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The Almighty Buck Games

Learning About Real-World Economies Through Game Economies 178

Reuters has a report about research being done on the in-game economies of MMOs like EverQuest II and World of Warcraft to better understand much larger economic situations in the real world. The games are used as case studies where researchers can do controlled experiments that they couldn't necessarily attempt if real money or goods were involved. "After studying 314 million transactions within the fantasy world of Norrath in EverQuest II, including trading in-game goods like armor, shields, leather, herbs and food, the researchers were able to calculate the GDP of one of the game servers (the back-end computer that hosts thousands of players in one world). As more people opened accounts and flocked to Norrath, spending money on new items, researchers saw inflation spike more than 50 percent in five months. 'We have seen that kind of volatility during times of war and in developing nations in the real world,' said [Dmitri Williams, assistant professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication]. 'Our own economy has turned out to be less stable than we'd all assumed.'"
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Learning About Real-World Economies Through Game Economies

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  • Limited Use (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Laminan (1625947) on Sunday October 04, 2009 @11:43AM (#29635933)

    These experiments are not as useful nor controlled as you may think. Let me break down into some experiment design principles here:

    #1 You can only generalize to the population studied

    --Thus your demographics will be that of a more computer savvy user, with leisure time. This is NOT a representative sample of a normal population. When using regression methods you will get a homogenous result only from 'game performers'. These experiments are not valid unless you can prove that there is no purposeful difference between this population and the general population.

    --It still can provide interesting insights, but any quantified data must be taken with a grain of salt

    --The population may have one net effect, but perhaps a different type of agent/actor would have an OPPOSITE or equalizing effect (games are an artificial setting)

    #2 Process defined by agency

    --Here the markets are designed by an all-seeing game developer. I don't know about you, but many MMO's I have participated in had lackluster markets due to poor UI or the mere fact that it is a new market.

    --Product innovations are limited or non existent, and users cannot refine markets based on their experiences. These days the most interesting economic studies are looking at PROCESS which is understood much less than outcome. Neo-classical economic theory does a great job at explaining outcome, but is horrid at process. That is why many market failures are not forecasted, but instead studied post-mortem.

  • Re:I for one... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Wildclaw (15718) on Sunday October 04, 2009 @12:46PM (#29636441)

    for every X dollars in circulation there is always X+Y debt. This system is just not sustainable. How could it ever do anything but ultimately fail?

    There is nothing unsustainable about it. The X dollars in circulation just have to circulate fast enough. If fractional reserve banking has a flaw, it is the same thing that is its main advantage, and that is that it adepts to the demands of the economy. It amplifies both good and bad intentions of making use of money.

    In the last 30 years there has been a lot of bad intentions going on, building on bubble after bubble. But blaming it on FRB is just plain wrong. There are real things in the economy that are unsustainable. Having the debt levels rise faster than the income levels would be one such thing. Having the lower and middle class owning a lesser and lesser percentage of the wealth would be another. And it isn't difficult to find more examples.

    Having said all that, there are of course faults in how FRB is implemented in the US. There is for example no reason why a government should need to get in debt just to create money. That has nothing to do with the basic idea of FRB. Having a private institution running the money supply is another very stupid idea. Finally, you need regulators and law makers who generally aren't corrupt to ensure that the FRB system isn't abused. And that last thing is something that doesn't exist in the US right now, or most banks would have been shut down already, just by looking at their balance sheets. The only thing keeping the banks alive is corruption.

    is that this system as we know it came from the Great Depression

    Yes and no. The system today mostly has its origin in the 1980s. It may look similar to the old system, but all safeguards and general ideas of sanity has been removed as an ongoing process to promote "modern" capitalistic principles. The idea of balance has been totally abandoned and instead the concept that anything is right as long as it produces higher numbers has been promoted.

  • by h00manist (800926) on Sunday October 04, 2009 @01:46PM (#29637023) Journal
    the thing I don't understand about money is, why don't more people make it? there's no law against creation of local currencies. [] some cities do have them. fortaleza, brazil, has a community with a currency called "palma" [], switzerland has the WIR bank [], ithaca has the hour []... it's problably the best way for a community to change, develop and become self-sustained. economically, ecologically, and in other ways. money is, in reality, just a contract, a document - shows that if you help someone, give something, someone else will help you, give to you. as long as the contract works... who cares who filled it out, printed the form, bill, wrote the software, or if it's electronic, paper, or just a paper ledger []. the only hard part is creating a community that realizes it's in their best interest to run their own economic system. open-source software could perhaps benefit from adoping something similar for rewarding programmers more.
  • What about EVE? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by spedrosa (44674) on Sunday October 04, 2009 @01:50PM (#29637071)

    Any researcher worth its salt will have to first and foremost look at EVE Online's economy. The game is driven by its economy, not the other way around.

    They you can look at toys like WoW or Everquest, if you want a simpler model.

  • Re:I for one... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Wildclaw (15718) on Sunday October 04, 2009 @02:14PM (#29637261)

    You say that it is sustainable, please elaborate. Because unless you're ignoring the presence of interest rates, the money owed will always exceed money existing. This ends with people or businesses going bankrupt unless there is perpetual growth

    This is basic economics, and has little to do with FRB. But anyway, the answer is that money circulates. As long as those who lent out money uses the interest they collect to buy stuff from those in debt, everything remains balanced. Theoretically I can pay back a $100 loan with a single dollar bill, as long as I pay it back $1 at a time, and the one I pay it back to keeps buying stuff from me.

    Of course, the real problem here is that borrowing to consume is bad as you won't have anything that the borrower will want to buy after you consumed, so you won't be able to pay him back. Borrowing to buy something at bubble prices is also bad for the same reason. You won't be able to pay back what you borrowed.

    Borrowing is best done on actual stuff that increases productivity. Specifically, when the interest on the loan is less than the productivity increase. In that case both parties of the transaction profit by getting part of the productivity increase.

  • Re:I for one... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Curunir_wolf (588405) on Sunday October 04, 2009 @02:47PM (#29637497) Homepage Journal

    That's a pretty long-winded way of saying you don't understand economics. But at least it's a good starting point.

    You may not like "money" (however you define it) as a way of allocating resources, but it's the only one we have right now. Maybe some day we could transition to something like the "reputation system" envisioned in Accelerando, but we have to work with what we have to work with now.

    The arguments you make point to Austrian economics working better than anything out of Keynesian, as it is closer to following physical assets than the artificially controlled fiat money that Keynesians prefer. Yes, even with real assets being used as a medium of exchange, there will be bubbles and busts, but they will be very much limited to specific industries or companies, rather than across the entire economy like happens now. But that's because entrepreneurs have to make guesses about the future - it can't be predicted in any deterministic way, since it involves human behavior. But it's a better system than letting a few central planners make those guesses for everyone, because they can never be as accurate as millions of people making their own guesses based on experience and self-interest.

  • Re:I for one... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sdeath (199845) on Sunday October 04, 2009 @06:54PM (#29639233)

    Yeah, uh, you kind of miss the point here. Rothbard, "Fractional-Reserve Banking" and "Anatomy of the Bank Run", game over, you lose.

    The problem with FRB: it constitutes fraud. While I maintain that this statement is prima-facie obvious, I have the feeling that it will escape some portion of the crowd, so we'll try a thought-experiment.

    "Fractional reserve" banking says that for every, say, $1000 of demand deposits (ex. checking accounts), the bank need only keep some fraction available at any time, on the theory that not all $1000 will be demanded at once. Yes, that's sort-of true - statistically, most of the time, most people will be content to leave it in the bank, and only call it out as-needed. Most of these calls for money will, in turn, be deposited in another bank, thereby adding an extra level of "protection": inter-bank transfers can be "batched" and resolved on different time scales than the demand-deposit processing (e.g. accounts squared at end-of-day, end-of-week, whatever).

    However, what the bank is saying when you deposit money in a demand-deposit account - "your money is available for withdrawal at any time of your choosing" - is, literally, not true. *Your* money has disappeared into someone else's pocket, in that it has been loaned out to some other party as soon as it hits the bank. This is not a "theoretical" untruth - it is a real untruth, in that at all times, the bank is illiquid, i.e. does not possess sufficient capital to redeem all its demand-deposit accounts on actual demand. This is what is referred to in any other instance as "constructive fraud". It is useful to compare this to the eponymous Ponzi scheme, where the fraud consists of there being no actual capital or investment to satisfy the promised payout schedule to current investors, requiring that new investors be found to service existing obligations.

    This is not the worst feature of fractional-reserve banking, though. FRB is the gateway for the money multiplier and hence inflation; a bank with a reserve requirement of 5% (larger than the current reserve requirements, note; I believe they're hovering at less than 1%) can, with a deposit of $1000, immediately turn around and loan out $950 of that money. This functionally doubles the amount of money in the economy ($1000 of "fantasy" money, and $950 of "actual" money floating around). That $950 typically gets deposited in *another* fractional-reserve bank, almost invariably with the same reserve ratio (set by the central bank, and reinforced by consumer preferences; ceteris paribus, a higher reserve ratio implies lower interest rates on deposits, providing customers incentive to move their deposits to another bank), at which point the cycle starts again ($950 in "fantasy" money, of which $47.50 is kept on-hand, and the remaining $902.50 lent out). This multiplies that original $1000 of "real" money to something like $20,000 in terms of its real economic effect. SUPRISE INFLATIONSECKS LOL. Then, when you start printing up more money (cue the Fed) and tweaking reserve ratios (cue the Fed again), you wind up with - wait for it - more inflation. Inflation has well-known and universally-observed destructive effects, penalizing saving and encouraging increasing amounts of debt, since debt is paid off with future money that is worth less than the original loan. How's that working out for us so far?

    (Side note: it is instructive to note the identity between fiat currency and counterfeit, with the only difference being the identity of the printer of money.)

    Austrian economic theory consists of the "duh no-shit" observation that this has an effect on the economy - inflation makes money cheaper to obtain (hey, they print it for nothing!), thereby making marginal enterprises "profitable" under inflationary conditions. This produces the "boom". When those conditions cease - there is an lower bound on the worthlessness of fiat currency, beyond which it is not used except as kindling - all of those bad ideas *come home to roost*, with the acc

"When it comes to humility, I'm the greatest." -- Bullwinkle Moose