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RPG Superstar 2015

Knowledge Skills in the Information Age - A possible solution


Pathfinder Online

Goblin Squad Member

There's been some discussion recently about the difficulty of making knowledge-based skills in PFO, when the players have access to Information Age technology that will let them instantly share that knowledge with anyone in the world. Specifically with regards to character knowledge of prices in faraway markets.

It occurs to me that one possible solution to this problem is to make the actual underlying knowledge variable, so that the important thing in-game is the character's skill.

To illustrate the problem more concretely, consider the global market in PFO, with character's training Knowledge(Market) skills to get access to each hex's local prices. This creates a strong incentive for players to rely on a single character with this skill to provide them this information. Once any player has that information, then they can use the internet to distribute that information to anyone else in the world, instantly and at no cost to themselves, in a manner that is totally undetectable by the game.

Now consider a system where the price of any commodity varies by a random amount from +30% to +60% of list price - think of it as a "corruption penalty". The character's Knowledge(Market) skill for the local market where the commodity is listed not only gives him access to his unique price for that commodity, but it also reduces the corruption penalty.

In the latter system, it doesn't really matter if Bob can share the prices he sees with the whole world, because only Bob is guaranteed to get that price. Doesn't this create an incentive for players to train their own Knowledge(Market) skills? And for Companies to want access to a large number of characters with Knowledge(Market) skills in order to gain efficient access to the broadest market possible?

I realize this would be fairly complex to code, and there would be a significant amount of data to store the unique quoted price of each commodity for each player who has requested that price, until the item is no longer listed.

I also realize that there may be very strong reasons that I haven't considered why GW would not want the prices to vary at all from their list price. Although it seems to me this would be a very efficient, and easily modified money drain.

Goblinworks Executive Founder

What stops that knowledgeable character from becoming a middleman, offering prices between his price and the price offered to baseline characters?

It seems to me that your proposal would simply add a PC middleman to the process; everyone would still get the same effective price, by trading with a PC with the knowledge skill to get the best price.

Not that any of that is a valid objection, just the first-order consequences.

Goblin Squad Member

@Decius, you're right that's a likely consequence, but there are a couple of things that will mitigate it.

1. Each commodity would have a random markup that is unique to each middleman. That means that a particular middleman would not always have the best price, or even the best price at a certain market. Although as the middleman approaches the maximum skill for a particular market, I think he should also approach the best price for each commodity there. Perhaps something like a random 20-50% markup that would be reduced by the local Knowledge(Market) skill, and an additional random 1-10% permanent markup.

2. Creating a place for middlemen such as this might actually be a very beneficial thing overall.

That said, I'm actually most concerned about how this might unexpectedly impact the rest of GW's design, which was almost certainly brainstormed with the assumption that every player would have access to the exact price of every commodity at every market.

Goblinworks Executive Founder

That would make room for more than one broker in each location, but it might not make room for intermediate skill brokers. The only way for a broker to make any arbitrage is to be able to sell at a price higher than the lowest buy order; the broker with the highest sell price can clearly overbid anyone with a lower price.

Maybe a solution would be to have tiers of NPC buy orders: players with higher knowledge skill would be able to see more orders, and move a greater quantity of goods, but the (smaller) orders with the best prices would be publicized more, and available to more people. Just about everyone knows about the emergency repairs that need five tons of cobblestone, but you need connections to supply the thousand-ton order for the major road project at modest prices.

Once player settlements become the primary consumer, character skill would be replaced by player skill.

Goblin Squad Member

The key to me is making the various Knowledge skills have a significant in-game benefit to the character, rather than merely providing information to the player.

Goblinworks Executive Founder

Nihimon wrote:
The key to me is making the various Knowledge skills have a significant in-game benefit to the character, rather than merely providing information to the player.

Agreed-if implemented, knowledge skills need to have mechanical benefit, and those benefits should be indirectly shareable with other characters. (such as in the case of someone buying and warehousing goods because he can get better priced or volume), or finding lairs more quickly, or identifying the skeletal mage in the swarm of human skeletons.

Goblin Squad Member

Right,

Basicaly you can't control what information an individual PLAYER has access to...but you can control how a CHARACTER in a game can ACT on that knowledge.

For example, you can't control that Bob (the player) knowst that the NPC blacksmith in Darkmoor is buying iron ingots for 4 SP each. You can control whether Artemus the Silver-Tongued (Bob's character) can take advantage of that directly by selling iron ingots to the Blacksmith at that price.

It may well be that the Blacksmith isn't willing to pay that much to a merchant they don't know and have had no prior dealings with...it's just a matter of trust. Thus if Artemus wanted to take advantage of that price, he'd have to find a local internediary that DID have a connection with the Blacksmith to broker the deal for him (and presumably take a cut). That actually wouldn't be all that different from how things often work in real life.

Out of game, knowledge confers a theoretical advantage...but it still requires some in game element to fully realize that advantage.


Nihimon wrote:

There's been some discussion recently about the difficulty of making knowledge-based skills in PFO, when the players have access to Information Age technology that will let them instantly share that knowledge with anyone in the world. Specifically with regards to character knowledge of prices in faraway markets.

It occurs to me that one possible solution to this problem is to make the actual underlying knowledge variable, so that the important thing in-game is the character's skill.

To illustrate the problem more concretely, consider the global market in PFO, with character's training Knowledge(Market) skills to get access to each hex's local prices. This creates a strong incentive for players to rely on a single character with this skill to provide them this information. Once any player has that information, then they can use the internet to distribute that information to anyone else in the world, instantly and at no cost to themselves, in a manner that is totally undetectable by the game.

Now consider a system where the price of any commodity varies by a random amount from +30% to +60% of list price - think of it as a "corruption penalty". The character's Knowledge(Market) skill for the local market where the commodity is listed not only gives him access to his unique price for that commodity, but it also reduces the corruption penalty.

In the latter system, it doesn't really matter if Bob can share the prices he sees with the whole world, because only Bob is guaranteed to get that price. Doesn't this create an incentive for players to train their own Knowledge(Market) skills? And for Companies to want access to a large number of characters with Knowledge(Market) skills in order to gain efficient access to the broadest market possible?

I realize this would be fairly complex to code, and there would be a significant amount of data to store the unique quoted price of each commodity for each player who has requested that price, until the item is no longer listed.

That's an interesting take. I like your idea that players should have an incentive to train knowledge-based skills, but not sure a random corruption penalty is the way to implement that.

As a beginning or unskilled merchant, I would hate a varying or random charge tacked onto my goods other than a modest and universal ah cut/drain. I might understand that my lack of skill limits me from participating in the economy compared to a pure merchant and that there should be a difference in capability. But a large or random charge could force me to unlist my goods and go underground and sell word of mouth. On the other hand, too small a charge would not be an incentive to reduce it through skills. A black market is interesting to me in many respects but could be destructive to the devs' vision of an instant knowledge auction market.

I guess I'd rather see high variation in crafted goods determined by variation in crafting skill, resource quality and scarcity. And I mean something more complex than a system of green, blue, purple and orange coded items.

It would better financially and reputationally to reward players who have skill in either resource gathering or crafting and create knowledge-based pricing gaps.

I suppose that doesn't help pure merchants or middlemen though. Having access to additional markets beyond the local hex is a start, though in principle I don't think market omniscience is applicable to the fantasy genre. Cheaper contracts at higher skill levels? Cheaper transport tools/pack animals? Lower taxes? accounting tools? A derivatives market for the highest skilled? At some point a system and ui to support such incentives outgrows its genre.

Silver Crusade Goblin Squad Member

I like making knowledge skills worthwhile. I *don't* like messing with a crafter's listed price. Margins are always tight in digital economies, and having the game shift prices by as much as 10% could write a crafter right out of the market. When I say "I'm charging 50 gp for this _____", I should be able to charge that much. To do otherwise shafts crafters a bit too much.

Goblinworks Executive Founder

I was working under the impression that ONLY NPC orders would be subject to knowledge skills under the proposal.

Goblin Squad Member

@Decius, I think that as the game grows, there won't be any NPC orders.

For the record, I was proposing this for PC orders as well.

I can certainly understand why people would be upset if their customer had to pay significantly more than their list price. I figured it would all wash out if that were happening across the board.

If the Knowledge(Market) skill doesn't affect prices directly, what else could it affect to make it worthwhile? You simply can't make it affect access - no one would be able to buy anything. You can't make it provide information - that's going to be readily available on the internet.

If it can't affect prices, I imagine it won't have any effect at all.

Goblinworks Executive Founder

NPC buy orders might be the easiest faucet to manage without making significant changes. It provides a floor for the products bought, and sell orders cap costs.

Goblin Squad Member

I don't think artificial floors and ceilings are compatible with a "virtual economy".

I fully agree that it would work as you suggest, and there's another, much earlier thread, where I proposed exactly that. As I said there, if NPCs actually make up a significant majority of the market, then it's impossible for players to conspire to perturb the market.

I'm just not sure that's compatible with their goals.

Goblin Squad Member

I'd think Knowledge(Market) might allow the character to view the contents of shops and stalls in distant hexes. Say, the current hex at level 1, 1 additional hex range for each level gained, 1 additional hex at capstone, for range of 20 hexes.

I'd think that having recent sales be shown in real time online is very possible. I think that when a shopkeeper puts an item into his shop with a price on it, it can be posted to the web. It's all well and good that pricing information is up on the web, but I doubt it will all be real-time and accurate. The archetype merchant could basically inspect all shops in a target hex to see what is on the market at a given moment.

Could he post that on line? Yes, but when he finished inspecting prices and posting them for 50 hexes, the shop contents will already have changed. What's the target population? 100 people per hex, online, on average? Even with a small number of them being merchants, that's a lot of constant activity across the map. I think there's room for such a capability.

Goblin Squad Member

@Urman, if I were going to post that info to the web, I'd automate it. It wouldn't take me long, and then it would be up-to-date.

Ryan has also addressed this as the main reason he's planning on allowing instant, complete access to all prices to all players - if you limit it by skills like Knowledge(Market), then that's going to give an unfair advantage to players who are willing to, in effect, cheat.

Even if it's impossible to post it accurately and in near real time on the internet (which it's definitely not impossible), then there would still be a significant advantage to any group that had a single character available in their organization who had the skill.

Goblin Squad Member

If PFO's mechanism for providing price visibility does removes most of the possible functionality from a skill like Knowledge(Market), then I agree the skill will be of limited utility. Limited utility mean either the skill is axed, or is very cheap to learn.

NPC buy orders does appear one avenue where the skill might be of use. I think that depends on if PFO allows us to buy resources like iron and cloth from "off-board" markets. At a premium to current player prices, of course - why would the off-board merchant not know the market as well?

I could see supply lines stretching back to the NPC port towns if that were the case, and the ability of players to eventually create river ports as the game progresses.

Silver Crusade Goblin Squad Member

To be honest, I've never seen "Kn: Markets" in print. I can somewhat figure out how to make some of the other skills work, but seeing as Knowledge Markets isn't in the PnP version, it is hard to make a comparission.

For the "Big Four" (religion, nature, planes, arcana), those could be used in combat to determine just how tough that thing is. Tier 1 success, you can see the actual number of hitpoints it currently has (not the HP bar, but the numbers that make it up), Tier 2 success, you can see what its special attacks are (and their cooldown timers, perhaps), Tier 3 success, you can see its feats, skills, and stats (effectively everything).

As for the rest, they seem like they could be handy for settlement building or exploration. Kn: Engineering should be obvious for constructing buildings faster, dungeoneering for spotting hidden doors or features in a dungeon, etc.

Goblinworks Executive Founder

Price floors and ceilings are an undesirable side effect of allowing resource gathering to generate coin.

Goblin Squad Member

I see two possible approaches discussed here: modeling the real world, and designing game levers.

The first approach is to ask "How do we represent something (in this case market efficiencies) in the game?" I think that's what you started with Nihimon--trying to work out some kind of thoughtful instantiation of a game mechanic that is loosely based of a real world phenomenon. I can see why you would do that, and then be frustrated by possible effects of that modelling:

Nihimon wrote:

If the Knowledge(Market) skill doesn't affect prices directly, what else could it affect to make it worthwhile? You simply can't make it affect access - no one would be able to buy anything. You can't make it provide information - that's going to be readily available on the internet.

If it can't affect prices, I imagine it won't have any effect at all.

Another way though to look at this is to ask, "How do we design levers for players in the game that will the enhance the game experience?" In that sense, player decisions like assigning attribute points, skill training, etc. are levers that players pull to get game outputs: Max points in Wisdom and I get better will saves, make a better divine spellcaster, etc. But there's an opportunity cost: I make a crappier arcane caster, fighter, rogue, etc. If I put more skill points in knowledge arcana I get (something), and pay an opportunity cost on other things I might have invested in. At this point, the issue is about balancing the return and costs of different levers, so that different players can have individually satisfying game experiences while preserving the overall experience.

So if we want to put in any skill, we need to think about what benefit it gives you, and make sure that benefit isn't unbalanced, and not worry about the mechanics. For example, things like BAB and AC are really notional proxies, and have very straightforward mechanics.

Why not something as simple as a buying discount on the player's end (so that PC and NPC transactions are equal and not perversely incentivized)? You choose to put more effort into being an adventure, you have an advantage in that path. You choose to put more effort into being a crafter/trader, you make your moolah that way. Either way works, and players have more good choices about what levers to pull to maximize their game experience.

Goblin Squad Member

@Mbando, I appreciate your analysis. I have a tendency to get into the weeds when trying to solve problems, and I occasionally forget what started me down a path in the first place.

When you say "a buying discount", what exactly do you mean?

It sounds like you mean a discount for the purchaser even when buying from another PC. If that's the case, do you see this as coming out of the seller's price? Or coming out of an automatic increase over the seller's price?

Specifically, if Adam lists an item for 100 coins, and Bob and Chuck both want to buy it, and Bob has a very low rank in Knowledge(Markets) and Chuck has a very high rank, what prices would Bob and Chuck each pay?

Goblin Squad Member

Transaction 1: Adam sells Bob (knowledge discount 0%) a widget for 100 gp.

  • Adam loses a widget, gains 100 gp.
  • Bob looses 100 gp, gains a widget.

Transaction 2: Adam sells Chuck(knowledge discount x%) a widget for 100 gp.

  • Adam loses a widget, gains 100 gp.
  • Chuck looses (100-x) gp, gains a widget.

Goblinworks Executive Founder

Any system in which Chuck loses x Coin and Adam gains x+c coin (c>0) is broken and trivial to abuse as a faucet.

If coin is destroyed instead, then players will find workarounds.

A key fact is that market inefficiencies already are present in some form. Trying to abstract "market costs" only works if you abstract the transaction. The abstracted transaction would behave like the WoW auction house, in that transportation is free, information costs only the time needed to interpret it, and the buyer and seller never interact.

Which, now that I actually look at it, those might be appropriate.

Goblin Squad Member

Decius, I think you may have misread my suggestion.

Goblin Squad Member

Possible case - Adam and Chuck are alts belonging to one player, and Chuck has 10% discount. Player opens the transaction window between his two characters. Chuck loses 90 coin while Adam gains 100 coin. +10 coin for the player.

Wouldn't it work out that way?

Goblin Squad Member

Mbando wrote:

Transaction 1: Adam sells Bob (knowledge discount 0%) a widget for 100 gp.

Adam loses a widget, gains 100 gp.
Bob looses 100 gp, gains a widget.

Transaction 2: Adam sells Chuck(knowledge discount x%) a widget for 100 gp.

Adam loses a widget, gains 100 gp.
Chuck looses (100-x) gp, gains a widget.

Mbando wrote:
Decius, I think you may have misread my suggestion.

I don't believe it's being misread, maybe you have mistyped, I've read over it about 6 times and I'm seeing the exact same exploit that Urman and Mbando sees. Adam is gaining more coin then chuck is losing. Thus x coins are created every trade, and if chuck and adam are working together, then they can keep tossing the widget back and forth and generate infinite coin.

Lets take it a step further, chuck and adam both have discount 5% and start with 100g each.
Chuck sells adam widget for 100 coin, adam spends 95 coin.
Adam sells chuck widget for 100 coin, chuck spends 95 coin
Chuck and adam have 105 coin each and can now repeat the back and forth ad infinium.

Goblin Squad Member

Mbando wrote:
Transaction 1: Adam sells Bob (knowledge discount 0%) a widget for 100 gp.
  • Adam loses a widget, gains 100 gp.
  • Bob looses 100 gp, gains a widget.

Transaction 2: Adam sells Chuck(knowledge discount x%) a widget for 100 gp.

  • Adam loses a widget, gains 100 gp.
  • Chuck looses (100-x) gp, gains a widget.

That surprised me. I would have expected something more like this:

Transaction 1: Adam sells Bob (knowledge discount 0%) a widget for 100 gp.

  • Adam loses a widget, gains 100 gp.
  • Bob looses 100 + T gp, gains a widget.

Transaction 2: Adam sells Chuck(knowledge discount x%) a widget for 100 gp.

  • Adam loses a widget, gains 100 gp.
  • Chuck looses (100 + T - x) gp, gains a widget.

Where T is a transaction cost that is added to all sales, paid by the buyer. This actually would have been in line with my suggestion.

In your example, coin will enter the game via sales such as this, which I think would create runaway inflation, especially as soon as Adam and Chuck realized they could turn a profit just by selling the same item over and over.

Goblinworks Executive Founder

Nihimon wrote:
Mbando wrote:
Transaction 1: Adam sells Bob (knowledge discount 0%) a widget for 100 gp.
  • Adam loses a widget, gains 100 gp.
  • Bob looses 100 gp, gains a widget.

Transaction 2: Adam sells Chuck(knowledge discount x%) a widget for 100 gp.

  • Adam loses a widget, gains 100 gp.
  • Chuck looses (100-x) gp, gains a widget.

That surprised me. I would have expected something more like this:

Transaction 1: Adam sells Bob (knowledge discount 0%) a widget for 100 gp.

  • Adam loses a widget, gains 100 gp.
  • Bob looses 100 + T gp, gains a widget.

Transaction 2: Adam sells Chuck(knowledge discount x%) a widget for 100 gp.

  • Adam loses a widget, gains 100 gp.
  • Chuck looses (100 + T - x) gp, gains a widget.

Where T is a transaction cost that is added to all sales, paid by the buyer. This actually would have been in line with my suggestion.

In your example, coin will enter the game via sales such as this, which I think would create runaway inflation, especially as soon as Adam and Chuck realized they could turn a profit just by selling the same item over and over.

Seller gains price P.

Default buyer pays price P plus transaction cost T, where T=f(P).
Skilled buyer pays P+(T*D), for discount 0<D<1

Goblin Squad Member

@Urman: Oops--thanks for unpacking that--I wasn't thinking about alts selling between in each other. Duh--that wouldn't work well.

@Nihom:

1) Maybe the transaction cost reduction you like would work. If transactions aren't infinite--if the creation of goods and the time required for a transaction isn't trivial--then a lever that gives you a small advantage in transactions would be balanced with a lever that gives you an advantage in killing monsters.

2) I'm not really worried about faucets and sinks, because I suspect there's no way for a game to have currency stability through automation. Be interested to hear another perspective on this, but I can't think of anything that you could use as an indicator for monetary error--there's no equivalent to gold in a game world: something that is stable in value and indexes the size of an economy. So absent a human controlled currency board that abstracted from a general rise in all prices across the board a monetary change, as opposed to an economic change, I can't see how you have currency stability. No idea if such a human board could even adjust fast enough to respond meaningfully too.

Anyone know of a game system that has achieved currency stability?

Goblin Squad Member

Best I've seen is Wurm. However, there are limited faucets - no cash drops from mobs. There is some sale of items to NPCs, but they receive limited funds each month, and when they run out, that's it. The NPC coin faucet is filled by coin drains of upkeep on settlements and their guards. Almost all of the coin in the game is bought from the store, so the in game currency is tied directly to real currency.

Most new players there are stunned when they have to deal with no cash drops and merchants that don't buy everything you bring them. But it works in that there isn't rampant inflation.

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