The Daily Grind: When should MMO companies intervene in borky MMO economies?

    
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On this week’s MassivelyOP podcast, Justin and I answered a question about whether MMO studios have a responsibility to monitor and nudge the player economies inside the game. The example given was the Mystic Coin market in Guild Wars 2, which had been ballooning for unknown reasons. As it happens, those reasons were nefarious, and the whole story is much darker than we imagined. As MOP reader Godnaz pointed out, the Guild Wars 2 Exchange subreddit apparently uncovered and outed a “trade baron” who is now accused of actual cheating. The moderator specifically says that the sub’s chief motivation in going public was to “ensure the duping problems will be fixed” – in other words, to force ArenaNet to intervene should it be otherwise inclined.

“We have strong circumstantial evidence to suggest that Casiano has duped 30+ million gold (roughly 2 million dollars if purchased with gems) worth of high value items and evidence that he is involved in gold selling/real money trading. We were initially made aware of the duping situation after Casiano accidentally flashed his private guild bank on his May 4th stream. After the accidental reveal, he spent the next hour trying to play it off/saying he needed to delete the vod (he did), which unsurprisingly only brought more attention to the issue, and raised our suspicions.”

I think this one is a no-brainer; obviously, studios should crack down on actual cheating, and duping falls into that category. But what if this hadn’t turned out to be a cheating scandal – should ArenaNet have done something about the wild MC market? When exactly should MMO companies intervene in MMO economies? Where do you draw the line?

(Thanks to Tom and Godnaz for the timely question and tip, respectively!)

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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texyFX

Smith, Keynes, Schumpeter, von Hayek, Friedman etc. – as any other advocates of the “free market” still install some regulations on trade: there never was and never will be a free (ie. unregulated) market. the free market is a liberal myth (as any free-trade-agreement) abused to obscure the distribution hierarchy of the class society.

so is every MMO market a priori regulated (framed) via the games content: ressources, items (mounts, pets, equipment, cosmetics etc., also crafts), currency (generation) etc. and trade options/lanes. no seller simply can go wild and create something out of nothing, any seller depends on the given options.

besides the scale there is not much difference between the global market and MMO economies. both need regulation to counter monopolies, trusts and otherwise predatory strategies. (which in fact failed everytime, from Sherman Anti Trust Act 1890 to EU Capital Requirements Regulation (Kapitaladäquanzverordnung))

due to the limited scale MMO markets r quite simple to control, as trade exclusively can work in the given frame, and there is a vast ensemble of control options: AH taxes, gold sinks, currency ratio (gph) unto nerfs (Blizzney loves to nerf 2×4 hyperspawns) and currency wipes.

there is only one singular component which r beyond any devs control: ofc the customer. the customer, aka the demand is the breaking and most neglected point of any market, nothing goes without the customer. (see Phillip K. Dicks auto-fac)
most neglected, cuz even being the majority, customers rights always have to subject to any industries terms. for the result of banks are too-big-too-fail, Big Oil repentance of guilt (carbon footprint,ie. blaming the customers for climate change), tax havens for global cons etc.

since f2ps introduction of additional monetisation layers MMO markets gained further relevance than the boosting economies, which were vibrant long before (and feed deeply into RCT). cosmetics, buffs (flasks, pots etc.), equipment etc. became an attractor to invest into this new facette of gameplay, which was cemented further with Plex, WoW Token etc.

so ofc devs r required to regulate the ingame economy in the interest of the majority. to guarantee fair participation, to not exclude and therefore neglect any user from a relevant aspect of the game is an accessibility standard.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

I don’t believe in game-economies and usually stay well outside them by making alts to craft things I need. I’m usually gold-poor in every game I play.

I use the auction house, but usually check out prices pretty carefully before posting anything. I’ll put low-level equipment on the AH at beginner prices, but often feel that I’m just feeding the wheelers and dealers who snap it up and resell it at end-game prices.

The reason I don’t believe in game-economies is for the reason Ark states below: There’s a small fraction of the player base that controls the economy in every game.

Also, gaming the marketplace is a full-time job and therefore the main reason for playing for those who do it. I did that for a short time in WoW long ago and just don’t find it satisfying. Some players, however, find the marketplace is what gaming is all about (See, the many, many complaints about D3 removing the AH and PoE not having a central AH).

Should devs interfere? If they are tweaking balance and skills to level the playing field, why shouldn’t they also be tweaking a central part of the game like their economy?

I think the reason it isn’t done more often or done at all is because it’s hard, harder than balancing skills for PvP and PvE. They would probably need a Chief Economist on their staff to monitor the marketplace every day just like in the real world to catch shifts that could mean cheating and trends that signal an unhealthy imbalance and to recommend changes to the game: all a pretty unlikely scenario.

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Adam Russell

I dont see it as a problem except in cases of cheating or monopolizing of the spawn locations. If the going price of certain items is high thats not an issue so long as it is possible to go farm those items yourself.

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Hikari Kenzaki

It was pointed out in chat last night how dire the Neverwinter economy has become (especially when you compare it to STO which has similar systems in place).

In Neverwinter, the exchange currently has over 70 million zen attempting to be purchased and no one is selling. Worse, the exchange rate is 1 zen to 750 diamonds. Players in chat said it was a 4-5 month turnaround to get zen in this manner.

This seems like a critical failing of the market. My guess is it’s because there is just not enough items achievable with diamonds that a player would just want to pay to get. And even then, we’re still talking billions of Astral Diamonds.

A limited (1-week availability) golden cat companion runs 50m Astral Diamonds, but I’m sure anyone that was willing to pay $600+ to get one probably could have done so with the RNG lockboxes for less money

The point of all this is that the numbers are not recoverable without Cryptic intervention. I don’t see their current player base suddenly dumping $700k into the game and righting the ship. I’m not sure what they*could* do that wouldn’t adversely affect the company’s bottom line, but in the end, Zen isn’t real money.

My guess would be they would need to both offer items in-game (not on auction) that cost 50-100 million AD or more and also deal with the Zen/AD exchange backlog either by filling it all themselves and resetting the exchange rate to something manageable or some other means. But it’s something they should really have an economist look at.

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Arktouros

I’ve never seen an economy where players determine the prices that doesn’t always have some extremely small 1% style group at the top who pretty much control everything or have taken advantage of the system in some manner. In most cases there’s very little companies can do to deter that. If they change the economy, those kinds of people will just take advantage of the “new” thing whatever that is (or whatever they make it is).

Obviously companies should fix any kind of exploit or cheating. As for how involved they should get, really depends on the system they setup. Like Black Desert has no player trading and the price for most items in the game is largely set by the devs. However because of that they shower you with game rewards and allow for things like workers gathering resources for you.

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laelgon

Beyond cheating, studios need to intervene when the economy starts negatively impacting your average player. Very often a game’s economy gets inflated or broken to the point where it’s only accessible to the people who have been playing for ages and have amassed huge piles of wealth by virtue of just out-earning the gold sinks or the people who are just there to play the economy game.

Should a super rare piece of gear be wildly expensive, yes, that makes sense. The problem is when someone looking to equip themselves with decent gear can’t with the money they’ve earned just by playing the game to that point.

Obviously context is important. If it’s a game like EVE which is predicated on the idea of being dominated in all ways by spreadsheet warriors, then that’s one thing. A themepark game is another.

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styopa

Considering that (afaik) game companies are CONSTANTLY taking metrics of player behavior – how long they spend at this quest, or in that area, apm in various combats, etc etc – the idea that they don’t “notice” duping of $millions in items is astonishing. (Anet is just the most recent example; this has happened to every big MMO out there)

What, precisely are those metrics for, and who, precisely, is watching them?

Computers, I’m told, are fairly good with managing massive sets of numbers; it would seem right in their wheelhouse to survey vast databases of items constantly and if at timestamp 12:04:43 there are 263 ‘things’ in the server database, and at 12:04:46 there are now 1,322,650 ‘things’ in the database, to maybe flag someone that this might need human attention?

Failing that, the alternative answer that my cynical brain provides is that they CAN see it but they just don’t bother to, or worse, they just don’t care.

The latter is the most corrosive, of course. If the devs and company are perceived not to care about what’s going on in their game*, why should the rest of us?

*and understand, fairness isn’t trivial: the perception of FAIRNESS is deep, deep in our human psyche. Even tiny babies recognize and object to simple unfair acts. It’s even one of the few things that’s prepolitical: what a person feels it’s critical to be fair about are one of the things that divides us politically left/right, but we’re both fundamentally concerned about fairness.

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SmiteDoctor

Maybe it’s a money laundering scheme.

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Dug From The Earth

There is no perfect economy… at the same time, these are games, they are supposed to be enjoyable, fun and entertaining. I believe that when those elements start to dwindle because of ANY element, the devs should intervene. (or stop intervening if they are the ones causing it to dwindle… ahem.. Blizzard)

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Utakata

I believe MMO companies can intervene at anytime, they choose not too. Or least they claim not to, oft for some weird libertarian/economic voodoo reasoning. And the fact they do every time they release a goldsink pony…

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Neurotic

I think that the economic “game within a game” aspect of a game that Sean mentions below, can easily become a problem when it starts to impact the players who aren’t involved in that meta game. Like, when genuinely new players can’t afford to buy new gear on the auction house because the gear is priced out by twinkers. That’s one point when someone needs to step in and interfere.

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Adam Russell

Why cant said new player go get the drops himself the old fashioned way?

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Neurotic

Well, rarity and a lack of time or desire to grind are two factors there.