More on MMORPG Economics

My fascination with the economics of MMORPGs continues. I've recently reached the point in Dark Age of Camelot where it's time to start thinking about the "end-game", the stuff you do after you've "won" by hitting level 50. There's more economic motion in this part of the game, because there are more people in it - once you're at this stage, you stay there, unlike all the other levels.

A major part of the end-game is concerned with artifacts - powerful items that require an informal quest to gain, and a particular encounter to activate, which can't be traded to other players once they're made active. These things are bigger and better versions of ordinary weapons, armour, and jewellery, which become more powerful as you use them in certain situations. For each one, you need to get hold of the artifact itself, which is dropped - sometimes - by a powerful monster (mob), and three scrolls (sometimes parts of a book, or the like) which are dropped by less powerful but still tough creatures. The scrolls are dropped randomly, and not very often. The artifacts are dropped fairly frequently, but the creatures that drop them spawn less often. And finally, to activate the artifact, you must have participated in killing the monster that dropped it.

This process gives rise to a whole new terminology, and new activities. One can "farm" scrolls, killing the monsters that drop them again and again, and selling off the scrolls. You "camp" the artifact mobs, waiting for them to spawn, so you can kill them and get the item. And then you "xp the arti" - use it in the situations where it gains power. Some scrolls and artifacts sell off for ridiculous prices; the Gem of Lost Memories, at least according to rumour, has been seen to sell for 15 platinum. There are other scrolls that routinely go for 6 platinum. There's a lot of money to be made ingame on this - more, if you're lucky, than from crafting, or selling aurulite, and definitely more than you'd ever get by just picking up coin from ordinary kills. Most of this stuff is bought by players who want to power themselves up for the Realm versus Realm areas. And yet the money has to come from somewhere, so for the 15 platinum paid for the Gem of Lost Memories represents someone's time killing off about 10,000 powerful creatures - assuming they were lucky enough to get 1.5 gold per kill.

It's well known that these activities cross over to the real economy, though - it's nearly impossible to create a closed economy for purposes of a game. Magic: The Gathering didn't manage it, soccer and other major sports haven't done so, and none of the MMORPGS have come even near it. No matter how much it's written into the terms and conditions that it's not allowed, it continues. In fact, selling virtual gear has become so prevalent that Sony Online Entertainment have created a service whereby virtual gear in their games, Everquest being the big name here, can be sold legally.

This has caused uproar, of course. There's a sizable discussion as The Terra Nova writers comment on "SonyBay", and they're not the only ones.

I'm on the fence. I really like the idea that people can make money playing computer games - but I don't want my games spoiled by folks coming in who bought all their gear with cash, rather than working for it like the rest of us. I'm fairly certain there's nothing that can be done to prevent it, though, and I'm currently thinking that people who have bought their gear and characters are likely to be, plain and simple, less skilled players than those who've worked their way up. So even after the investment, they get beaten.

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Posted by Drew Shiel at June 2, 2005 1:46 PM

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