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 Post subject: Minecraft economics
PostPosted: Mon Dec 31, 2012 11:36 am 
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This discussion started over at the Mises forums when I linked this article:

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

Some posters suggested we start a more in-depth discussion on it. Let's do so here.

What are the upsides and downsides of using minecraft as a model of real-world economics? How could it be changed to be a more realistic model of the conditions facing real humans so that they interact (more) in sync with how they act in reality?

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 Post subject: Re: Minecraft economics
PostPosted: Mon Dec 31, 2012 11:45 am 
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I think one of the most obvious problems with using minecraft as a model is that there is relatively little to lose if you get killed. You could either create a new account or you could quit playing. Of course, if you've built up a character for a long time, then you have stronger incentives not to die (and even that is only up to a point - if you get too good you might lose interest), but the incentives are not the same as in the real world.

I think that one way to add an element of the real world (I'm not advocating this, by the way) would be to have players be contractually obligated to give up a real-world sum of money if they die in-game. The more, the better. If they could give up all of their property, it would be best. Again, I am not advocating this, but this would certainly make the stakes closer to those in the real world. (Note: one may argue that the incentives may be in some cases much stronger than real-world ones, since if you die in minecraft you must go on living in the real world without any property, while if you die in the real world you do not have to deal with not having property since you're dead).

I don't know very much about minecraft, but it appears that they have at least tried to address one concern I had - food. This is part of a more general issue of continuation demand that exists in the real world for certain items that are needed for survival.

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 Post subject: Re: Minecraft economics
PostPosted: Mon Dec 31, 2012 12:52 pm 
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There is no permanent death in MC. In fact, the killed player is immediately re-spawned, and the only cost is dropping whatever he was carrying - it is even possible to recover that, if one is fast enough and can find the place of death (and can fight off hostiles around his death place).

I strongly believe that "cheap death" is one of the reasons for extreme violence in many games.
If the worst that can happen to you during a fight is losing your weapon - why think twice before engaging in bloody rampage?

Having a permanent death deals with this problem - if your character dies, you lose quite a lot. Unless your character was created just a minute ago with the explicit purpose of wreaking havoc. So the "birth" should be expensive, too.
One way to make birth expensive is by simply charging for character creation. This, however, severely limits the target audience.
Another way is to require considerable effort from players to create a character. As I mentioned on mises.org, players may be required to finish a long tutorial before being able to interact with other players (potentially in harmful way). There can be even more stages than two - e.g., after the tutorial the players end up in some not very desirable location, and the bulk of players migrate to other places. In this way, the newly created characters cannot harm a lot of players (other than other newbies, who didn't migrate/progress to more desirable locations/stages).

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 Post subject: Re: Minecraft economics
PostPosted: Mon Dec 31, 2012 12:58 pm 
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The other issue in Minecraft is quite shallow chain of supply - while capital exists and is quite valuable, it can be re-created in very short time using just land and labor.
You start by kicking trees until they drop wood, then you craft a wooden tool, and immediately improve your efficiency of wood gathering. The wooden tool also enables you to harvest stone, which quite soon gives you a stone tool - which again improves your efficiency. In a few hours you will have a full industry, with smelters, automatic elevators, and glazed windows.

This is fun for single-player game, but I think a bit too simplified to actually foster any meaningful cooperation between players (except possibly mutual protection).

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 Post subject: Re: Minecraft economics
PostPosted: Tue Jan 01, 2013 9:58 am 
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Oh, turns out there is an option of permanent death: http://www.minecraftwiki.net/wiki/Hardcore

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 Post subject: Re: Minecraft economics
PostPosted: Tue Jan 01, 2013 1:02 pm 
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A less time-consuming alternative to Minecraft is Terraria.

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 Post subject: Re: Minecraft economics
PostPosted: Tue Jan 15, 2013 5:46 pm 
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AndrisBirkmanis wrote:
There is no permanent death in MC. In fact, the killed player is immediately re-spawned, and the only cost is dropping whatever he was carrying - it is even possible to recover that, if one is fast enough and can find the place of death (and can fight off hostiles around his death place).

I strongly believe that "cheap death" is one of the reasons for extreme violence in many games.
If the worst that can happen to you during a fight is losing your weapon - why think twice before engaging in bloody rampage?

Having a permanent death deals with this problem - if your character dies, you lose quite a lot. Unless your character was created just a minute ago with the explicit purpose of wreaking havoc. So the "birth" should be expensive, too.
One way to make birth expensive is by simply charging for character creation. This, however, severely limits the target audience.
Another way is to require considerable effort from players to create a character. As I mentioned on mises.org, players may be required to finish a long tutorial before being able to interact with other players (potentially in harmful way). There can be even more stages than two - e.g., after the tutorial the players end up in some not very desirable location, and the bulk of players migrate to other places. In this way, the newly created characters cannot harm a lot of players (other than other newbies, who didn't migrate/progress to more desirable locations/stages).


However, the utility of pissing people off by killing them and stealing their stuff (trolling) is far more likely to outweigh the utility of living peacefully and being richer in terms of resources through free exchange.


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 Post subject: Re: Minecraft economics
PostPosted: Tue Jan 15, 2013 6:23 pm 
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MBLB - exactly. Especially since video games are often specifically perceived to be a way for people to vent in a place that will not hurt their real-world existence.

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 Post subject: Re: Minecraft economics
PostPosted: Tue Jan 15, 2013 8:20 pm 
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Really, the mechanics of Minecraft make a "realistic" economics system unlikely, as building a big ol' wall across the map really only resolves the "scarcity" issue. However, if the server owner and players were sufficiently coordinated, it could be made to work to a point. The following would likely need to occur though:

-Timed periods during which play was "open" and all players were online. This would mean that everyone would be online at the same time, so robbing (temporarily) empty bases would be prevented. Fighting, wars, etc would still occur, naturally, but since raiding and pillaging wouldn't be quite so profitable it would be localized to organized actions that could be deterred/disrupted through ingame interactions.

-More players, bigger map. This one's partly personal preference, but I'd say that this would tend to create more agreements for mutual defense, etc as "defensive" players would side up together whereas "offensive" players would often find themselves fighting each other (so even if offensive players as a whole outnumbered defensive players, the defenders would be more concentrated). With a bigger map and more players on at the same time, I suspect you would see towns develop as players banded together for protection, as opposed to small, self sufficient "raider bunkers" as occurred in this.

-Better resource distribution. In Minecraft, resources are generally spread evenly with a few exceptions. Were iron and other valuable ores found in large veins in specific sections of the map, trade would actually be somewhat encouraged as players in the area with an excess of, say, coal would have a reason to trade for iron or food.


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 Post subject: Re: Minecraft economics
PostPosted: Thu Jan 17, 2013 6:14 am 
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Well, the extent to which minecraft could be used to model economics, or rather to fit with that of the real world is effectively the inverse of the extent to which it is not like the real world. I think that its use for modelling (certainly in a high-level, academic sense) is very limited as any such data that you would like to obtain that was not apocryphal (ie, on day 28 of the experiment people had used up x% of resources or were producing y of x resource a day, or whatever) is effectively statistics on a modelled world. That is, if you wanted to use it to deduce anything of interest you might as well just use real life statistics, because they are real life statistics, plain and simple.

On the other hand as a tool for teaching economics in a visual, kinetic way it is very interesting. It can be used to explain, amongst other things, diminishing marginal utility, time preference, basic capital problems (Robinson Crusoe, etc.), basic trade ideas (money regression, etc.) capital consumption in a basic sense (ie, i would use my diamond pickaxe to obtain at least three diamonds in order to maintain my stock of diamonds before the diamonds "entomed" in the pickaxe are worn away) and so on. And with some tweaking i don't think it would be hard to get a group of students to understand the value of division of labour etc. and that processes take time (i think that the production of tools being tweaked so it is not dissimilar to the use of a furnace, ie, it takes time, would be useful), as well as the requirement of saving in order to embark on more complex projects. Ie, if you could starve quickly enough, you would have to devote enough time to producing/collecting enough food in order to survive to complete a project.

When playing with my girlfriend, even just the two of us were enough to change the dynamics of how we acquired food and its priority in terms of our "investment decisions", and that was on a difficulty level at which hunger plays a relatively minimal role. On "Hard" your hunger diminishes even faster, but then you get stronger, pesky monsters. It is interesting that the existence of monsters also leads to the necessary production of shelter and weapons, further changing the dynamics of resource allocation, introducing needs that are not dissimilar to our own. In other games, starvation and shelter are not really relevant because, well, who cares. It is important to have such needs that mean that you can have a set of values that need to be dealt with, ie, just running around in circles is not often a viable way of dealing with your time.

It would be clear that even business cycle theory could be taught in a very basic sense (ie, through the concepts of capital theory) by setting the students the task of producing some form of structure. I remember times when in building a house without having bothered to calculate the amount of resources necessary would lead to having to go back and get more, and yet having hunger relegated to such a minimal role meant that it was no problem to go around and just find more - clearly a more "realistic" role for hunger would mean that such a "recession" would be much more painful to bear, ie if you had not calculated your food and then your resources for producing the structure correctly beforehand.

On singleplayer worlds, on "hardcore" mode, death leads to the deletion of the world you have made, and starvation can kill. So it's a pretty close model, in a sense. If the player has some sentimental connection to his "world", it's certainly an emotional "cost" that other games cannot easily recreate.


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 Post subject: Re: Minecraft economics
PostPosted: Thu Jan 17, 2013 10:23 pm 
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Wegreenall - good thoughts! I didn't know the game dynamics were so interesting!

I was thinking of whether minecraft can be used to do experiments with ABCT. I know they wouldn't be perfect experiments (the actors wouldn't be the same), but they still might be interesting to look at.

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 Post subject: Re: Minecraft economics
PostPosted: Sun Jan 20, 2013 3:42 pm 
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Wegreenall, nice post! I also believe that tool crafting would only benefit from being more time-consuming.

A thought occurred to me during a poker tournament - playing poker for play-money suffers from similar problems as many multi-player games - the players just do not care enough about the consequences of their actions, so they play either to test their luck or to annoy others. Not sure if this is a valuable insight, though :)

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 Post subject: Re: Minecraft economics
PostPosted: Tue Jan 22, 2013 4:30 am 
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Wheylous wrote:
I was thinking of whether minecraft can be used to do experiments with ABCT. I know they wouldn't be perfect experiments (the actors wouldn't be the same), but they still might be interesting to look at.


Wheylous, you are right. This goes back to my post on yuor other thread about empirical proofs of Austrian Economics. I think Minecraft is, by far, the closest we have come to creating an experiment that can use empiricism to prove elements of austrian economics. But, as you said, it still isn't perfect, and these imperfections make it far from being able to prove anything empirically.

I do think that the creation of MMORPG games (Everquest being the first really popular one, I believe) has been an awesome advancement in gaming and I also think that, while imperfect as a real-world example, many Austrian principles can be shown empirically through these games to illustrate concepts. Most people are not anarchists, but I do find it interesting how there are rarely in game state's that actually have any bearing on the mechanics of the game. It's as if people sub-consciously know that anarchy is better and yearn for it.

Add to that how strange it is that software developers and computer engineers seem to be the #1 profession of those who frequent these boards - at least from what i have seen and read.

Oh yeah...another game that may do a better job with regards to the loss at death problem is Day Z, a mod for Arma 2 being made into a stand alone game as we speak. Its an MMORPG set in a zombie environment. All of the zombies are AI's, but all of the "survivors" are human players. There is Permadeath in a sense. If you die, you lose everything you have scavenged in that life, and have to start over in a random location with nothing but an empty, small back pack.

From what I have seen, encountering other human players is very risky. You never know if they are just going to blow your brains out or be friendly. The only indicator is their typing "friendly" to you. They could lie though. While imperfect, the normal riskiness one displays in most video games is drastically lessened. You would be surprised how much some of these players fear death. The simple act of procuring a fire arm (not including ammo) can take hours of dodging both zombie AIs and human players. Once you have survived long enough to get food, water, gun, ammo, blood bags, and other necessities, you've invested quite a bit of time to risk having it all lost from a risky encounter.

I think it's so interesting.


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 Post subject: Re: Minecraft economics
PostPosted: Tue Jan 22, 2013 11:54 am 
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Quote:
I do think that the creation of MMORPG games (Everquest being the first really popular one, I believe) has been an awesome advancement in gaming


Interestingly enough, they have been able to look at some contamination models through games as well! At one point World of Warcraft had some bug which caused a player to lose life over time and it was contagious (somehow). This led to massive panic and fleeing from cities:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corrupted_Blood_incident

Really cool, if you ask me! Especially because no one got hurt!

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 Post subject: Re: Minecraft economics
PostPosted: Fri Feb 01, 2013 5:37 am 
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Thanks guys! Well as for ABCT in Minecraft, sadly I don't think it could be expressed very easily - consider the fact that it requires a complex enough structure of production (three "stages" or more, and of course stages are very vague structures anyway), a wide range of goods, a non-neutral money that is capable of fluidly expanding and contracting, a complex price system, etc. The prerequisite of a business cycle is a complex monetary system, and for a complex monetary system you need thousands of players all operating under conditions akin to those of a real system - the approximation of which is similar to the first contention - that is, a model would not be useful as the only data used for analysis would essentially be replicated data from real-world situations (and would need to be in order to be any use). That said the logic used to reach the conclusions of ABCT can be deduced from the conditions of simple production etc. as in the case of the house.

In reference to the WoW example, it's very interesting to also see that that event occurred in a "society" of almost 2 million, clearly large enough to simulate certain situations in the real world. Minecraft's capacity to replicate such a situation is sadly not enough, as far as I can tell.


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