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"There are more criminals in this town than in prison."
Tommy Vercetti, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

A specific way to engage in dramatic license with the economics of crime. Many settings and plots are enhanced by the presence of a criminal element, whether it be a Thieves' Guild, The Mafia, Pirates, assassins, highway bandits, gentleman thieves, or even some guys who are Just Like Robin Hood. However, all these people need someone to steal from. Sometimes, you can't help but wonder whether the number of available targets is really high enough to support all these people who are preying on them.

Are there really so many rich aristocrats in the setting that the cunning burglar can rob a new one each week and never run out of targets? Can the poor villagers really be menaced by a roving bandit gang for months without actually running out of things for the bandits to steal? Can the fleet of twenty pirate ships really make a living year-round by lurking outside a port containing two small fishing boats? Does the road from the town to the lighthouse really have enough trade on it that the highwayman won't starve? Does the town with only a few hundred people really have enough work to support a full-time hitman? Do the people living in an apocalyptic world, where 90% of the human race is dead, really have nothing better to do than rob the protagonists when there should be resources sitting around everywhere for the taking? Sometimes it's all realistic and justified, but other times, the Rule of Cool (or simply lack of consideration) has won out.

A related phenomenon is when trade on a certain route is said to have been halted by bandits, pirates, or suchlike. This may be plausible in the short term, or if there are bandits/pirates on a route for other reasons, but... why would bandits/pirates still be there if there is no longer any trade to rob? Thieves can't thieve if they bring an end to the commerce which they prey on, so bandits/pirates can't have a 100% capture rate and still have a long-term job.

Video games, which often suffer from Thriving Ghost Towns, are particularly prone to this, especially when bandits or other criminals are provided en masse as an enemy for the player to fight. You'll get villages with five houses being menaced by marauders numbering in the hundreds, and the roads between towns will have more bandits than both towns put together have citizens. The Thieves' Guild members hiding in the Absurdly-Spacious Sewer could easily constitute three quarters of their city's population, and there are more trained assassins going after the king than the king has employees.

A lot of detective series have this problem, too. Never mind the coincidence that all the crimes happen near the amateur detective... why are there even any criminals left?

If the criminals are all successfully pretending to each other that they're not criminals, they're a Flock of Wolves. See also Wretched Hive, for a place likely to have this problem, and More Predators Than Prey, for when a whole ecosystem suffers from a similar situation.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Some of the pirate crews in One Piece are preying upon towns too small to sustain them, and the world in general seems to have an unsustainably high pirate population. Justified in some cases, such as with Arlong, whose crew have set up permanent camp on an island for decades but are taking tribute from seven nearby towns to sustain themselves. Also, the current status quo where people are searching for a legendary lost Pirate Booty has led to a probably temporary boom in pirate numbers.
  • Conan Edogawa of Case Closed sure runs into a lot of criminal cases (with a disproportionate-seeming amount of murders among them) for a single kid detective — enough to have made a career out of solving them by the age of seventeen even before he got shrunk down again.
  • In Heavy Object the city of Lost Angels is an actual example of this. The majority of the populace are spies posing as criminals or actual criminals, with just a small portion being drifters and exiles who can't live anywhere else. The only reason the city can survive in its current state is the constant flow of government subsidies.
    Havia: The place has gotten so dangerous that all the local people have left. This is both a safe country and the front line. Its a mystery how the place even still functions as a city!

    Comic Books 
  • Pathfinder: Worldscape: The greatest warriors and legends from three separate worlds are pulled into the titular demiplane, but the number of murderers, thugs, thieves and other scum is highly disproportionate to actually heroic individuals. There are at least enough of them to populate and run a Wretched Hive like Shareen in their world.

    Fan Fiction 
  • Deliberately played straight in Mass Effect: Interregnum, in a very serious way. It's commented at several points that Omega's criminal population seems to outnumber its innocent population (mainly because why would innocent people go there in the first place?), to the point that Garrus sarcastically remarks that Omega's the only place in the galaxy where you could fire an assault rifle into a crowd and come out with a net karma boost. Things get a whole lot more serious, however, when Golf sets out to destroy Omega's entire population, saying he's done the numbers, and the future-harm-reduction benefits of exterminating everyone on Omega would literally outweigh the innocent deaths.

  • The (fictional?) country of Mexico at least in Desperado (if not its sequel and predecessor) has a lot of people running around with guns in every town, working for mob bosses who will happily turn even on their own "allies". Even the normal people are working and get paid by the mobsters, and the only ones which appear to make an honest income are American tourists who bartenders don't want in their bars, and would even shoot them for asking to be served normally. In the long run, economy failure aversion sort of justified because almost everybody's working with drugs, and the money for assassinations, paying gang members, drug mules etc. come from outside economies which actually work honestly for them.
  • In a place like Basin City of Sin City where everyone is either a criminal, a victim, or a Sociopathic Hero, you'd think the entire population would've been killed off by now.
  • In The Godfather, when Michael is in hiding in Sicily he is surprised to find that almost all the men in a particular town have killed each other in vendettas. If he learns anything from this, it doesn't stick.
  • In Watchmen, Silk Spectre and Nite Owl go into an alley with the intention of getting into a fight so they can get their groove back. They get followed by 1-2 dozen attempted muggers.

  • In Dark Lord of Derkholm, the Thieves' Guild supports the overthrow and expulsion of Mr. Chesney and his tour groups because they insist on enforcing this trope.
  • Discworld:
    • This is Ankh-Morpork before the Watch starts actually fighting crime. In the early books, it was a parody of the average fantasy-setting city entirely occupied by thieves, thugs, assassins and innkeepers. When Twoflower shows up, at least half of the people he meets are trying to figure out how to scam him. He remains oblivious. Justified in that Twoflower has come to Ankh-Morpork specifically to visit places like The Broken Drum, the whore pits and similar "colorful" locations. He hasn't come all the way from the Agatean Empire to see the Street of Cunning Tax Attorneys. It also helps that, thanks to ludicrous exchange rates, what to the scammers is a massive fortune is just his spare change.
    • Though, this is as much because of the dishonesty of the average Morpork citizen as the amount of professional thieves. It's part of the culture.
    • This trope is discussed hilariously in Jingo. The D'reg not-chieftain Jabar explains they never steal too much or try to frighten the passing caravans with excessive violence, because then the caravans would simply stop coming; instead, they rob a little and let the merchants go, and in due time the merchants return, goods replenished. Vimes comes to the conclusion that this is "a type of farming". (But if you plant merchants, they don't grow so good.)
  • This was one of the reasons Colin Dexter gave for announcing he would never write another Inspector Morse novel.
  • This trope is the reason that in the revised edition of Darkspell, the thieves' den in Dun Hireadd was changed into just a father, his son, and a few contacts/family members. Dun Hireadd is not large enough to support a fully-fledged Thieves' Guild.
  • In The Iron Teeth, after the fall of Coroulis the North is becoming infested with so many bandits that trade is drying up and the bands are turning on each other. Herad plans to centralize them all and eventually turn them into a nation under her rule.
  • Kings of the Wyld: After centuries of mercenaries making names for themselves by killing every kobold and harpy that gets within ten miles of a human settlement, there aren't really many monsters left outside the Heartwyld. The cities found a logical (albeit horrifying) solution to this problem: Breed the monsters themselves, and have mercenaries fight them in the arena. The old-timer mercenaries are all disturbed at the idea, and even the younger generation admit there's not much glory in that kind of fight.

    Live-Action TV 
  • British mystery series Midsomer Murders loses three or four members of a small village per episode. One of the commentary tracks notes that there shouldn't be anyone left by now.
  • On Monty Python's Flying Circus, Highwayman Dennis Moore has this trouble. At first he stole Lupins from the rich to give to the poor; eventually the poor were able to get it into his skull that they'd rather have money. So Moore started robbing the rich of their riches, with the result that the rich were poor and the poor were rich. Eventually Moore was reduced to stopping coaches, making people pull out what money they have, and redistributing it so they all have the same amount.
  • A similar kind of logic applies to Murder, She Wrote, in which the murder rate in Cabot Cove, Maine is ludicrously out of proportion to its peaceful, gentrified population. The Alternate Character Interpretation of Jessica being the one behind all of those murders is brought up In-Universe in one episode ("Witness For The Defense"), when the guest star Amoral Attorney tries to shoot down Jessica's viability as a witness in a murderer's court hearing by pointing out that she and her entire extended family are such a hard-core Mystery Magnet that they may as well be a bunch of murderous maniacs but nobody's been able to prove it yet.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Shadowrun:
    • Various books mentions Seattle having about 1000 to 2000 Shadowrunners (illegal wetwork mercenaries that will do any job deemed illegal for anyone who'll pay). Though this future Seattle does have a huge population, how much work can there be in a single city for so many mercenaries to find work?. It kind of helps that every employer in the city has need of Shadowrunners. Including some of the older, richer 'Runners. Keep in mind that the Seattle Metroplex is basically a 2070s city-state, with a population higher than many modern countries. The average citizens aren't street toughs or Runners, they're the millions of perfectly normal wageslaves living their mundane little lives behind all the security and comfort of their favorite megacorp (after all, forcing your workers into poverty and death reduces productivity and profitability). Those couple thousand Shadowrunners are the rare tools used by the major players in the city, doing the sabotage and espionage that big corporations use to one-up each other, not a large portion of the overall population.
    • Not all of the runs take place in Seattle, not even in the same nation (there's NAN, Tír Tairngire and California Free State nearby, and Japan, Hong Kong and the east coast of China are only a short suborbital flight away). For most Shadowrunners, Seattle is just the most convenient base of operations on the continent.
  • Ravenloft: Predatory variant: The setting's largest territory, the Core, is roughly the size of Denmark, and most of its domains have populations in the low thousands. Yet it somehow sustains massive numbers of vampires, werebeasts, and other monsters that pass for human in public, while subsisting wholly or largely on human prey. Never mind how they can maintain the masquerade when half the population is a monster in disguise: unless the monsters are eating each other, there shouldn't be anybody left alive there. Ravenloft is constantly kidnapping people from other planes, so it actually makes sense that they would need to be disposed of to prevent overpopulation. It's common for Dungeon Masters to houserule the populations to make them bigger to alleviate this bit of Fridge Logic.
    • In the Curse of Strahd adventure, it's stated that only about 1/10 Barovians actually have souls. Subverted, however, in that Barovians are aware of this, and in fact all that soullessness does is make you largely incapable of anything but fleeting joy and self-determination. The adventure itself says that the Mists themselves create said people largely to provide prey for the monsters.
  • Luskan of D&D should have collapsed long ago as it is basically made of criminals. That being said, Luskan may be dominated by criminals, but the region isn't — Luskan is something of a pirate port, and there's a fair amount of seaborne trade going on in the area.
  • Magic: The Gathering:
    • In a trophic rather than economic version, the demiplane of Grixis in the "Shards of Alara" block is populated almost entirely by undead predators, with few living creatures and no equivalent of photosynthesis that would introduce new energy into the ecosystem. Many cards take note of the problem of Grixis' ecosystem (such as it is) winding down, a problem eventually mitigated by the collision of the shards.
    • The Innistrad plane suffers from Ravenloft's version (mentioned above) of more monsters than humans. It's actually a Discussed Trope, though, as some of the vampires are trying to essentially use sustainable farming methods on the humans, while some of the werewolves actively want the plane to reach a predator-only state. In the mid-point of the block, Dark Ascension, the humans actually are dwindling in population. Sorin Markov had to create an angelic Big Good (Avacyn) in an attempt to avert this trope. Innistrad's problems started when Avacyn got herself sealed in the Hellvault.
  • Pointedly subverted in the Hackmaster module Frandor's Keep. The local bandit gang is not entirely profitable, and the leader has to pay for the gang's expenses out of his own pocket for months at a time. The leader started the gang for personal reasons (revenge on the keep authority), rather than hopes of making money.

    Video Games 
  • Borderlands:
    • The first game has maybe twenty-five non raider NPCs on the planet. And several thousands bandit, raiders, and other such people? Somewhat handwaved by the backstory of Pandora having been mostly populated with convicted criminals The backstory more or less goes like this: one of the big corporations tried to set up a mine on the planet using convicts as labourers, but the nonviability of this (after Pandora's indigenous life made itself known) made them lose interest. There was a brief "Vault rush" but outside of a few scientists there weren't many people who ever went to Pandora that never went rogue. Doesn't explain how everyone stays fed and healthy, mind you. It's a short timeline: near the middle of the game is when the bandits start preying on each other (Jaynestown). Give it another decade and the population will stabilize at a smaller level.
    • Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! goes into more detail. There already was a decent population on Pandora, mostly outlaws and fringe types. Then the Dahl corporation brought in a large population for mining, which included convicts for laborers but also a large number of normal civilians for support, and a significant military element which included a number of warships and thousands of soldiers. When the military force stationed on Pandora's moon was devastated by an event known as "the Crackening" and then exposed to the Vault, which brainwashed them into becoming the Vault's guardians, the rival Atlas corporation showed up with superior forces and ran the remaining Dahl leadership off the planet. Most of the civilians and convicts were left behind and forced to resort to banditry to survive. While a lot of the bandits and other abandoned survivors on the planet have died over the years, each new attempt by one corporation or another to "tame" and exploit Pandora has led to a continuous influx of poor, hapless saps who come down to the planet and are unable or unwilling to leave.
  • Dungeon Siege, in which the necessity of giving players people to fight results in so many bandits on the roads that you wonder why they haven't starved to death yet.
  • Neverwinter Nights 2. Oh god, yes. Add up the number of thieves you kill in Act 1 and compare it to the population given in the 3.5 setting books, you just killed most of the city! Technically, a lot of them were mooks shipped in from Luskan, but there's still way more of them than NPC citizens. If you join the thieves, there are just as many guardsmen the city won't miss as there are criminals if you join the watch.
  • Baldur's Gate appears to have this, with bandits plaguing the roads to such an extent that trade has ground to a halt - which raises the question of why the bandits are still there if their prey is no longer risking the trip. Somewhat unusually, though, there's an answer: the bandits were actually hired by someone specifically to shut down trade, so the fact that the merchants are staying home isn't a problem for them.
  • City of Heroes:
    • Paragon City is endlessly populated with Gangs of Hats, Mecha-Mooks, Gaia's Vengeance monsters, ancient malevolent spirits, demons, aliens, rogue military/black ops groups, Corrupt Corporate Executives and their minions, witches, zombies, a Mad Doctor's minions, wizards, The Mafia, escaped prisoners, and a Circus of Fear. It gets a bit of lampshading; people complain about, for instance, repeatedly getting their purses stolen.
    • It's also home to an opposite problem; more heroes than citizens. It's kind of funny to see an entire park full of brightly-costumed vigilantes watch the only civilian for five blocks walk by, waiting patiently for the inevitable mugging to happen.
    • Rogue Isles, where the only legitimate businesses seen more the entire freaking city are a bunch of fisheries, and in fact people need to be reminded that their economy is not just a endless cycle of people stealing from each other.
  • Fallout: The setting in general suffers from this.
    • Fallout 3 is a major offender.
      • Tenpenny Tower and Rivet City get a pass due to sheer numbers and relative isolation, and in Megaton, the whole populace is armed and ready to fight any criminals within the walls, which themselves are a deterrent: the entrance is protected by an outer gate, a sniper, and a robot, and it's the only way in. The smaller settlements, however, consist of 4-10 people, three of which are would-be soldiers on patrol, max; it is worth noting that the settlement of Evergreen Mills did get overrun by a large raider group prior to the Lone Wanderer escaping the Vault. Still, how the Capital Wasteland can support so many humans without an food-producing infrastructure beyond a few Brahmin per village is a serious worldbuilding question.
      • There are also more mercenaries than people who can hire them, though by their behavior, it's established that the largest mercenary group, Talon Company, does more raider work than actually filling contracts.
    • This trope has largely been averted in Fallout 2 and Fallout: New Vegas. Raiders like the Vipers and Jackals have a relatively small presence in New California and the Mojave Wasteland, largely thanks to the pacifying efforts of the New California Republic. In the case of larger groups in the Mojave like the Powder Gangers and Great Khans, they behave more like organized tribes and have motivations other than raiding caravans and settlements for loot. The White Legs tribe in Honest Hearts play this trope straight in that they are essentially a large group of marauders, and by far the single most powerful tribe in their territory. That being said, it has been outright stated that the White Legs have no agricultural or hunting skills, and that they only know how to take from others in order to survive. Practically every single one of their endings sees them dying out within a year, either because they lack the skills to survive on their own or because their defeat at Zion sees them being set up on by another tribe. Some notes found in Powder Ganger camps along I-15 lampshade this by indicating that it has been realized by some members that the caravans are coming up the road less and less due to the constant raiding, and that the Gangers cannot sustain themselves this way. A large number of them have left before the Courier comes through, and can be found at Vault 19 later in the game.
      • Additionally, the large number of Powder Gangers is justified: the NCR had been bringing in prisoners to maintain a nearby rail line, but a large number of the soldiers guarding the prison had to be redeployed due to the war with the Legion getting worse. This resulted in a prisoner uprising taking control of the facility, and the prisoners became known as the Powder Gangers. Since they are already considered outlaws, and are in an unfamiliar territory far from their homes (with most of the routes back being controlled by the NCR), they don't have a huge amount of options to get by other than raiding or joining a different group, with the Gangers in Vault 19 planning to join the Great Khans.
    • Fallout 4. Played with. In a manner similar to Fallout: New Vegas above, several of the factions in the commonwealth exist by more than just raiding. The Gunners are explicitly identified as trading and operating more like a tribal gang rather than attempting to subsist entirely off theft, with two Gunners freely allowed to enter and move about Goodneighbor (to the point that murdering them will see the entire community of Goodneighbor attack you). Super Mutants meanwhile tend to kidnap people to turn them into more Super Mutants as often as they end up just killing, raiding, and/or eating people and settlments. The explicitly identified "Raiders" in the game typically operate in pairs or trios, with only a handful of major raider gangs actually existing as organized factionsnote , and who are confirmed in game to extort/trade with one another as much as they raid settlements (and who will acknowledge the deaths of their "competition" in their personal logs if you kill any of the people listed in the note above). In addition, there are dozens of pre-existing settlements, usually as small subsistence farmers. These homesteads will even typically have you earn their loyalty by killing off the raiders who have been extorting them for "protection". Finally, as settlements grow in number, more and more caravans can be met moving between them, further justifying how Raiders exist off of stealing from others.
  • In Transcendence, most of the star systems in Human Space have more criminal than lawful stations.
  • Granted, Orzammar is implied to be larger and more populous than the city you actually see in-game, but still — the criminal element of the Dwarven capitol in Dragon Age: Origins seems to outnumber the law-abiders. This is explained by Rica in the Dwarf Commoner Origin as being because the Casteless aren't allowed to join the army and the nobles and their armsmen are forced to breed like crazy simply to offset the number lost everyday to the Darkspawn. It's not working and so naturally, the Casteless are slowly becoming the majority in Orzammar while being unable to contribute to society as a whole.
  • Dwarf Fortress averts it or plays it straight, depending on the world generation seed.
  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion has way too many bandits for the economy to support. This is made worse in an unmodded game, where bandits start wearing expensive equipment at high levels. Which means the average bandit, when selling his equipment, is actually far richer than most aristocrats.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim:
    • There are bandits - or their spiritual kin, Forsworn and Silver Hand - dwelling in many of the province's caves, and nearly every abandoned watchtower, or crumbling ruin. Their total population is vastly greater than the citizens of the inhabited towns, and their chiefs tend to wear the third-best armor in the game. The same applies to the Thieves' Guild in Riften, which has nearly half as many (visible) members as the population of the city itself. Markarth is even worse than Riften since one half of the population is involved in a Forsworn conspiracy and the other half are a secret cannibal cult of Daedra worshipers.
    • This is partially justified in the case of the Forsworn, who are militant radicals of the native population — within their region, there should be a lot of them (things are not very happy for the natives, in the main), and if they drive out foreign traders and aristocrats, that's a perk, not a problem (they are fighting an insurgency for independence, rather than trying to earn a living by being bandits).
    • The size of the Thieves' Guild is also justifiable in that they do work throughout the entirety of Skyrim, not just in Riften.
    • It's also no wonder that Nords in general are skeptical of magic: there's maybe a few dozen legitimate mages in all of Skyrim, yet seemingly hundreds of murderous necromancers.
  • Final Fantasy VI takes this to hilarious extremes with the town of Zozo, which appears to be populated entirely by criminals who sit around waiting for travelers to mug and lie to. Strangely enough, Zozo appears to be the most modern town in the game, second only perhaps to Vector.
  • For all that Guybrush Threepwood wants to be a mighty pirate in the Monkey Island games... how often does anyone plunder anything that's not another pirate's? In the third game, you are attacking other pirate ships and taking their plunder. It's not clear where they got it, but you can assume it was another pirate. One of the ships you can attack, though, is an unarmed glass-bottom boat. Guybrush feels really bad about attacking innocent people.
  • Bloodbath Bay in Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves has this problem too. All pirates, all the time, with absolutely no outside influx of money coming in since there's no reason for anyone to sail near it. It's described as an intentional throwback, but where does the cash come from if all the pirates just pirate each other?
  • This is actually realistically averted in Metro 2033; throughout the entire game, you only encounter 2 small Bandit enclaves, consisting of small bands of less than 15 men each. Indeed, there are relatively few human enemies in the game compared to most other similarly themed games, which makes sense as the total number of human survivors of the nuclear holocaust is given as less than 40,000. The sequel continues this trend: you only run into a single bandit group of about 20 or so guys, who specifically menace similarly small groups of refugees travelling down a particular stretch of tunnel. Literally all of the other human enemies in the game are soldiers of the various organized factions.
  • Mafia Wars carries this as a strong implication. Tens of thousands of Mafia robbing banks, assassinating FBI agents, and having gang wars in the middle of the street on a daily basis can't be healthy for any rational economy.
  • The Outer Worlds uses this trope with the Marauders in Gilded Vale but justifies it by saying that they're recent deserters from a Dying Town who don't really have a long-term plan.
  • Had the hero not arrived in Spielburg to deal with the problem, this probably would have happened within the year.
  • In the X-Universe, Pirates and the Yaki typically outnumber civilian traders by 5:1 to 100:1 in the contested Pirate Sectors. However, as a whole, there are less Pirate ships active in the game at any one time than just a single race's trade ships. The Xtended Game Mod X3: Terran Conflict ups the amount of Pirate ships to rival even the main races, though it makes it clear that many of the different Pirate clans are actual navies ran by rogue states, or receive backing from empires to engage in proxy wars.
  • Justified in Batman: Arkham City: Batman is in a walled-off section of Gotham that's become a maximum-security prison where all criminals and political prisoners (Bruce Wayne and most of the "targets" for this trope) are kept. Other games in the series also have justifications: In Origins, it's late at night on Christmas Eve with a blizzard coming through, so everyone who can spend the night indoors is doing so. In Asylum and Blackgate, the game takes place inside a prison compound, where one would expect there to be more criminals than anything else. And in Knight, virtually all the civilians have evacuated the city, leaving behind criminals and the GCPD.
  • In The Sims, it's entirely possible for all your playable Sims (that is, apart from children and University students) to be in the Criminal career. It will be unclear exactly who their targets are because they never mug people and Townies don't have homes that the player can see. Hilariously, it's also theoretically possible to have an entire town where all the adult Sims are Mayors. Mods exist, at least for the second game, to fix the "all Mayors" issue, but not the issue of everybody being able to be a petty criminal.
  • In both The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (which share the same timeline and version of Hyrule), the Dark World counterpart of Kakariko Village Hyrule's only town is Thieves' Town, which is of course entirely made up of thieves and various assorted criminals. In the former game, this is justified, as the only people who went over are thieves trying to steal the Golden Power, but not so much in the latter, which takes place in Lorule, which is supposedly a normal, functional kingdom. It's implied by Princess Hilda that the kingdom seriously went downhill after they destroyed their Triforce. Most likely the town wasn't always that way. There also are citizens who aren't dangerous, but are very strange (they appear to all be in some mask cult).
  • Virtually all MMOs suffer from this for structural reasons. To start with, they need a mechanic where enemies respawn, so given that innocent NPCs are rarely killed there are few of them compared to effectively infinite bandits and other hostile characters. Even without taking that into account, games obviously focus on the parts people actually play, which inevitably results in large areas chock full of bandits, pirates, and so on for the player to fight, interspersed with small, barely populated towns in which to sell the resultant loot.
    • The human areas of Guild Wars 2 are guilty of this, and it's not helped by some bandit camps being far away in remote unpopulated places where they would have absolutely nobody to prey on (Brisban Wildlands being the most egregious example).
    • World of Warcraft is a similar offender. The player will often be sent from a farm with only two or three inhabitants on quests to kill 20 or more bandits who are supposedly threatening the place, with no explanation for how they've survived so far.
    • In EVE Online, low security space, also called low-sec, is this. Oddly enough for this trope, all the criminal and victims are players rather than NPCs. This is because low sec only has minimal punishments for criminals, but, unlike nullsec, cannot be owned by a player alliance. This means it's virtually the only area in the game where true space piracy can take place, which isn't at all helped by it also being a tenth the size as the other sectors of space. Granted, the vast majority of these pirates fund their criminal organizations through other means, but its still staggering how many players you find having turf wars over areas that might see a T1 hauler every hour if they are lucky. note 
    • The majority of the Eve economy is built on this, not just low-sec. Missions are one of the biggest sources of income to most players, and almost all involve being sent to a randomly generated location full of pirates to kill. This results in probably one of the worst criminal/target ratios of any game because there are no targets at all - the only spaceships in the game are players, pirates, faction navies and the police. This is generally an acceptable break from reality, since attempting to simulate and display even a small part of the civilian economy would make the game unplayable.
  • In Master of Orion, it is possible for a particular star system to suddenly acquire a bad case of Space Pirates, with the result that trade revenues start to drop precipitously all over the galaxy. You're supposed to send military starships there to combat the pirates, but if no one does, trade comes to a screeching halt fairly quickly and stays there. This can be very annoying if it happens early in the game when you can't reach the system in question, since the A.I. doesn't care about pirates and will only send a fleet to an infested system by chance. The sequel changed the pirate mechanic, such that pirates in the infested system merely start hijacking freighters belonging to any empire with a presence in that system.
  • Mass Effect: Andromeda: About a year before the start of the game, the Nexus suffered a mutiny. When the mutineers were defeated, they were kicked off the station (along with the security chief and a significant portion of her staff, who had joined them) and became the Exiles. We are never given a hard number for how many Exiles there are, but the rest of the Arks only had twenty thousand people each, so it shouldn't be more than that. The Exiles then found Kadara, a barely habitable world that already had an angara colony, which was being menaced by the kett. The Exiles defeated the kett, becoming the masters of Kadara Port, and then started raiding Nexus supplies and overall just continuing to be criminals. It's lampshaded several times that this sort of behavior isn't sustainable, but between a traitor on the Nexus sending them supplies and further criminals being sent to them, they're lasting longer than expected. Many people on the Nexus grumble that while their first two colonies failed disastrously, the Exiles actually managed to find a survivable planet.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist and the Broken Angel: The town of Hiessgart where most of the game takes place is practically devoid of civilians during gameplay, where the only people found are enemies such as outlaw alchemists and the corrupt military police. Civilians only appear during animated cutscenes, but never during gameplay.
  • Zigzagged in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series. Officially, everyone in the Zone who isn't an Ecologist (and thus on an official permit) or a soldier is trespassing and committing numerous other crimes that are punishable by shooting on sight. However, the various factions often fight against each other, but the official Bandit faction is only one faction of stalkers in the Zone, and while they're not exactly rare compared to the amount of Loners, they're on the small side if compared to Freedom and Duty, two militarized factions that tend to steamroll the cheeki breekis whenever they set out against them. Mercenaries exist, but they're a mixed bag as to how they work (Wolfhound is a total prick, but Hog, Hatchet and Scar are alright, though the latter can also ally with the Bandits).
  • There are Outlaws all over the solar system in Starlink: Battle for Atlas with no one to attack but the player. Though planetside they attack outposts and have a Mle Trois relationship with the Legion and the player.
  • The Dark Zone in The Division is completely devoid of civilians, and while the various gangs are obviously looting the abandoned buildings that are left, one has to wonder how there are so many left considering the location is supposedly so inhostpitable due to the number of violent criminals there.

  • The Order of the Stick lampshades this with Greysky City, where everyone is a thief, mugger, or murderer to the point that the city really shouldn't be able to function. And home of the Thieves Guild, naturally. And way before that were the forest bandits, to whom Haley gave a detailed tirade on exactly why thievery by brute force was just unsustainable for a force that size. Of course, the explanation practically ran on nonsensoleum itself since it was based on the premise that no one could ever get a certain amount of wealth without being a high-level character.
  • Parodied in RPG World: the backstory for a few of the characters is that they were in a town which was economically depressed until it was revitalized when everyone became a criminal.
  • Lampshaded in Errant Story: the guilds that supply the bodies for police and security forces in the nation of Farrel typically train too many men for the jobs, leading to the extras taking up banditry. Thus, there are always plenty of bandits to go around. Jon's explanation of this elicits a predictable reaction from Snark Knight Sarine.

    Western Animation 
  • Subverted in Adventure Time with the City of Thieves. Everyone in the city is a thief, and therefore everyone is also a victim. In other words, everyone steals from everyone else. Naturally the city is a hellhole, but there is no shortage of people to snatch from.

    Real Life 
  • The crime rate of Vatican City is the highest in the world, with more crimes being committed than people living there. However, the vast majority of crimes are things like petty theft and committed by and against outsiders; the Vatican attracts lots of tourists to a relatively small space, making it a pickpocket's paradise.
  • Despite much warier potential targets, the overhead for spam emails or VoIP robocalling is so low, they can still be run on the dream of making money while the sender works their day job, waiting for their big payout that often never comes anymore for all but the biggest spammers. Also, it has been noted that there simply has to be someone with perception that spam is profitable for them to hire a spammer, regardless of whether the person who hired the spamming will benefit in reality.
  • Robodialing telemarketing can be similar. For example, it was estimated that the business campaign that the FCC called one of the largest they investigated, which earned a record $120 million individual proposed fine, had only earned about $23,000 in two years, despite 97 million robocalls in just the investigated period of a few months. In other words, just by running a top robocalling business, you apparently can't expect to even come close to competing with a minimum wage job.