I’d like to talk about artificial scarcity, and how I think it is generally a poor solution. I should begin, though, by an overview of True Scarcity, and its effects on our lives.

True Scarcity, like real things have. Resources are scarce, time, energy, materials, space, attention. People throw around “post-scarcity” as an achievable goal, but depending on how you draw the threshold it could have already happened, or it could never happen.

Artificial Scarcity has to do with arbitrarily limited things, like CCGs, limited runs, and modern currencies. Mimics True Scarcity in order to reproduce its effects. Can be marginally useful (currency), or deceptive (CCG). I don’t like it.

Narrative Scarcity? Resources limited to form a cohesive story (fictional True Scarcity or contrived Artificial Scarcity). Intrinsically artificial in reality (no reason the storyteller can’t solve scarcity by fiat), but percieved as true in context. Mis-used in either direction can lead to story collapse.

Artificial scarcity occurs a lot in games, but aside from people being familiar with this way of thinking, and as a tool for exploring true scarcity, I don’t see the advantage. For example, there is (effectively) no marginal cost to distributing DLC to all game owners. Or to releasing all games into the public domain. At the limit, this ties back to the “win” button. Artificially limiting story progression by game performance is… well, artificial scarcity.

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