The Daily Grind: How important are player economies to MMORPGs?

    
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One of the more alarming trends in MMORPGs from the past few years, to me anyway, is the weakening of in-game economic systems, and not just from themepark shortcuts.

My first MMORPG was Ultima Online, where personal trading and vendor malls were ubiquitous, where you could drop dead and see everything you’d held looted and carted away by players and mobs alike. And I remember the MMO community outage when EverQuest introduced “no drop” and “no trade” items as, it was understood, an attempt at combating gold and item farmers. Most of you probably know that concept better as “soulbound.” It’s commonplace now, but at the time, it was the kind of decision that literally forks genres.

We’ve come a long way down that themepark fork since then, it seems to me: We now have many MMOs where you can’t drop stuff, games where you can’t hand items directly to other players except by mail (if at all), games whose devs cap item values to interfere with the market, games that refuse to consider an auction hall, and games whose auction halls are basically toys for well-connected guilds and no one else, never mind the multitude of MMOs where corpses can’t be looted or crafting exists as a useless minigame to keep crafter types from noticing they’ve been demoted to second-class citizens.

I have long argued that the player economy is and should be a foundational element of an MMORPG, almost as important as chat for creating social intersections and community binds. It’s not that games that make trading impossible or crafting pointless can’t be fun; it’s just that they lean more toward ARPGs and murder sims than full-scale roleplaying games and virtual worlds. This is probably why I’ve been startled to see a number of our readers who are generally pro-community and even pro-sandbox turn on the concept of video game economies over the past year and support devs who heavily regulate them or promise to gut them, even if that regulation or interference is plainly born of those studios’ desire to make money from those choices, usually by vending cosmetics or gold through cash shops, rather than their desire to create a clean, fun, and fair MMORPG.

With all of that in mind, happy Monday, and where do you stand on the subject of player economies in MMORPGs? Just how important are they in 2017?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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Ernost
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Ernost

If the game allows you to convert game currency to and from cash shop currency, then yes it most certainly is important. Anything that affects the game economy has implications in term of real world dollars.

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Oleg Chebeneev

Depends what type of MMO is this. If its sandbox where crafting plays big role – economy is very important. If its theme park – not so much

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Robert Basler

Player economies are a great feature in MMO’s, but the reason you aren’t seeing them as much now is not because devs are looking to cash in on them, but because as soon as you add any direct player-player trading you invite in the gold farmers and scammers and all the customer service problems, PR snafus, economic meltdowns and policing costs that come with them. CCP spends a fortune to maintain EVE’s economy.

Game devs sell in-game currency, cosmetics and consumables to guarantee predictable transactions for players (compared to people trying to buy gold for cash from some random player over the internet.) Yes they also can make a lot of money from this, but at least that money is going into making the game better.

Indirect trading (auction house) is much less susceptible to abuse but still has to be designed and monitored for it.

It’s not laziness on the part of MMO developers, its a case of “this is why we can’t have nice things.”

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Bobuliss

AH are less susceptible to abuse? So when I see random trash items being sold on the AH in WoW for hundreds of thousands of gold, that’s totally legit? Lol

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Giannis Papadopoulos

That was probably me, tranfering my gold between horde – alliance with the help of a friend ;)

Andy McAdams
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Andy McAdams

I think player economies are super important – and I’ve only seen a few that are successful. I think the problem with something like WoW is that as the power creep set in, so did the cost creep of things scale accordingly until its so wonky-nuts crazy pricing on everything.

This is sure to be an unpopular opinion, but Anarchy did this thing not that different from what ESO is doing now where there as a global market — but only guilds could create stores for you to list things on the global market and — this is the kicker — you had to actually travel to the store location to get the item (but anyone could buy). I really liked that — I don’t know whether I would now but at the time it added a whole new layer of “Can I even get to this store to get the item?” Was it in Omni territory? Did I have to ask a guildy to go pick it up for me. There was this layer of authenticity to it that was just … really cool.

I think it also helped keep the money creep down to a minimum, allowed micro-markets to spring up — it was just overall a cool system.

I’m not sure this was horribly helpful, but yay for Serrenity Ramble (which isn’t nearly as fun as a Bree Rant).

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McGuffn

Regional shopping is a nice idea on paper and horrible in practice. One of my great “open world” influences are games like Sid Meier’s Pirates, and you can buy low and sell high and all that crap, but there are fewer commodities, and it is possible to know more or less what you can get, and what prices in each port.

In ESO because the shops are entirely stocked by the whims of the playerbase, and there are hundreds of items available it is just a mess, and it doesn’t help that the UI and the sort features are total shit.

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Robert Mann

It doesn’t work in themeparks where the entire goal is to make AH style accessible trade (which is what ESO really did, just made it a mess.) Unless you make it physical travel, and have regional assets for crafting and it is tough to obtain those items, you do nothing for player trade and economy.

ESO’s system just annoys the people who want an AH, and does nothing for those who don’t. Anarchy was… slightly better, although they were still lacking there in my opinion.

Either way, people will love or hate the idea, and the entire reason is a difference in what they are looking for in a game. Nothing wrong with that, it is the way things should be. The problem, of course, is the demand that every game conform to every person (which is partially on devs, partially on business suits behind the devs, and partly on players who have made that error.) That idea leaves nobody really happy, as to please each sub-group of players sacrifices are made to what the other sub-groups want.

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Sally Bowls

IMO, the environment for this question really changed a year or two ago. Like too many things, I think it would make an interesting topic for a post:

How has the proliferation of PLEX-like things affected MMOs?

Of course, any topic is going to have special snowflakes saying their MMO does not have it or the latest AAA-MMO-for $500k Kickstarter is going to solve everything. EVE has had PLEX for nearly a decade: almost everything is player-made and BoE and you can buy nearly unlimited in-game currency for RL$. But now we see Terra, Wildstar, and now WoW going with something extremely similar. RL$-> SWTOR Cartel Coins -> credits provides most of the same RMT. Ditto for Gems, Crowns, et al. It seems to me WoW was the turning point. A sub game without a lot in the cash shop and what is there is cosmetic. Now you can add RL$ to your Blizzard balance with in game gold, making the gold-to-$ connection obvious even to PvPers :-).

On one hand, devs really can no longer have a significant economy. If the crafters make anything useful, then the “unemployable with good twitch skills” [there may be a more neutral way of characterizing these people :-) ] will complain about p2w.

On the other hand (Harry Truman had a famous quip about economists. He said: Give me a one-handed economist! All my economists say, ‘on one hand … on the other.’) the PLEX type items make money for the devs. And before we villify the devs too much, the reason they do is that they are very popular with the players.

I am not sure how devs should or will deal with the PLEX Era. (I am cynical enough to believe that the should answer and will answer will turn out pretty different.) But I do think it will significantly affect the game.

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Bobuliss

First off, auction houses aren’t a player economy. Auction houses only provide the seller half of the market. The buyer portion is ignored. The only true player economy I’ve ever heard of is in EVE. No price caps, no limits on what is bought or sold, all prices set by players based on economic principles. At Fanfest CCP announced that even previously drop only items called “meta modules” will soon be player manufactured like everything else.

Secondly, in answer to today’s question, yes player economies are crucial to a good MMO. Without one, you might as well just play a single player game.

Lastly, Diablo 3 isn’t an MMO.

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Sally Bowls

Secondly, in answer to today’s question, yes player economies are crucial to a good MMO. Without one, you might as well just play a single player game.

I strongly agree. In fact, it why I get annoyed with the “don’t solo MMOs, play a SPG” comments. The economy is a vital and significant difference between MMOs and SPGs and why I prefer the former. That does not mean I want to invite hordes of NOKDs into my gameplay.

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Bobuliss

Hmm, I’m not as up on my acronyms as I thought, I guess. NOKD?

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Sally Bowls

It was from well before your time: Not our Kind, Dear

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Robert Mann

Player economy should be a very real concern. That said, it should be aimed more squarely at some games, and less at others… because there are people who will want both types.

Personally, Auction houses, or guild auction houses ala ESO, drive me away from a game. They ensure that I will never have the gold required for the gold sinks that developers will put in aimed at the wealth that people who like playing that end of the game accumulate, and in any themepark (at the least) that’s guaranteed to make me lose interest pretty quickly. *There are a few games where prices aren’t badly inflated thus, but they are rare indeed!*

Even worse, if you are aiming at being a sandpark or sandbox game. *Side note, please label correctly, if a game has pretty low depth interaction like AA or BDO it is a sandpark and not a sandbox!* You miss an entire play style, trading, as something interactive beyond just talking to an NPC. Player stores, crafting variations… there’s dozens of possibilities there!

To me, looking at ideally virtual worlds (probably sandpark or sandbox with high PvP restrictions/penalties for unwanted PvP) this is a very real requirement. Without it, the game will once again devolve into little more than another combat simulator. We already have plenty of those, let’s have some variety!

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MurderHobo

I think it’s critical, but I see MMOs as potential worlds and not just entertainment.

Millions of people are working in MMOs. The product of that work has always had value. I want to see virtual worlds where people are making their living from the work done in those worlds.

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Space Captain Zor

Well, if you want to support non-combat characters then you have to have something rewarding, worthwhile, sustaining, and challenging for them to do.

I can think of nothing I loved more in SWG than knowing my efforts spent tracking down and harvesting quality resources which I then spent hard time experimenting with to produce quality goods would go very appreciated by my in-game customers. And because the game’s systems were designed around it the customers would keep coming back for more.

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Giannis Papadopoulos

player economy is very important in an MMO cause it makes all content relevant. In a recent discussion I had about Vanilla wow and why I still like it, was also the “player” economy. Of course Vanilla wow was not 100% player economy, but it was in a very good state.

In order to make gold in wow, you had to trade. There wasn’t a significant gold income directly from the game. What that meant is that every piece of drop mattered. There was not “trash” loot. Everything was valuable. This created a feeling that there is no wasted time…

doing questing out in the world was rewarding. You were killing mobs, and you were getting valuable loots, even in the early levels.

– Quest item doesn’t drop fast? No worries, I am making gold here cause I get valuable loot.
– I have to travel long distance to just talk to an NPC… yea no problem cause I will pick herbs or mines on the way there.

In current wow, loot does not matter.. especially in leveling. People now make gold directly from the game, by clicking some missions in the garrison (WoD) or in class Hall command table (Legion) or by just doing their dailies (Late TBC until MoP).

Professions now dont need to be leveled up, you can craft from skill 1. So all these Linen, mageweave, runecloth, copper, e.t.c does not worth..

Now you level up and you dont even loot the mobs.. there is nothing to be gained from looting mobs between level 1-100… thats why questing and leveling is pointless and feel unrewarding and just a waste of time.

The example of wow also applies to all modern themepark MMOs.

Veldan
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Veldan

I agree. I never played WoW, but I very much recognize what you describe. This is a change I’ve observed in MMOs in general over the years.

Most people did not see what was happening, and welcomed the change as it removed the need to grind. What they did not realize is that grind is experienced. When you take away incentive and reward, even 15 mobs feels like an enormous grind, while if you feel like you’re progressing nicely you can kill 200 mobs straight and still have fun. Needless to say, I much preferred the way things used to be.