Who Broke the In-Game Economy?

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Nov 26, 2019

Filed under: Column 121 comments

I’ve been doing this game critic hustle for over a decade now, and one question that keeps popping up is, “Why are in-game economies so broken?”  How come nothing makes sense? You’re halfway through a game and you’ve got enough money to start your own country. It’s weird that your character has this much wealth, and it’s even more weird that you can’t really do much with it.

So people ask me: What’s the deal here? Can’t game designers create a properly balanced economy? Why do roleplaying economies always dissolve into nonsense like this?

It’s annoying, I know. Different games have different kinds of currency, different ways of handling progression, and different ways of handling loot, but it’s still really common to have games where the player is able to trivialize the economy by just collecting and selling loot.

The good news is, there is a reason for this. The bad news is, it’s your fault.

Or more specifically, it’s the natural result of a perfectly reasonable series of expectations on the part of the player, and those expectations lead inevitably to this absurd conclusion.

Breaking the Economy by Giving Players What They Want

Link (YouTube)

And just so we’re being clear up front, I’m talking about an actual in-game economy where you earn loot through gameplay, and not the horrendous new style of “Economy” created by meta-currency and  microtransactions. The problems with those systems are fairly obvious. I’m thinking back to a few years ago, before the publishers turned our games into prize grabbers.

Anyway, the reasoning goes something like this: You’re playing some sort of RPG or whatever and you kill an enemy. Then you notice, “Hey, I just killed this guy. He’s obviously wearing armor, but the game won’t let me take it for some reason. Why is my character running around in a loincloth and leaving all this gear behind?”

We can imagine a game – or maybe you can think of a good example – where enemies always drop the gear that they’re using. That solves the visual absurdity, but now we have a new problem. You can loot any gear you like, but the shopkeepers in the game are more ruthless than GameStop. This makes the whole world seem absurd. I bring them all this expensive gear and they offer me next to nothing. I’m trying to save the world here, and the merchants can’t even give me a fair deal on equipment?

So let’s imagine a game where you can loot any gear that enemies are using, and that loot can be sold for a reasonable price. Now players can unload the goods they pick up and not feel like they’re being exploited by the people they’re trying to help.

But this means we have a new problem. Assuming your foes are well-equipped, then you’re going to accumulate a lot of stuff, and that stuff is worth real money. So now you’re going to want to carry a lot of it. Your next complaint is going to be that it’s really annoying and obnoxious to have to constantly run back and forth to town all the time to unload goods. Players aren’t going to leave all of this incredibly valuable gear on the ground. That’s just not how people behave in a video game world.

So next you ask the game designer, “Can’t you increase my carrying capacity? I know it’s unrealistic, but making six trips back to town to clear out one dungeon is really boring.”

This means we end up with a game where you can loot fallen foes, the loot is valuable, and you can carry a lot of it. At this point, breaking the in-game economy is a mathematical certainty.

Skyrim has one last line of defense against this, which is that shopkeepers have a fairly limited pool of money. From a simulationist standpoint, this makes sense. In the real world, your typical merchant isn’t going to have the money to buy dozens of weapons, nor will they have any hope of reselling them in a reasonable amount of time. Like, how many swords do the people of Riverwood buy in a year? It can’t be many.

Limiting the cash available to shopkeepers does make sense from a worldbuilding standpoint, but it doesn’t actually solve the problem of the player accumulating wealth too quickly. For one, it’s trivial to get around. The player can still unload their treasure by fast-travelling from one merchant to another until the goods are sold. Thus the game is incentivising a lot of boring repetitive menuing and sitting through lots of loading screens. It makes the game less fun without really making it more balanced.

(That’s not to mention the silly workaround where you can quicksave, attack a merchant, and then quickload, which will reset their inventory and replenish their money for some reason. I could go on a tangent about Bethesda’s bug-infested spaghetti code and their allergy to doing anything resembling QA, but that’s another article.)

The point is, a broken economy is a natural emergent result of the player wanting to loot lots of things that have value and sell them with minimal friction. It makes for a great game loop, but it does lead to the player accumulating ridiculous amounts of wealth. The problem is that whenever the game spawns enemies, it’s effectively creating goods out of thin air. Since mooks need to be infinitely respawning, the player can acquire an unlimited amount of goods.

The Final Fantasy games exhibit a similar problem, except that 'bonkers' is the baseline.
The Final Fantasy games exhibit a similar problem, except that 'bonkers' is the baseline.

This is made worse by the typical RPG progression system of escalating numbers. If the gear at each level is just 15% stronger than the preceding level, then by the end of the game your gear will be be doing more than 1,000 times as much damage as the starting gear. Players will probably expect that the price tag on these items will follow a similar curve. It’s pretty hard to build a coherent world around the idea that the bandits lurking just outside of town are wearing half a billion dollars worth of gear.

There are a few ways to design your game to keep the player from becoming the Jeff Bezos of bandit slaying.

I guess you could always just not have merchants in the game that will buy things from the player. No merchants, no insane wealth. The downside is that this cuts the player off from an entire gameplay loop, so that’s sort of like curing the disease by killing the patient.

If you’ve got a huge budget and an advanced degree in quantum economics, you could always go the route of EVE Online and build a fully functioning economy with raw materials, intermediate goods, and production facilities, and allow the prices to emerge as the result of market forces as thousands of real people engage in trade. That’s admirable if you can pull it off, but it’s probably not a viable solution if you’re trying to make a single-player RPG.

I think my favorite solution is to just have really good money sinks in the game. Allow the player to acquire lots of money, but then allow them to spend that money on upgrades with exponentially increasing costs. I realize that this runs into the jerk shopkeeper problem I mentioned earlier, but I think players can tolerate this if the goods in question are portrayed as being rare and exotic. What pisses people off is when a merchant tries to screw them over the prices of common goods they find by the armload during gameplay.

A good example of this is in Borderlands 3. I’m pretty indifferent to Borderlands 3 overall (I lost interest weeks ago) but I did like the storage deck upgrades that Marcus sells. Each tier of upgrade costs three times as much as the one before, and each upgrade makes a tangible difference to gameplay. That extra space really does feel nice when you’re picking up the huge piles of repetitive and uninteresting loot the game dumps on you. The escalating cost means you never get to the point where money is worthless. Even once I hit the level cap, I was still watching my cash and looking forward to buying the next upgrade. I guess being nominally a comedy game helps Borderlands get away with silliness that would be off-putting in a more grounded title.

The final solution to the problem is that we could always stop over-thinking video game economies and just enjoy the gameplay. And if you can do that, then more power to you. But that’s never been something I’ve been particularly good at. Over-thinking stuff is kind of my brand.

Anyway, that’s why in-game economies are so odd. The protagonist can defeat huge numbers of well-equipped foes and sell their gear for a good price. It’s makes for a fun game loop in a nonsensical world.


From The Archives:

121 thoughts on “Who Broke the In-Game Economy?

  1. Dreadjaws says:

    Whole article in the front page!

    Yes! It finally happened! My first time seeing this. Where’s my achievement unlock?

    1. GargamelLenoir says:

      Urgh, I use the RSS feed to see the new articles so I can never get that achievement :(

      1. Chuk says:

        I feel your pain. I’m going to have to grind for that one some day.

        1. Lino says:

          I, too feel your pain. I wish Shamus made some kind of lootbox so that busy people like us don’t have to grind in order to stay competitive.

  2. Lee says:

    I was surprised you didn’t mention the WoW (I think. One of the early MMOs) problem where they built predators and prey, and set them to attack each other, then players came and killed them both for no reason. Then I realized that’s an in-game ecology, not economy, but it’s still a very similar issue, and the problem is the players.

    1. Lino says:

      That sounds extremely interesting, too bad you can’t remember any specifics :/ But it reminds me of how in the Witcher 3 if you kill too many wolves, the deer population increases.

        1. Lino says:

          That was very interesting! Thank you both for sharing!

        2. djw says:

          My recollection of Ultima Online at release was that there was nothing to kill except for animals and other players, because the spawn rate of orcs and other assorted bad guys was totally broken. (This is based on personal experience, not something I read… I remember not being able to find anything that you were *supposed* to kill for at least a week or two).

          Also, you could skin animals to make leather armor, so it made economic sense to kill both. It wasn’t *no reason*.

  3. Dreadjaws says:

    I can think of a few ways to play around with this issue.

    – Make sure only specialized merchants buy dropped equipment from you and the more stuff you bring them the less money they give you for it.

    – Have different types of in-game currency, so whatever you get from selling all the equipment doesn’t really make you able to buy anything you want. You can spend that money on equipment alone (or something else). Or maybe different realms in the game take different currencies, so what you get from selling can only be spent in certain places. No currency exchange allowed.

    – Tie personal progression to money rather than experience (or at least certain kinds of progression), so you need that money for new skills rather than just goods.

    – Have equipment be unsellable. For instance, in a game set in the future, where equipment is tied to the user’s DNA. You can still pick it up to scrap for crafting.

    – Have news of your riches travel all accross the land, so merchants will raise their prices for you. You can even tie this to a meta comment and have them claim they’re forced to do it to keep the economy from breaking.

    – Have an ex-wife you periodically have to send alimony to. You can substitute this for having bills to pay (which get bigger the more stuff you own).

    – Make money have other uses in your world. Like in Metro, where currency is literally bullets. Maybe make the currency work as mana for your spells or something like that, so you have to choose between keeping it for purchases or burn it away in attacks.

    1. The Puzzler says:

      Some of these will create new problems, of course…
      “Make sure only specialized merchants buy dropped equipment from you and the more stuff you bring them the less money they give you for it.”
      Result: Players get frustrated dragging their loot all over the place looking for the right specialized merchant and by the diminishing returns on the price they get.

      “Have news of your riches travel all across the land, so merchants will raise their prices for you.”
      Result: Players no longer enjoy looting. “What’s the point? The more money I get, the more things will cost.”


      1. BlueHorus says:

        So one of the central problems is ‘the player will get frustrated / bored’ if it’s more realistic.

        Which is true. ‘Realistic’ & ‘fun’ don’t always mix.

        1. baud says:

          I think most of those issues could be sidestepped by going back to the original issue and stop dropping all the generic equipment the enemy is carrying, but instead dropping the interesting loot, like wands of spell or magic swords or spell scrolls or unique helmet and so on. And perhaps if you’re fighting an enemy with better equipment than you, the game could drop one set of that equipment, so you can equip it.

          1. Mistwraithe says:

            Agreed. It would be better to solve the problem closer to the root cause, ie where all the valuable loot came from.

        2. I say all the time that the point of realism in games isn’t to *simulate* reality, the point is to create abstract systems that, however they work, wind up pushing the player into behavior that FEELS realistically appropriate without them even noticing. If the analyze the systems, they realize that, yeah, this is an abstraction that isn’t actually realistic, but while they are playing they keep finding that they are doing things that would make sense in real life.

    2. beleester says:

      – Have news of your riches travel all accross the land, so merchants will raise their prices for you. You can even tie this to a meta comment and have them claim they’re forced to do it to keep the economy from breaking.

      In linear games, you can just do “shops later in the game cost more.” Obviously it costs more money to ship healing potions to the doorstep of the evil overlord’s castle than it does to sell them in the starter village – that’s just common sense. In sandbox games, maybe you could handwave some sort of encroaching threat that makes supplies more expensive?

      – Have an ex-wife you periodically have to send alimony to. You can substitute this for having bills to pay (which get bigger the more stuff you own).

      Shadowrun: Dragonfall did an interesting spin on this. Your goal for the main plot is to raise enough money to hire an information broker who can tell you what you need to know about the villain. So after every run, they give you a little breakdown of where the money went – most of it goes into the “Alice fund” to advance the plot, some went to pay your fixer, some went to pay your team members, some went towards expenses, and after all that you get a little bit of pocket money for gear and upgrades. That means they can have shadowruns that offer payouts in the tens of thousands of nuyen – you know, the sort of money that an elite team of mercenaries should be earning – while keeping item prices at a reasonable level.

      1. BruceR says:

        Companions are an unconsidered money sink option. Shadowrun series did this well, too. You had the added security and ease of a larger party, but you had to pay, either through running costs as described or per-dungeon recruitment costs for alternate NPCs.

        The Bioware Infinity games in particular could have used this mechanic. If I play them again I may set a headcanon rule that I can only spend a sixth of what I earn on any one character’s gear, in a party of six.

    3. KillerAngel says:

      MMO’s solved this problem years ago. These days I’m playing WoW Classic and pretty much everyone I play with is on the verge of being broke despite being at max level.

      -Have lots of in-game money sinks that you apply to everyone as part of normal gameplay. Fast travel can cost money (like a Silt Strider basically) that scales based on distance and location. Gear can lose durability over time and cost money or resources to repair.

      -Have high-end gear, consumables, and enchantments be extremely expensive, and then (and this is key) incentivize the payers to use them.

      -Have some low gameplay utility high cosmetic value items that are ridiculously expensive.

      -Make the end-game content reward items that have value to the player but not to merchants, and strip out gold rewards. If you’re fighting some demonic/extraplanar stuff this even makes sense from a worldbuilding perspective.

      This isn’t really that complicated. Even the Requiem overhaul for Skyrim mostly fixes the economy by virtue of de-leveling the world, lowering carry limits, disabling fast travel (except carriages), giving merchants the ability to have actually valuable items and spells, ramping up the difficulty to incentivize purchasing valuable (and therefore expensive) consumables and equipment, and making all the house related shenanigans insanely expensive.

      The point is that these economies are easily fixable if that’s our goal, but single player games don’t usually seem to care all that much about how broken their economies are. That’s usually left to hardcore modders and multiplayer games.

      1. Sardonic says:

        Came here to say this, but you did a better job of it than I would have. It would have been nice to see something like this laid out in the article.

      2. Leipävelho says:

        (blockquote)Gear can lose durability over time and cost money or resources to repair.(/blockquote)

        Only games that have ever done item degradation well were Far Cry 2, where it fit the theme and Metal Gear Solid 3, with suppressors to leave guns as the last-ditch option. Every other time it has been an annoyance.

    4. Grim Dawn (and, earlier, Titan Quest), actually work around the broken economy thing by having SO MUCH loot drop and allowing you to filter dropping items by rarity that after a while it trains you to stop picking up and selling tons of junk. It’s interesting, because going back to town is effortlessly trivial, but you everyone I’ve ever played with quits picking up “vendor trash” very quickly.

      I wrote a lengthy post on my blog about trying to design a “realistish” economy for an RPG last year: https://literatrix.blogspot.com/2018/02/game-design-rpg-economy.html

      Honestly, though, if you think about it the conceit that you can tear a half-rotten, filthy, bug-infested suit of leather armor off some random bandit and sell it to any merchant for cash is ludicrous. Real merchants have real business problems, and they aren’t prepared to deal with enormous piles of junk. There’s a reason why currency works the way it does and why there are enormous piles of TRASH all over the world–huge piles of low-value items are hard to transport, hard to offload, and create vast problems for the people who get stuck with them. That filthy armor is not valuable, in fact, it probably is a DISVALUE for whoever would get stuck with it. The expense of turning it into something useful exceeds the value it can be expected to yield.

      Selling to merchants should only work with a small number of high-value, high-portability items like gemstones, gold, rare ingedients, etc. For the rest, merchants simply shouldn’t be willing to be your trash dump.

      1. The Wind King says:

        Grim Dawn is one of the few ARPGs where I never noticed money as a problem, even filtering out anything below Green Quality (White, Yellow, Green, Blue, Purple) except for very early on when I couldn’t afford that pair of better pants, or a shinier pistol.

        Everywhere else I’m constantly aware of how much I’m carrying for fear of dropping it (ALA Diablo II) or because money is rare and buying things is a actual, important choice (I remember Victor Vran being like this, but it’s been years since I played that game)

        I can’t speak for Titan Quest though, every time I’ve tried to play that game I’ve found it to be duller than dishwater. I should love the setting, I should love the mechanics, but the presentation is so… boring.

    5. Lars says:

      – Let stuff have a durability. But it can be repaired by using resources you get by scraping other stuff. Important: Make the durability high enough for a few dozen encounters – not like in Dead Island, more like Two Worlds II

      – Entrance fees to different ingame groups to get benefits until you rank up to get money out of the group but use it to do some group management. (light examples: Ni No Kuni 2, Yakuza Zero)

    6. Scampi says:

      Have an ex-wife you periodically have to send alimony to. You can substitute this for having bills to pay (which get bigger the more stuff you own).

      I never needed this kind of artificial money sink. I created it for myself in the past.
      I don’t know about, say, Diablo III, but I remember games with a need to repair your equipment regularly, as Diablo II or Oblivion. Later games seem to have done away with this kind of mechanic for the player’s convenience, but I think it just reduced my immersion, as I cared way less about my loot in recent games than I did in the past. This also applies to for example character builds. I think after Diablo II many studios tried their hands at what made it great and in the process removed everything that made it so unique.
      I occasionally liked having absurdly expensive equipment that would cost huge amounts to repair but make the character wearing it an obscene powerhouse unlike any other. In D II, I used to have characters that specifically collected expensive armour pieces and weapons that would sell at high prices to cover for someone else’s equipment repair. In other words, I had characters, whose equipment amounted to expensive luxurious status symbols. When I started a game with one of those overprices characters, my friends knew it just got real.
      In a way, that character was the guy who received alimony from all my other characters (or, in case I had alternate equipment for them, from themself). Of course, it only works if there is something worthy of this treatment.

      1. Syal says:

        Durability is basically a mandatory buff; every so often you pay money to put a +x enchantment on your weapon. If you call it a buff, it’ll wear off and the player can decide whether to reapply it. If you call it durability, the player has to reapply it or lose the item entirely.

    7. djw says:

      Money for training is a solution that I’ve seen in a couple of games. Risen 2 and 3 both used this to good effect. Glory (aka experience) for raising stats, and then money for training special abilities when you meet the stat threshold.

      Outward takes this one further and basically ties your progression entirely to money. There are no levels at all in that game, but you can pay to learn skills (both active and passive) from various trainers throughout the world.

      I both of these games, so I guess the system worked for me.

  4. Daimbert says:

    This makes the whole world seem absurd. I bring them all this expensive gear and they offer me next to nothing. I’m trying to save the world here, and the merchants can’t even give me a fair deal on equipment?

    One way around this would be to model an actual economy and have the shopkeepers pay less the more things you bring them, or at least things of equivalent type. If they have no +1 swords, then they pay a set amount, but if they have 100, then they pay much, much less … or might not even buy it at all. This would encourage the player to only loot things that they either can use or are very valuable or rare, meaning that you don’t need as much carrying capacity.

    The problem with any sort of model like this, though, is that in general the broken economy isn’t really because of this, as far as I can tell, but because items, armour and weapons have a cost and have a scaling cost themselves and so the game needs to generate ways to provide money so that players can buy them. It would break the game if you could buy the best weapons, armours, items and skills/abilities at the beginning of the game, and so there has to be a scale of costs per the usefulness of the objects themselves. This means that you need to be able to earn more money as the game goes along and you get into higher level quests that need better things. Thus, the rewards always go up in terms of quality and even in terms of what you’re paid (even in your MMO quests the quest reward money, independent of equipment, shoots up as you get into the later quests where you’ll need to spend more money to get things). So even without loot, you are going to have much more money on you than you did at the start.

    Whether you’ll have lots of money that you’ll have nothing to do with depends on the game and, importantly, on the player. In pretty much any RPG that I play, I’m ALWAYS cash-strapped for the entire game. There are two main reasons for this. First, I don’t always spend my money on anything like the most efficient path. I buy things, for example, that I’m going to find in the next section and so don’t save money that way. Second, I don’t maximize the return from looting, taking everything I can but running out of space, and then tossing things away instead of going back to sell them. A player who is better at managing their cash will find themselves drowning in money why I’m still grinding away to get the latest upgrades for my team.

    The only game where this didn’t happen to me is in The Old Republic, because the quest rewards and drops generally kept me equipped well-enough to survive — especially since I tended to overlevel — and so I never spent money on equipment, and spent it all on skills and medpacks. Now, though, I do have more money than I know what to do with because I’ve been adding it up across multiple alts.

    And, again, Persona 3 et al have done a good job with this as well. Enemies don’t generally drop equipment for you, just money and items. You can find equipment in treasure chests, but for the most part the best plan is to buy it from the shopkeeper, as you get the best stuff that way consistently. But at the end of the game that stuff costs a fortune to buy, so you can spend a significant amount of money kitting yourself out properly. You can also, though, grind dungeons for money or items if you’re short and so there’s always a path to getting it. It’s usually really only on a New Game+ that you have lots of money and nothing to do with it.

    1. Steve C says:

      This is how Baldur’s Gate handled it. It was no solution. It caused fiddly inventory management. It meant selling the correct things to the correct vendors in the correct order. Then keeping track of who you sold what to in order to not waste your time bringing another sword to sell to the guy who no longer paid for swords. It was awful. I don’t recall any games since Baldur’s Gate that have adopted that mechanic. For good reason.

      It sounds like a good idea in theory. It practice it is the worst of all the options.

      1. Will says:

        Fable (the original/TLC, haven’t played later entries) has this, but it’s ludicrously broken: when you buy or sell a large batch of items, the price is fixed based on the value of a single item. You can trivially get unlimited money by acquiring a reasonably-sized batch of something; selling them all to a merchant; buying them all back from the merchant at a much lower price because the merchant has many and the supply/demand mechanic depresses the price; selling them all back to the merchant at a much higher price because the merchant has none and the supply/demand mechanic increases the price; lather, rinse, repeat. Maybe upgrade to a more lucrative item than whatever you started with once you have the cash for it.

        I think it probably would have been an irrelevant footnote, or possibly a minor annoyance, without that massive exploit; even without it, money is in no way in short supply.

      2. Daimbert says:

        I think a lot of those problems could be fixed or at least made no worse than the other options have:

        1) In most games different things already have different values and so require inventory management. This solution, properly implemented, means that you just automatically always take the rarest things that you’ve never seen before or that you can use because that’s what you’ll actually get value from, making that easier.

        2) The cost decrease should be across the board and not per merchant. If you dump 100 long swords on the market, the price should always go down across the market because there’s a larger supply. Sure, there might be issues with “How do they all know that you did that?” but that’s not really much worse than other issues that games like that.

        3) To address the Fable question from lower comments, you shouldn’t be able to buy those items back from a merchant in any way except as a buy back from you accidentally selling something you didn’t want to sell, which should then be at the same price you paid. It’s perfectly reasonable that merchants sell unique and tested items and treat looted items essentially as junk items.

        I prefer the Persona 3 model, of course, but this one could work for people who want more realism. Still, the big problem with the economy for me isn’t really that players can amass large amounts of money when there’s nothing that they want to buy, but instead that the economy requires amassing large amounts of money at times in order to not be underpowered, which is what leads to the issues with the economy as it has to then be possible for less efficient players to get that money anyway, meaning that more efficient players end up with more money than they know what to do with.

        1. “If you dump 100 long swords on the market, the price should always go down across the market because there’s a larger supply.”

          Erm, not necessarily–it depends on how much cash is available to buy those swords.

          One of the biggest problems with in-game economies is that it doesn’t treat money as part of the economy, which it should. The money supply is always effectively infinite which is why the player eventually ends up with effectively infinite money.

        2. Wax says:

          For reasons of player engagement, I think the better fix for these issues is to guide player attitudes through game mechanics. Obviously, strongly disincentivising looting will upset many gamers with strongly inbuilt habits, but encouraging them to manage resources is a more sly way to replace one impulse with another.

          I propose that most game economies could be fixed* (read: helped) by introducing a merchant reputation score (or something similar). That way, if you dump all your soiled loincloths on a merchant, they are obliged to pay you something, but they won’t be thrilled to buy from you again, and lower their payouts in the future. This can be an individual/faction/region/global score, so you are encouraged to bring merchants only worthwhile goods.

          Conversely, if you only sell high quality/expensive goods, they will be eager to court you as a customer/supplier in the future. This could tie in to a mechanic where merchants will offer you bonuses to sell to them exclusively, or stock better items after you’ve sold them profitable items.

          This way, if you take the time to seek out rare or expensive items, you get perks to offset the suboptimal looting style, guiding players away from spending 13 hours harvesting boar pelts for 2 gold each, since it pays the same in the long run.

          The other fix for this that I like, is to represent complexity of supply chains mechanically.
          Want a sword? Hire a blacksmith.
          Want a good sword? Hire a master blacksmith.
          Oh, you want it enchanted too? Tell the master blacksmith to expect the wizard your hiring, and an apothecary for all the ingredients the wizard will need, and an alchemist for the crystals, and… It cost how much?! Never mind then, back to grinding.

          Having a “fixer” on retainer who can find you a dragon-specialising dentist or codpiece engraver could turn out to be expensive…

          This solution is just a variant on the exponential price increase, but properly implemented, it can lead to much more engaging gameplay. You can either hoof it to the captial and pay the Queen’s best artisans their rate, or hire, impress, extort, or train your own master craftsmen.

          I think either of these methods (well-balanced) would lead to a more engaging gameplay loop than the simplified kill-> loot -> sell that is prevalent in RPGs and shooters.

    2. Chad Miller says:

      Fable did something like this. It actually led to an exploit where with the right stats you could sell someone a large stack of something that’s out of stock, then buy the same stack back for a price reflecting the fact that the merchant is overstocked, thereby turning a profit.

      1. Mousazz says:

        You could do that even in the very beginning at the Heroes Guild. One merchant there sold mana potions initially for less than he would buy them for when he’s out of them.

        Made it kinda funny when, after the first quest, you get a cutscene where Maze admonishes you to buy some better armor – when you’re already decked out in the most expensive Master level stuff.

  5. Rack says:

    I geerally prefer nipping this kind of issue in the bud, no looting of valueless items. Ideally have a lore reason behind it such as a taboo on buying and selling weapons of the fallen. People will move past it for rare and magical equipment but all that will be done with 4 gross of bandit swords is they’ll be melted down for scrap, The only things that the player can pick up are useful items and money, That’s all players actually want anyway. If the player is established as already having basic gear at least as good as that of a bandit it won’t seem all that incongruous that they can’t loot them. That or they’re filtered into a junk panel the player can loot if they really really want to but it’s clearly not worth the effort.

    From a gameplay perspective filtering through tons of crap items, taking them to the shop and selling them just isn’t fun so don’t push the player into it.

    1. Tektotherriggen says:

      Tabletop D&D (5th edition, maybe others) does exactly this, with the justification that common loot is usually too damages to sell. It mostly makes sense – if the bandit is dead, that probably means there are sword holes in their body, which must have gone through the armour too.

      1. Joshua says:

        It also makes sense that there’s not much of a market for this kind of used weaponry. Smiths might not want it except to melt it down (most would have the pride of selling only their own craft), and that might be too much trouble unless there’s a lot of weapons to melt down at once. Either way, don’t expect much for it. Maybe you can resell the weapons to a merchant for resale, but as Rack said, there’s probably a little bit of a taboo or apprehension about buying weapons from dead people, as obviously the weapons failed their owners.

        One thing that D&D does not do well is explain the scarcity of weaponry and armor. Most peasant levies and bandits aren’t going to be using swords, they’ll be using clubs, axes (meant for cutting wood), staves and the like. It makes sense that a shopkeeper isn’t likely to be buying some primitive club or stick off of you.

        1. Joe Informatico says:

          Because weapon scarcity is a setting specific thing, and D&D still thinks of itself as a generic set of rules that can be applied to a bunch of different fantasy settings. No one goes up against swords and spears with clubs and wood axes unless they’re extremely desperate.

          E.g. In the real medieval period it depended on the time and place. In the early middle ages peasants and serfs mostly didn’t fight, freemen probably had at least a spear or an axe with shield, and the warrior/noble classes had whatever they could afford (at one point in some early Norse settlements any warrior who served the chief/lord had to own an axe, sword, spear, and shield, and optionally a bow). By the High Middle Ages most peasants are still not likely to fight, and militias and fyrds were drawn from free landowners and townspeople, and it was usually the responsibility of the lord or town to arm them from a communal arsenal, which would mean spears, swords, shields, possibly bows or crossbows. Half the male characters in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales are armed, even the commoners. By the Late Middle Ages, rising prosperity and increasing mass production meant you could go into many major European cities and every man would be wearing a sword unless there was a specific law against it (those became harder to enforce over time).

      2. Ninety-Three says:

        Third edition mostly fixed it with magic weapons. A longsword is worth something like 5 GP. An enchanted +1 longsword is worth 2005 GP, and a +5 Flaming longsword is worth 72005 GP. The magic boosts are large enough to be a big deal for players, but small enough that mid-level players can still be challenged by mooks with unenchanted gear worth pennies.

        1. Kyrillos says:

          Note: The cost of masterwork is not subsumed by the enchantment in 3, iirc. So magic longswords are even more expensive than that!

  6. Lino says:

    I think Path of Exile had a great idea on how to deal with which, unfortunately, didn’t quite work out.
    The game doesn’t have gold. Instead, it uses a bartering system. There are many currency items that are also used for other purposes. E.g. two of the most basic currency items are scraps of Scrolls of Identify and scraps of Scrolls of Town Portal. Ten of these (or maybe it was five?) make a full scroll. You can use the scraps (or the scrolls themselves) in order to trade with vendors or players, and the completed items themselves can be used for identifying items, and making town portals. There are a ton of currency items, and on the higher levels players use much more advanced ones, but the concept is the same. It also ties into the game’s aesthetic – you’re in a world full of exiled prisoners, surviving in an extremely hostile place, so it makes sense that you wouldn’t have a generally accepted form of currency that has no intrinsic value. I’ve never gotten that far into the game (it’s just not for me), but the last time I played it a couple of months ago, this was the system when you traded with vendors. However, as far as I’ve heard, the system doesn’t hold up when trading with players.

    As Higher_Peanut enlightened me the last time I brought this up:

    PoE doesn’t have a barter system at all with other players. The first thing people did was declare a trade currency so no one would ever have to deal with that. Exalted orbs are for high end items and Chaos orbs are for nearly all others and making change. It’s just gold by another name.

    It tries to counter inflation by giving each currency a use, but that only goes so far. It’s nearly always better to buy something off someone else than try to make your own because that’s just the nature of multiplayer. The economy is held together by total resets in each league (3 month ladder).

    However, I still think it was a really good idea, and it could be made to work.

    1. Syal says:

      That’s also why we have money in real life, because high-level bartering is a big headache.

  7. tmtvl says:

    Clearly the solution is for everyone to just play the game with a self-imposed poverty/ascetic/living-of-the-land challenge.

    But of course, that’s a cop-out (“have you tried making the game more interesting for yourself?”) and the real solution is to have games where that doesn’t happen. Though there will also be people who don’t mind having the luxury to splurge on whatever neat items will make the game easier/more fun for them.

    Reminds me of Siege of Dragonspear where I just kept (ab)using a wand of fire to trivialize 90% of the game.

  8. John says:

    If it were to up to me, I’d probably just go with non-lootable corpses. Why can’t you take that dead guy’s armor? It wouldn’t fit you. What about his weapon? It broke. Surely he has something you could use! Look, you don’t have time to loot corpses. You’re a hero with a busy schedule and a day to save. If somebody drops something worth taking, we’ll let you know.

    Heck, I could even go for to vanishing corpses. I know that this was originally a technical-constraints kind of thing, but I think it works as a sort of genre convention. It signals to the player that this is not a loot-drop focused game and that he should just get on with the things that the game is actually about.

    But that’s for games with stories. If we’re talking about an open-world, open-ended, screw around indefinitely, “There’s a main quest?” kind of a game, then loot away. Break the economy. I wish you all the joy of your choices. Nobody made you loot those corpses for scrap weapons. That’s all you, fella.

    1. Philadelphus says:

      Yeah. I don’t need to strip every 2-bit bandit I kill down to their skivvies– they’re just mooks. Why should their scavenged equipment be worth more than its scrap value? (Maybe start me off with equipment that’s already better, so I don’t feel like I’m getting cheated out of something.) Save the looting for the actually interesting and rare stuff, so it feels good and not like a chore.

      1. MikeK says:

        I feel like there’s an interesting concept to be explored here — even at the shop, why should all the armor just readily fit you? (Other than for expediency, of course). Sure, the armorer will buy the looted armor for a pittance to harvest and re-fit, but if all the armor is bespoke then second-hand gear shouldn’t be nearly as valuable. Maybe a game could close this loop further and have scavengers show up after a battle who will pay you a small amount to do the looting themselves.

        Unless, of course, you learn (in the prequels) that all of the bandits are actually clones.

        1. Philadelphus says:

          Clones who wear armor one size smaller than you.

    2. Joshua says:

      Plus, think of the reputation you’d get from constantly reselling all of this gear you stripped off of corpses. Not exactly heroic to be stripping down all of these corpses to their skivvies, as Philadelphus says below. You’d be getting a lot of side-eye. Maybe one thing to take the coins in their purse or a piece of gear that’s an improvement (like a good helm or set of boots), but looting the bodies of all of these things to resell comes off as a bit skeevy.

      1. Syal says:

        …I kind of want to see a Death Merchant reputation mechanic in a game now. The more dead people’s stuff you sell, the more everyone treats you like a murdering bandit.

    3. BruceR says:

      You can just do this with personal headcanon rules as easily, of course. On average money pits I go with the idea my char is too noble or too busy to strip corpses of their armour (weapons may be ok). If it gets really bad I say there’s a taboo on selling magical weapons, because they’re magical. And in Skyrim, every realism mod that adds real food or weapon degradation, hunger impacts, etc. However you do it, though, the money total is likely gonna seem a little silly by the end, especially if you’re not skipping non-essential quests.

      Here’s my idea that i’ve never seen implemented: give money a weight/count it against encumbrance in really large amounts: more concentrated value per weight than just about anything you could buy with it in quantity, but still a basic minimal value. And then tie that to some really big ticket money sinks that change the environment around you if triggered, assuming a world without efficient banks. You can fit about $10,000 in your wallet, after that you might as well commission that portrait of yourself for the thieves’ guild or name the Friendly Arm Inn after yourself, or drop it all in the church collection plate for a ludicrous Rep bonus, cause you literally have no room left in your backpack for anything but money and basic supplies.

  9. galacticplumber says:

    Why wouldn’t being rich in an RPG make sense? You’re at most a small group of people singlehandedly murdering entire armies. Depending on the RPG it isn’t unreasonable to expect everyone in the country, if not the world, to know your name by game’s end.

    You’re performing one of the highest risk jobs imaginable where fighting to the death is the norm, and your service is greatly appreciated.

    I would be MORTIFIED if I wasn’t absurdly wealthy doing all that. It’s not the loot that’s silly. It’s the entire premise. The loot is just logical follow through.

    But fine. FINE. Let’s assume high player money is undesirable. Easy logical fix: Make most of the enemies non-humanoids with body parts no one is interested in buying with the player’s money coming from the fixed quests. Bam, loot logically controlled.

    1. Joshua says:

      As I said below, you can also solve the problem with humanoids by limiting the actual gear they carry. Some poor bandit probably isn’t carrying high quality plate armor with a well sharpened sword, they’re using a spear made with a sharpened stone and wearing several layers of clothing as “armor”, and nobody back in town wants to buy that crap.

  10. Ninety-Three says:

    Too late to fix pronunciation issues, but I feel obligated to point out that the CEO of Amazon is pronounced “Bay-zose” not “Bee-zose”.

  11. Joshua says:

    One solution for a few of these issues is to limit the actual equipment and money that most foes drop because they’re poor. Bandits are a good example of this. They should be using crappy, improvised armor and old weapons, and have little coin. After all, most of them probably turned to banditry because they were poor, not because they were psycho or thrill-seeking. They pose a threat to the player because of their skill and tactics, not their gear.

  12. Sabrdance (Matthew H) says:

    The real problem is the endlessly spawning mooks. KOTOR has a fixed number of enemies in the game. If you kill everything in the game, you will have a set value of credits, which will be enough to buy a few of the highest end armors and weapons at the Yavin station before heading off to the Star Forge.

    My real gripe with that game is the looting at the Star Forge. Why are you showing me loot when there are no more stores?

    1. John says:

      The loot drops in the Star Forge, like most of the loot drops in Knights of the Old Republic, are just grenades, stims, and health packs. (The good stuff in Knights of the Old Republic comes from bosses and chests.) It’s not worth worrying about and probably not even worth picking up–unless for some reason you haven’t been stockpiling that stuff for the entire game. You generally want to keep moving when you’re on the Star Forge. The time you take to stop and loot is the time it takes for another wave of enemies to spawn.

      1. Terradyne says:

        I seem to recall that the temple before the Star Forge does have credits in, though. Which never really makes sense, unless they had in fact planned to have some kind of store at one point beforehand. Because there wasn’t any by that point, certainly.

    2. Mephane says:

      Nah, screw that. By making the total number of enemies and thereby loot finite, I will feel actively pressured to loot every last single bit and be as stingy as possible with my money.

      Respawning enemies provide the breathing room to experiment, to actally spend money and to not loot stuff that isn’t worth much.

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        Limited foes worked pretty well in Voidspire Tactics. It requires a lot of tuning though, so the larger the scope gets, the more difficult it would probably become to get right.

      2. Syal says:

        Yeah, there’s a quest in King’s Bounty where you can light beacons to destroy the nearby undead enemies, and thus permanently reduce available xp unless you fight them all beforehand. Not a fan.

    3. trevalyan says:

      If you loot the right items, you can create astonishingly powerful gear with the Star Forge itself, assuming you didn’t know what you’d need going in.

      It wasn’t that long ago that Bioware was a truly GREAT game company.

  13. Kathryn says:

    FF13 actually had pretty limited cash – enemies dropped body parts which could be used for crafting (which is a big part of FF13), but no coins. I had to farm the hell out of that Adamantoise in Eden to get enough Platinum Ingots to sell for cash that I could get the achievement for having held every accessory and weapon in the game. (Luckily, you don’t have to have them all at the same time.) I think it’s the one exception among FF games in that regard.

    Honestly, I’d rather have the ridiculous in-game economy than restrictions on how much I can carry. I’m replaying a game right now where I’m about to go loot a Dwarven mine. My character is an archer, so he walks around with 20+ pounds of arrows all the time. Even though he wears light armor and doesn’t carry much food and has strength-boosting accessories, he’s still going to have to make 4-5 trips back and forth between the mine and the Dwarf village – and if you want to talk unrealistic, how come no one in the village notices my character strolling off in the direction of the mine and returning with 100 pounds of loot repeatedly? Especially when it’s been established that my character isn’t even allowed to ask too many questions about the mine. I can even sell the ancestral Dwarven weapons I find in the mine to the Dwarven blacksmith in that village (he’s the only vendor with enough cash to buy them once my Mercantile skill gets high enough).

  14. Hal says:

    I think my favorite part of the player getting exponentially rich is how the prices keep pace. I’m thinking of Final Fantasy games where you’d come to a town and the local weapon shop sells swords for 400,000 gold pieces . . . a price that could only possibly make sense for adventurers.

    (Actually, one of the things that always made me laugh was the shops that had specialized gear for your party that made no sense for the region. The town full of wizards selling paladin armor, or the militarized knightly kingdom selling kung-fu shirts.)

  15. Pax says:

    Oh, there’s so many considerations about this subject. One aside is that a good friend of mine keeps his economies more in check because of his personal belief that grabbing all the raiders’ armor after killing them is silly, and to be fair, he’s right. Imagine the valiant hero, stepping into the bandits’ hideout, defeating them all, and then spending the rest of the afternoon tugging the bloody rags off a dozen corpses in various states of murder. Oh, that guy was decapitated during the fight; do you REALLY want to touch the gory, headless body just to get at that rusty chestplate?

    But of course, it’s not that visceral in a game. You just click on the body (or pile of gibs or ash pile, impressively enough), and all the stuff is yours, typically in tip-top shape (depending on local degradation mechanics.) I will say one aspect I will respect, is games that insist that you can’t loot functional armor because, well, you had to ruin it in your attempt to kill the wearer (headshots aside).

    Of course, the other “realistic” consideration is whether shopkeepers would want to buy your junk to begin with. If you’re a general store owner, and guy brings in a pile of rusty weapons and bloody armor, do you buy that? I mean, maybe, just to appease him, as this guy is obviously a big dangerous problem. If nothing else, the player flooding the market with cheap weapons armor is a problem in and of itself. Maybe that’s why a blacksmith will buy your junk, especially in systems where it’s not added back to the shopkeepers inventory – he buys it to destroy it so that his own goods don’t loose value.

    The setting where this kind of trade makes the most sense is post-apoc like Fallout, where the barter of useful items for useful items is the standard. Through in something like bottle caps to help round off the digits, though, and suddenly there’s a hoarding problem. The setting where it makes the least sense is modern, where even the sketchiest pawn shop owner is going to look askance at a pile of body armor and use firearms.

    But the greatest consequence of these kinds of economies to me is that it makes quest rewards meaningless. Do you ever try and barter for more money in Fallout 4 unless you’re trying to impress MacGreedy? Do you even know what you’re being paid in a Beth game any more, and does it matter? This is why a bunch of the radiant quests don’t even HAVE proper rewards. The bounties posted in Diamond City all list the reward as whatever garbage you strip off the body of the accused. And unlike Oblivion, which I think kind of started this nightmare in Beth games, there’s not even a bunch of expensive houses to save up and throw your gold/caps at.

    The best recent money sink I’ve seen, though, was in Outer Worlds. There, you can “tinker” with your weapons and armor, which is really just boosting their level by one, including whatever increase to damage or resistance that entails. And like Shamus suggested, the cost greatly increases over time (and there are specific crafting perks to lower the cost for engineer builds). This means you can take your favorite gun all the way through the game if you’re willing to throw the money at it, and that even off the shelf weapons and armor can quickly become customized, quality gear. And it eats money like nothing.

    (Whoops, didn’t mean to write another article under the article. I just had a lot of thoughts.)

    1. Moridin says:

      It DEFINITELY didn’t start with Oblivion. In Morrowind you can make yourself fairly well-to-do just by killing the assassins attacking you after you install Tribunal and selling their armor.

      1. Nimrandir says:

        The assassins help, but Morrowind cracked for me when I had to kill someone wearing a full set of Orcish armor for a mid-level guild quest. I think I’ve seen two items since then capable of putting a dent in my wallet.

        The problem in Bethesda games honestly dates all the way back to Arena, though. I picked up an ebony katana via good luck, and just about anything else after that became vendor trash.

        1. Jason says:

          I remember in Daggerfall, the shops would scale up the same way the enemies did, so once you could find a particular type of armor on enemies, the shops would start selling it as well.
          Once Daedric armor was available, I made a fortune breaking into armor shops, stealing all of the Daedric armor and then reselling it back to the same vendor the next morning. I don’t remember if they had limited money, though, but if they did, I’m sure there was a workaround for that too.

          One thing I’ve noticed is that in games where you do end up with tons of money, it’s usually useless as the vendors are still selling starting gear, and the best gear is still found by looting. It’s rare in a game that you can sell a bunch of junk in order to earn enough money to buy something worthwhile. Maybe in the early game, but usually not in the mid game or later.

          1. Decius says:

            “Breaking in”…
            When the easiest way is to just walk In while it’s open and then loiter around until it closes.

        2. Decius says:

          Morrowind’s economy breaks into dust as soon as you have a mortar and pestle.

          1. Nimrandir says:

            That felt like more of a problem in Oblivion, where turning food into crappy potions was effortless. At least Morrowind forced the player to sit through a bunch of failures, so the blame for breaking things sits with said player.

            1. Decius says:

              It was WAY harder to buy that much food in Oblivion, and there wasn’t a Feather effect, so you couldn’t make a potion to help you carry all of your immensely valuable potions of helping you carry your potions.

  16. jurgenaut says:

    What I always wondered was why would a lousy innkeeper want to spend their hard earned gold on used orc axes or hacked up armor pieces.

    If there was any kind of reason, an innkeeper would be interested in some things, namely meat (bear asses!), barrels of drink – beer, clean water, wine – or pieces of clean cloth. The innkeeper could then use these things to generate more gold for himself, selling the shit you gathered back to you marked up by 50%.

    But it makes no kind of sense that the innkeeper would use his or her hard earned gold on junk. The loot you gather should not have a global gold value. It’s worth what a buyer is willing to pay. A blacksmith would perhaps be interested in that orc axe you are lugging around – maybe he learns new things by examining it. But he won’t buy another one of the same type – he already has one. Or you could give it to the local guardsmen in return for bounty money. They would pay for multitudes, but perhaps not as much as the blacksmith.

    Emergent gameplay, right? Maybe that saphire you have sells for a medium sum at the local fence – but if you follow the fence when they leave to sell it to their contact – maybe you can cut out the middleman.

    The system with which money is generated in a value can do much to enforce the suspension of disbelief – or break it.

    1. beleester says:

      Forcing the players to find the one shopkeeper who deals in specific item types is even more obnoxious than making players leave loot on the ground. When you’ve arrived at a town, you need to shed weight before you head out again, otherwise you won’t be able to haul anything out of the next dungeon. Lugging 30 pounds of enchanted plate mail to the next town only to discover that they don’t actually have anyone who will buy it feels like a kick in the balls – the game just wasted a lot of your time and carrying capacity for nothing.

      Not to mention you’ve got to justify the presence of all these different buyers – what if the plot sends you to some rural village where there isn’t going to be a blacksmith studying orcish axes? Sure, players could fast-travel back to the big city to sell stuff, but riding the magic teleporter to the shops is even more immersion-breaking than having the innkeeper buy your axes.

      Lastly, it’s just really illegible to the player. An enchanted suit of +5 platemail sure looks like it should be valuable loot, but will it actually go for anything in town? This is something I want to know before I spend half my carrying capacity on it! And when I do bring it back into town and discover that they’ll only pay 50 gold for it, is that because I took it to the wrong shop or because my Barter skill is too low? What do you display as the “sell value” in the UI – the theoretical maximum you’ll get by selling it to Platemail Enthusiasts Anonymous, or the average price in a general store?

      1. jurgenaut says:

        But why would you loot everything? If you hacked up your local marauders du jour, would you stop to undress them to sell their hacked up armor? There’s a whole lot of gameyness about picking up everything everytime.

        That’s one part of the witcher 3 I liked – once I figured out I didn’t want to spend time on alchemy I stopped picking up herbs. Weapons and armor sold very poorly, at least initially. Gems and rare metals were worth their weight in gold.

        If the game wants to reward you with liquid assets, it could just give you gold coins, rather than an obtuse “pick everything up and sell it”.

        Loot can/should tell a story, either in history or in the future. If you loot a cursed skull of extreme annihilation and sell it to the innkeeper, it could serve a story purpose. Perhaps the patrons of the inn would start hearing whispers and see shadows at the edge of their vision. Then disappearances, screams from the cellar.. Perhaps the local witch hunters would show up and question you about your motives in selling this obviously evil artifact to the innkeeper.

    2. Syal says:

      You’ve never been to a restaurant with all kinds of pictures and weird stuff on the walls? That innkeeper’s creating the impression of a well-earned rest after killing an orcish invasion party. It’s an aesthetic, man!

  17. Benden says:

    Yay visual gags! More more more! Ruin the visual gag economy! :]

  18. Hector says:

    I know this is way down the page, but… so? Is it actually a problem if the player eventually has a massive pile of treasure? I’m not sure I see the issue.

    1. Jeff says:


      Being wealthy is a power fantasy running parallel to the standard superman heroic power fantasy.

    2. Syal says:

      The annoying part on my end is that you usually outpace the game’s currency long before you outpace the game’s other challenges, and it effectively stops being a mechanic around the halfway mark or so.

      1. Hector says:

        But again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Some mechanics may be intended from day 1 of design to apply at certain phases of gameplay or progression. Sometimes they apply to the early game, which is very common ins resource-based survival or development sims where you need to overcome a huge hurdle to get to stability before your starting supplies run dry. But it could also apply in the late game as well, if enemies as a whole become tougher or gain new abilities to push back.

        If the game design is such that money loses its meaning past a certain point, then it’s only a problem if that’s actually a problem, and not part of the design goal or an unacceptable deviation from it.

        1. Syal says:

          If it’s part of the design goal the UI should reflect that and take the number off the main page when it becomes irrelevent.

          1. tmtvl says:

            Well no, some people get a dopamine hit from seeing the ludicrous pile of money they are hauling about.

  19. Cyranor says:

    I liked how the Witcher 3 handled it. While it was generally easy to make money if you hit up all the side quests and sold crafting materials. Once you engaged in crafting your money was spent very quickly. I tended to horde my crafting materials and random monster parts as I never knew which I would need and it was expensive to buy them from merchants. But it never felt like I had ungodly levels of wealth. It did inflate a bit in Blood and Wine but so did the prices. To build the grandmaster level armor wiped me out and I was usually forced to sell my excess materials if I wanted enough money to craft the set. I also like the solution CD Project Red did for the cow exploit where if you kill too many cows a Friend is summoned.

  20. Darren says:

    I think the Pillars of Eternity games had about as good a solution as I’ve seen. You have an infinite inventory fo holding loot, but enemies don’t respawn (except in specific areas in PoE2). While a lot of unique pieces of equipment are available from quests and hidden caches, many more pieces are only available from merchants for loads of money. It’s a good economy in the sense that you always have enough money for essentials like potions and scrolls, but exotic equipment will quickly force you to prioritize.

  21. Duoae says:

    I think this video was perfect! The pacing, the audio quality, the gameplay cuts. Shamus presented with energy and had a really good script!

    Sorry, I don’t have anything else to add – I just didn’t want to not say anything positive after the last time I criticised stuff.

  22. Selenol says:

    I actually just had this come up; I’ve been replaying Fallout New Vegas/Fallout 3 (modded them into one game), and New Vegas has the Gun Runners Arsenal DLC, which I really like since it does exactly what you suggest: rare weapons that cost >10k caps but that are unique and different, as well as lots of expensive ammo types. You can still get regular ammo and weapons for regular prices, but for someone like me who likes to collect unique weapons and be super powerful, it works great

    1. pseudonym says:

      I am also currently playing Fallout NV (first playthrough) and I have the same experience. It handles loot really well. Most stuff on enemies is degraded (due to you shooting them to bits), and degraded stuff is worthless. But if you repair it, and it requires several items to do so, it becomes valuable.
      I really like this. After encountering a handful of enemies you get a better weapon that you can keep. Weapons you are not interested in you can sell. In hardcore mode you need to spend money and bullets and water. If you talk your way through the game there is not so much valuable loot that it becomes annoying. The worthless items are usually not worth their carry weight so you can ignore them.
      You’ll usually have enough money to buy what you want, but you can not get the best of everything. But that is okay, you can try a different playstyle on the next playtrough. Great game!

  23. Nimrandir says:

    I enjoyed the video, but I have to confess to being bummed about the more typical call to action. The segue into it was cool, though.

  24. rofltehcat says:

    The solution to many of these problems is to make other resources, such as time, worth just as much as – if not more – than gold.
    Carrying capacity is a resource. If you encumber yourself you should feel it. If you over-encumber yourself you should feel it a lot. This also gives you more design opportunities for e.g. armor classes, heavy weapons as well as talents/perks related to them, and even vehicles.
    If you go grocery shopping you plan ahead: do I go by bike, by foot or by car? Do I take a shopping cart, or do I just need a couple items and a basket or my bare hands will do? How long will all of this take? If I buy too much will I have to make several trips from the car to my front door?

    Time is a resource as well. Skyrim doesn’t punish your for fast-travelling back and forth between several merchants and a dungeon you just cleared. But who in their right mind would do something like this in real life? Then you also have to differentiate between in-game and real time. It is pretty obvious many gamers don’t value their real time enough sometimes. Hell, I got way too many hours in some games. By making certain behaviour, such as these loot runs, just slightly too inconvenient this can be prevented or at least limited. Or maybe just make someone or something scavenge everything valuable you’ve left behind. Want a chance at that magic item you left behind last time? Gotta fight your way through a bunch of giant ants now! Spent two weeks fast-travelling over the place for a couple hundred gold? Well, the imprisoned princess you were hired to save has since starved.

    1. Decius says:

      Making time important looks a lot like “find the water chip 150 days left”.

      That’s why.

      1. Chad Miller says:

        Honestly I wish more games had this kind of timer but where the penalty wasn’t “you lose the game.” If the princess starves but now I have to find another way to win the King’s favor, that could be interesting.

        This would be far preferable to me than saying “we balance this mechanic by making it a waste of your real time.” To me that’s just offloading the task of game balance and pacing to me, which feels like an abdication of the game designer’s responsibilities. “Our game is balanced in that optimal play is tedious” was never a selling point for me.

  25. Shen says:

    Well, since we’re all reeling off suggestions that bring their own problems…:

    Instead of looting and unrealistic inventory sizes, you should be able to “mark” or “note” specific things you want to loot, then when you’re in town, you drop the note in some scavenger’s guild or what-have-you for retrieval. They’ll pick up all the crap and sell it and give you back a finder’s fee (read: the pocket change other systems pretend they get valued at), plus anything special you wanted to keep which will go to either some party camp or they’ll keep it for you in your own vault. You can expand this as much or as little as you want. Maybe there are multiple groups or factions you can be reporting too who can be strengthened by your work or offer better rates for looting specific places, etc. etc.
    Just stop pretending Conan has pockets that fit full-plate armour in his loincloth or that Jerry the Barman can afford 10 grand for a flaming katana.

    1. The Wind King says:

      That would be pretty great.

      The trick is the flagging system for loot you want to keep.

  26. Chris says:

    Another thing i dont see people mention here (or read over it) is that the hero doesnt eat, doesnt sleep, doesnt need new clothes, doesnt get taxed, works 24/7 (if you assume kililng bandits is his job and loot his payment). Im sure in real life, you have a halfdecent job, sleep in a ditch, work every waking hour, arent taxes, and dont need food/new clothing/anything you will become filthy rich pretty fast.

    1. tmtvl says:

      Lessee now… a junior dev earns about 2400 a month before taxes, so it’d take… 40 years to become a millionaire? And even that’s not really filthy rich in the grand scheme of things.

      1. kincajou says:

        actually you’re running your calculation wrong, you aren’t taking into account the 24/7 schedule but just eliminating expenses.

        The 2400/month converts to 15/hour (roughly, considering 4 week months and 5 day working weeks, and 8 hr days)
        Converting that up with a 24/7 schedule you’re actually at 10 080/month, which means you’d hit your first million in roughly 8.3 years (say 9 to account for rounding errors and assumptions)

        Now, for comparison. It seems the average UK salary is at £ 508 / week (made of 48 h ) which means the average UK person working 24/7 and never spending any money would be getting their first million £ in just over 11 years.

        1. tmtvl says:

          Huh, I wonder how 8 years compares to the in-game time of the average RPG. I seem to remember BG 1 taking around a month of in-game time…

          1. kincajou says:

            So, on a quick search i couldn’t delve into BG 1 (find the set legth, or if it’s supposed to be fixed by dialogue) but i did find some rough data for Oblivion:

            -the average playtime for oblivion aries wildly (from about 20 hrs to about 300 hrs) but we can take a sensible stab at the 100 hour mark

            – 24 in-game hours correspond to about 48 real life minutes


            The events of oblivion happen over a period of roughly 4 months (2 if you play at a faster rate and down to 1 if you really only focus on the story)

            That means that the oblivion murder hobo on 15/hour would be making about 45 k on his game dev job working 24/7

            i can’t quickly find some numbers on how much money a player ends the game with… but i’m starting to suspect our hero is well above the 15/hr …

            Turns our adventuring aint too bad as a money making buisness!

            1. Chris says:

              You should get extra money for doing a dangerous job and if you work 24/7 you should quickly gain experience and earn more. You won’t stay junior for years if you work 24/7

              1. kincajou says:

                So, to continue this entertaining thought experiment… (and overthink things throroughly)
                Let’s stick to oblivion’s 4 months…
                To become millionaire (at that 24/7 rate) you need to be earning 373 an hour minimum.
                for the sake of stats i can get hold of we’ll try and work in gbp:
                I think we should also assume that in 4 months there is basically no career progression (i know i know, we go from prisoner to saving the worlds so… but for my sake we shall not assume career progression)

                – Oil rig workers (senior) earn about 55850£ / year which, (considering 261 working days and 8 working hours per day) equates to (very roughly) 26.7 £ / hour
                – Bomb disposal diver 100 000 £ / year = £48/hour
                – UK standard soldier (sargeant, max rank) is at about 35 000 £/ annum = 17/hour
                – UK major officer (max rank ofc) 53 000 / annum = 25/ hour
                – UK navy captain 99 000/ annum = £ 47 / hour
                – UK RAF senior commodore 112 000/ annum = 54 £/ hour
                – Energy and offshore diving (the poor dudes that need to dunk into nuclear waste cooling tanks sometimes) 100 000 / annum = £48/hour
                – Astronaut (this is a rough estimate from what i could find) 90 000 / annum = £43/hour

                These are the most dangerous manual(ish) jobs i could think of
                It seems obvious that manual jobs, whilst they can be incredibly well paid, will not even remotely equate to what the oblivion character can reach!

                So, do we have any job that can do it?
                You’ll be happy to know… nearly…
                The vice chancellor of the university of east london earned a whooping 718 000 £ / annum, which puts him at 343 £/ hour … so close!

                Okokok… there are people that go well beyond that, (the queen’s estate brings her roughly 2000/ hour )
                But short of being at the head of some big banks or financial empires, it gets difficult.

                Sooooo… being the oblivion guy is the best unskilled job out there (actually, from what i gather the BG 1 characters who go through it allin one measly month are even worse).

                I am also a bit more depressed about the state of things now (because this is a weird world when someone who was born in the right family earns more than the dude who sort of but not really runs a university who earns more than the combined salaries of the human going to space and the one risking his life to destroy bombs…)

  27. pseudonym says:

    Nice song at the end of the video Shamus! It fits really well. I also liked the “prerequisite subscription begging” part, it transitioned nicely from the video script. And I also liked the video of course! The video footage matches better with the script now, timing wise. Isaac must really enjoy his new editing tool. That is enjoyable to see.

  28. ngthagg says:

    I like the subscription begging! And I like that you slipped some classic Shamus snark into it too.

  29. Cubic says:

    Some guy lugging around half the gold in the country should attract a lot of adventurers, ready to relieve him of his burden.

    I mean, why go to a cold, dank dungeon when the guy will be passing by any minute?

  30. Agammamon says:

    Assuming your foes are well-equipped, then you’re going to accumulate a lot of stuff, and that stuff is worth real money.

    All these problems break down to ‘its really easy for the player to kill lots of people’. The solution would be to change combat so that its actually dangerous and something you would try to avoid unless well-prepared and/or change the ‘social systems’ of the game to deal with verisimilitude how real people would deal with a murderhobo running around killing people and bringing their smelly, greasy, lice-ridden, untanned pelts they call armor into their stores to shift for a couple of coins.

    1. Joshua says:

      Of course, in the real world if you murdered 1000+ people and somehow took all of their worldly monetary possessions, you’d be starting to alter the economy yourself. Demand for food and similar staples would drop (since you murdered so many of the buyers, you asshole!), and prices for whatever random thing you’re trying to buy with your millions of dollars would spike.

      Of course, that brings up another weird game-only ecosystem: How can there be so many bandits and similar malcontents in the game world for you to kill? Always bizarre to be seeing bandits outnumbering actual populace 10-to-1. Are they all just robbing each other?

  31. Syal says:

    The Diecast question made me wonder why economy mechanics have to be so simple, which led to this idea; the player has a very finite wallet, and expensive items vastly exceed it, so for the high-end stuff first you have to barter, then you make a down payment, and follow that up with regular payments until the item is fully purchased. Missing payments results in collection agents and repossession. Buying too many items at once runs the risk of several payments coming due at once and owing more than it’s possible to carry. Maybe a higher reputation will buy more time between payments.

    1. Decius says:

      Oh, and the lien holders don’t care if the previous wielder is now deceased, they will repossess things from the current wielder if the payments aren’t made.

    2. shoeboxjeddy says:

      Your idea of a fun video game economy is… pay day lending? I have to be honest, this sounds like the worst, most stressful idea to be added to wish fulfillment entertainment I’ve EVER heard.

  32. Thomas Adamson says:

    The only game I felt got the economy right was Baldurs Gate II. You had to scrimp and save to afford the best (and Unique! V. important) shop weapons and armour. Spell scrolls drained gold as you filled your mages spell books from stores. As your health increased the costs of the potions skyrocketed. One of the main quests of the game bilks you for 20,000 gold.

    But that’s the advantage of designing bespoke encounters, you can manage the amount of cash and types of equipment found as loot. Bethesda’sgame model with endless encounters with leveling loot can’t really do that.

    1. tmtvl says:

      Nah, Cromwell will turn Firkraag into a piece of kit for the gold you get from a single stronghold quest. Equipment will only really cost you in the early game. By the time you get out of the Underdark you won’t ever have to worry about money again.

  33. Veylon says:

    The money-managing aspect of most RPGs just seems completely unnecessary. Unless budgeting can be made fun, why have it in there? Gear is going to feel more meaningful to get if you have to complete a quest or fight a boss or find it in a chest. The shop just needs to be a place to choose what consumables you want for the next dungeon. The real constraint should be your carrying capacity; what’s the best use of your limited inventory slots venturing into danger? I feel like a lot of games get lost in the weeds when it comes to money.

  34. Xilizhra says:

    I say just… don’t have infinitely respawning mooks. Now you don’t have to worry about infinite cash/goods.

  35. Decius says:

    Why would it be odd that shopkeepers don’t want to buy all that stuff?

    If I walked into a consignment shop and tried to sell them a bulletproof vest that had one previous owner, now deceased, they would call the police.

    D&D games get around even that by having a exponentially increasing price for linearly improving quality, combined with making encounters with enemies who are better equipped than you rare.

  36. General Karthos says:

    Here’s what I might try….

    To get the good gear… the really good gear, I mean… you have to order it specially. If you want a good sword, you have to put in for it from the town blacksmith, lay down a whole lot of gold, and then he makes your sword, but it takes a while to get it. Most of the swords you’ll loot are going to be run-of-the-mill; only the really tough bad guys, bosses and such are going to have the good swords, and even then, not always, because it really is a commitment of a lot of time and a lot of money for a good quality product. Armor is similar, and the really good armor is all custom-fitted and everything. So even if you loot good armor, you’ll have to get it adjusted (if it can be adjusted) to fit you. If you’ve got a multiple-race system, that armor that the Dwarf Lord was wearing will not be able to hit your six-foot-four-inch human, no matter how much you adjust it.

    Similarly, you set a skill level for each blacksmith. The guy in the capital city might be the best, but perhaps there’s a guy who’s even better who runs a small smith in some backwater that only those really in-the-know are aware of? But for the most part, your small-town smiths are going to be limited in what they can make for you.

    And you can also adjust the game economy. If you come back to town with 59 scimitars, the amount someone is willing to pay for a scimitar is going to go down, and you’ve got to unload them eventually. And if you happen to already own a top-of-the-line sword and you want to sell it, you’re going to have to find someone who both wants a sword like that and can afford to buy it, which is not going to be an easy proposition. You won’t be able to just trade for every piece of armor and weapon that the local weaponsmith is carrying plus all the gold he has, and anything else in his shop that isn’t nailed down.

    You can do this for magic items like potions. Oh, sure, the local apothecary carries healing potions and restore mana potions and restore stamina potions, and maybe one or two other useful potions or poisons, but for the exotic stuff, you have to send away for it, or visit an apothecary in a larger city, or provide the ingredients and pay to have the potion brewed up. (Sure, you could do it yourself, but you’re not going to be as skilled most likely. The apothecary has a lot of skill and all the equipment set up.) Staffs and other objects of power are hard to get ahold of without being a trusted guild member. The local wizard’s tower isn’t going to sell a staff of smiting to just any old joe off the street. (Not without a LOT of gold being involved anyway.)

    So… make the common stuff really cheap and easy to attain. Make the rare stuff really expensive and hard to attain… and make sure that looking for someone who can afford to buy the sword of choppiness +7 that you’re not using because you have a sword of choppiness +8 are few and far between. (There should be a sense of attainment when you can finally afford to pay that Blacksmith to make you that good sword or that suit of armor that fits like a glove.)

    But the main thing is… in addition to the cost, make it take TIME. It takes a few days to a week for the powerful potions, same with the good swords and the expensive armor. (If you’re being REALISTIC with time, it takes months, but we can cut down on the time involved for fantasy reasons.) So you either go off and have an adventure while your good sword is being made or you spend some time at the local inn, lay down some coin for some lodging, some meals and a song or two. (But not a lot of coin, because food is something even peasants can afford. A bowl of soup should not cost ten gold coins, and a room should not cost a hundred.)

  37. Neil D says:

    It’s been a while, and it wasn’t a very good game overall, but I found that the economy in the Game of Thrones RPG actually worked very well. The exchange rate was (as I recall, and going by the GoT Wiki):
    56 copper pennies = 1 silver stag
    210 silver stags = 1 gold dragon

    It made for a somewhat believable scale where peasants would likely never see a gold coin in their whole lives, and silver only rarely. Anything they would be buying only cost a handful of coppers. Decent equipment that well-off people could afford would be several silvers and typically well out of reach of the poor. And the few magical weapons in the game might cost something like 4 gold, 120 silver, 35 copper – a seemingly unobtainable amount. After playing for a while it became apparent that if you really saved your money you might someday be able to afford one very nice magical weapon, but that was going to be all.

    Like I said, it’s been a while and my memory is fuzzy but it was something like that and I thought it was a good system worth exploring.

  38. RCN says:

    I remember the good old days of Might and Magic.

    It had a really good money sink system while allowing items to be as valuable as they really are. Heck, at grandmaster merchant you buy and sell AT the exact item value. And there are several ways to make money. Besides looting, I mean.

    You could steal items from merchants. You could buy regular items and then put a random enchantment on them, considerably raising their price (one enchant was just “valuable”, making the item 10 times more valuable). You could fight in the arena for money. You could leave money at the bank acquiring interest. You could look for bounties. Heck, later games even allowed you to just trade specialized goods from town to town, if you wanted to be really boring.

    And there were always ways to spend that money. The best alchemy ingredients were really expensive. To level up you had to train and pay for that training. To become better at skills you had to pay the masters and grandmasters to teach you their secrets. Spells were learned from books and the high level ones required quite a bit of saving to afford. And the best equipment was random and expensive.

  39. Uristqwerty says:

    In a more lighthearted setting, one interesting justification might be to give all vendor-bought equipment distinct visual styles, and then occasionally, as the player sells off unwanted loot, have the NPC remark about it being “unfashionable trash”.

    Now, even if the stats are identical, they are no longer selling the exact same equipment back for many times the cost, and by leaning on the trope of massively overpriced brand-name products, the game doen’t have to spend any more time trying to justify it. It’s now clear that the NPC is scamming you (and perhaps the rest of the town too).

  40. Zaxares says:

    The bottom line is, at some point the developers usually have to make a call between making a game “fun” and making it “realistic” (and keep in mind that for different players, where exactly those values will fall can differ widely). For me, I don’t really care in the slightest that my characters in games are absurdly rich. (Indeed, one thing I tend to do in RPGs is immediately open up the console and then cheat myself enough gold to buy the kingdom. This is a legacy from my experiences with early generation RPGs in which getting gold was simply a matter of running in circles around a map and farming respawning encounters, even when those encounters became easy enough that they no longer gave worthwhile experience. I quickly realized that this was ultimately a pointless exercise in padding the game length, and so I started just shortcutting the process by giving myself enough wealth to buy whatever is the top gear in the area I’m currently in.)

    If one REALLY wanted to make a game where the in-game economy actually made sense and WORKED, then I imagine it would become a truly excruciating game for many players. Players would probably have to replace their gear CONSTANTLY because it kept breaking or enemies kept destroying them (and boy oh boy, do players HATE enemies that can destroy your equipment and magic items, let me tell you!) You probably wouldn’t be able to rest anywhere you wanted and had to stay in inns that charged rates that made you have to agonize over spending the money. Health/HP does not regenerate outside of combat and you have to expend precious resources (in terms of spells, healing kits, potions, whathaveyou) to get yourself ready for the next fight. Magic and magic items would have to be costly, requiring ingredients that either cost a pretty penny, or you’d have to go out into the wild and find it yourself, a time investment that many players would probably find very annoying as the game went on. Imagine if you were one of the foremost wizards in the world, and you still had to spend the majority of your time ass-deep in a swamp hunting slime rats for their tails so you can make those mana potions you guzzle down by the dozen for encounters appropriate for your level. :P

    1. Decius says:

      Thou hast defeated the red slime. Thou hast gained 1 gold and 2 experience. Courage and Wit hast served thee well. Thou hast been promoted to the next level.

  41. Thomas Steven Slater says:

    Sryth side step this problem mostly. The rate you can gold farm stays pretty much the same from as soon as you can reliably do it as the only infinite loot drops are non magical only a few shops which clearly have vast connection to sell stuff will play lots for gear. Also having to buy things is rare, you don’t need an inn, your an adventure you can sleep anywhere you won’t be killed and that is how you restore yourself, shop brought/randomly looted equipment becomes quickly outclassed. Nearly every single piece of equipment your have will either be from a quest you did yourself or did by a badass retired adventurer and traded for the premium currency. There is no procedurally generated loot so you won’t be constantly comparing equipment after every fight. As you gold sinks the game lets you buy and they upgrade your huge fancy house with more then a hundred upgrade, some of which open make new content available.

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