On spending, googols and inflation in games

So what the heck is that gaming inflation about?

Googol - a number (10^{100}). According to current knowledge, the number of particles in the universe is much less than that. The trademark “google” was derived from this number to reflect the amount of data google was supposed to index.

Inflation in germany - burning money

This picture, taken in Germany after WW I, is quite similar to what happens in most of games. At some point, you simply do not care for something you would consider a fortune at the beginning

This article is a part of our series “Gamers, get your suits on!” on application of management skills and common sense in computer games. You can find the rest of the articles here.

RPG games

You start a new game, say: Skyrim. You have something like 100 gold pieces, a rusty dagger, and a rugged pair of pants. Your gear is worth much less, than what you can gather in a typical garden. You see all those mediocre armors and weapons, costing 100 times more than everything you have, wondering how much the really good stuff costs. And you start losing hope.

A couple hours later you are way beyond mediocre armors. You don’t even pick them up for sale, due to their inferior price-to-weight ratio. Do you know that feeling? You have just experienced gaming googol-inflation, and I’m going to tell you how to cope with it – and thrive!

Gamers love being rewarded and love seeing bigger rewards every time. This gives us some sense of progression, a kind of benchmark. Since you shouldn’t get the gear too fast (this often ends the fun), the prices of better gear rise much faster at higher tiers (or: they rise exponentially – slow at first to skyrocket later). Similarly, your rewards grow exponentially, since the whole game is gamer-oriented. Otherwise it would be received as too grindy (I’d call World of Tanks at higher tiers quite grindy). Actually, if this rule applied universally to all NPC’s, assuming exceptional competence of main character, they would have to sell their families and bodies just to get that fancy dagger you will soon take from their warm corpse!

Strategy/economy games

The same goes for strategy and economy games. But where it leads us is that every dime counts at the start, but you don’t care for kingdom’s worth later on. This is similar to inflation in the real world. Or hiper-inflation. Or googol-inflation really. I bet you know lots of examples, I’m waiting for you to share games you thing have the highest inflation out there.

Skyrim gold coins

Got money?

Practice

Assets

So, how do we go about that inflation thing? First, every dime you spend at the beginning will return your investment in a matter of minutes, and multiply your assets by hundreds (or even thousands) in the long run. Remember, that in games you are usually committed to succeed (at least in single player games) – but investing wisely allows you to get what you want sooner. Think carefully, what will give you the highest return. Every choice you make significantly affects your game later on.

Stats

The same goes for your character and gear, if you play RPG’s. Usually the next tier is just marginally better, and won’t make any real difference. It will also become obsolete real quick. I hardly ever buy weapons or armors in Skyrim, since typically I’ll find them very soon anyway. Instead, I invest in my character – e.g. training new skills.

The law of diminishing returns

Have you ever heard of it? In gaming terms it means, that as you receive better gear, the next difference between next tier and current tier decreases. Let’s think of a damage done by swords in Skyrim:

Damage% increase in damageCost% increase in damage / % increase in cost
Elven sword11235
Glass sword129.1%41074%
Ebony sword138.3%72076%
Daedric sword147,6%125074%

As you can see, the price is increasing at a (more or less) constant rate, while the damage increase is smaller with each tier. Assume you have 1250 gold to spare, and are thinking of replacing your ebony sword with daedric sword. Do you really think you will immediately notice 7.6% improvement? If you upgraded from glass sword, the improvement would be substantial (16.7%), so maybe skipping ebony sword would be better?

What is even more important here is that in most cases, the better your gear gets, the harder it is to improve further. Therefore it would seem, that the cheapest option is improving the weakest item you have. For example, if you have ebony cuirass and fur boots (extreme case), it is easier to get ebony boots, than daedric cuirass. Not only it will be cheaper, but will also increase your overall armor rating more. And you would send a lot of money, that can be used elsewhere.

To buy fancy gear straight away, or to wait?

The bottom line is: always think long-term. Think of two separate categories: consumption and investment. When you consume, you spent money on something that is only marginally better than what you have, and will be quickly obsolete. It will yield no returns as of itself, and the main reason you are really buying it is because of perceived superiority and the “cool-factor”. Investment on the other hand is something that will either bring measurable returns, or will stay – helping you in the long run.

And finally remember, that collecting number for the fun of it is pointless – no Scrooge McDuck’ing here guys! Money becomes “obsolete” extremely quickly, since your prized 1000 gold pieces will be your spare change in no time. You “consume” the fancy, big numbers. But they will not get you anywhere – you’d better invest it well instead!

Adam “Fanatyk” Wojciechowski

This article is a part of our series “Gamers, get your suits on!” on application of management skills and common sense in computer games. You can find the rest of the articles here.

About The Author

Adam "Fanatyk" Wojciechowski
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I am a co-founder, admin and manager of this site. From time to time I also write articles here. In real life, I am doing my Masters degree in Mechanical Engineering with Management at the University of Edinburgh. Besides gaming I am an avid cyclist, fountain pen enthusiast and windsurfer.

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