Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Fable 2's Fantasy Economy

In what is becoming a sheer delight for probably all of you, here is another post about game economies. This time it’s a single-player but that doesn’t really make it go any smoother. It’s just a really difficult topic to discuss because for most gamers this is the equivalent of someone identifying all the trees in a park. To most it’s a tree and it will go back to being a tree when you finally stop bothering them.

Generally speaking, games have fairly dull economies in that they are transparent and mostly serve game design functions like punish or drag out the length. A JRPG has a pretty flat system that just buys low and sells high to penalize stupid purchasing habits, there isn’t much to it. A faction economy would be something like STALKER or Wing Commander: Privateer where certain groups buy things high and sell them low, then you go travelling and making a profit off it. Something more complex would be a simulation game like SIM City or Civilization but those always have transparency issues because value and effect are always explained. The exchange usually ends up binary as you do whatever the game design says will win.

Fable 2 is one of the most interesting economy systems out there because it ties so handily into the rest of the game. It is totally transparent and simple. Crime, stealing crap, cruel rents, and general badness will turn an area evil and make it an unprofitable area. Stopping crime, buying goods, fair rent, and general goodness will turn an area good and make it more profitable for business. Yet unlike most economy games where the only strategy is 'How do I make money' here multiple complications come into the mix. It really forces the player to pay attention and notice all kinds of collateral effects. Whether it’s by making you fat or more probably just forcing you to look for cash, Fable 2 pretends that you can get money by collecting chests and digging it up for just the first few hours. And then it is time to start cutting back on all this nonsense and buy some real property. I’m not sure what that amounts to in terms of procedural rhetoric, maybe it means if you don’t buy houses you’re the Devil, but it’s probably the most fascinating part of the game.

And it even has magic and British people!


Geoffrey said...

Let me start by saying that I'm all for these economic articles. That being said... on reading this, I was vaguely reminded that I had read another article somehow similar, but it took me a while to track it down. Not really along the same lines, but related by subject area anyway: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/the-hard-problem/6983-Faucets-Sinks-and-Markets

I've only recently begun to play Fable II, but I can certainly see the points you make about how integrated the economic system is. The one thing I'm questioning is just how easy it seems to be to make endless piles of money. I ground through 3 jobs to a 5 star rating (hated myself while doing it, but I found it oddly compelling), bought a bunch of stalls, and I haven't felt light on cash since. Doesn't seem all that balanced?

L.B. Jeffries said...

Ooo...that is a solid article, thank you. Can never find them all.

I don't know if you can fairly judge an economic game design in terms of challenge. Having lots of money isn't necessarily winning in terms of economy, it's winning in terms of being able to buy crap. I guess to steal from Castronova's breakdown of game economies, the money is just a way to signify choices made by the player.

Fable 2 in that sense struck me as trying to get the player to manipulate their surroundings with money. It's a bit trickier if you want to transform the world into a golden utopia or poverty stricken hell hole. Not impossible, but it reaches into an economy design that's focused on giving the player buckets of cash and using it to change their surroundings.