Gaming Economy

A bunch of friends decide to play Age of Realms, a multiplayer game in which participants attempt to build up their own regions within a larger shared environment. Players collect resources in order to grow their region and can trade or battle with one another.

John has never played before and doesn’t know much about the game so he struggles a bit but has some fun exploring this new adventure. Pete logged in under his older brother’s account and started with a lot of pre-collected resources. Sam is a natural gamer and takes to it like a fish in water, he even found a giant stockpile of gold early on. Like John, Jeff never played either, but he’s unsure of what to do and he accidentally wandered into a dense dark forest — he’s kinda lost. There’s a few other friends playing as well (Ted, Matt, and Lucas), they’ve played a few times and pretty much know what they’re doing.

As expected, Pete and Sam take early leads and their realms grow at a rapid pace. John and Jeff remain at their initial levels for quite some time. The other guys are growing their realms bit by bit. Because they’re still in the initial phase, no one has really traded or battled with each other’s realm yet. But eventually, Pete gets to the point where he bumps into Jeff’s realm. Without any resistance, Jeff’s realm is absorbed into Pete’s. Jeff spends the rest of the day playing a different game on his phone.

Ted notices what happened to Jeff and attempts to form an alliance with Pete. Pete likes the idea of being a feudal lord so he accepts Ted’s territory as a vassal state. Pete’s and Ted’s combined power is now enough to overtake Matt, who had been about to get pretty big. Matt sits and watches videos on his phone the rest of the day. Lucas has been doing his own thing this whole time, making a quaint little village in his realm, with shops and farms and barns and all sorts of pleasant sights. He’s quickly crushed by Pete and Ted. Lucas reads a book for the rest of the day.

All this hasn’t gone unnoticed by Sam who’s been busily upgrading his realm the whole time. John’s been busy exploring the new world and experimenting and just having fun getting used to it all — that’s when Pete and Ted come knocking. John goes running to Sam and asks for an alliance. Sam, feeling kindhearted, accepts the alliance, forcing Pete and Ted to back-off for a bit. John then spends less time exploring and more time working on boring stuff for Sam.

The grander purpose of a game is not winning, a game simply serves as a medium for merriment. Either all participants enjoy themselves or there’s no point in playing. In this scenario, unchecked dynastic wealth warps Pete’s options for finding fun. Pete is starting the game with so many resources that he doesn’t need to engage in an initial exploration and build-up phase. Starting out with limitations allows the other players to appreciate the little gains they experience. But getting a little more is worthless to Pete, so he needs to get a lot more. And seeing how his position makes it easy to conquer others, he pursues this particular strategy of attainment.

Players such as Ted attempt to attain more by teaming up with Pete. Now Pete’s power includes the ability to muster an independent army of followers. Players such as Matt and Lucas don’t offer much resistance because that’s not their style of gameplay, they’re easily overcome by players whose sole goal is conquest. Because of Sam’s ability and luck he’s able to serve as an initial counter-balance, but that doesn’t help other players unless Sam is in a charitable mood.

Severe imbalance ruins games. Without balance, things will quickly devolve into drudgery except for the top few. To alleviate this problem, gameplay must be regulated, caps must be placed on resources, and those excesses must be redistributed to players with less. Pete is not a bad-guy, it’s the lack of regulation that allows his excessive behavior. Banning him from the game is a short-term solution that doesn’t fix the overall issue. Players like John and Jeff need to be provided with adequate resources and education. Players like Matt and Lucas need to be allowed to develop in their own directions, free from molestation by marauders. Players like Ted need better alternatives than becoming henchmen. And players like Sam need the freedom to play without having to constantly worry about everyone else.

A game cannot exist without rules. Rules and their enforcement provide structure. The foundation of that structure is the enjoyment of each and every participant. Each participant must be allowed to pursue his happiness and must be provided with the education and resources necessary to do so. Anything less than this violates the objective of self-determination — no one should have so much power as to dictate how others must play.

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