D20: Meaningless Currency, or “What am I going to do with all this money?”


By on May 6, 2013 at 1:55 pm

With Metro: Last Light due out shortly, I’ve been playing some Metro 2033 to refresh my memory when it comes both to Artyom’s story and the mechanics of the game. Before anyone chimes in to say that Metro isn’t an RPG — yes, thankyou. I already know that. I’m using the game as an illustration of something that I wished RPGs did, and that’s give currency some kind of real meaning within the game.

In the vast majority of RPGs, gold (or rupees, or whatever currency is accepted in that particular world or realm), functions much like a de-facto extra statistic, and one that is simultaneously the most powerful and most meaningless in game, enabling players to buy the most powerful weapons, armour and abilities available whilst also being fairly easy to obtain either through questing or via farming. This empty currency, whilst effecting the balance of the game, really has little impact on the player when it comes to the decision whether or not to spend said currency.

This adherence to an artificial and meaningless currency is not a new phenomenon. It was relatively easy in the early Gold Box D&D games to amass enough money that you needn’t worry about it running out, and even beloved genre classics like Planescape: Torment fell into a similar trap with players being able to quickly amass a fortune they could never spend, even after buying the most powerful spells and weapons available in the game.

Whilst there’s nothing overtly wrong with this approach to in game currencies, the more games I play the more frustrating I find it. Without having any significant meaning to the player outside of being something to collect and use to for upgrades, artificial currencies, for me at least, are starting to feel somewhat divorced from the rest of the game and the world as a whole.

This is where Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light come in. In those games, the currency of the land used for buying new weapons and gear is the very ammunition you need for said weapons. It’s a simple but clever system that forces the player to think about every purchase, making them seem far more weighty and meaningful in the long run.

The upcoming, New Zealand-made ARPG, Path of Exile takes a similar path (geddit). The game features a number of different crafting materials that allow players to upgrade items, improve skill gems, enchant desirable objects, respec points in your passive skill tree and generally make life in Wraeclast a little easier. These crafting materials also serve as the currency in game, both for the AI shops in each quest hubs and for inter-player barters. Every time the player makes a purchase or barters for an item they are forced to weigh up the value of the item compared to the value of the crafting material, weighing up the pros of an immediate character upgrade against perhaps needing that crafting material somewhere down the line.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with an artificial and all-but-meaningless currency, and in some ways I can see the appeal of amassing huge wealth in game and being able to spend said wealth with impunity — but I see more appeal in the opposite approach. Much like in the real world, I find a purchase has more meaning and is more satisfying if I’ve had to work and save for it or otherwise sacrifice. Without simply aping the mechanics of the games I’ve mentioned I’m not entirely sure how to go about making gaming currencies more meaningful, but I’m sure there are some bright sparks out there who can find a way.

4 comments (Leave your own)

I’d have to disagree that gold or rupees in other RPG’s have no worth to the same accord as that in Metro 2033.

Time really does equal money, usually those who invest the most time get the most gold, to spend that gold is really to spend your time, which for many people, is the most valuable thing you can freely give away yet sell at the same time in the labor market. That is probably why there is such varying opinions of its worth.

I do like the way currency is handled in Metro 2033 however, it makes sense within the stories context and enhances gameplay, but I don’t see the need for every game to follow in its lead.

Thanks for the thought-provoking article though, really made me think about what I value more in game currencies.


I guess the flipside of this is some games can make money far too important, such as Diablo 3, as the way the auction house was integrated in the game, it was easier to farm for gold and buy an item, than to farm for an item. More of a balance is certainly desirable.


makena: I guess the flipside of this is some games can make money far too important, such as Diablo 3, as the way the auction house was integrated in the game, it was easier to farm for gold and buy an item, than to farm for an item. More of a balance is certainly desirable.

D3 has to be the worst currency implementation in the history of gaming, god only knows why they thought it was a good idea to launch a real money auction house with reusable items.

The problem with the currency format used in Metro is that it only works in a totally linear game, where grinding is impossible. It can’t really work in an RPG and POE is a good example of that, it still just devolves into an ever more meaningless grind.


For me, in-game money is far more enjoyable and meaningful when it allows you to enjoy the additional pleasures of a game. For example, spending on a house that is not necessary, spending on appearance, looking after your in-game family (if applicable) etc. Though for me most games fall short of those features and you still have way more money than you need, even if you’re a big spender.

Games like Fable stood out to me because of such features. After spending some time on battling and questing I enjoyed the breaks by spending some of my gold on home improvements and gifts for the family. It made me feel a little prouder for the riches I gathered from my adventuring.

Another approach, which I quite enjoyed is letting your money take the game to a new level. For example, the Mount&Blade series. The game needs some good polishing (mods help improve it) but it was very indepth and allowed the player to use their money to take them to different stages of the game.

Initially the first stage involves:
- Your a nobody who needs to not only improve in skill but do basic tasks and fight bandits to gain the money necessary to buy weapons, armour and food for yourself and guards.

The Next stage evolves to:
- Your a somebody and capable of looking after yourself. You have spent enough on quality gear and can afford a decent force of troops to help defeat any bandits out there. But now you may consider spending this money on an elite army who require large sums of gold for upgrades and weekly upkeep. Suddenly the wealth you originally acquired is not enough if you want to move up in the world as a military vassal of a kingdom! And you may need to spend large sums of gold on developing businesses or improving your fiefs for long term income.

The Highest Step:
- You want to be a King of your own faction. You now need to make more than twice as much gold than you did as a vassal in order to afford large patrols guarding your towns. You have structures to build and your own vassals require some of your cities to accumulate money for themselves to be both happy and of any military use. Managing your Kingdom and winning wars can be very costly.

The beauty of it all is how money can increase your options in the game and how you play it. You don’t have to become King in order to conquer the world. You don’t have to conquer the world. You can play the entire game in the first stage and simply accumulate the bits of money you earn. Or stick as a vassal and do your best to invest in assets and accumulate large piles of gold for your fiefs needs. Or just don’t. Be a Bandit and just raid the trade caravans passing by and avoid faction forces as you cant afford the army strong enough to win in such a fight. In the end gold will always be spent one way or another, how much and why is up to you. But there will never be more than enough until you have the world by the balls.

That right there is a clever way of utilising in-game money.

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