Massively Overthinking: Making money in MMOs – easy, hard, or in-between?


A few days ago, I was hanging out in a certain MMORPG’s Discord when an age-old class fight broke out – and I don’t mean character class. Essentially, some players were arguing that the game was being tuned around extremely rich veteran characters, while new and poor and casual players were left fighting over scraps. The rich players didn’t appoint themselves well in the melee, if I can be honest; instead of explaining to the rookies how to catch up in funding, they decided to mock them and their game choices. It… wasn’t a great look for the community.

For this week’s Massively Overthinking, I want to talk about making money in MMOs. Do you go out of your way to make money in online games? Is it a core part of the experience for you, or do you just take whatever you get? What role does in-game money play for you in MMOs? Is making money in MMOs easy, hard, or somewhere in-between for you?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Not gonna lie, game economics have kept me in games far longer than traditional gameplay, particularly in Horizons/Istaria, World of Warcraft, and Darkfall. Possibly Star Wars: The Old Republic as well, though class stories were also a big factor. In-game cash is mostly so I can get around not doing raid content solo, providing stuff for my friends/guilds (especially in PvP games), and a little bit because I’m usually good at it. Not just for cash but tradeable items, like armor, keys, mounts, rare-stat tradeable monsters… it’s the beauty of being a hoarder. It’s also why games that cut out trading often cut out a big hook for me to stay on board.

Andy McAdams: I like the “game” of making money within a game to a particular point. Usually because the in-game economy is either built in such a way that after making X amount of money in the game, it snowballs and making tons more money in the game is trivial and the “game” of making money isn’t fun anymore. The other side is that at some point making more money becomes so burdensome that the money-making game has to become the entire experience in the MMO, which also isn’t fun.

So I dunno, I enjoy playing the markets to a certain extent, then hit diminishing returns towards the end of the mid-game.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): It depends a lot on the MMO for me. If it’s a themepark, I usually don’t invest a lot of effort into Making Monies just to have it because there’s usually very little to spend it on anyway. In sandboxes, however, having screw-you money is absolutely my jam; I like being able to splash out on cosmetics and housing deco and all that whenever I feel like it, as that’s often The Game for me. Whether it comes easily also depends on the systems in the game; I spent a lot of time farming bosses in Classic Guild Wars, for example, but playing the market and crafting is usually more my speed in MMOs, so I’d say that’s my core experience and the actual currency is a happy side-effect. A game without proper trading is probably going to lose my interest regardless.

As a side note, I happen to be a rich person in the MMO where I saw that argument break out, and I was extremely disappointed in the wealthy players who decided to dump on newbies and poorbies. That’s not at all in the spirit of that game/server or our genre. This is a game that routinely runs newbie events to help people get a good start. Who wastes a drop of precious life making fun of newcomers in chat? If that’s you, go touch grass. And maybe stay out there.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): I will answer Overthinking only by posting this video with no further explanation.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): I honestly don’t focus on or care much about how much money I have in MMOs. In fact, I end up just hoarding it anyway and not spending, so how much I have doesn’t mean much of anything! I just can’t bring myself to spend, especially on myself. Honestly, it’s the same as me in real life who still hyperventilates at spending money! The only time I can spend with less anxiety is on new folks and friends, so that’s pretty much all I use money for in games. If there is a way to earn something I want without spending, I’d put tons of time in for that instead of what would be easier done with a purchase. Note: I am getting somewhat better about all this!

That said, in regards to finances I really enjoy playing the market wars in some games (EverQuest II and SWG were the best!), selling off my wares and loot, and maintaining a shop. Of course I love when I could buy low/sell high, but it was more the thrill of making the profit/having the sale than how much said profit ever was.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I usually don’t worry so much about money in games. I probably fall into the poor category typically. I like to make just enough to get the highest-end gear, and then I don’t mess around with it much.

There’s only been a handful of times I’ve really worked towards having money in a game. One of the moments that stands out to me was when I tried hard but then also got walked on. When Guild Wars 2 first launched ascended gear, I really wanted to be one of the first players to get a full set. At the time, the only way to gain a set was through crafting, and there was a component that I think was time gated. It was also semi-expensive, at least for me. I had to liquidate all my extra mats to be able to afford it. Well, I managed to make the set pretty quick, and I was standing by for a Tequatle run when another player fully decked out ran up to me and started to dance. I thought we were having a moment until he drew his legendary. Then swapped to his other one. Then his other. I think he might have had the set! I didn’t even have one. Boo.

MOP Patron Adam Babloyan: I largely ignore money and just make it as I go. I don’t like buying things off the marketboards as I feel their necessity is either a failure of game design (i.e., quests and/or crafting don’t award acceptable gear) or a shortcut I’m unwilling to take as I prefer to earn or make my own gear. Most of my in-game Gil gets burned on things like travel costs, repairs, and glamours.

Money making isn’t a core component of my gaming experience, and considering the damage real world money trading and bots do to the actual game world, I wouldn’t be against an MMO that one day forced you to be entirely self-sufficient. No trading of any type. You want it, go earn it.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!
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