Five Reasons Video Games Should Have Better Economies

Ask anybody who runs a Civ game: simulating a real economy is a pain in the ass. A lot of developers don’t even try, understandably preferring to either forgo money altogether for more of a “loot and pillage” system, or offering you only a handful of stores to choose from. Maybe if you’re playing a very dense RPG, the stores will offer different prices depending on their location on the map.

But it’ll have nothing to do with how much vendor trash you bring in, or how many bad guys you bump off, or supply and demand. If the cost of a healing potion is fifty gold now, as a rule it will stay fifty gold no matter where you are.

And that’s too bad. Adding some more economics to gaming would make for fun gameplay changes both subtle and broad. Here are just a few.

It Would Eradicate Vendor Trash

Gamers are compulsive pack rats. If you can pick it up, take it, no matter how useless it is, no matter how pointless, because, hey, if worst comes to worst? You can just dump it later, or sell it to the first merchant you find.

But if every item had a constantly shifting value, it would introduce a little strategy to your pack-ratting. It would also reduce the amount of vendor trash in general, since developers would have to balance the game to avoid weird fluctuations in prices.

It’s An Organic Way To Tweak The Challenge

In most games, restocking your ammo and healing items is as simple as visiting the inn, which will have an unlimited number of everything in most games. But if the inn has a limited stock, it’ll force you to be more careful with your gear and to be more strategic in your playing. Some games already do this, but it’d be nice to see it given some more depth.

Fetch Quests Could Stop Being Quests

We all hate fetch quests. They’re an annoying task that many game designers cling to, for some reason. So why not make them more rewarding? Instead of fetching twenty bear asses for some impetuous gnome, you can walk into a town, find out what they need by talking with residents, and then going out and getting it. Instead of an assigned grind, or an irritating “Incomplete” in your quest log, it can become a natural part of the world.

It Would Force Players To Not Mindlessly Repeat Dungeons

We’ve all done it. We’ve gotten sick of our money supply limiting our adventuring and just ground a dungeon like a bad molar, over and over again. With a real economy, though, the value of the loot drops would diminish as local stores suddenly had five Breastplates of Valor they couldn’t unload. It’d be a nice incentive to keep playing the actual game, which some games are sorely lacking.

The Potential For Dickery Is Absolutely Enormous

Finally, there’s the time honored tradition of messing with NPCs. If a game has a genuine supply and demand mechanic, and a limited number of a specific item, either through lack of manufacturing or just genuine scarcity, the potential to torture NPCs is just amazing. Harvest every medicinal plant in the land, stockpile them, and then force merchants into bankruptcy! Become an arms dealer and equip only the most awful NPCs you can find! Crash the economy by dynamiting a gold mine! Really, the potential here is epic.

Of course, that would also break the game, but hey, you can’t have everything.