Reality is a Game

Game thinking from Adam Clare

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Economics in Video Games

“For all intents and purposes, this is an economy that has activity equal to a small country in real life,” Guðmundsson says. “There’s nothing ‘virtual’ about this world.”

A recent article in the Washington Post on economics in video games is a great read. The way economists and video game makers can work together is fascinating. It’s a perfect cycle from the digital into the physical as economists can learn from game worlds while game makers can learn from economists. The thing is, as the author points out, the two groups of people don’t always get along.

Some companies like EVE, Valve, and ArenaNet have already hired economists as these companies have realised the importance of in-game economies. I’m often shocked when I see things like how smaller companies can really mess up their business plan because they don’t know basic economic theory (although the Wired article is on freemium, you get the idea).

In Eve Online, Guðmundsson oversees an economy that can fluctuate wildly — he says it expanded 42 percent between February 2011 and February 2012, then contracted 15 percent by the summer. His team will periodically have to address imbalances in the money supply. For instance, they can curb inflation by introducing a new type of weapon, say, to absorb virtual currency — not unlike the way a central bank might sell bonds to shrink the money supply. (In theory, Eve Online’s currency has real-world value — the highest-level spaceships, the Titans, are worth the equivalent of $5,000 to $8,000.)

“We’ve even seen large alliances trying to manipulate aspects of the market to control the supply and affect prices,” Guðmundsson says. “It’s a lot like OPEC.”

One of the great things is that the in the digital world a lot more can be recorded than in the physical world. As a result, economists can perform more detailed analysis to help our understanding of both virtual and physical economies.

“In real life, if you want to know what’s happening with car sales, you might call up a handful of car dealerships and ask what their sales are like this month,” says Dmitri Williams, a researcher at the University of Southern California. “In a virtual world, you just know everything. There’s no sampling, there’s no error. It’s perfect information.”

The article also mentions at the work Yanis Varoufakis is doing at Valve, lucky for us he keeps a good blog on the economies Valve is currently running.

Valve Announces Steam Greenlight

Fresh on the heels of releasing Filmmaker, Valve has announced a new way for independently released games to get on Steam. Greenlight is a fundamentally new approach for how games get on Steam based on how much the community wants the game to be released on the distribution service.

How does this differ from other store’s submission processes?
The prime difference is the size of the team that gets to decide what gets released. For many stores, there is a team that reviews entries and decides what gets past the gates. We’re approaching this from a different angle: The community should be deciding what gets released. After all, it’s the community that will ultimately be the ones deciding which release they spend their money on.

Basically, once Steam OK’s the game from a technical standpoint it’s up to the game to get itself green lit by Steam users at large. The idea is to get more diverse games on Steam faster, and more openly.

This could mean that developers will have to spend more time promoting their game (which would likely be still in development) instead of making the game. Overall, this new approach makes me worried that only teams with vast social reach will succeed on team.

Ironically, couldn’t that actually increase the barrier to entry for startup studios?

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