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I recently completed a response to a post Charles Durham (Sr. Systems Designer for Wildstar) made on the game's economy -- and wanted to get your take on the situation.
Here's his post: http://www.wildstar-online.com/en/news/wildstars_economic_game.php/
Here's my response
On May 21st, 2014, Charles Durham presented the Wildstar community with a basic analysis of the common problems that game developers face when designing an MMORPG’s economy. He does an exceptional job of explaining why inflation often becomes uncontrollable in a virtual world, and additionally identifies some of the relics of past games that lead to this inflation (traditional concepts of loot). However, the solutions he develops are very different than those that I have, when given the same information.
The first assumption Durham makes is that resources directly acquired from monsters are a key component to an RPG game. For the past ten years, most games have employed the piñata style of loot, where swords and cloaks come flying out of dead wolves, but that does not mean that this type of looting system is essential to a fun RPG experience. The problems that I have with piñata loot are threefold:
I don’t think anyone has ever been excited to receive a [Broken Shell], [Torn Cloak], or [Fish Eyeball]. In MMORPGS, these types of items are essentially another form of dropping pure gold – except with the added nuisance of storing them until you can find a place to sell them. Ignoring the question of why NPCs would purchase trash in the first place, this seems to be one of the first parts of the old loot system that could be eliminated. If an item doesn’t have a market value, it shouldn’t have a value in the world at all—by eliminating this form of gold creation you reduce the complexity of the economic system, thereby making it easier to address issues of inflation.
Another questionable relic of the past is the gold purse tied to every creature wandering the world. It’s difficult for me to identify how much a wolf dropping a few copper pieces contributes to the satisfaction a player receives after defeating it. Sure, those copper pieces add up over time, and allow players to purchase things from NPC vendors, but that seems like post-hoc reasoning for its existence. If money is used as the primary way of rationing content in a game, then it is necessary to have an economic system that generates a significant amount of capital so that players can reasonably enjoy the game without spending hours trying to earn enough money to progress. This means that if players can earn enough in a reasonable amount of time, then those players with an excess of time will be capable of earning enough to continually create a surplus of gold in the world—thus leading to inflation.
I question Durham’s choice to identify “buying stuff” as the fun part of an MMO, when it is probably the least fun part of all. Nobody enjoys parting with their money, what they enjoy is the thing they are purchasing—whether that be a stronger piece of gear or a new décor item for their house. By creating a system that generates large amounts of gold, you are simultaneously creating a system that needs large and numerous money sinks to stabilize the economy. A more reasonable solution would be to create a system that does not generate so much gold in the first place.
This last point may seem repetitive, but it is nevertheless true (especially for Wildstar). When gear has randomized stats and is class-specific, it is typically the equivalent to vendorable trash. Occasionally you will receive a piece of gear that is an upgrade, but the quest-progression system of Wildstar offers gear that is tailored to the needs of each player. This leads to more gold being poured into the economy and bags full of pants that nobody will ever wear. In Wildstar this is especially true, because the stats have different meanings for all the classes and it is difficult for one player to remember what stats are favorable to all the other classes, thus making it difficult to identify which items are worth auctioning.
While I do not totally disagree with the conclusions that Durham makes, I believe that Wildstar could have taken a very different approach to battling inflation in its economy. Right now it’s operating as a heavy-input, heavy-output system—where players are given a lot of gold, but simultaneously asked to part with it at every turn. I am not sure this is preferable to a world where gold is less prevalent, but players can access more content without a monetary cost.
Thanks for sticking with me if you made it this far. If you get the chance to read this Charles, I hope you know how much I admire the work you’ve done, even if I disagree with some of your choices. In my next post I will explore how you can better define the relationship between loot and crafting in an MMORPG and discuss why dropped equipment devalues crafted equipment and hurts virtual economies as a whole.
How is the economy in your experience? Is the game too money-reliant? Do you find yourself severely hindered by gold costs?