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Reputation Economics in RPGs

Some thoughts

Very briefly: Reputation Economics in RPGs Some thoughts by Gaxx is licensed under a Creative
Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Reputation economies are becoming something of a standard feature of transhuman/post-

singularity RPGs and I‟m never quite satisfied with their treatment. Here‟s why and what I
propose to remedy them:

Problem #1 What’s Different Here?

Many RPGs have a reputation economy as part of the setting and pretty much replicate a money-
based economy. Maybe they have a single „currency‟ or multiple sources for the reputation people
use to acquire objects and favours but essentially reputation is a new coin to be traded. Alice gives
Bob 10 units of reputation and Alice has 10 less whilst Bob has 10 more. You could easily
substitute “dollars”, “pounds” or whatever and it would be an entirely standard
economy. This isn’t a reputation-based economy it‟s just renaming the notes and coins.

Problem #2 Inflation / Deflation

OK – so some settings fix problem #1 by a system whereby Alice gives Bob 10 units of reputation
(let‟s call them Reps from now on [shortform 10R] for brevity) and Bob gains 10R whilst Alice still
retains all of her‟s or loses less than 10. Well – that‟s different certainly and allows people to be a
lot more free with their allocation of reputation. However, it suffers from an inevitable inflationary
situation and a nasty possibility of exploitation where Alice and Bob just keep traded Rep back and
forth, getting a net gain every trade.

The situation is even more complex when negative reputation allocations are considered. So – if
Alice applies a negative 10R to Bob then – if she gains 10R by doing so it‟s in her best interest to
keep throwing around negative Rep. If she loses Rep by doing so then it produces a quite
noticeable deflatory condition. If it‟s cost neutral then negative Rep allocation is consequence-free
which seems like it panders a little too much to the troll in us all…

A Possible Solution

OK – stay with me here as this does get a little complex. First of all – let‟s assume there‟s an
unbounded number of sources of reputation of different flavours – each moderated by different
groups. In our world think about it as each company and organisation either running their own
Rep system or favouring someone else‟s. Possibly hundreds of thousands Rep stores. Each of
those Rep stores have their own managers (on any conceivable pattern of governance) who can
add extra Rep to the store (from nowhere), remove it or allocate it from the store to anyone they
choose. Anyone who possesses any Rep of their own can also allocate it to anyone they choose
but doing so they lose it by doing so. If they allocate negative Rep they lose positive Rep on a
one-for-one basis.

So far – this sounding rather like it runs into both of the problems above. However – here‟s the
rub – every individual has can “trust” a given type of Rep more or less. The default multiplier is
Reputation Economics in RPGs
Some thoughts
1.0 but anyone can change that multiplier to anything they like – even to negative numbers if a
high Rep from a particular source indicates something bad for them. This trust system regulates
inflation and deflation – effectively punishing the arbiters of stores who are a little too eager to
dish out Rep. In addition – when an individual dishes out personal Rep they do so in the same
proportion as they own it.

So – Alice gives 100R to Bob (she‟s feeling generous). Alice owns 1000R from Slashdot (she‟s a
geek at heart) and 2000R from her employer EvilCorp and 1000R from The Samaritans where she
does the odd night shift. So – that 100R for Bob comes out as 25R Slashdot, 50R EvilCorp and
25R The Samaritans. This then affects quite what it is that Bob dishes out when he next gives our
Rep to someone. Furthermore – let‟s assume that Bob has a trust rating of 2.0 for Slashdot (he‟s
also a geek), 0.1 for EvilCorp and 1.0 for The Samaritans – in this case his total Rep gain, from his
perspective, is 50+5+25=80R. Not so good from his perspective as it is from Alice‟s. That said –
if he then chats to Charlie (trust levels: 1.0,5.0,1.0) – who checks out his rep score – Charlie sees
it has raised by a massive 300R.

As you can see from the above example – this is certainly no longer a victim of Problem #1. I‟m
not 100% convinced about it as a solution to Problem #2 although the trust levels should regulate
that. The new problem? Complexity… not an issue for a post-singularity society with ubiquitous
computer power but the GM might have more problems.