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A number of questions exist on stack-exchange discussing feudal economies in RPGs, indicating a number of essays regarding feudal economics in RPG.

What equivalent essay analyses exist of game capitalisms in "modern" era RPGs? What meta-analyses or reviews of this area exist, if any?

  • Consider the "modern" period to include the early modern period where commodity production or long range trade exists. If you're playing a game set in Stephenson's Baroque Cycle setting, it counts.
  • Consider the "modern" period to include all near futures.
  • Modern fantasy etc. is fine, even if there's an "alternate" economy in fantasy elements, as long as there is a "story" economy that claims or has been analysed as a capitalist economy. "Sword and magic" fluff that explicitly structures the economy as capitalistic (as opposed to a "failed understanding of feudalism") is fine.
  • Similarly, regardless of the game's reward structure, this is more about the crunch and fluff of pricing in a system that is meant to present the in "story" world economy as capitalistic—rather than a crunch that in and of the rules themselves attempts to structure player rewards versus efforts at the "game" level as a capitalism.
  • Feel free to be inclusive about "what is capitalism" based on the RPG essayist's own beliefs about what constitutes capitalism.

I'm quite versed in the variety of "real world" political-economic and economic analyses of capitalism-par-capitalism, I'm more looking at analyses of "story" capitalisms or reward-loot-purchase cost, or "evil corporations as characters" and capitalist explanations of these NPCs changes.

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Not directly what you are looking for so I'll just leave them in this comment. How online games teach us about economics, where the Everquest Economy turned out to be market based. Modern economic theory applied to WOW in Weberian Approach to Understanding the Virtual Economy of WOW and Virtual Econmies in general. –  Joshua Drake May 9 '12 at 18:04
I'm not sure this question is specific enough - I'm having a hard time trying to work out what you're actually looking for. Is it analyses of economic mechanics for a system, analyses of economic details in fictional settings, or something else? –  Aesin May 13 '12 at 0:34
(Also, I was honestly convinced that I was going to go onto e23 and find GURPS Economics 4th ed. Alas, there is only GURPS Low-Tech Companion 3: Daily Life and Economics). –  Aesin May 13 '12 at 0:36
How is this question different from "What analyses exist of modern capitalist economies?"? –  Joe May 17 '12 at 22:01
There's a gap between the work of MM Postan and suggesting we replace a gp payouts with an sp payouts. That gap seems to be filled with analysis of fantasy medieval economics in RPGs. Similarly there seems to be a gap between Marx, Keynes or Hayek and Pentex Corporation, or of the price of Miniguns in corporate warfare, or of the story purpose and impact of modern fiscally motivated adventuring and loot payoffs. I'm not aware of who fills this gap. –  Samuel Russell May 18 '12 at 0:41

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

In describing the setting of Eclipse Phase, the tension between economic systems is a major theme. The game describes a world that has recently reached post-scarcity (and even more recently undergone a huge catastrophe), where humanity has populated the solar system. Much of the game can be read as a critique of capitalism, and it is very well researched with loads of references.

In the books describing the setting, the authors authors devote a lot of space to describe the economic systems, which they bunch into three major categories:

  • Old economy -- old style consumer-capitalism, with large mega-corporations as the major players
  • Transitional economy -- a blend of old and new economy, with some goods and services being available under supply/demand-set prices, wheres other (more trivial) matters are subject to free availability, gift-economy or reputation based economy.
  • New economy -- Post-scarcity economies, where access to those commodities/services (people's time, for instance) that are still scarce is regulated by "reputation" (compare to Stack Exchange).

A thorough summary of the economic models can be found here:

http://eclipse-phase.wikispaces.com/The+Economy .

The whole game is licensed under Creative Commons, so if you find them online, you are perfectly free to download it for further review. Much of it, including the core material, can be found here:


though for the more recent books (including "Rimward," which goes into the "New economy" more in depth) you will have to look elsewhere.

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Although this is a tangent, if you are interested in a reputation economy you should look at Doctorow's "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" –  TimothyAWiseman May 1 at 21:32

A friend of mine is writing a bachelor essay on the topic of virtual game economies. His academy have given him a rather sizable grant, with the point that it is "a ever-growing market that has not yet been covered academically in any paper or print." So it would seem not many have been writing about this, even if it is a very actual concept.

There have been some magazine articles brushing the concepts, and some interesting talks about this, often in context with either BitCoins or Second Life.

One game that have been discussed much is Vampire : The Masquerade. Since economy is essential for running underground operations, no matter how supernatural you might be.

Also, the comments already given shows a fair deal of good articles.

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Thank you. I've avoided "cow clickers"'s economics because of their unique "export" situation, and the willingness of the state-monopoly of the game provider to manipulate the "gold-farming" to real dollars benefits dramatically. Corey Doctorow discusses this in his didactic post-Trotskyist young adult novels. But I fear that this moves too far from RPGstudies and into Gamestudies. Given it's popularity, the absence of analysis of VtM/WoD economies is unusual. Thank you for your answer. –  Samuel Russell Jun 5 '12 at 1:55

The article on moving to an sp based economy I think shows why articles like this aren't realy necessery for the modern world. It's because the economics of D&D et all are utterly, hopelessly broken and yet few people playing them notice. They are completely unlike the real economic realities of the kind of society they purport to represent, and so there's plenty of scope for articles pointing out the absurdities, describing real medieval or ancient world economics which is likely to be unfamiliar to the reader, and showing how to use that information in games.

If the economics of modern RPGs were that utterly unrealistic, it would be blindingly obvious to us. However because we and the authors of such games live in the real world and are very familiar with it, modern era games tend to be fairly realistic in how they present economic issues.

In fact it occurs to me that the reason D&D style games tend to be so economicaly unrealistic is because they use a modern, capitalist economic model for their worlds. Starting characters are (often) educated, middle class up-and-comers with cash in their pockets and plenty of scope for upward mobility. Dungeon bashing is an equal-opportunities career open to exploitation by freelance contractors. It's the modern world with swords, armour and wooden funiture. The articles we have about fantasy economics are about how to make it less like the modern world, because articles about how to make game settings like the modern world realy aren't necessery. We know what that's like because we live in it, hence an article like the one about replacing gp with sp would be redundant.

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This truly explains it. I would point out that most fantasy RPGs "purport to represent" societies only loosely based on history. With magic and healing readily available and dungeons abounding where someone with skill with a sword could go in and come out with gold, the middle ages just might have had more of a middle class and at least the chance of more social mobility for those able to "adventure". Aside from that, fantastic answer that explains it well. –  TimothyAWiseman Jun 8 '12 at 16:31

Eve Online has a paid economist who does yearly studies on various effects and changes in the hyper-capitalist fake economy that is eve-online. His report on Eve's economy at EVEFanfest 2012 is a good example of his work.

You might focus on highly devalued currencies against newer currencies or the balance of "hard" (gold, iron, any valuable mineral, etc.) commodities vs soft money (basically any fiat currency that isn't backed by commodities).

Ina Lola has a good point with alternate currencies like bitcoin (digital currency tied to gold, swiss bank account style, you only have an account number).

A lot of stuff from the cyberpunk genre goes over what could happen if corporate power undermines and/or replaces the power of the state as well. RPG wise Cyberpunk goes over this quite a bit.

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Thank you for your answer. As I noted above in relation to "cow clickers" such as EVE, the intervention of the state/monopoly to maintain a positive balance of trade with external hard currency economies is unusual. EVE is probably one of the better datapoints given the "hands off" attitude, highly developed meta-gaming, and serious analysis. The exchange rate of "cow clicking" in EVE to USD, we see that the EVE wage is about USD0.002/hour on 2009 mission data, through USD1.56/hour on mining. Interesting figures, but how does the metagame relate to "roleplaying" cf: RPGstudies. Thanks! –  Samuel Russell Jun 5 '12 at 2:04

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