Slightly before Runescape there was another online world I participated in. The game was called A-Tractor. Its name was deriven from the fact that you start out in the game with a tractor. It was more or less an open world economic game. The user-interface was game client based, and was rendered in 3d. As soon as you logged in, you yourself are represented in the game in a tractor. Your character has needs in the form of thirst, hunger, and fuel. To decrease the amount of food and drink you need to consume, you have to purchase a house and stock it with food. You can purchase your house or obtain the skill from the school. The game servers are called worlds, and you can log into any world and your characters are unique to each world with their own inventories. The worlds last as long as the owner of the world keeps the particular game, or “season” to equate it to sports. The world I played on was called Zion, hosted by Zaruba.
In the game you could acquire skills, get jobs at other players buildings, earn income, and spend it either on your own businesses or goodies produced by others businesses. To start out a world, Zaruba would create a few “Government owned” buildings. A bank, which was a place for users to store their funds in an interest baring account; A school which provided 1 free skill to the user, and sold the rest. Skills could be building houses, agricultural buildings, industrial buildings, towns, or various working skills.
Personally, I would start out by entering the world, learning Build Housing as my first skill, and build my own house. This action also consumed resources (a few of which we started with). I would then proceed to use my only skill and remaining lumber and whatever other resource was required to build houses to build more, and mark them as “For Sale” so other players could buy them. Players could build farms which produced resources like lumber or corn, this corn would be consumed by manufacturing that created food out of these resources. This farms themselves required fertilizer, thus creating a system where every building was dependent on another. By hiring workers and supplying a wage, the buildings would receive a bonus in production. Owners of buildings could not have produce items from one building and put it in another one they owned. The game marked them and was aware when players attempted to do this. This prevented them from having monopolys. Instead, players had to mark their wares for sale, and have to rely on players buying the goods from one building, and selling the goods into another at whatever rate the owner put the “buy” prices at. Naturally, they would have to set their buy and sell prices that made it worthwhile for a player to complete the transactions for them. Thus a full economic system. I was never aware if there was a limit of the amount of consecutive users that could be online at one time, but the worlds did have a few thousand users each.
It wasn’t until a few years later that I returned to A-tractor to try my hand again at an economic based online world. I had previously played Zion II, and quit before its completion. I was one of the top 10 players. When I returned, it was now Zion VII (the 7th world/season), and just so happened to be a remake of Zion II. I adopted the same strategy of building and selling houses to players. When I had obtained the funds, I moved to producing buildings within my own town. Towns were required before buildings could be built, and the owner of a town could set the taxes. I became a formidable player in the economic world not only by building up all the agricultural, industrial, manufacturing, and retail buildings I could (forming monopoly’s and relying on help from individuals to bypass the inherent monopoly protection, but also taking advantage of a particular feature of the game.
Every so often buildings would appear for sale for only 10% of their actual cost. For example, houses defaulted at 250s, yet would go up for sale automatically for 25s (s standing for shillings. Shillings and pence were the currency in the game). I came to realize these buildings were going on sale because their owners had perished in the game. They would perish because they would either lack food, or not have logged on for 14 days. I also came to found out there was a command you could type to find out the last time a player had logged on. I began to take note of which players had not logged on for extended periods, and in exactly 14 days, their property would automatically go up for sale for only 10% of their cost. I would set alarms to warn me and log on at these times and buy up all of their property, must of which I would then resell for their full value.
Then the owner announced there would be an auctioning of the government buildings, which would put every building in the game in control of the players. At this point I was by far the richest players (our wealth was displayed in leaderboards). At this point I started looking for a way in which I could make this benefit me. I already owned versions of every government building (accept a bank, which provides no benefit to an owner anyway). Our of the 10 towns that existed in the world, I owned 6 of them. 1 was government owned, and 3 were owned by other players. I concluded that only a few players must of invested the funds into the skill to build towns (it cost 2500s, and was rather quite costly). Again, using a in game command, you could see every player that had learned certain skills. The list only had 4 individuals with the skill, and only one of them was a current player, me. I quietly outright bought two the the towns by offering their owners double what it cost to build them (so, 5000s each). And set my eyes own the government town itself, and the school- the only building in the game offering the “build town” skill. Come the government auction, I was easily able to outbid all the others. A day later I obtained the final town because it’s owner hadn’t logged in for 14 days. Upon obtaining the government school, I quickly removed the “build town” skill from the school. Not only was I the only player who owned towns in the world, but now I was the only player who could build them as well.
The world owner, Zaroba, had 1 rule. Never to interfere with the state of the game. I had legitimately taken complete control over the entire world (Oh yeah, by owning towns you could also disallow building). Players realized my scheme too late, and were in an uproar. Zaroba laughed, and quickly broke his own rule, not only building another government school, but offering the build town skill for 1s. I complained, pointing out I did everything within the rules, but he pointed out it wasn’t time for the world to end (we were only a month into its 3 month span). I conceded, and went about my business. I ended up winning that season with a wealth greater then the three players below me combined.
I have written this post for two reasons. First, to talk about an economic based open world, but also as a self reflection… It seems I only excel at games by playing outside the intended parameters, and exploiting flaws within the game. I wonder how this reflects upon me as a person really. A digital yet physical thief in Runescape, a vicious business man utilizing commands and scheming dominance in ways that weren’t meant to be allowed, and you’ll see one of my stories from Lineage 2 also relied on an exploit for me to make an impact. Hrm…
This game still exists in the form of “The Universal”. A-tractor evolved into “The Universal”, and can still be played today. www.theuniversal.net. Information about A-tractor is surprisingly difficult to find, and I wasn’t even able to find screenshots.