Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 25, 2013
When I was a teenager, I read a book called “Brewster’s Millions” (which was, around the same time, made into a movie featuring Richard Pryor, which I’ve never seen). The book was written just over a hundred years ago, when a million U.S. dollars was worth a heck of a lot more than they are today. Using an inflation calculator, a million dollars back then was worth about a quarter of a billion today.
In the book, an all-around nice guy (Montgomery Brewster) inherits a million dollars from his grandfather. Then, just as suddenly, he stands to inherit seven times as much money from his uncle… who hated his grandfather. In order to inherit the seven million dollars, however, he has to squander his entire inheritance from his grandfather in a single year, without a penny to show for it. On the surface, that sounds pretty easy to do, but there were a large number of limitations and caveats on this yearlong party. He couldn’t give too much to charity; he had to show good business sense (no buying an expensive yacht and selling it for five dollars, for example… ); and he couldn’t go overboard with gambling. All the easy ways to get rid of the money (by 1902 standards) were pretty limited. Mr. Brewster finds that squandering that much money is not nearly as much fun as it sounds, and becomes quite a burden before the year is out. Especially when the occasional gamble or stock market decision actually becomes quite profitable.
But if he fails, he is penniless, except for whatever is leftover from his grandfather’s fortune.
I imagine it would be a bit easier in today’s age to blow through even that much money. Not easy – a quarter-billion is still an incredible amount of money, even for someone like Curt Schilling and his 38 Studios. But inheritance tax would devour half of that right off the bat. Anyway, I probably missed the entire point of the book, and sometimes wonder what it would be like to have more money than I knew how to spend.
In many CRPGs, though, this is a pretty common problem. Going over The CRPG Addict’s blog, it’s not a new one, either. At a certain point, there’s really nothing worth buying. The best stuff can only be found through exploration and victories. Which is, in my opinion, as it should be. It’s kinda anticlimactic if you just go to the store and purchase the best weaponry for your level. That’s not what adventure should be about!
But, if not that, what do you spend your ill-gotten gains upon? How do you avoid ending up with enough gold to pay off the U.S. national debt and no place to spend it? How does an RPG provide enough ‘sinks’ in the economy to keep the cash flow interesting? While it sounds easy, as in Brewster’s Millions, it’s not trivial.
My favorite method is to provide disposable items that are significantly more powerful than permanent items. But there’s a fundamental issue of game balance. An expensive one-shot item has to be VERY potent to justify its cost (and make the player willing to use it). But would having a few of this item in one’s inventory allow the player to simply blow through boss encounters with ease?
And then there’s early game versus end-game pricing. Things like curing at temples tend to be overpriced at low levels when you really need it, but by the time it becomes a reasonable inconvenience you can often have your own party members cast the same spells for free.
Gambling – a lot of “equipment-focused” RPGs (Diablo-style, Borderlands, etc) – sounds like a great idea, except in my personal experience I lose interest very quickly. I think only once – at lower levels – have I ever gotten anything worth keeping. In ANY game. When it is so clearly useless, people won’t use it, and it won’t be a money-sink anymore.
Some single-player RPGs do allow the player to purchase (and even furnish) houses. This becomes a nice thing to blow money on when you’ve got more than you know what to do with, but I don’t recall them ever serving a critical function beyond being a place to stash my stuff. It’d be cool if people came to visit you or something, but then you’d probably be playing The Sims instead of an RPG. But seriously – it’d be nice if owning property actually unlocked interesting new quests and storylines. (Actually, as I recall, this was the case in Baldur’s Gate II, but I don’t recall seeing it anywhere else).
Outfitting NPCs – while this is frequently an ability with NPC companions, the only game where I’ve seen this be a useful mechanic (rather than an amusing side-effect) for general NPCs is Din’s Curse. In Din’s Curse, the towns frequently come under attack, and outfitting the townspeople with your castoffs make defensive events a lot easier when the townspeople are a bit less vulnerable. I guess there was a game (Morrowind?) where you could reverse-pickpocket NPCs and cause them to wear some useless equipment… right before you attacked them. But that’s more in the ‘amusing side effect’ category.
Of course, there are also recurring costs – like equipment maintenance (always a favorite among players – NOT!), rent, taxes, docking fees, etc… but these are not frequently welcome unless they provide an advantage — like hiring a mercenary. Even then, they might be only grudgingly accepted.
Training might cost gold – frequently used in older CRPGs like Might & Magic. I’m kinda surprised this isn’t used more in modern games than it is. This is something that can easily scale with players as they acquire more funds. Higher-level training for higher-level (and richer) characters has significantly higher costs, right?
How about buying quests (or access to optional areas) for gold? Or bribery (if events calling for bribery are recurring and interesting – not just penalizing)?
If a game is going to go through the trouble of having an economy, why not make an interesting one where there’s always something interesting for a player to spend his character’s money on?
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