A Design Exercise: RTS Economy Systems

23 Jul

The challenge this week is going to be detailing the functionality of an economy system for an RTS game and what kind of gameplay that system will complement.

Lets start by detailing what currently exists, and how we’re defining an economic system:

An economic system involves resource acquisition, and implies the spending of a resource or resources.  What is defined as a resource doesn’t matter so much as long as the player is making choices that involve the influx and expenditure of that resource in order to gain a game advantage.  The norm is to acquire a resource of some kind which can then be spent, allowing the production of a unit.

  • A game like Chess has no economy system.  Thus, players are much more invested in their units and are forced to really think about where they’re placing game pieces.  You can say that now players are focused on unit economy — and yes, they are having to manage a ‘resource’ in conserving their units — but they cannot spend anything or acquire more resources, therefore no economic system is in place.
  • The Total War series has an overmap with its own economy system, while actual battles operate with almost as much deliberation as Chess.  The overmap deals with one resource: money, and allows the player to set up different streams of revenue.  Sacking towns, setting up traders on trade items, establishing trade agreements with other nations, and setting up land and sea trade between your cities all increase your cash flow.  Conversely, military upkeep drains your coffers and so it is necessary to maintain a balance.
  • The Ground Control and World in Conflict games operate with a more flexible economic system.  Players start with a certain amount of money and can call in troops to land on the battlefield.  Killing enemies and capturing more drop zones or strategic locations gives players more money, which they then spend on bringing in more troops — or as is the case with the Ground Control games, you can choose to upgrade your dropship that brings troops to the battlefield.
  • Games like Age of Empires and Warcraft operate with multiple resources.  Players attain these resources from the environment and spend them, in different combinations, on units.  The resource cost combination is usually complementary to the game’s strategy: ranged units may require wood and gold, while melee units will require food and gold — therefore denying an enemy access to wood denies him access to ranged units.

So an RTS economy can be nonexistant, flexible and not especially central to gameplay, or it can determine the flow of battles.

For this challenge there are no real design constraints per se, as we are not aiming to fit something into an existing system.  Obvious technical and development constraints should be taken into account, but since we’re proposing a system, we’re going to establish goals.


  • The economy system you come up with should support or encourage a style or pacing of gameplay in an RTS.  How can you design a system that makes an RTS play faster or meaner, slower or friendlier.  You might try to design a system that defeats early rushing or overly defensive ‘turtle’ strategies.
  • Keep it simple.  While the applications of an economic system can develop complexity, the starting system should not be complex.  While Age of Empires allows for many strategies surrounding resources, the idea of extracting and spending numbers of resources is very simple.
  • Try to find an interesting balance between economic and militaristic action.  Maybe your system involves trading military units with other players as a resource, or has units actively fighting over resources that they must bring back to their own base to use.

Have fun!


6 Responses to “A Design Exercise: RTS Economy Systems”

  1. Duncan July 24, 2008 at 2:34 pm #

    Ok, this is a little fuzzy. It would take a great deal of design work to work this down from a high concept to a working model for an economy system. It’s inspired by the RTS games where you can design your own units.

    All creation requires the single resource of money. The concept is that the player makes money from designing and selling units. When a player has designed a unit they must create a prototype, or prototypes before they can market it, this does not cost anything but takes a period of time based on the complexity of the unit. The value of the unit is partially based on it’s complexity, but also on the perceived effectiveness. Rewarding players who can design units for a specific purpose and then employ them to it.

    There are two main revenue streams for players. One is manufacturing to order. Groups they are not in active conflicts with order an amount of units and the player does the manufacturing. This is orientated more to micromanagement, offering a long term trickle of money; as well as a good way of earning money early on in game. The second revenue stream is to sell the original blue print of the weapon. This gives you instant money, but could mean that the design could then be sold on to a player you have, or will be having, an active conflict with in future.

    The economy would be drive by each player having a set advantage in manurfacture and design. One player might have the technology to produce tanks that are cheaper than anyone else another may have the ability to add extra armor to units that others cannot. The only way to aquire there advantages is by either buying their units or blue prints.

    It could have all sort of interesting implications for a shifting economy and meta-gaming. Players could find themselves in the position of having there own units turned against them if a faction they had previously been selling to turned on them. Specialties and terrain would cause shifts in market trends, if a player shifts from being allied with a mostly Ariel enemy to being their enemy they are going to need to start buying units from whoever creates anti-air units.

    Overall it’s a very risky idea. Everything from the design process to the unique abilities of each faction would have to be perfectly balanced for the whole system to operate correctly. Players would have to be carefully guided into the idea of trading with one another as the game would become stagnant and even possibly unplayable fast without any risk taking.

  2. nickhalme July 24, 2008 at 8:37 pm #

    Interesting submission!

    I think the misconception with this exercise is that implementing such a system in terms of code and balancing would be complex — yes it would be.

    But the detailing of the functionality of the system that governs it needs to be logically sound, but doesn’t need to be (and probably shouldn’t be) complex.

    Everything starts somewhere; that’s all this is calling for, not documentation on how it would be implemented — so in my opinion this is not fuzzy at all!

  3. Mr. Sandman October 13, 2008 at 6:50 pm #

    I am in a college group currently trying to program a resource system. We want to have two resources, one of them being unique to each race we have. Does anyone know the basic logic system that goes into programming this? Basically, where do I start? Thanks

  4. drive by shouter July 21, 2009 at 9:22 am #

    Most games use a magical stockpile: you mine some minerals and two thousand km further they are immediatly available. I’d like to see a game where you harvest Resource Units (RU’s) into containers, which you than need to move around.

    You could then use up these RU’s by bringing them to a construction site and converting them to a building. A factory would need RU’s before it can produce units. Some of the bigger units would possibly require RU’s to fire their canons.

    This would allow for a mechanic in which you can imagine , say, routes over which you transport your RU’s back to your base/outposts. Routes which can then of course be attacked 🙂 You could encircle an outpost and prevent it from receiving RU’s.

    But to really make sieges possible I would also add a fuel system. All units consume fuel every turn (exactly how much depends on what they’re doing but it’s always > 0). This fuel can be created by refining RU’s, which can be done in large scale (building) or small scale (some kind of unit).

    Fuel would allow us to starve opponents, and would make it necessary for an army on the move to keep in contact with the rest of your economy…

  5. Issac Maez January 16, 2010 at 3:16 pm #

    Hey, just read this article, very informative. I will definately be coming back. Can’t wait to read through some more of these blogs…

  6. Daphne Dickson February 11, 2010 at 3:54 pm #

    I cannot say how much I like this MMO, gaming it is just very good! It is not 1 game that is better than this game! Dont trust me me?! Check it yourself!

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