lumber is cheap enough that they can buy all the lumber they need to get started even when they start out broke, then as soon as they get started they're going to quickly earn enough money to buy more lumber than anybody could ever possibly need.

Also, you could try the loan system. Basically, the character would start out with alot of money, but it would be in the form of a loan; the players would start out indebted to some NPC organization. They wpould, over time, have to pay it back.

Definitely a good idea, but it doesn't address the problem. The problem is not that new players coming in will cause a lot of supplies to get dumped into the economy, because new players also represent a similar increase in demand. The problem is that there's no readily apparent way to provide for new players coming in with a healthy amount of supplies without also providing avenues of abuse through which old players can repeatedly harvest the new-player supplies. Loans wouldn't deter this in the least, because they won't care at all about their phony characters getting bills.

As for making manual admin approval the only way to get the cash bonus, I think that that's ridiculous. It would put the admins in charge of micromanaging other people on a potentially large scale, and it could ruin an otherwise fun game. Remember, an administrators job should, ideally, be to keep the server under control; not manage the game.

But if players can just create as many new characters as they want and harvest all the starting resources from each one (and they CAN and WILL, regardless of what sort of limits you try to put on how many characters a given person can have/create), then the server is not under control. Once someone manages to earn an extra start-up package and give/spend it, the damage has pretty much been done; prevention is about all you can do to stop it. You do have a point in that the approval system should be automated, but it would still have to have a considerable delay attached to allow admins time to check to make sure that no one's trying to cheat the system. So I've got a dilemma. I can have a purely automated system where players wait several hours, which isn't amazingly fun, or I can throw in manual approval too, which makes the system somewhat arbitrary--also not too fun.
In response to Lummox JR (#6)
Lummox JR wrote:
Or better yet, go with loans. What I just said got me thinking: If you give everyone a line of credit to start out with, then they can't just dump off their stuff to someone else because creditors would track down their assets and would hit the new owner for the cost. An item bought with credit could be tagged to the credit account, unless an item of almost equal worth was traded or a near-retail value paid for it. If it's paid for in full (or almost), the credit tag would be removed.

This works fine for material goods, but it's going to be a pain and a half to try to track things like services. I suppose the simplest system would just be to allow players with loans to make small payments across intervals of time (active playing time only) that would be cleared of credit... that should keep any "laundering" scheme from doing too much damage to the economy, and with a simple tracking system it would be relatively easy to spot players who try.
There is no way. You either give players enough money to get into the "meat" of the game right away with the risk of cheating, or you make them work their way up from square one until they can afford to get into that "meat". The only compromise I can see is to give players enough money to start out, but not enough money to be worth cheating over in the long run.

Kind of like SimCity. After you've got a few million bucks, the starting 10-20k doesn't seem like much of a big deal. It was, however, enough to start you off in a fun way.
You could just give the new players the resources directly. Ie, let them all start in a single room appartment in the same block. Then give them a small allowance for the first X days. Nothing better than the worst job would pay, but something to help get their sea legs.

That way they aren't going to be able to harvest new characters (well, they could but it wouldn't be worthwhile and they'd probably get caught at a glimpse of the log on your part) and if they get deleted their appartment goes with them.

Naturally you couldn't sell your apparment because they're just renting it really cheap. Heck, you could let players in on that action and make it possible for them to build these appartment blocks and get paid rent.
Maybe you could start the players out with a small batch of resources not worth duping (and non transferable!) that they can put into minor business ventures; test runs if you will. So maybe they can't buy enough wood to start a milling empire, but they can start up a small millhouse, with limited production capabilities, but also fairly low costs. If this is successful, the funds will allow them to expand/upgrade. If not, well, they close shop and try again! Loans could augment this for ambitious types, but most loans will be small (and relatively high interest) until they can show their mettle with positive cash flows and steady inventory (loan agents like collateral).
Simply create a good roleplaying reason in your game for why players can't trade in the beginning.

Perhaps instead of starting out with just money, like in SimCity 2000's Easy mode, they also start out with some form of debt, possibly like SimCity 2000's Hard mode. It could also be debt in the form of some quest that must be completed, or something.
One excellent way to prevent character farming is to freeze money in the form of assets which aren't immediately available, instead of in the form of carried possessions (tolerable) or wealth (obscene). So, for instance, a player could appear with a home and many more possessions -- none particularly valuable, but all better than worthless -- than they could carry.

For example, I could start a game and have a house equipped with an armoire, a bed, and an upholstered lounge seat. I would also start with cupboards with raw food ingredients, and maybe some fields outside that are valuable in their own right, but naturally worthless unless harvested. The cupboards would also contain cups (wonder of wonders) as well as an array of utensils for cooking in the home's fire pit.

Selling off those assets to everyone would take a lot of time and be rather difficult.

Abandoning that character and heading off to retrieve those resources with a new character wouldn't be particularly lucrative either, if distance was a considerable enough factor. (And in any economic game without excellent transport technology, distance should be a very considerable factor. =))

This system is only practical if your game is theoretically limitless, though, which doesn't always fit with some games.
Something to think about is do you really want people to be able to start their own business from the beginning?
From the sounds of it no one will have any reason to work for anyone else. If you just give players a basic place to stay, a little cash and some basic resources you'll create a class of players that are in need of money and thus willing to do the lesser-jobs.

Then by the time they've earned enough money to pay off a deposit on a block of land and get a loan a fresh lot of new players should be arriving to take over the lesser-jobs they're leaving.

The good thing here is you can do a lot with the loan system. Ie, make it so that you have to have played X amount of time before you can apply. You have to submit a business proposal (to be approved by an admin pretending to be a banker).

Hmm. I think I figured out what business venture I'll chooes in this game, loan shark... >=)
In response to DarkView (#14)
DarkView wrote:
Something to think about is do you really want people to be able to start their own business from the beginning?
From the sounds of it no one will have any reason to work for anyone else. If you just give players a basic place to stay, a little cash and some basic resources you'll create a class of players that are in need of money and thus willing to do the lesser-jobs.

You make my own argument quite well: the only reason to have players work their way up from scratch is to make them do crappy jobs. Fantastic idea. I'm sure Wage Slave Quest will be the #1 MMORPG hit of the summer.

It's not a matter of how many players have to do the boring jobs, it's a matter of how many players want to do the boring jobs. If I went this route, there would still be a massive shortage of unskilled labor; anyone with half a brain would quit rather quickly because it would be the most boring game ever until you managed to put in quite a few playing hours. Players that might have been inclined to stick around out of curiosity could look around and see quite readily that even if they did manage to climb the first couple rungs to success, once they set up shop they would have no workers and no customers.

Therefore, rather than creating a game that relies on players somehow finding other players who are willing to sit around and mind a counter all day (among other menial tasks), I'm creating a game which relies on hireable NPC labor.

Hmm. I think I figured out what business venture I'll chooes in this game, loan shark... >=)

A loan shark is only effective if they can collect, which relies on a large, reliable brute squad of repo men. So it's probably a good thing that hiring repo men consists of going into town and recruiting a few NPC thugs, rather than finding several players who are willing to serve at your beck and call who will not walk off the job simply because they're bored and want to go play Journey of Final Dragon Fantasy Warrior Quest.
Instead of starting the players off with large goals and heaps of cash, get them going on very small ventures that can be upgraded easily towards that larger goal.

Say I was wanting to own a bakery, I could start off with enough supplies and money to rent a small kitchen and make a few pasteries. Once the money starts coming in, I can buy more supplies and make more pastries. I could invest in my own tools, appliances and eventualy, my own shop, which could be rent-to-own, making the aquisition easier for a growing business. Some people are handed large businesses, but most people earn them by climbing the ladder. In the end, there's not much difference between selling hotdogs from a cart and selling lumber from a large mill.

~X

Leftley wrote:
The standard RPG solution to this problem is to start players out with three pennies, a stick, and a piece of string, and expect them to work mindlessly for a couple hundred hours to save up money so that they can get to the real meat of the game, but I'd rather avoid this.

It is best not to avoid this. Think about it, if you had players start off with a small quantity of items and money, it would take them a while to aquire more money, items ETC.. Sure, gathering this money will not be easy, but look at the bright side, once your character becomes wealthy, after all of the hard work you have done, there is no way you will want to restart your character. This will prevent players from dropping money and giving it to another one of their players, under a different Key Name (hence the small portion of money).

The beginning, when you are gathering money for your character, will not be a fun task. Once you have gathered enough money, you will start to enjoy the game more and also give yourself a pat on the back from all of the hard work you have done. This sort of reminds me of Polatrite's game, Survival, where you start off with a small portion of items and money and have to adventure to build up your character, and it takes a lot of work, but once you have accomplished this, you want to keep playing. That is why starting off the players with three pennies is a good idea.

I know I am being redundant, but I cannot stress this enough. Once you have aquired a surplus of money, you will want to keep playing the game. If you start the characters off with a lot of money, there will be a whole heap of problems. Players dropping money for their other characters, players buying items like crazy, and plus, the game would be simple (if you cannot choose what to do, I suggest you experiement and see which goes better).
In response to GokuDBZ3128 (#17)
I know I am being redundant, but I cannot stress this enough. Once you have aquired a surplus of money, you will want to keep playing the game. If you start the characters off with a lot of money, there will be a whole heap of problems. Players dropping money for their other characters, players buying items like crazy, and plus, the game would be simple (if you cannot choose what to do, I suggest you experiement and see which goes better).

I had the opposite effect with Darke Dungeon -- not an economic game, but you could still apply the economy concept to it very abstractly. Anyway, I grew bored of DD because once you've earned a lot of money, you find it means very little.

Money can't always buy happiness. Characters who have it made will probably grow bored of their status and either start a new character or move on to a different game. The numbers are startlingly skewed towards the latter.
In response to Spuzzum (#18)
Of course. When you feel you have completed the game, why would you want to keep playing it. Unless it is GTA where you can have fun killing everyone for a while, and then get bored with that.
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