The Economy of MMOs in Regards to Equipment

Discussion in 'MMO Design and Virtual Worlds' started by DjinnFor, Oct 8, 2009.

  1. DjinnFor

    DjinnFor New Member

    Minor wall of text ahead...

    The primary problem I think, in regards to a majority of MMOs, is related to Sirlins key points about competition: that they have no decision-making and no valuation required. Decision-making is often done in the first few months of the release of new content where players experiment more than not with any new classes, races, or skills that have come out in order to determine the best one and start min-maxing it. Valuation is non-existent as the players have all the data in front of them and simply translate it into what would win and what would not. Low-level equipment is always worse than high-level equipment, and picking the right gear doesn't go beyond knowing what everyone else thinks is the best.

    The primary reason for the lack of decision-making and valuation in the micro-management of gear and skills is that there is not enough factors to consider that might be ambiguous enough that two different players will have differing viewpoints. The current decision involves determining the equipment with the better and more helpful stat bonuses, but nothing else. Gold price doesn't often come into play because it's a one time investment where the bonuses are always worth the cost (and even if they aren't it's assumed that if you have the gold and you're keeping the item for a while you ought to take it, as over time it will justify the investment).

    I don't know about skills, but simple economics can help solve the gear problem. The idea for an ideal economy is that the people keep paying each other for services rendered and goods purchased so that the money cycles around. One problem with MMOs is that money is constantly being injected into the economy through monster drops (which increases inflation), and rarely being taken out of the economy through NPC services or goods payment. Another problem is that the money often doesn't cycle well between players thanks to the fact that goods are obtained from suppliers (monsters) by accident and sold as one-shot instances to consumers (players).

    My proposed solution might help turn the MMOs artificial economy into a free market-esque one, but the primary goal of it is to increase the level of valuation and decision-making.

    My idea is to create degrading goods and services to FORCE more exchanges of goods. As it stands the way to succeed in terms of Gear is to buy the best and most expensive ones. But what about the idea of weapons, armor, and other gear that have extremely limited life-spans and can't be repaired? This would force players to make active economical decisions rather than encouraging pile-on play. It also helps to reduce inflation as all items are not as useful as they once were.

    By adding in the concept of degrading gear, you're creating a solid link between gold and gear stats that force people to make active decisions: should I pick the best gear knowing that it will give me a minor boost but cost twice as much over the long run? It becomes difficult to determine which gear is the most important and why given a players economical status. This also gives them a greater reason in investing in the economy, in order to maintain their economic worth. Some players might be of the opinion that it isn't worth the money, while others will pay the difficult price and gain enough of an edge to kill them (my assumption is that this is a largely PvP world).

    Of course, you might be able to burn a bit of cash into fixing old weapons, but the idea is that the extent to which you can repair them degrades as you repair them (suppose the maximum repair value shrinks by 10% of the value you repaired). This can create even more decision-making and valuation: should I pay an exorbitant rate simply to gain another days worth of life out of it?

    The concept of degrading can be applied to almost everything and anything:

    -Imagine a map-making 'job' that allows players to fast-travel and where the maps themselves become useless (takes longer to fast travel) over time. This ensures that the map-maker's products become useful while simultaneously creating decision-making and valuation. This can be applied to any 'job'.
    -What about skills and abilities that degrade over time, requiring maintenance? Maybe not, but even better; what about skills and abilities that don't have a hard cap, or a soft cap, but a cap that follows a mathematical asymptote: you can increase them forever and ever, and they will get closer and closer to a target point, but never actually reach it. What if that asymptote was 100% efficiency and players had to make a decision on whether to waste months to get a minor effect? What if the skills degraded over time too, requiring constant effort, maintenance, and decision-making?

    If everything degraded like so, it would not only encourage better micro-management, decision-making, and valuation, but encourage the cycling of money as in a free-market system and force the exchange of goods. The next problem, as I see it, is to get rid of the accidental economy, where the idea is to get rid of what you don't want rather than sell what people do want. Accidental economies, in the real world, have the tendency to fail regularly in comparison to profit-inspired economies, so why would it be different for a simulated reality? I'm thinking of something like no monster drops at all whatsoever, and giving the tools to make weapons to the player, but I'll get back to you guys on that.
  2. Callan S.

    Callan S. New Member

    Depends on whether there's a finish line, I'd think in terms of the applicable psychology. And given it's a mmorpg, they don't seem to like to have endings.

    Put it this way - why are you fighting to suceed, when everything that might be considered a mark of success is degrading away and will disappear? If there was a finish line to the game, I'd grant it works because then you can say you beat the game and you've got that win, forever. It doesn't matter if all that gear rots because it was a means to an end. But if there is no end, then that gear is the only mark of success, and that mark is fading away.
  3. Logo

    Logo Well-Known Member

    There are some issues around degrading equipment that you have to consider, such as stranding people with no gear + no money, but overall its a core idea to any game that wants a working economy. Without an outflow of goods there's just no way to keep the economy active and stimulated. Players will just 'max out' and stop participating in any part of the economy other than consumables.

    My one gripe with the equipment wear model though is that it punishes all players equally. Personally I'm a fan of EvE's model but that only works for well EvE. In EvE ships don't deteriorate but they are lost when blown up. This means you have an outflow of goods but only when you 'fuck up'. Play smart and your goods stay around. I don't have the slightest idea how to translate that over to a fantasy MMO without being heavy handed about it and having weapons degrade or disappear when you die. In a fantasy MMO its also a bit harder to keep people using consumables as you can't just force everyone to use bullets or anything like that.
  4. DjinnFor

    DjinnFor New Member

    In response to Callan S.,

    Personally, I think it's a shallow game where the indicators of success are the objects that allow you to succeed. It seems that beating hard enemies isn't intrinsically success; the marks of success are the gear you get from it. So the indicators of success have nothing to do with you, and everything to do with a bit of binary on a file stored away in their server database.

    But you do have a point; I'd need to think about what it is to strive for. Personally, the success of beating a difficult opponent is what allows me to play games with no rewards whatsoever (the thrill of competitive gaming, I guess), but in regards to MMOs? Perhaps a bit of genre mixing is at hand. What about an MMO that works much like they do today (nothing real special about it) but with mechanics that allow you to build an empire?

    Perhaps you'll start small, with a house in the middle of nowhere. It ought to require maintenance, but it will be there for quite some time. A little bit of statistics mixed with sociology in the form of NPCs will determine how many of them are attracted to your hut. In the beginning, there might only be one little hut, plus a couple of your personal followers. Your fellow PCs might set-up their own houses there, too, but overall it's just a small band. Going on in the background is a fairly complicated engine whereby your followers might hunt food for your table while you go off on epic quests (/exaggeration), visit a nearby city for supplies, construct their own little houses, and set-up farms. Soon you might find a blacksmith pops out of the ground out of nowhere, attracted by the sizeable population of followers you've accumulated, followed by miners and millers and tradesman and merchants and whatnot. All of this isn't complicated to build if you focus on modularity. Pretty soon a sizeable town has sprouted.

    Of course, more thought needs to be put into something like that (I can already envision problems, and fixes to those problems, and room for improvement), but you get the gist. Eventually, due to the combination of PCs and NPCs, you might find a fully functioning simple middle-age style economy going on. Of course, it ought not to be a faux-pas show for the player: you should go out of your way to come up with actual reasons why people would be attracted (proximity to nearby resources?) and implement them in the game, as well as NPC exclusive concepts like the amount of arrable farmland nearby limiting the population size, or the proximity of metals influencing the wares sold at the blacksmith and the prices charged by merchants. There should be actual products like food and clothing sold in the background (and I suppose room for a player to set-up their own shop through a follower).

    We could take this economic and social model and extend it to include every aspect we can think of. Perhaps the proximity to nearby monsters will give rise to a mercenary guild being set-up in order to fight them. Whatever.

    All I'm saying is that we could provide a goal: the large, indestructable castle, the heroic empire, the leader of the guild, the master smithy, the lord of the town; anything you can strive for is accessible. Streamlined, sure; no sense in forcing players to micromanage gathering food and clothing for the winter. But we can have the 'anything you want to do' goal; designers just need to want to take it that far.

    I suppose I've rambled a little too much. You could probably make this a new thread. But, do you get what I'm saying? I'd rather that game than one we have now. And I've created and programmed these types of models before, and it's strange that such an old concept hasn't made it into video games yet.
  5. Claytus

    Claytus Well-Known Member

    First off, I completely disagree with your premise. I think a lot of current MMOs *do* have notable valuation decisions in terms of gear. For two reasons: 1) Even if you can look up an "optimal" set online, not every player has access to that gear in the first place, so individual players are often left with a non-obvious decision based on their actual available options. 2) Not all MMOs have gameplay that lends itself to a simple, permanent decision on gear like you describe. I could go with a lot of examples here... but perhaps the simplest is FFXI, which, unlike WoW, allows you to switch armor in the middle of combat. While in general this is bad (it forces many classes to carry massive amounts of equippable items to maximize their potential), the one huge benefit is it means each player has to understand the value of each piece, and know when the flow of battle calls for that piece.

    I'm also not sure about your economy ideas. Most of the games out there rely on both permanent items (armor), and expendable items. Again referencing FFXI... the ninja spells each permanently consume an item that can only be produced through crafting each time their cast (and they are cast constantly...), there are craftable rings which allow a player to teleport themselves 10x and then have to discarded and repurchased, pretty much just like your map idea. So, I don't see any reason we'd want to remove the permanent items... you can keep a game economy running without needing to make absolutely everything degradable, and players would most likely just get mad that their power level constantly fluctuates. Even disregarding pvp, it would be incredibly hard for most people to know when they can fight on, and when they're degraded stats are going to get them killed in the next fight...

    And lastly... there are several MMOs that effectively have (or had) a working economy. FFXI, Eve, UO, I think all had no shortage of player exchanges going on. The problem with all those games, is that inevitably rampant inflation and deflation occured as a result of the waxing and waning of gold-sellers, rather than in-game supply and demand. At this point, I honestly believe it's not possible to create a real economy in these games, and WoW had the right idea when they went in and price-fixed everything through vendors. (Basically WoW has no deflation because player to player prices for commonly farmed items are always just slightly higher than player to npc prices. As soon as supply gets too high, the excess just disappears into the nether.) I see your idea causing the same negative effects. Some players will farm currency while not caring about obtaining good items. Other players will buy that currency, and use it to stockpile massive amounts of new armor, so they never have to deal with degraded stats. (And most likely, the same players farming currency will also become good crafters... so they sell gold, sell items in the game to people who bought gold to get the gold back... and then sell the same gold again... which is basically the exact sequence of events that destroyed prices in FFXI). You're making the exchanges occur more often than before, but other than that, I just see you describing the same old system that's always been there.
  6. nifboy

    nifboy Member

    Puzzle Pirates works using the Decay model, decaying each item you own each day you log in, minus some big-ticket items (Ships, which can sink in mass pvp, houses and other miscellaneous goods). Last I heard its economy had other problems, but the core is still reasonably free-market.
  7. Callan S.

    Callan S. New Member

    I think I get what you mean. But there's probably this two step perceptual issue going on - if getting these things are a win state (ie, a goal you want to win at), then having them decay away after you won them...doesn't feel like a win? Or is that just me? It'd be like winning a sports trophy and it slowly started to melt the next day.

    The second issue is that even if you make them permanent, then your slipping back to the permanent gear model because some people wont see getting a smithy as a win, they'll just think its some way to getting some other, bigger, awesomer thing.

    Or maybe I'm wrong and it'd end up, for the psychology of the player, sort of like 'winning stepping stones' where there's alot of decaying stuff but every so often you obtain something permanent, and it's so permanent and different it feels like a win...and helps you get decaying stuff that helps you get toward the next permanent thing and so on.
  8. Trevor

    Trevor Member

    If I understand correctly, you've described how the economy in Star Wars Galaxies used to work before they 'upgraded' it.

    Basically, player crafted items were the best items but would degrade after a few weeks of real world time. So there was a constant demand for resources, shipping, crafting, and protection of all those steps.

    And people loved it.
  9. elliott20

    elliott20 Member

    UO actually DID suffer from economic problems, but it's mostly because of the "learn by doing" model they have, which means players will end up producing a lot of items which are junk but then the stores just won't buy due to a low demand for said items.

    people complaint and items started to pile up. So UO was changed so that a merchant will take your item no matter what condition it was in. and just like that, inflation set in.
  10. monkeyswinkle

    monkeyswinkle Member

    Here's a link for you about UO economy.
  11. DjinnFor

    DjinnFor New Member

    Fair enough; I'll admit that without enough gold the choice is often difficult, and some MMOs have unique properties or mechanics that cause new or different valuations. I understand that MMOs as a whole have a lot of variety when it comes down to the mechanics, but I still think that in the end, the degrading model will increase valuation and decision making, even if there is a lot of that going on already. In addition, I'm thinking of more end-game style play, where the player has accumulated enough play-time to have the best weapons and gear. In that situation issues of gold rarely surface unless you have something along the lines of PvP where the loser drops all equipment when they die.

    That last sentence is my point; it encourages valuation and decision-making. In regards to the expendable vs. permanent issue, I personally don't think we have enough expendables to create an self-sustained, healthy economy. An efficient, self-sustained economy requires the value of purchases to be equal to the income received by the work force, and a healthy economy is one that has the shortest time period possible between getting paid and spending it and getting paid again (the slower it is, the more consumers are usually hoarding, which usually decreases profits each term and forces business to lay off workers). If the economy is healthy the overall standard of living increases as business continue to show a profit each term and increase the size and scope of the business, creating more jobs and increasing the level of technological improvement (technological improvement representing that degrading efficiency value of skills/jobs/abilities/whatever).

    I suppose in addition to that it would make sense to have two values; efficiency and experience. Experience would increase the rate that efficiency increases over time (and be represented by a static integer value that increases as current experience does), but of course efficiency would decrease by a fixed value that would become more and more impacting the higher you go. Keep in mind the ideas I'm bouncing are open for improvement if you can offer it.

    This kind of issue can be fixed with my last point that I, admittedly, failed to expand on at all (just mentioned), is removing random drops completely. This at first seems like a bad idea, but by removing the quantity of gold being injected into the economy through monster drops (which rapidly increases inflation) and changing that to, say, the level of gold injected through NPCs (aka NPCs buy your wares, or something, as per the concepts described when I was talking about gold), it can be heavily regulated so that the amount paid to NPCs is the amount paid to the PCs overall. Following this, not only are players able to participate in every aspect of the economy (by providing services to NPCs and players alike) but the economy becomes self-regulating. Now, this wouldn't hold up (would cause massive deflation) if the population of PCs and NPCs were to increase. So another background process could increase the supply of gold at the same rate, imitating the role of the modern bank or government.

    Of course, this would reduce the value of killing monsters to grind, and force the players to earn money elsewhere, but I really don't want to spend a lot of time listing the new ways players would get gold and how those would improve the economy, unless you want me to.
  12. nifboy

    nifboy Member

    So instead of having the usual "gold fountain -> economy -> gold sink" be proportional to player activity you try to keep the amount of gold within the economy constant on the back end through NPCs? I'm not sure that's necessarily any better than just treating it as a special form of a commodity (see e.g. the Puzzle Pirates economy).
  13. Claytus

    Claytus Well-Known Member

    I think you'd have to otherwise change the gameplay for this to work. Most MMOs, it's a trivial task for players to chain kill hundreds, if not thousands of monsters in a single day. So, in general fights are very short, and very one-sided in the players favor. This is helped by having a very static power level for both the player and monsters. However, when things go wrong, they tend to go very wrong, and in order to make sure there's some threat to the player, and it's often nearly impossible to run away from a battle once you start losing it.

    Your idea seems to be increasing the risk of attacking a monster, since it's easier to mistake your current power level relative to the monster you attack. But you haven't proposed any counterattacking force to make players actually accept that.

    It's a very hard sell to say that MMOs aren't difficult enough. It's just that the difficulty comes from new content, of which the companies try to ensure there is a never-ending supply. Making existing content remain difficult even if you've defeated it already (I just killed a dropbear, but is my armor now too damaged to survive fighting another?), isn't something that's really needed or desired...

    As regards the idea that the existing item turnover isn't enough: The evidence is against you. FFXI accomplished it by letting a player level multiple classes, so you're constantly acquiring more permanents for something (it's technically possible to max out every class... but even for the super hardcore players it takes like 4 years...). WoW does it by adding expansions every year that make all the current items obsolete, which is too fast for all but a small percentage to actually get the best stuff. Not to mention, both games do it by using the near-constant influx of new players (and old players making new characters) to keep weaker items at least slightly valuable.

    I don't think this would actually do anything. Again, in most of the games it's just a known factor that activities like crafting and HELM (HErbs, Lumber, and Mining) are more lucrative than killing monsters. And the randomness hardly matters either... it's not like one guy gets a huge amount of gold by random one day, and then doesn't earn anything for a week. People who do kill monsters to farm actively search for the most consistent source of income, and just kill that one thing.

    Making them have to do something else, means just that... they'd still sit around grinding for currency, it's irrelevant whether killing monsters is involved or not. The "nice" thing about random drops, is it takes the existing gameplay that's used for earning levels, and reuses it for earning gold... so players who enjoy that gameplay aren't forced into something different, and companies have a safety net in case one of their "real" economy systems turns out to be terrible.
  14. PeterTheLeader

    PeterTheLeader New Member

    Face of Mankind anyone? It uses a closed monetary system. There will be as much now as there will be next year. A very interesting system and it works extremely well.

    Basically, there are no NPC's and it is purely a PvP system. One can make goods that costs money (you sort of drill for the materials and craft them), however that money goes to the faction that controls the planet. Faction funds are given to the faction's players as a mission reward. Items can deteriorate, you use ammo that you have to constantly buy/make, and your inventory can be taken off your "dead body" (basically a backpack on the ground).

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