Simulations and the Dismal Science

I am lazy-man’s amateur when it comes to economics.  But I am a huge fan of simulations, from the old Avalon Hill/SPI wargames all the way to Civilization IV and the way economics plays an impact on otherwise static engagements.  

It’s one thing to line ’em up and shoot ’em down, but something else entirely to study the materiel, supplies, roads, munitions, and so forth that are engaged in bringing such battles to a fine point.

One of the most difficult areas to have to program for are in-game economics.  Nevermind the difficulties of programming algorithms to predict the nature of the market in the real world, simplified versions for a game are almost absurd to attempt.

Unfortunately, if one doesn’t do the job well enough, you get absurdities that affect the realism of the simulation itself.  

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. 

The snippet

 from Game Developer magazine is fascinating.  Worth the read.

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