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Scarcity and Economics in Minecraft - an experiment

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Wheylous Posted: Thu, Aug 23 2012 3:02 PM

I do not know much about Minecraft, and my basic background goes as far as "There are a bunch of resources, the world is infinite, and you build stuff and can interact with other players and NPC creatures".

That being said, this looks interesting:

http://www.minecraftforum.net/topic/1212125-closed-map-experiment/

The, let's say, Dungeon Master created scarcity by boxing people into a place and saw how they would interact.

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Norgath replied on Thu, Aug 23 2012 11:01 PM

I love Minecraft, I play it all the time, I'd definitely recommend it Wheylous. I've always wanted to try something like this myself, it would be super fun, it creates conflict in a game with originally little scarcity. Blah blah blah state emergence. The thing is, no innovation is possible in Minecraft, and you cant recycle, so there goes that.  I like the Venice/Genoa/Hansa-esque state, pretty cool stuff. 

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WIth the progression of technology, more people are becoming aware of economics and the complexity of various games.

https://www.guildwars2.com/en/news/john-smith-on-the-guild-wars-2-virtual-economy/

Note that games usually have infinite inflation (everytime you kill a monster, gold drops), which is countered by fixed prices of npcs, various gold sinks, etc, etc.

Who wants to become a video game economist?

http://blogs.wsj.com/atwork/2012/06/20/best-econ-job-ever-videogame-economist/

“Since people are concerned that ‘X’ will not be provided, ‘X’ will naturally be provided by those who are concerned by its absence."
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This is a very interesting game. I've been playing for a while now and I honestly believe it could be a very useful tool for teaching a wide range of economic ideas - including capital theory and monetary theory, although it would have to be tweaked. The problem is that there isn't enough (biazarrely!) scarcity. That is, I can usually feed myself quite easily. Certainly in a longer term sense the principles of saving apply, I had to build a farm in order to be able to have time to build my other creations as it were, and certainly using diamond pickaxes to mine anything but diamonds was a clear case of capital consumption, but with some tweaking (ie, you don't last so long without eating, taking out the monsters etc.) it could be used as an educational tool. I am wondering whether or not my programming experience could be brought over to java to make a mod of the game for this very purpose! 

Certainly however the differences between the gameplay and the way it would have to be to make it close enough to reality to properly represent "crusoe economics" and all the other principles are designed in such a way that renders the player efficient enough to produce enough food AND weapons (to kill zombies) AND mining tools etc. I think in multiplayer with a set of changes meaning when you starve,you starve, and oh you starve quick, this game would almost inevitably cause examples of the division of labour, it would probably provide us quickly enough with a currency (with enough players) and you might find players dedicating their time to mining iron ore (for example) to buy food from the farmer (for example) etc. a few more tweaks and you could start finding examples of an interest rate etc. (ie, it will take x long to find y diamonds, at the current price of diamonds it's not worth it etc.) thinking about it I suppose it would not matter regarding the tweaks as long as your survival was much more difficult to maintain. Well it's certainly something i'd be interested in sitting down and talking to someone about, if they too were interested in looking at how it could be used.

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Blargg replied on Sun, Dec 30 2012 10:07 PM

If the walls were torn down one day and the players were free to the unlimited resources of Minecraft how would they react? Do you think they would work together and try to keep all the resources balanced or would they play the same way without regard for their environment or each other? Though in Minecrafts infinite world it would be impossible to destroy everything, do you think the disaster would slowly re-occur? I think this experiment has been a successful statement on the human condition and human interaction with the environment.

It's interesting that the experiment itself in the context of the actual players is somewhat like the above. The players have been living under the state all their lives, and now they're in a new space where they don't have the constraints of the state. So rather than see what they did as human nature, I see it as them repeating the patterns they've been immersed in living under the state.
 

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Good story. I used to enjoy Minecraft, but I got annoyed by its extremely simplified economy. Hell, you can get to an iron tool in literally minutes of gameplay!

There is just not enough potential for division of labor. Or maybe there is some, as this story shows.

Actually, I would like to develop a persistent world multiplayer game with really deep economy, with reasonably expensive violence, but otherwise unconstrained. Would be interesting to see, if it will be as bad as Hobbes thought. Should we form a discussion here or on LHQ?

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Yeah, minecraft has SOME potential for economic education, but it's limited by a few key factors:

1.) Capital goods are very limited, and most take only minutes of gameplay to get. (with the exception of things like enchantment, potions, etc.)
2.) Violence is very cheap, you can tear down an entire building in a minute, no real penalty for death/injury
3.) Not all players can be logged into the game for the same amount of time.
4.) Players tend to view it as a game, and as such persue goals that would seem absurd/pschotic in "real life".
5.) Players come into the world as fully-formed beings with pre-existing personalities, experiences, and expectations, rather than being raised in the in-game environment.

For example, in the linked article, the guy notes that there was a significant group of players who's primary purpose was to tear shit down and blow it all up. (ie. the "dick-ass griefers).  Imagine what the "real world" would be like if a quarter of the population was a bunch of undying pyschotics who destroyed everything and had the power to tunnel miles underground in a matter of minutes.

Ultimately, if you want to make Minecraft a good free-market economic "simulation" you need to have (ironically) a strong server moderator and rules, as the complex defense/justice institutions needed are impractical in the Minecraft world.  In situations where that's the case, then I've seen some servers really take off and build some cool stuff.

The "ideal" servers I've played on have sort of a tiered set of rules, where there are "safe zones" in cities and towns, where stealing, destruction, etc. are out of the question, and a more "wild" area where you can steal ones resources, but not just be some random dick and set everything on fire.  So you still end up with some wild frontier gameplay, and have a concentrated area where things can actually be built.

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Hmm, I would prefer a fully unmoderated game - and I hope it can be achieved if violence is realistically expensive and players value their in-game reputation.

Griefers often can get away from ostracism by spamming new accounts. There may be a way to prevent them from it. Getting into full game should be quite expensive in terms of expended efforts. I am considering some tiered approach - new players must go through a tutorial of considerable length, after which they arrive to a newbie area - where they can only hurt other newbies. In order to graduate to the full-featured area they have to achieve some goals (quests/items/levels, whatever). Also, transportation should be realistically expensive (you should not be able to just put your entire home-full of stuff into a backpack and leave). In this way any player will think twice before annoying his fellow players.

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Wheylous replied on Mon, Dec 31 2012 10:36 AM

If you guys want, we could start a discussion on LHQ. I would be happy to contribute my thoughts.

Here is the discussion I started:

http://libertyhq.freeforums.org/minecraft-economics-t100.html

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Anenome replied on Mon, Dec 31 2012 2:48 PM

I played free minecraft on their demo servers. I found one absolutely awesome server that had tons of people and awesome creations, and also very good moderation.

And what they did was they would put beautiful works of pixel art right at the starting area, to catch the eye and show off, and everywhere to build was behind this fence of giant art.

But actually these works were traps. A griefer would walk into the world and see these beautiful creations and be unable to contain himself. Run right up to them and start destroying blocks. And the system had a script that would automatically ban anyone destroying enough blocks in a unit of time of these creations, then it would auto-restore the art. So it acted like one big griefer trap, and left the rest of us alone.

Similarly, when someone made something awesome, they could appeal to the mods to lock it in place and preserve it.

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