Economy: Artificial Troubles

Greetings everyone,

I wanted to start a discussion about various concerns that are normally contained, but pervasive, in MMO economies that are not a typical found in living markets. The reasoning for this thread is that I heard that AoC has brought on an economist to their team but did not go into details beyond that.

As for some background, while I do not have degree in economics I do find it to be a hobby to study and explore the field. I have played MMOs for the better part of 20 years and have played and developed economies for a number LARPs and other non-video games.

What I am looking to accomplish is to outline the various components that might allow a virtual market to exist without succumbing to the pitfalls of the genre. In turn what should be avoided are purely anecdotal evidence or concerns. Please try to use such instances as evidence of a trend or practice rather than the establishment of the rule. Furthermore it is not needed to bash other games or specific characters/players/guilds as that will just pull the conversion off topic.

Thanks <3
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Common Issues:
Inflation - Of some of the most damaging and common folly that a MMO can run into is the unrestricted and every expanding inflation that any game currency occurs simply as a measure of time. This is often due to how wealth is injected into the economy and the source of the wealth. In many games when a creature dies it spawns some measure of wealth along with the delicious exp it yields. It does not matter if this is the first of hundredth slime your character has killed. The mob will continue to spawn new wealth even long after it has stopped providing measurable or any exp at all. The raw currency it spawns is an entirely separate matter from the goods it might also drop (equipment, crafting mats, etc).

Because of this never ending supply of coin it does not matter if it drops 1 copper or 1000 gold. The end result is the same, more currency has been artificially injected into the economy which has a cascading influence to drive up the price of all other goods and services. Now in the past there have been a number of ways in which games have tried to handle this problem. Examples range from loss of some or all of currency upon death, currency sinks (like good/services sold by NPCs), property taxes, and dozens more. The problem with these as measures to effect the inflation is that they typically only slow the process rather than stop it. The issue is that many of the things that are taxed are parts of the game that a player ends up NEEDING to play. If a character could only get their equipment repaired or their body raised after exchanging some game currency at some point a character could hit a wall where they simply lacked the funds to continue meaningfully play the game and as such would likely drive them away. So the costs end up existing by of being such a limited impact that the skill or time played of the character is never an impact on their continued play.

To really combat the issue it could be designed that raw currency is not dropped from the mobs but this only ends up shifting the nature of the economy to a barter system like ended up in games like Diabllo 2 with the "Stone of Jordan" market. In that instance because gold had gotten to be such a joke players began to trade a good of reasonable scarcity. Which was fine until the SoJ became a common enough good (since it dropped off an endless spawning creature) that much like gold you had a laughable currency. Even beyond that the game has various other injectors for the inflation of the markets; things like herbs, ore, and other gathered goods spawn endlessly from nodes so that the game's market is sufficiently saturated. 

The solution to inflation is scarcity. And in a game world that means destruction. So the balance needs to be drawn between goods and services that are removed from play in a reasonable scale to how they are injected. The positive to this is that as it is a game with controlled variable that means that the Devs have a much better chance to address this as it is a matter of value adjustments rather than and globalized market.

Solution Examples: Scarcity without Oppression 
1- If the game has a specific value of currency and goods that spawn into the world as the upper limit. This would mean that the markets would find an equilibrium the closer the game got to that limit. Now the way to mitigate this so that it does not end up with a few players sitting on the bulk of the wealth is that all the goods and services operated by the NPCs that draw wealth out of the economy is then used as the reserves that spawn with mobs. So if a 1000g is pulled out for repairs or property taxes that means that there is 1000g that is available to be spawned with the various mobs. This also means that the goods and services that are used by the rulership/merchant class of players should have the highest ratio of wealth demand. If a player wants to have a shop or use the auction house then the wealth draw from those are reflectively higher than the player is simply stopping by the repair shop.
2- As for goods they need to be able to be completely destroyed. This could come from simple item deterioration, food spoil, and deconstruction. An item if it gets to zero durability is simply destroyed and the goods that were used to craft the item are then seeded back into the world to spawn (it would be best if they respawned in a node not where they were destroyed so it promotes movement and the risk of travel/collection of those resources). The durability of items should also have diminishing returns so that they can not be repaired an unlimited times. When it comes to food/alchemy/enchantments basically anything with a component that could degrade with time have them expire and just be destroyed. This again would push those materials back out into the world to be collected and create a constant demand for those temporary buffs. There could be also be NPCs that sell "storage" services that suspend or slow the degradation process but in exchange for currency. Thus being another source to cycle the wealth of the game and puts Guilds or min-maxed players into the group of economy drivers. And then finally when gear is broken down into lesser and base component have there be a chance that some if not all of the goods are destroyed in the deconstruction action. Perhaps there are NPC tools/stations that can decrease or remove the risk of the component destruction thus putting the crafters also in the position to turn the wealth engine.
3- Create economic solutions to tasks, narration, and events. Instead of just the kill/collect objectives that drive most plot provide an option where if "x" currency or "y" gathered/crafted items are given to the plot creates an option for resolution. Instead of killing the Dragon that spawns the city might choose to bribe it to leave or maybe attack another metropolis. The currency/goods are taken by the system and again reseeded into the world but it means that the gameplay and actions of the gatherers, craftsmen, and merchants are all reasonably impactful as the raiding guilds on shaping the world.

Revenue Streams - Another common pitfall of MMO is that there tend to be only a couple of reasonable revenue streams and they all often follow the same metrics. They mostly fall into, farming mobs, collecting raw materials to sell on the markets, crafting from said raw materials, and lastly services derived from the raw materials and crafted items. What is needed are other methods in which "services" are marketable. Some of this is merely training the player-base to understand the nature that EVERYTHING is a marketable skill/service. Some of the easiest ways to do so is to create lore around the service. For instance a questline or lore that makes players aware of a assassin's cabal or bounty hunter guild can make players aware that they could sell their PvP skills  This could even be facilitated by some NPCs reforming this group and selling contracts to players. Star Wars Galaxies had this a bit with Bounty Hunters and Jedi. In AoC there could be a way to put bounties on characters (like in EVE) or that given certain transgressions in various nodes that the NPCs of that Node might place a bounty on a character. That means that a player could choose a lower profit route of farming or run the risk and skill of taking a contract against a player. Another skill that might have a market is the work of guarding a caravan. It could be that as players could be hired to travel with the caravan or that money can be placed in escrow with the caravan and the more players that show up and fight within a "x" radius of the caravan earn a portion of the currency held within the caravan. The more players that show up to guard the lower the cut of the profits but the higher the risk to the caravan. On the inverse if bandits raid the caravan they might be able to collect some of the goods within as well as the remaining coin held in the caravan's escrow thus making being a bandit profitable and a matter of tactics as to when, where, and with how many you might attack a caravan. The idea is to move people away from simply thinking that "farming" is the only and most optimal means of gaining wealth and that through planning and clever marketing there are other possible more profitable means of playing the game. Finally allowing for the reemergence of old groups or organizations that allow players to join them and push their objectives means that players can find wealth in advancing various areas of the plot. They may wish to see certain groups or organizations succeed but might have to weigh that against another group or organization that is offering better pay or rewards for the advancement of their goals. What it comes down to is choice and agency in how wealth is gained. Diversity will drive interest.
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These are just a few ideas I had and again I welcome the open conversation this might bring. I will also post a duplicate of this topic in the System Discussion Forum as it will likely yield a different flavor of conversation.

Special Note: If any of the Devs or referenced economist comes across this post I am happy to elaborate and expand on the ideas and provide clarity if any of the ideas take to interest.

Comments

  • Wow, that's pretty specific. I also have concerns about an inflated economy due to the non-stop production of seemingly infinite gold coins. I use inflation in the TableTop RPG's I run, my players are always amazed after spending hundreds worth of gold in a small town how quickly the prices jump and population shifts to more clearly defined socioeconomic classes.

    I hope some of what you mentioned will be addressed. I believe most of your concerns are why Steven brought in an economist. From what i remember when he was brought on board, most community members were impressed by his experience.
  • I'm not an economist but I thoroughly enjoyed reading this ^^ Not only do the ideas you have suggested sound practical-  they also sound fun ;) 
  • Good read.

    I also agree with you especially on item deterioration.

    Another great vector as I had posted in another thread is the 3 needs of survival, Food, Water, and Shelter.

    Problem with those items is they tend not to be "Fun".  Granted this a classic case of what is good for the group vrs what is wanted by the group.
  • ArchivedUserArchivedUser Guest
    edited September 2017
    Another thing That I have come to believe is absolutely vital to overall economic health of a MMO is a almost completely player driven economy.

    I.E. gear is not dropped but has to be crafted. 

    Problem with this model, while superior, it also runs into the not fun for a lot of players.
    And what do you do about dungeons and raids where almost every game has made them the basis for gear progression.

    Personally I think the answer is those bosses dropping a combination of high end crafting materials (obviously not soul bound) and temporary boosts items to gear.
    How temporary is open to discussion, but for example a item that gives +5% weapon damage for a month.

    I do believe such a system would not be very popular at first (if ever). And fighting the momentum of the psychology of what gamers have come to expect would be a huge player base killer most likely. These are also steps that would need to be taken to truly help fight the inflationary problems of most mmorpg's and would also by a byproduct to fight the power creep inflation as well.
  • Actually the idea of temporary enhancements from bosses could be really the silver bullet for the standard gear progression model.

    Can you imagine having to plan a raid to take out Flame-morg the Fire Elemental to gain his +5% Damage buff for the month. But then realize that you need to travel through a hostile area and it would make it easier to hit up Darkbeak the Giant Eagle to get that +20% Move Speed buff so that you are not ganked.

    Then someone has a wild idea to try and get the +10% "Luck" enhancement from the Gold Dragon "Goldberg" so that when you finally raid and try to take down Irontooth the Iron Ore Elemental so that it might drop better/more of the items you are after for your crafters/the market.

    This design would mean that guilds could play around and design their raids around building towards an end goal where they may spend the better part of a month moving from various bosses to set up their end run on a particular powerful or profitable boss. Some guilds might use the enhancements as they go to make each boss progressively easier. Others might try to save them and once they have all the enhancements they want they then spend a month blitzing through as many bosses as possible trying to take full advantage of their buffs.
  • Interesting points. I kind of feel not qualified enough to discuss economics in that level of detail! I do know that Intrepid have hired a Ph.D. economist to design the economic systems in the game. I hope he is able to see your input.

    Rocco Scandizzo - Lead Economic Designer

    Rocco has almost 20 years experience in the video game Industry, owns a Ph.D. in Economics, and MBA in Marketing and a BA in Economics. Prior to joining Psyop Games as managing director, Rocco spent more than ten years working in positions of new business, strategy, and marketing. Formerly an Agent at CAA, Partner at ISM, Director of Franchise and License Development at Activision, Director of Strategic Growth at Vivendi Games, and previously at THQ and Atari.
  • ArchivedUserArchivedUser Guest
    edited September 2017
    We do have to remember that currency will be removed from the game due to player inactivity as well. We know that inactivity will relinquish freeholds and player housing (if the taxes are not paid for a given period) but just pure player inactivity can take a lot of gold out of the system.

    When I stopped playing WoW, I had more than 3 million gold on my account. That was just pulled out of the system (drop in the ocean I know, but it demonstrates the point).

    Great write-up though. The economy stuff I just leave to people smarter than me. I am really interested in it, as it is really key to the longevity of a system, and I don't want to see arbitrary gold sinks that are created by the devs because the system got out of control.
  • We need good money and gear sinks and we will be just fine. Taxes are good and common solution to get money out of the game and maybe some NPC services like repair would work great too. Also buying land and vanity items can be few options. 

    Maybe crafting could use old gear pieces to craft new ones and/or gear needs to be salvaged at some point to get some resources back instead of repairing.
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