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游戏设计和经济拥有一个劣迹斑斑的历史。设计出同时具有乐趣和功能的经济并不是件轻松的任务,很多设计在接触到玩家时往往会产生适得其反的效果。举个例子来说,《网络创世纪》在一开始便因为游戏混乱的经济而落下不好的名声。Zachary Booth Simpson在1999年写了一篇有关这款游戏的分析,并详细描述了游戏在发行时可能会经历的显著问题:

锻造系统因为在玩家每创造出产品的时候给予奖励而造成生产过剩的情况。

生产过剩导致超级通货膨胀,即非游戏玩家印刷了过多钱去购买一些无价值的产品。

玩家通过为自己的产品设定了远高于市价的价格而将供应商变成了无限安全存款箱。

玩家囤积的产品迫使团队不得不抛弃封闭式经济,从而导致游戏世界开始倒空产品。

玩家通过垄断将市场逼到一个魔法试剂中,并阻止普通用户投掷咒语。

从那时以来,MMO经济已经取得了很大的发展;《魔兽世界》的拍卖行变成了游戏经济乃至整个世界最具活力的一部分,即有许多玩家愿意花时间在这个市场中“晃悠”。《星战前夜》的开发商CCP甚至雇佣了一位经济学家去分析《星战前夜》游戏世界中的资源流程和价格波动。的确,对于游戏设计师来说,理解游戏玩法的市场力量的潜在影响真的非常重要。

市场是否能够平衡游戏?

许多设计师将经济游戏机制作为平衡游戏的工具。例如在《国家的崛起》中,每当玩家购买了一个单位(如骑士或弓箭手),那么同样类型单位的价格便会上升,设计会鼓励玩家增加军队类型,以此引导他们购买更多内容。通过在游戏过程中让不同方向和选择的“价值”浮动着,设计师将呈献给玩家一个不断改变的景观,并保证不存在获得胜利的唯一方法而提高了重玩价值。

但是如果做得太过火,那么通过转变经济而实现自动平衡便有可能摧毁游戏。2006年,Valve通过《反恐精英:起源》而进行了一次有趣的经济实验,即执行了动态的武器定价运算法则。根据开发者,“武器和装备的定价将基于全球市场的需求每周进行更新。如果更多人购买了某一武器,那么该武器的价格便会上升,而其它武器则会相对降价。

desert eagle(from gamemodding.net)

desert eagle(from gamemodding.net)

不幸的是,特定武器的大受欢迎将掩盖了运算法则平衡游戏的能力。举个例子来说吧,当最有效的Desert Eagle价格上升到16000美元时,最没用的Glock为1美元,从而到导致了一些极端情况的出现。游戏经济并不是真正的经济;并不是所有内容都可以通过调整价格而达到平衡。玩家只是想在此获得乐趣,如果最有趣的选择的代价越调越高,甚至到达一个让人望而却步的境地,那么玩家不仅会因此改变策略,甚至会直接选择其它游戏。也许当前的油价让我们的真实生活变得“误区”,但只要现实世界的经济存在着,我们就别无选择。这与玩家所面临的境况是截然不同的。

最后,设计师应该记住,获取完美的平衡是个无法把握的目标。玩家们并不是在寻找石头剪刀布这样的游戏,即存在完全有效的所有选择,并鼓励随机策略。当玩家在玩游戏时,他们会受到一些超越经济的原因的推动。提升玩家喜欢的武器的价格就好像一种惩罚,这种做法只有在不平衡真的破坏了核心游戏时才能起作用。

把市场置于游戏内

也许更合适的经济动态的使用是作为游戏内部的透明机制。桌面游戏世界提供了这些自由市场机制的优秀例子。德式游戏《Puerto Rico》和《Vinci》都使用了提高价格的方法去提高不受欢迎的角色和技术的吸引力。《Puerto Rico》甚至为了让玩家选择工匠这个角色而决定赋予玩家特定的“奖励”,即给予他们1个金币。随着金币数量的逐渐增加,越来越多玩家难以抗拒这种诱惑,如此便确保了所有角色的选择能够趋于平等化。

《Puerto Rico》也仍有一些更棒和一些更糟糕的选—-它们会基于当前的选择在不同回合间发生改变。在这种情况下,自动平衡便能够确保游戏的乐趣,因为玩家会因为选择较不常见的策略而获得奖励,而不是因为坚持自己的喜好而受惩罚。也许更重要的是,因为玩家能够事先了解所有情况,所以没有人会觉得游戏对自己存在偏见。

我们可以在另外一款德式游戏《Power Grid》中看到基于真实资源和价格的纯自由市场机制。在游戏中,玩家需要为自己的植物提供各种资源(游戏邦注:油,煤,铀,和垃圾等等),他们可以从中央市场购得这些资源。资源是基于逐步上升的价格曲线。在每个回合中,市场中都会出现每个资源的X个新组件,玩家可以购买Y个组件。随着供给的浮动,资源的价格会相应地上升和下降。

自由贸易的利益

同样地,一些现代策略游戏(包括《Sins of the Solar Empire》和《帝国时代》系列)也包含了这些自由市场机制,即玩家可以购买并销售资源,并以自己的行动去影响着整体的价格。这些市场是一种有趣的“贪婪测试”,即玩家通常会在需要现金时卖掉资源,或者在缺少特定资源时花钱购买,但他们也知道,自己每次在市场上的交易都会带给其它玩家相对的优势。就像你在《帝国时代》中购买过多树木的话,对手也会因为卖掉多余的产品而赚得金币。

不幸的是,这些游戏的市场动态将不断重复,当玩家的总生成超过需求时,价格便会降到最低点。这主要是源自游戏所强调的经济平衡—-《帝国时代》保证在一开始给予玩家拥有足量的金币,石头和树木。围绕着地图随机传播资源将造就更加多元化且有趣的市场机制,但却需要牺牲整体的游戏平衡。如果你的对手攻击了骑士,那么为拥有足够的树木去换取长枪兵进行反抗的话该怎么办?

而带有核心经济机制的游戏并不会遭遇这种限制。在大多数以商业为主的游戏中,专攻于特殊资源是游戏玩法的基本组成部分。因此,自由市场经济可以变成一看竞争游戏吸引人的一部分内容。关于这类游戏的最后一个例子便是80年代经典的《M.U.L.E》。在游戏中,4名玩家将为了成为新兴世界的经济统治者而竞争。尽管游戏中只存在4种资源(游戏邦注:食物,能量,铁,和能源水晶),规模经济将鼓励玩家专攻某一资源。更重要的是,玩家很难凭借自己的力量创造所有资源,这便要求他们从其他玩家手上购得所需资源。

这款游戏拥有一个很棒的界面能够促进玩家间的这种交易。买家被设定在屏幕底部,而卖家则占据屏幕上方。当买家上升时,他们的要价也会相对地上升。而当卖家下降时,他们的定价也会下降。当双方在中间碰头时,交易便会出现。再一次,游戏机制是明确且透明的—-所有人都能看到玩家的库存和市场定价。玩家清楚,自己可以通过挑战价格去促成交易,或者期盼着对手降价。如果你知道其他玩家需要购买能量去巩固自己的建筑或购买食物去养活劳动力的话,你便能够通过引诱从他身上赚取更多利益。在这种情况下,只有玩家害怕别人获取利益才有可能拉低价格。我们可以看到《M.U.L.E》带有深入且丰富的游戏机制。消耗敌人的资源与直接摧毁他们一样有趣。

本文为游戏邦/gamerboom.com编译,作者:Soren Johnson)

The trials and tribulations of balancing your in-game economy

By Soren Johnson

Game design and economics have a spotty history. Designing a simultaneously fun and functional economy is no easy task, as many design assumptions tend to backfire when they come in contact with the player. For example, the early days of Ultima Online were infamous for the game’s wild and chaotic economy. Zachary Booth Simpson wrote a classic analysis of UO in 1999, detailing some of the more notable problems experienced at launch:

The crafting system encouraged massive over-production by rewarding players for each item produced.

Over-production led to hyper-inflation as NPC shopkeepers printed money on demand to buy the worthless items.

Players used vendors as unlimited safety deposit boxes by setting the prices for their own goods far above market value.

Item hoarding by players forced the team to abandon the closed-loop economy as the world began to empty out of goods.

Player cartels (including one from a rival game company!) cornered the market on magical Reagents, preventing average users from casting spells.

MMO economies have come a long way since then; World of Warcraft’s auction house is now a vibrant part of the game’s economy and overall world, with many players spending much of their time “playing the market” to good effect. CCP, developer of EVE Online, even hired an academic economist to analyze the flow of resources and the fluctuation of prices within Eve’s game world. Indeed, understanding the potential effect of market forces on gameplay is an important ability for designers to develop.

Can the market balance the game?

Many designers have used economic game mechanics as a tool for balancing their games. For example, in Rise of Nations, every time a unit — such as a Knight or Archer — is purchased, the cost of future units of the same type goes up, simulating the pressure of demand upon price. This design encouraged players to diversify their armed forces, in order to maximize their civilization’s buying power. By allowing the “values” of different paths and options to float during a game, designers present players with a constantly shifting landscape, extending replayability by guaranteeing no perfect path to victory.

However, if taken too far, efforts to auto-balance by tweaking the economy can destroy a game. In 2006, Valve conducted an interesting economic experiment within Counter-Strike: Source, implementing a dynamic weapon pricing algorithm. According to the developers, “the prices of weapons and equipment will be updated each week based on the global market demand for each item. As more people purchase a certain weapon, the price for that weapon will rise and other weapons will become less expensive.”

Unfortunately, the overwhelming popularity of certain weapons trumped the ability of the algorithm to balance the game. For example, while the very effective Desert Eagle skyrocketed to $16,000, the less useful Glock flatlined at $1, leading to some extreme edge cases (such as the pictured “Glock bomb”). A game economy is not a real economy; not everything can be balanced simply by altering its price. Gamers just want to have fun, and if the cost of the option considered the most fun is constantly tuned higher and higher until the price becomes prohibitive, players may not just alter their strategy—they may simply go play another game. The current price of gas may be making our real lives “unfun,” but only one real-world economy exists, leaving us no choice. Gamers are not in the same situation.

Ultimately, designers should remember that achieving perfect balance is a dubious goal. Players are not looking for another game like rock/paper/scissors, in which every choice is guaranteed to be valid, essentially encouraging random strategies. Players are motivated by reasons beyond purely economic ones when playing games. Raising the cost of a player’s favorite weapon is simply going to feel like a penalty and should only be done if the imbalance is actually ruining the core game.

Putting the Market Inside the Game

Perhaps a more appropriate use of economic dynamics is as a transparent mechanic within the game itself. The board game world provides some great examples of such free market mechanics at work. German-style games Puerto Rico and Vinci both use increasing subsidies to improve the appeal of unpopular roles and technologies, respectively. In the case of the former, every turn no player decides to be the Craftsman, one gold piece is added as a “reward” for choosing that role. As the gold increases slowly, few players will be able to resist such a bounty, which nicely solves the problem of making sure all roles are eventually chosen.

Puerto Rico still has some clearly better and clearly worse options—they just change from turn to turn based on the current reward. In this case, autobalancing actually keeps the game fun because players are rewarded for choosing less common strategies, instead of being penalized for sticking to their favorites. Perhaps more importantly, the effects of the market are spelled out clearly for the players ahead of time, so that no one feels the game is biased against them.

Perhaps the most elegant example of a pure free market mechanic based around actual resources and prices can be found in Power Grid, another German-style board game. In this case, players supply their power plants with a variety of resources (oil, coal, uranium, and garbage), all of which are purchased from a central market. Resource pieces are arranged on a linear track of escalating prices. Every turn, X new pieces of each resource are added to the market, and players take Y pieces away as purchases. As the supply goes up and down, the price correspondingly goes up and down, depending on where the next available piece is on the market track.

By making the supply-demand mechanic so explicit and transparent to the players, the market becomes its own battlefield, as much as the hex grid of a wargame might be. By buying up as much coal as possible, one player might drive the price out of the range of the player in the next seat, causing her to be unable to supply all her plants at the end of the turn, a disastrous event in Power Grid. Thus, with a true open market, price can be used as a weapon just as much as an arrow or a sword might be in a military game.

The Benefits of Free Trade

Similarly, a number of modern strategy games, including Sins of the Solar Empire and the Age of Empires series, have included free markets in which players could buy and sell resources, influencing global prices with their actions. These markets served as interesting “greed tests” in that players are often tempted to sell when they need cash or to buy when they are short on a specific resource, but they know in the back of their minds that each time they use the market, they are potentially giving an advantage to another player. Buy too much wood in Age of Kings, and your opponents can make all the gold they need selling off their excess supply.

Unfortunately, the market dynamics of these games tend to repeat themselves, with prices usually bottoming out once the players’ total production overwhelms their needs. This effect stems from the fact that the game maps emphasize economic fairness — in AoK, each player is guaranteed a decent supply of gold, stone, and wood within a short distance of their starting location. Spreading resources randomly around the map could lead to a much more dynamic and interesting market mechanic but at the cost of overall play balance for a game with a core military mechanic. If your opponents attack with horsemen, what if there is no wood with which to build spearmen, the appropriate counter unit?

However, a game with a core economic mechanic does not suffer from such limitations. In most business-based games, specializing in a specific resource is a basic part of the gameplay. Thus, a free market mechanic can become a compelling part of a competitive game. The ultimate example of such a game is the ’80s classic M.U.L.E., in which four players vie for economic dominance on a newly-settled world. Although only four resources exist (food, energy, smithore, and crystite), economies of scale encourage players to specialize. More importantly, players can rarely produce all the resources they need on their own, requiring them to buy directly from other players.

The game has a brilliant interface for facilitating this trade between players. Buyers are arranged along the bottom edge of the screen, with sellers on the top. As buyers move up, their asking price goes up accordingly. As sellers descend, their offer price decreases as well. When the two meet in the middle, a transaction occurs. Once again, the mechanic is explicit and transparent — player inventories and market prices are all clearly visible to everyone. Players understand that they either have to adjust their own prices to make a deal happen or hope that their rivals cave. Knowing how desperate another player might be to acquire the energy needed to power his buildings or the food needed to feed his labor, the temptation to pull every last penny from him is strong. In such a case, prices tend to fall only if the player is afraid someone else might sweep in to reap the profits. The game mechanic mined here by M.U.L.E. is deep and rich. Impoverishing one’s enemies can be just as much fun as destroying them.(source:gamasutra)


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