In-game economy is a crucial aspect of any good MMO game. Very few games however take on the challenge of providing a very realistic, dynamic economy within the game, mostly because it is considered a bit too complicated. The traditional approach is to have a centralized auction system, accessible from various places, allowing people to sell their items to the best bidder. This is an oversimplification of the type of economic exchanges that can take place in a real world economy. Let’s look at how this is going to be handled in Dual Universe, and why it matters.
Fundamentally, economy is about exchanging things for other things. Goods or services, against other goods and services. It initially starts with barter, and then some reference good is chosen as a common reference, which becomes what we call “money” and makes it possible to quantify the process (more about the history of money here). In Dual, we will assume there is one single currency across the whole universe to keep things simple.
(NB: we will discuss the question of faucets and sinks in balancing the amount of available in-game money in another post. For the moment, let’s keep our discussion on the question of pricing and goods exchange)
So, at this stage, you have the concept of money and you can start to sell your goods, but you need to set a price. The simplest method is… to set a price. If it’s too high, no one will buy. If it’s reasonable or down cheap, you’ll find a buyer. The core problem here is to figure out a way to assess the price correctly, without too much guessing work.
The simplest way to deal with pricing estimation is auctioning: assuming there would be potentially several buyers, let them compete for a time for who is willing to pay the most. This is a bit better than guessing, but not quite perfect: you can always get unlucky and have your good sold for half the price, because you ran out of time or you ran out of wealthy buyers, etc. However imperfect, this is often the only method available if your good is a “one of a kind” good, for which no other price estimation ever occurred, and no recurring auctioning could be organized. That’s why there will still be auctioning in Dual Universe, but that won’t be the only method available. Unlike in other MMOs your auction won’t be seen from anywhere in the game but only locally (in the “region” you set it up).
The second way to set a price has been invented with market economy: if you are trading goods that are similar in nature and in large quantities, you can set up a market exchange for it. On this market, people who own that particular good can make selling offers. They are listed in increasing order of value: the cheapest offers first, and then the more expensive. Symmetrically, if you want to buy that particular good, you can make buying offers, that are listed in decreasing order: the highest price first, and then the cheapest. Whenever the two lists collide (you have a guy ready to buy at a price higher than the lowest of the seller’s prices), you have a deal and the corresponding orders will be then removed from the list.
The relative pressure on one side or the other (buyers or sellers) will tend to empty the respective order lists either towards higher prices or lower prices. This is the well known mechanism of supply and demand equilibrium.
In Dual Universe, creating a market will require nothing more than setting up a Market Unit, a particular Element that you can craft and install in any construct of yours. The Market Unit requires an energy supply and a container to store the traded goods. It can be as small as a front door market in your little farm, where travelers can buy your local production, to an orbital station sized market where interstellar megaships are traded.
Importantly, you will access market information (the current list of buy/sell orders for any given good) from a distance, using Information Units to analyze prices on different markets, and compare. This mechanism will naturally establish competition between markets and tend to aggregate them based on geographical or specialization efficiency criteria. When you’ll buy a good on a market 1.000km away from where you stand, it will show up in a local inventory physically attached to that particular market container. So, you have to factor in the cost (in time) to get there and collect your good. This is extremely important as it will give birth to local markets in remote areas, which only purpose will be to save you the efforts of organizing the logistics of acquiring goods from afar. This service will translate into higher prices, as those who take the risk of convoying these goods for you have to maintain a sound logistic chain, protect the area, etc.
The way markets will work is exactly as I just explained: you can deposit a good in the market container and set a sell order with a given price for it (you will be able to check existing orders to make sure you are competitive). Symmetrically, you can set a buy order where you indicate at what price you would like to acquire a particular good. Now, if you are in a hurry, you can buy immediately by picking up the currently cheapest available price among the sell orders. Or you can sell immediately by picking up the currently highest offer in the buy orders. This difference between immediate and deferred transaction is at the heart of the “time is money” paradigm: making an instantaneous transaction by taking what is available right now will almost always get you a worst deal than if you had been patient with a buy/sell order listing. For many players, the way to interact with markets will be through instantaneous orders (it’s very simple, and you don’t need to understand more to play the game). But for some people more into economics, there will be profit to be made, in exchange of time.
To sum up, the market exchange model will be a key mechanic because it allows to:
- have a realistic value of any good in game based on supply and demand.
- let the players set their markets anywhere they want, making the geopolitical/strategic aspect of this a core element of the emergent gameplay
- witness market specialization according to what actually happens in the game (not some predefined assumption that will bias the equilibrium)
- allow for lots of specialized activities in game: market owner and manager, trader, broker, exporter/importer, logistic, etc.