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Balancing prices in an economic game

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dcnole24
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Joined: 06/15/2015

I'm working on an economic game based around resource/time management where multiple rules and game mechanics center around buying, selling, making penalty payments, and/or receiving bonus payments. IMHO, the mechanics themselves are pretty simple and intuitive, particularly within the theme of the game. However, I am struggling to identify specific dollar figures and price points for each element of the game.

I recognize that a lot of price pointing requires rigorous playtesting so that you can tune the game to the way you want it played. But I view that as Step #2 in the process. Step #1 seems to be crafting some sort of theory for how to establish the "first draft" prices. So far, I've just been going by gut instinct, which is totally unscientific and likely doomed to fail. Does anyone have any literature or personal theories about how to go about selecting your initial game prices for the prototype?

Thanks!

jvallerand
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Joined: 10/12/2013
I'd ask myself these

I'd ask myself these questions:

1) Do I want these resources to be similarly valued, or for some of them to be worth more than others?

For example, in Power Grid, Uranium's value is overall higher than Garbage, which is higher than Oil, which is higher than Coal.

1)b) What ratio do you want between your most expansive and least expansive resource?

For example, in Concordia,here are 5 materials, and each costs 1$ more than the one before: Brick is worth 3$ and is the cheapest material, while Silk (the most expansive) is worth 7. If the numbers had been 1-5 instead, that would have made Brick 5 times cheaper than Silk (and therefore, almost free in comparison), while numbers from 11-15 would have reduced the differences in value to a point where it almost doesn't matter.

2) What quantity of these resources do you want players to handle?

Again, in Power Grid (PG), you can buy an absolute maximum of 18 resources a turn, but most likely will buy 6-9.

3) What scale of money amounts do you want your game to use?

PG uses small denominations: resources cost 1-10$, plants up to 50, and auctions rarely go over 100. By comparison, games like Poseidon (and I assume other 18XXs, although I haven't played them) have shares cost 60-300, and income is about 30$ per share in the end, which leads to much higher numbers.

Once you have these answers, it's easier to set prices. For example, if I want players to work with a few hundred bucks, with the idea that having 1000$ should be a rare occurrence, and I want my players to buy/sell stuff in groups of 10-15, then that stuff (let's call it resources) could cost 30$ each or so. If I want six different "types" of "resources", then I would price them 15-20-25-30-35-40. If you then want another bigger level of investment, something they buy twice or three times in a game (say, a company, or a power plant, or real estate), then I'd start at 300-500, or something like that.

On the other hand, if you want your game to have small denominations (like Gates of Loyang), where money is tight and having 10$ is a godsend, and where every resource costs a chunk of your budget, resources priced 3-4-5 are a good idea.

Hope that helped.

JohnMichaelThomas
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Take a look at Ian Schreiber's Game Balance Concepts

In Ian Schreiber's Game Balance Concepts blog/course (https://gamebalanceconcepts.wordpress.com/), in "Level 2", he talks about identifying what one common resource is the most important one in the game, and then tying everything in the game back to how much value it adds to that common resource.

For example, everything in your game has a cost in money, but those resources then add some value toward winning the game. What value do they add toward winning the game? How can you tell whether one helps more than another? Once you've identified which resources add more and which add less, you can try and compare them.

I recommend you read the 1st and 2nd lessons in Game Balance Concepts, and that will probably answer your question better than anyone here can since we don't know anything about your mechanics. (Actually, I recommend you read the entire blog/course, but since it's the length of a text book, you might want to just read the first 2 chapters for now).

Icynova
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Thanks for the link. I know

Thanks for the link. I know where I'll be spending a few hours this weekend...

radioactivemouse
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dcnole24 wrote:I'm working on

dcnole24 wrote:
I'm working on an economic game based around resource/time management where multiple rules and game mechanics center around buying, selling, making penalty payments, and/or receiving bonus payments. IMHO, the mechanics themselves are pretty simple and intuitive, particularly within the theme of the game. However, I am struggling to identify specific dollar figures and price points for each element of the game.

I recognize that a lot of price pointing requires rigorous playtesting so that you can tune the game to the way you want it played. But I view that as Step #2 in the process. Step #1 seems to be crafting some sort of theory for how to establish the "first draft" prices. So far, I've just been going by gut instinct, which is totally unscientific and likely doomed to fail. Does anyone have any literature or personal theories about how to go about selecting your initial game prices for the prototype?

Thanks!

Two things (entirely my opinion):

K.I.S.S: Keep it simple, stupid. I try not to use numbers higher than 10, though I know that there will be high numbers needed in some games. In Yu-Gi-Oh, almost all the cards have extra zeroes for attack/defense that really have no purpose whatsoever. The simpler the numbers, the easier the game is to teach and play. People typically don't like playing games that crunch numbers; games are supposed to be relaxing.

Just guess: I'll be honest, numbers can always be changed. Once you just get SOMETHING out (as far as a prototype), then your first coupe of playlists will easily direct you towards the right numbers.

Evil ColSanders
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I STRONGLY disagree with you,

I STRONGLY disagree with you, RadMouse. If you keep numbers low, it doesn't allow for any wriggle room. Also, the significance between each number becomes HUGE.

Look at Warhammer. The difference between a BS3 and BS4 is HUGE.
In Warmachine. The difference between a 3 cost and a 4 cost solo unit is HUGE.
I know they are wargames, but the example still stands. Worker placement games always have a "First one here gets a bonus" type deal. Either a +1 coin or -1 to build and that is a big advantage in these games because making money is near impossible, but when you have it, the world is your oyster.

radioactivemouse
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Evil ColSanders wrote:I

Evil ColSanders wrote:
I STRONGLY disagree with you, RadMouse. If you keep numbers low, it doesn't allow for any wriggle room. Also, the significance between each number becomes HUGE.

Look at Warhammer. The difference between a BS3 and BS4 is HUGE.
In Warmachine. The difference between a 3 cost and a 4 cost solo unit is HUGE.
I know they are wargames, but the example still stands. Worker placement games always have a "First one here gets a bonus" type deal. Either a +1 coin or -1 to build and that is a big advantage in these games because making money is near impossible, but when you have it, the world is your oyster.

Like I said, it's entirely my opinion. It doesn't mean I refuse using high numbers, it just means I don't like using high numbers for the sake of using high numbers (like my Yu-Gi-Oh example). Believe me, I've used high numbers before; I've worked in the video game industry since 2003 and I teach video game design theory and practice to college students.

Still, you are right. The differences between numbers that are low are really high, especially when you're talking about economy. But in my opinion, it makes for a tighter game. It almost forces you to make the tough decisions whereas higher numbers allow for more variance, but also more mistakes...which also means an exponential amount of required testing.

This doesn't mean my method is flawed for using low numbers. Even the best video games run low numbers...many classic games only have 1 life. Mario has essentially 2. Magic: The Gathering has players start at 20 life. Most all Magic card stats run numbers UNDER 10. Everything becomes important when numbers are low; you're more cautious, more strategic, more aware.

I tell you that you are never more aware and cautious in a game than when you're at a tiny fraction of health. When you overcome from small numbers like that, you tell stories of how you came back from under and was victorious.

In the card game I'm releasing in August, I have large space motherships with only 12 HP, which is the amount of damage you need to inflict in order to win the game. Every point counts. Every decision is important, therefore every aspect of the game is designed to make the player decide very quickly what to do.

I've always adhered to the saying "the simplest ideas are the best". It applies to numbers as well.

Every game uses numbers in different ways, I just prefer lower numbers.

Tbone
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I Agree With Both...Slightly...

You need to find a happy medium. This is the case for almost anything in game design. If you are looking for simplicity cards with 1200 hp is probably not the best. Although I would have to disagree with the simplicity of MtG and it playing a positive role in game design... it is extremely simple but a small number means less wiggle room which does not equal a smaller amount of testing. Magic is interesting because each color has strengths and weaknesses. So you pay less as green for toughness because you have bigger creatures but may pay more for a flying creature as opposed to blue cards. There is a lot that goes on there with the costs and economy of cards. Plus, do you know how many broken cards there are? A good amount. This is metigated through different variants and tournament rules for deck building. But its because it's hard to make a 2/2 with flying for 2 because thats too strong but 2/2 for 3 with flying may be too weak. Its tough but I guess adding rarity helps but its terrible game design.

I love simplicity, but giving my game some breathing room is also something I love. The reason Magic is so successful is because they KEEP MAKING NEW CARDS. If you play Vintage you literally have thousands of cards to choose from. Cray cray. It gets people excited to know the game their playing is bigger than themselves. It allows them to get better.

In terms of resources, Magic, to me, got it wrong. They tied their game down by forcing players to create decks based on their resources. There are ways around it but the whole "top decking resources" makes me hate playing. There aee some things that need to be separated from other pieces of your design, and thats okay.

Of course, the link above probably does a better job than me but I thought I'd bring some of my input in :)

Tbone

radioactivemouse
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Tbone wrote: I love

Tbone wrote:

I love simplicity, but giving my game some breathing room is also something I love. The reason Magic is so successful is because they KEEP MAKING NEW CARDS. If you play Vintage you literally have thousands of cards to choose from. Cray cray. It gets people excited to know the game their playing is bigger than themselves. It allows them to get better.

In terms of resources, Magic, to me, got it wrong. They tied their game down by forcing players to create decks based on their resources. There are ways around it but the whole "top decking resources" makes me hate playing. There aee some things that need to be separated from other pieces of your design, and thats okay.
Tbone

To be fair, Magic had nothing like it when it came out, so it was a juggernaut to the game world. It's still a great game, but the thousands of players over the years (as well as the secondary market) have exposed the flaws of the game, which isn't exactly a bad thing; the fact that the game has lasted 20+ years and still going strong is a testament to the designer. But hindsight is always 20/20.

Now games are coming out (like mine) that address the resource, top decking, and distribution issues. We shouldn't say Magic "got it wrong", rather, it was Magic that got people into card gaming and now the industry is evolving. There was no way Richard Garfield could have predicted some of the things that plague Magic to this day; there was no way he could have predicted that so many players would be playing his game 20 years later.

questccg
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I agree with KISS.

radioactivemouse wrote:
...I try not to use numbers higher than 10, though I know that there will be high numbers needed in some games...

I have a similar philosophy: keep the numbers low and usually less than 10. In my current Work-In-Progress (WIP) I use low numbers to try to keep the game simple enough.

Take for example "Capacity". It's the total "Firepower" + "Resistance" a starship can have. Its values are 5 to 9. Both "Firepower" and "Resistance" go from 1 to 5... What does this mean? It means you can never have the "ultimate" starship (5/5 = 10 Capacity). So you need to make compromise each time you deploy a starship (even if you have the BEST cards in your hand) to see if it will be an offensive focused starship or a more defensive focused one.

The nice thing about LOW values is that I plan to introduce Trading BONUSES such a +5 or 2x. Small multipliers are good because if you have a value like 3, with a 2x multiplier, it's only a 6 (which is +1 better than the highest card).

Of course there is balancing involved, you won't see a 2x on a 5 point card... That's maybe too much. But ALL SMALL bonuses add up over time and can make a difference in the game. That's my philosophy, slowly build up over time - and this "BONUS SYSTEM" will only be available in my WIPs "First Expansion: Planetary Expanse".

But keeping low values allows me to have different bonuses that are not overly powerful but add to the overall game's gameplay!

Cheers.

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