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The Barrier to Big
by Ramin Shokrizade on 05/31/13 01:10:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


In 1997 the size of games got much bigger with the introduction of Ultima Online. In 1999 the scope of games increased again dramatically with the release of Everquest. Now it was possible to have complex social interactions in virtual space, and even have virtual careers that paid more than “real world” careers (this is me, “Lee”, in 2000:

Then the top got completely blown off of gaming with the introduction of two games in 2003, CCP's EVE Online and Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft. Both of these games ended up being the pinnacle of “Big” in our industry and they just kept getting bigger. Then a strange thing happened.

 Nothing happened.

In the arena of “big”, it became a veritable Damnation Alley with competitors crashing and burning right and left. Millions of dollars were lost and investors became panicked. There were a few standouts that held their own, like Cryptic Studio's (NCSoft's) City of Heroes and Square Enix's Final Fantasy XI. Competitors thinking they had to be “bigger than Big” died horrible and gruesome deaths in the marketplace. I could give names, but I don't think several pages of literally billions of dollars of lost investments is necessary here.

I'm going to let you in on a secret I have been sitting on for years now. It was never about Big.

 It was about Equity.

 The Role of Equity in Gaming

When you put a lock on the door to your house, it is not just to protect your life, but to protect your belongings. Both have value to you that has built up over your lifetime. This is equity. When you call the police and they come to help you, it is to protect that same equity and possibly the equity of others. This is how our society is built, and how we are trained from the moment we learn the word “mine”.

We often describe this in games as “persistence”, but what we are always talking about in these cases is equity. When I level up to L10 in a game, log out, and come back the next day at L10, my equity has been preserved. None of my efforts were lost. If I log out with 100 coin, and come back the next day, again my equity is protected.

This is why the dreaded “server rollback” is so feared. It is not that the idea of having to replay part of the game again is so painful to the player. Players in League of Legends play the same content over and over and over again every day. What is lost in a rollback is the equity earned. This is what makes it so painful.

Similarly, if you are the only one that owns a horse in a virtual world, that horse has tremendous value due to its scarcity. If you log in the next day and due to a bug or exploit now 500 people have horses, the value of your horse has now dropped to almost nothing. I explain this in more detail in my 2010 Mona Lisa and the Alchemist paper. Thus, without anything having been done to my assets, I have now experienced a catastrophic loss of equity. I'm going to be upset! I may even ragequit.

 How We Undermine Equity

What if I spent three months earning the first horse in a game, and then a few days later I found out that 500 other players now had horses. But this was not due to a bug per se, this was because the game host decided that horses were cool and that players would pay real money for them. Again I describe this in Mona Lisa. Now horses are not cool anymore, and my equity has been destroyed. I'm upset! More importantly, I have now lost confidence in the game world and it's hosts because I know they will not protect my efforts. This is like calling the cops (the people you pay to protect you) and having them mug you when they arrive! I know this really happens in some parts of the world but you don't want it happening in your game space.

Thus all microtransactions that sell game content also destroy equity. This applies to anything normally “earned” in a game, whether it is levels, items, abilities or titles.

When a game gets stale and the dev team puts out a new expansion, the addition of new things to earn gives new equity opportunities. This is a good thing. When that same expansion makes previously valuable content worthless, this destroys equity. If it took me 1000 hours to get the top sword in the game, and a new expansion comes out that gives you a better sword in 100 hours, I have just lost equity. While adding new content is usually a welcome change to a game, this dynamic can be treacherous and designers unaware of this can actually kill off their game with expansion content.

Another way we destroy equity in games is by putting resources in “tiers”. If your “end game” craftable items only use last tier components, then you have destroyed the equity of all lower tier resources by design. This makes players upset. This design was copied from Everquest into World of Warcraft and even into Guild Wars 2 ten years later despite the presence of an economist embedded in the design team.

So how do you make a player economy without all these mistakes? I'm glad you asked!

 Games That Got it Right, and Why

In EVE Online the lowest and most common resource in the game is tritium. It never becomes obsolete, you just need more of it as the game progresses. Your tritium never loses value, and thus even ten years later your equity in that game is preserved. The expansion process is the primary source of equity loss in that game, but this is generally the most welcome sort of equity loss. This proper game design is the reason why EVE is the only game in the world that can boast that it has just gotten bigger over the last ten years.


It's all about the equity, baby.


The only sad thing about this game is that the players are so motivated that they will spend thousands of dollars a year on the game, but CCP never implemented a monetization model that would collect those dollars. They tried to add microtransactions, and that did not go over too well due to the aforementioned reasons. PLEX was another attempt to add a microtransaction layer that went over better, but had the effect of adding one revenue source (new players buying PLEX) at the expense of another revenue source (the players most motivated to spend now played for free).

Another game that got it right was World of Warcraft because in 2003 it launched with a weak economy. Why is that good? Because weak was a lot better than no economy, which is essentially what the competition had at the time (EVE being the one exception). The inclusion of an excellently designed auction house, and mediocre player crafting system, was a huge step forward for the MMORPG genre. Players would literally just sit at the auction house every day, ignoring the rest of the game because the AH was, for them, the best part of the game.

The weak economy, and again Blizzard's inability to fully monetize spending demand, meant that third parties came in and monetized WoW after the fact. IGE in particular created quite a nuisance while extracting billions of dollars that could have went to Blizzard. Seeing all that money go down the drain, and having all of those opportunists in the game environment ruining chat with their advertisements was traumatic enough for me that it caused me to become an applied virtual economist bent on finding countermeasures.

The effect on the industry was a bit different. In the absence of these countermeasures, companies either tried to copy WoW (a total waste of money), or adopted microtransaction monetization models (to cut out the middle man), or just stopped making “Big” games altogether.

Microtransactions, as I've already mentioned, destroy equity and thus rapidly reduce the lifespan of game products. Unlimited subscription models, as WoW used, encourage “binge play” which again reduces product lifespan by causing players to run out of content quickly. The solution, frequent patches and expansions, is not very practical unless you already have a big player base. Because WoW was allowed to iterate for so long with multiple expansions without real competition, this made it a content behemoth that new products just could not hope to challenge using the same mechanisms.

 "Big" Flight

The rush to abandon “Big” games was not due to technical or even budget constraints. It was due to monetization model constraints that acted as a systemic limit on the size of games. I like BIG games, I can't deny (Sir Mix-A-Lot reference intended). The thought of a really really BIG game makes me sweat and break out my wallet reflexively. I know I'm not alone in this regard. Thus everything I've done since 2005 in the virtual economy space has been focused on removing these systemic size constraints.

In the meantime there have been bright spots in the form of “smaller” games that are experimenting with ways around the limitations of both subscription and microtransaction business models. In particular, World of Tanks and League of Legends have avoided both traps and the perils of “pay to win” through creative hybridization, as described in my Supremacy Goods paper (2012).

Of the two, I favor the model used in World of Tanks because it allows the user to build equity as they progress through the tank tier tree. League of Legends does not worry so much about equity losses in their sales of game content because there is little in the way of equity in the design. While the simplicity of the LoL design lowers the barrier to entry for casual players, it also puts constraints on how deeply it can be monetized and also opens the doorway to competition. One of the biggest limitations of the WoT design, in my eyes, is the lack of gender neutrality in the game.

Speaking of competition, I could not help but notice that Marvel Heroes is coming out this week. The game is essentially Diablo 2/3 with a wide variety of superhero avatars that are sold using an almost direct rip of the LoL monetization model. The game is bigger and allows equity building in the form of both levels and gear, so while still simple from a virtual economy perspective, it is much deeper than either LoL or WoT. It does not rely on PvP, which may turn off some users, but will likely pick up just as many or more that would prefer a single player or cooperative gameplay experience.

Beyond these titles, I did take momentary excitement at the size of Guild Wars 2. The gameplay was amazing, but as I discussed in my brief review of its economy, the concept of equity was poorly applied in almost every reward mechanism, rendering the economy a drag on gameplay, lifespan, and ultimately monetization.

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Rob Graeber
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So how do you suggest WoW could have better monetized users while also preserving equity?

Monetization systems such as LoL are effectively just selling time from grinding. Which can work since all the champions are somewhat balanced and are horizontal upgrades, but if a game's mechanics weren't built for these horizontal-style upgrades selling time effectively becomes a form of pay-to-win.

Ramin Shokrizade
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Rob, I wrote a 35 page paper in 2009 titled "Sustainable Virtual Economies and Business Models" that explained how Blizzard could recover the billions of dollars a year it was losing to IGE and other RMT agents, and also multiply their base monetization rate by using a different business model. After having the paper vetted by professors Mike Zyda and Henry Jenkins at USC (a major feeder school for Blizzard), Blizzard declined to read it. The paper is still proprietary. I think my papers here on Gamasutra and on my archive on give enough clues.

I consider the model used by RIOT in LoL as primarily a "content sale" of avatars. This would not work if the game design was not optimized to promote said content sales. By minimizing persistent development in the game, the way to win is to understand the abilities of every avatar opponent you can face in that game. Thus there is incentive to play all of them yourself. Thus the game design and the monetization design are well married, which is critical in the success of any monetization model. You can't just slap a monetization model from another game onto your game without optimizing your game design to potentiate the monetization model and vice versa.

Booby K
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I remember a while back Blizzard wanted WOW to have 2 tiers of subscribers (basic and premium). The backlash from players was huge. Players didn't want to be treated like 2nd class citizens. Blizzard dropped the idea real quick lol.

I think for WOW you can preserve some equity by making some old equipment upgradable (i.e. some the of legendary/epic weapons from previous expansions). To upgrade the weapons to the current expansion would require some effort. For example, you could reforge Frostmourne to level 90 standards with some rare materials, quests, ...

I don't think you can directly monetize this since the game would become pay-to-win. Its more of an indirect monetization method by keeping players subscribed for a very long time (and buy the next expansion). Also, it may make players that have quit come back if they have some of the old legendary/epic equipment.

This method will also keep old WOW raids still playable and not become obsolete since players will still want to get the older and more rare weapons from the old raids. Currently wow raids and dungeons become "equipment obsolete" once a new expansion is released.

Ramin Shokrizade
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Booby, you are exactly right. If the old equipment, and in fact even tier 1 craft materials, were prerequisites for new content, then the old content would not be made obsolete by expansion. I gave the same feedback to CCP, in that their expansions were making early content obsolete. There is no good reason to make large portions of your content obsolete. It is better to promote play through the entire range of your content 3 or 4 times than to make them grind the last 10% 30 or 40 times. Dopamine release drops significantly every time an action is repeated.

Rodolfo Rosini
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Blizzard is experimenting now with 'coins' - you have a currency related to the current raid tier that you can spend to have an extra loot roll on a boss. I believe it's how they will be monetizing the game once it goes F2P

Gian Dominguez
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@Rodolfo Rosini Its unlikely it will ever go free to play(at least not for years to come), they have more to lose by switching to that model.

There is a reason they make content from previous expansions/patches obsolete. If they didnt we will get the "Sunwell" effect, where only the most dedicate people will ever get to see the final raid of an expansion. Suffice to say its not gonna be fun for many people to the point it end up destroying guilds/general causing people to quit.

Besides, its not as if its totally obsolete. Blizz has actually found quite a few way to get people to run old content by making it reward vanity items like mount/pets and with the ability to make your gear look like other pieces of gear.

Booby K
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WOW laucned in late November (the 23rd looking at 2 different sources), 2004 (not 2003) in the USA and February 11, 2005 for Europe.

I agree with you about equity. In WOW, previous gear/equipment is pretty much obsolete when an expansion is released (basically a restart of the treadmill). So, WOW is basically like the same car with different coats of paint.

Latest WOW design is to slow down progression "binge play" with daily quest/rep grinds. You can only progress at a slow rate.

Ramin Shokrizade
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Bobby, thank you for correcting me. I went from EVE to WoW but was in the very early beta (pre-Horde) so I probably was still thinking 2003. I have not revisited WoW since 2005, but I expect that my 14 max level (L60) characters from then would be woefully underequiped now after all the expansions. When I was playing Everquest, I was the top cleric on my server and had some really rare gear. A couple years later I logged in to EQ and a L20 Ogre was laughing at how junkie my gear was.

Booby K
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You are welcome for the correction Ramin.

I really enjoy reading your articles about monetization. I've learned a lot from them.

When is your book about monetization coming out?

I stopped playing WOW around the Cata expansion so I have a few level 85s. Max level now is 90 with the MoP expansion. I read the WOW forums once in a while to see what is going on in the game, more and more I will not go back to playing it.

Kenneth Blaney
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Do you think the idea of equity being more important than size has led to games like Entropia Universe or Second Life where players have invested large sums of money in virtual equity that generates an income stream?

Ramin Shokrizade
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Once you protect equity in a virtual environment, players invest freely since they know they can always cash in that equity without loss later. This causes players to invest unimaginable sums in games like Entropia or SL because that investment is not "lost". They would do the same in EVE if given the chance. I did personally give them the chance in 2003 and players were giving me $6000 a month just for my excess credits.

Now if you can build a game with equity, AND protect from industrial gold farmers (I had to solve the gold farmer part first since it made everything after that pointless if I did not), then you can make large game worlds where players freely invest $10,000 or more yearly because they know they can cash out later, perhaps even at a profit.

You can see this effect occurring with Richard Garriott's latest Kickstarter where people are buying virtual real estate for $3000 on the promise that the equity will be preserved. The game has not even been made yet.

When you start to understand these virtual economic interactions, you will see why I just shake my head in disbelief every time a largish game comes out with a subscription or microtransaction monetization model but no stable economy.

Kenneth Blaney
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That is an interesting thought. Speaking just in terms of currency I think that, provided you want a dynamic currency (one where currency is created and destroyed), I'm not sure it is possible to have fully free equity and protection from gold farmers, even though it would be desirable to have all three:

With a dynamic currency, any restriction on gold farmers' ability to sell their items would also diminish the equity of items since they couldn't be resold in some cases, thus necessitating little to no restriction on gold farmers. [EVE Online, to a lesser extend World of Warcraft]

With a dynamic currency but full protection from gold farmers you essentially have a single player game and thus allowing for no equity. [Village genre FTP games]

If you want prevent gold farmers from harming equity through inflation while allowing for the full exchange of items, you could do that through creating a static currency. [Can't think of an example off hand]

This, obviously, would also expand to other sorts of equity such as items or player levels as well. Also, there are a number of areas in between any of these extremes. Consider for instance the common restriction on moving MMO characters between individual accounts. Resources invested in gaining skills on that character are invested permanently and cannot be recovered in many cases, even at a loss. This is a restriction on a single type of equity which does not apply to other types of equity (weapons or items) which can often be sold/traded. This gives rise to a mixed design as related to equity.

And yes, from reading your articles on virtual economies I'm starting to see exactly why you would be shaking your head at games where the economy runs on a hope and prayer (if that). The idea seems to be in those games that "if we get enough people the game will actually work and more people will come".

Ramin Shokrizade
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Kenneth, when I first proposed the idea of creating an effective passive defense from RMT activity in 2005 with studio heads and lead designers, I was told it was impossible. This did, of course, make me want to do it all the more. I was convinced it was a mathematical problem with a mathematical solution. I thought I could solve it in one full time year. Well it was more a sociological and economic problem, and it took me 4.5 years. Any reasonable person would have thrown in the towel. To prove I had done it, without publishing the solution, I showed it to the two professors I knew I could trust (in 2009).

I will tell you that the solution I came up with looks nothing like any of the obvious solutions you mention, since as you correctly surmise, those are not solutions.

Kenneth Blaney
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Any idea when that paper will be public? Sounds like a great read.

Ramin Shokrizade
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@Kenneth: I'll sit on it indefinitely until someone is ready to make a large MMO with an advanced economy. I'm aware of one appropriate project in development, but we were unable to agree on terms. As Booby mentioned, I am also working on a book to explain my Engagement Equation, but that involves discussion of my more recent work on predicting and optimizing product performance based on design elements that affect the human neuroendocrine system in positive and negative ways.

Note that some of the information in that 2009 paper has been made obsolete my more recent work, where I have invented even more effective solutions than what I was able to do four years ago. For instance, in 2009 I was very excited to come up with a way to passively reduce RMT activity by over 99%. In 2012 I came up with a way to promote RMT activity and monetize it without damaging the economy. I think this is a better solution. Of course this is very different than the D3 RMAH, whose design I considered and rejected in 2005. At some point when it is published I think it will be more of a curiosity than anything else, to see what I was working on and predicting that long ago.

Chris Clogg
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Speaking of Marvel Heroes, I played in one of the open beta weekends and I just couldn't get into it. I didn't have much fun, contrasted to the first 30 mins of Diablo 2 or Diablo 3. I like David Brevik but maybe he needed the Blizzard polish for gameplay and combat. Will be interesting to see how their monetization model works out though, because like LoL, you need a strong game underneath it.

Ramin Shokrizade
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Chris, clearly even a good monetization model will fail if it is attached to a bad game. Also, ripping a monetization model from one game and sticking it on another game without understanding why it worked in the first game, prevents you from customizing the model to best fit your game.

Similarly, the fact that they ripped game design systems straight from Diablo and put them in a game where they do not fit (like the loot system) indicates that the design team did not know enough about why those elements worked in the original design to modify them significantly to a new game. So it is like a person trying to write a sentence while only knowing 8 of the 26 letters. This restricts what you can write. It might still be a good sentence, but it won't be fancy and it won't be as good as it could have been.

Still, with most studios making social network and mobile games right now, the competition is low so even an okay PC game can do really well right now. Here you at least have a progression mechanism, so if the game is fun, and not painfully repetitive, it should do fine.

Chris Clogg
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Yep, you're right on those points for sure.

Robert Tsao
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To add to this, I think it'd be interesting to read a compare/contrast between Marvel Heroes and Grinding Gear's Path of Exile. I haven't played too much of PoE, but from what I understand, the game features a very strong yet unobtrusive monetization model.

Great article!

Christofer Stenberg
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I've been thinking about letting players drive their own economy, with the coins in the world created by the players from precious metals. How does a player driven fluctuating economy play in terms of equity? Would players feel cheated if the value of their iron ore drops or does it add something to the experience?

I have some ideas but I'm fairly young so I'm curious about what you guys think.

Paul Peak
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This is more or less how Eve Online functions, everything in the game can be purchased on the markets whether its basic stuff sold by the NPC corps or player made/acquired goods. Even game time is available via PLEX as Ramin mentioned. It really was a revolutionary idea implemented on such a large scale, the only thing that really got in Eve's way of being even more successful was that the gameplay is just so obtuse at times. If it had been more space sim, less astrometrics sim I'd bet even more people would have gotten into it.

The fact that CCP has proven they know how to make such a brilliant in-game economy just makes me long for World of Darkness more every year.

Joaquim Guerreiro
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For EVE online the mineral is Tritanium.

Thanks for your articles, they have invaluable information.

David Paris
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EVE is really leaps and bounds above most of its competitors when it comes to maintaining (and reducing) equity within its world. Because actual game currency _matters_, then the in-game value of all items matters too. Because all items may be reprocessed into the basic building blocks for everything else, then even an iterm which is otherwise irrelevent, has an intrinsic value as defined by these building blocks.
rnCouple this with all sorts of in-game challenges to maintaining your wealth (and associated prestige), down to the ability of other players to directly destroy it, and you've got an economy where equity feels amazingly important.
rnEVE has fumbled a lot of things, but its economic work is outstanding, and I think the real thing that keeps it alive and kicking.

Nick Weaver
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A very interesting read thanks alot for sharing this!

What's your opinion on the bind on pickup(BOP) mechanic heavily used in WOW? Though equity is generally kept until the next expansion in WOW it is somewhat flawed by BOP leading to markets which offer mostly non high end gear. Will D3 establish BOP since the inflation seems to be crazy and the market is flooded with more and more high roller items. It's just too much pay to win.

Any reads of you on monetization in social games?

p.s. The mentioned mineral in Eve is Tritanium ;)

Ramin Shokrizade
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To all those correcting me on Tritanium, I'm going to claim it was a typo!

BoP has its uses, but like any virtual economic mechanic, it is just one tool in the box and you want to use the right tool for the right job. WoW was the textbook example of how much can go wrong with a weak economy, and BoP was just one easy way to try to reduce resource flooding. It is not enough because the WoW economy is designed to flood out.

Once I had read enough previews about D3, I was able to identify that they were using a monetization model that I had considered and rejected in 2005. I wrote a paper predicting how it would turn out commercially six months before any of us even got to see the product. At this point all of my predictions have been accurate:

This is, of course, why I rejected the model 6+ years earlier. I did not come up with a model that monetizes RMT activity the way Blizzard was hoping for until early 2012 (after that paper but before the launch of D3). It took me seven years because RMT usually degrades equity rapidly, so encouraging it is usually a catastrophic move unless you know how to handle it.

If you want reads on social monetization, I've got at least a dozen papers on the subject. You might want to start with "Zynga Analysis" from 2011:

Eric Robertson
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One problem with this is it might discourage New Players to join. If new players, have to go through all the same hours of effort (and then some) to catch up to the gear/property of the existing players, then they might see the path ahead too daunting. Also consider the initial players did not have the daunting path head of them but instead had a path of discovery.

One idea I've been playing with is combining an idea similar to yours but with a way for friends to 'speed' up the 'catching up' process. The low level resources still have value, but the path isn't as daunting.

As the difference between new and old players gets wider, more 'catch up' options are added. Just like the original car race games.

Something our real life Western Economy can benefit from. Instead of investing all our money into our elderly(end game) we should invest more into our children(early game) so they can catch up. Alas, we do the opposite in America... There is so much we can learn from games.

Ramin Shokrizade
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This is the biggest weakness in the EVE Online model, imo. It favors veteran players over new players, and balances the economy at the expense of those new players. This is the primary factor limiting EVE's growth. If they had started with a way of sinking the economy that was more player friendly, then EVE would be several times larger than it is now.

The 35 page model that I came up with in 2009 that was my solution to the ills of WoW actually favored new players in the economy over established players. This is the reverse of how our "real" economy works, so I had to start from scratch in building it. I won't say how I go about this, but I am totally with you in feeling the need to invest in children and new game players (and women in games!).

Right now the way we commercialize games embodies the worst of our "real life" financial exploitation mechanisms. So I hope we don't copy games until these models are swept aside, and I fear we are teaching our children unsustainable lessons.

Ricky Bankemper
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New players trying to catch up should never be a concern if the game maintains the equity value of the content. If the content has kept it's equity, then it shouldn't be a problem for someone to play through it. The veteran player attempting to catch up their friend would most likely be willing to start a new character.

This is thinking in terms of a wow or everquest type mmo

Ramin Shokrizade
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The risk is in a game like EVE or almost any "midcore" game based on what I call the "deer hunter online" model (Kabam, Kixeye, almost all Asian strategy games) where one player can use their equity to destroy the equity of someone with less equity. In casual games like WoW and EQ PvE servers, you can't destroy someone else's gear by attacking them.

Andy Stennett
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Any thoughts on Otherland, RealU's creation?

Joe Ramponi
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Have you looked into the game Path of Exile? Its very similar to Diablo with microtransactions on account features (like extra stash tabs or alternative spell effects, nothing that actually gives you an in game advantage or that can be found in game)

The in game system is around trading items and various orbs which have value from being relatively rare drops (with certain ones being far more common than others) and they are used as part of the process of upgrading your gear. There isn't any gold or regular currency in game so I'm curious about what your take is on that model.

Ramin Shokrizade
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Since two of you asked about Path of Exile, I know a friend of mine did a pretty nice preview of it:

I have not analyzed the economy in depth, this is the sort of thing I usually get paid to do. On big projects I know I won't be assisting then sometimes I put out public reviews for educational purposes, like I did with Star Wars:TOR and Guild Wars 2. My gut reaction here with PoE is that I really like the direction they are going, but without looking at the system closely, it still seems a bit contrived because loot still appears in the economy randomly, and the economic elements are just there to buff those random drops. I would be happy to see a system with less randomness, with all useful items player created. I realize this is very un-"Diabloesque". Here the system is upside down from that with useful items appearing by magic, and the unuseful items (which form an economy) being used to modify those useful items.

Does anyone else feel like this is a bit awkward? Anyways, I have not assessed their model properly so please don't take the above as a critique.

David Allen
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Path of Exile is a fantastic game. I'd say PoE is a good example where micro-transactions don't destroy equity. For example, in PoE, you start out with 6 stash slots (which is actually quite a few) but you have to pay real $ to buy more. Purchasing more storage space doesn't destroy any equity of the game, but allows the player to collect more items for alternative characters. PoE has taken an interesting route by making all purchases visual/fun based while not providing any distinct advantage to those who don't spend real money other more storage space, pets, visuals, etc. And a key part of this is the default storage space is already a good amount, so they didn’t intentionally design it with less than a new players needs solely to drive players to purchase more.

PoE does show there is a problem with the object-based economy. There is rarely a consensus on value and players must put time, energy and effort into selling and haggling for merchandise because there is no centralized value reference or built-in system supporting any sort of "auction" structure. This creates a burden that drives players away from engaging in trade with others, and is something they need to address.

Richard Demers
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IMO the weak thing about Path of Exile is that it is quite impossible for the player to have a quick idea of the value of their items.
I'd also be curious to know how effective is their microtransaction system.

Nick Vazh
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how do you feel about the Economy in Fallen Earth? I myself have not explored extensively, but maybe you have?

Ramin Shokrizade
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I beta tested Fallen Earth, and was excited at first, until I found out there was some gear later in the game that wrecked the economy. This was many years ago so even if it is the same I could not remember the details. I know they were on faction vendors so they didn't break the economy right away. They could have been changed by now and I know the monetization model has been changed. I do remember offering to assist them with their economy during beta, but got no reply.

Again I know David Allen has done one of his extremely comprehensive reviews on Fallen Earth, so his analysis might give you some insights.

Kevin McCaughey
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This might not be a welcome comment, but....

I feel that bringing ultimate equity involves permadeath. Just as in RL death gives meaning and perspective to our life, permadeath of characters would bring a new meaning to the life and equity of an invested character.

I have proposed several mechanisms to this which involve a character legacy/dynasty and perpetuation of goods, as in RL.

I feel this would then give more meaning to what is earned and experienced. A uniqueness, if you will.

I also believe that there is a level of sociological and anthropological analysis that has not yet been attempted (as far as I am aware) that would compliment Ramin's propositions.

Good luck with the (amended) 2009 paper! I hope it gains some traction with a major release that also ticks the other boxes for a "Big" game world.

Ramin Shokrizade
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I think my Supremacy Goods microeconomic model is just as important a read, and I made that public here last year:

In competitive games I prefer a form of "reincarnation" or server resets like we had in Shattered Galaxy (that I worked on) back in 2001. This feels better than permadeath. I've come up with better systems than what we used in 2001 of course.

I would love to work with other scientists in this area that have skills I don't. I tried this in 2009, 2010, and 2011 without success (there was no academic motivation) before abandoning academia for industry.

Ian Welsh
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I played Shattered Galaxy a lot. The reset model was interesting, but if you sat out too many reincarnations you started falling behind too much. They needed a way for newer players or returning players to close the gap more.

Still one of the funner games I ever played.

Andrew Johnson
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Thanks Ramin, excellent read. The primary reason I left WoW was because I could not create more of a unique identity in the world. My gear quickly sunk in value if I neglected raiding. I thought by purchasing gold from farmers I could gain an advantage but there wasn't an item or property that could help define me as a unique player. Your article helped paint a clearer picture regarding economic equality systems between games like LoL and Eve. I would love to invest time/money in something fun as long as I don't have to pretend my effort isn't weeks away from complete devaluation.

Shawn McMahon
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I would like to hear your take on Perfect World's model.

Glen Swan
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Interesting article, but I can't help but make this comment.

"Thus all microtransactions that sell game content also destroy equity."

EVE Online sales game time for in-game currency. Thus, you can buy in-game content with real-life currency. Please feel free to explain on this topic further.

Glen Swan
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Furthermore, Magic The Gathering--a highly valuable collectable card game--has been selling game content for many years, longer than most of those examples mentioned till this date. Not only are they highly valuable, they have surpassed many other collectable cards like sports cards to even other collectables related to other mainstream topics.

Hobby shops--what I refer to as the modern F2P business models--have been selling game content for years. Similar to F2P games, you can play in most hobby shops for free. They make their money on the option of the consumer wanting to purchase additional items they may need to further their experience. Similar to F2P games, this includes things like vanity items to consumables. Although hobby shops do not sell vanity, they surely sell consumables in the form of sugar treats we all love and know. They also sell game content per se in the sense you can buy cards that give you power to win. Magic The Gathering has not been destroyed and actually became more valuable for many more years therefore after.

If that wasn't enough, Magic The Gathering went digital. This didn't seem to have a huge impact on everything else that I know of (please correct if wrong). Thus, they are able to sell in-game content in a micro-transaction environment that does not kill equity both in real life and digital.

Please feel free to further expand on that example as well. I'm all ears.

Ramin Shokrizade
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@Glen: Game time is not content, it is access to content. The two are very different things.

Selling cards (which are game content) does lower equity. If I have the only card of a particular type, it is quite valuable for reasons beyond its functionality. If anyone can buy that card then as the number of them in play increases, that value degrades.

Now if you set a maximum cap on how many of something will be sold, as in a Kickstarter, this limits the equity damage, which is helpful. Nonetheless, by selling game content instead of providing the means to earn it, you lower the prestige value of the item since others are not impressed that you "paid to win". Thus a potentially powerful positive feedback loop is broken and engagement drops.

Glen Swan
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@Ramin: Sorry, I had to revise what I said in this response just now. Please clarify what you mean by access to content and your example within the article?

From what I read in your article, you're making a clear statement that F2P models that allow you to buy in-game content kills equity. How is buying game time cards to sell for in-game currency that allows you to buy in-game content any different? Because, I'm not seeing a difference.

EVE Online unfortunately does not have a token system for this particular system (unless you buy PLEX I believe). In most examples relating to your article, you buy a virtual token (i.e.: Zynga Bucks, Funcom Coins, etc) that allows you to buy in-game content directly. For example, Zynga Bucks that allows you to buy a item that you claim will lose equity because of that practice.

When there is no clear token system, you substitute that token for the next best thing. In this case, the time card. You can buy content--NOT ACCESS--with the in-game currency that time card gives you when you sell it on the open market. This allows anyone to buy in-game content for the purchase of a time card.

For example, if I want to buy a Caldari Navy Raven (a elite item in EVE Online) when I don't have the means to in-game, then I can buy a time card and thus buy the item with real-life cash like it was off a shop. This is all legal and within the EVE Online EULA/ROC. There is no difference between that example and others you mentioned in this article outside the fact I'm not purchasing a virtual token to do so.

$$$ -> Buy Time Card -> Sell For In-game Currency -> Buy In-game Content
$$$ -> Buy In-game Token -> Buy In-game Content

So, why is EVE Online on top of your list when they clearly implemented a system to buy in-game content with time cards?

Make sense?

Ramin Shokrizade
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@Glen: To allow detailed discussions of monetization, and to avoid the types of semantic arguments you raise here, I wrote "The Language of Monetization Design"


earlier this year, which appeared here and in GDC magazine. This saves everyone a lot of work if we all use the same language. If you could read that, and perhaps contact me on LinkedIn I can explain the finer details you are seeking, as long as your questions don't stray into territory I consider proprietary.

Glen Swan
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I will surely take a look.

I'm not trying to call you out or anything. I'm just simply stating that you can purchase any in-game item in EVE online if you buy a time card and sell it to another player for in-game currency. Although the process is different in which you attain the in-game content, you are still buying that in-game content with real-life money. Thus, if you were to play the game tomorrow. If you have enough money, you can buy every item in-game with a series of large purchases of EVE Online Time Cards. Being this is EVE and anything is possible, you can also buy the pilots too. Yet, it's maintaining it's equity.


Ramin Shokrizade
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Glen, if we go too far down this rabbit hole, we will end up in territory I consider proprietary. It might help if you read my "Real Money Transfer Classification" paper which is a bit more involved than some of my other papers:

CCP attempted to introduce RMT1 into their game as early as 3 months after launch, covertly and then overtly. When this failed both times, they came up with a way to tap RMT2 activity (PLEX) which was clever. RMT2 is the healthiest form of RMT activity as my paper describes.

I disagree with a number of your other assertions, but I'm not going to say why :)

David Paris
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I think the thing that really sets EVE apart though, is the ability to take away that in-game content from other players. Specifically, let's say you buy that CNR with RL currency, while I earn mine by time spent in game. The likely result is that I will have more time to acquire the (RL) skills to use it well, and if placed in a PvP environment (which most of EVE is), can defeat yours with the corresponding raise in social equity for doing so. The net result is then that you've spent your money for in-game equity that you are less capable of keeping, providing an even greater opportunity for me as a non-RL-currency spending player.
rnI say this as someone who hunted EVE supercaps for years (Mistress Suffering - executor of Cry Havoc), so I practiced what I preach on this one :)

Ashkan Saeedi Mazdeh
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Ramin let's say i have a farming game, i have a rack sack with 10 slots which i can carry things in, selling more slots for easier play and taking less time for going to land and comming back to home for bringing foods is not a huge advantage,
Two ways exists
1- selling new slots which is not good if not terrible due to littleness of the advantage.
2- requiring a license like thing to buy the new slots which can be bought and then possiblity of buying the slot. license would require player to be in level X which is not buyable.

Then is the second one ok?
I remember one of your articles in gameful talking about this (how to sell subjects instead of objectives in game or something like that, and had a car racing game example) which i can not find now.

Disclaimer, i'm not making any kind of farming game now and am just writing this as an example.

Ramin Shokrizade
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@Ashkan: It sounds like you are referring to "Game Monetization Defined" :

#1 is better than just selling the content, at least they have to use the pack to collect the economic content.

#2 is awkward the way you describe it, so not necessarily an improvement.

I would prefer to gate the economy entirely and make them pay for how much economic activity they want to engage in. This allows the participant to pay fairly for their influence on the economy. There are many ways to do this.

Ashkan Saeedi Mazdeh
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Thanks for the link , as i understand you are suggesting that we can sell the privilage of using big sacks and not the sacks themselves but to me its pay to win as well cause those who can not have the privilage of driving cars or buying sacks are in a disadvantage.
Of course its not true if you have other means of getting the privilage as well.

Bob Johnson
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I think the reason so many MMOs collapsed is they didn't break enough new ground to combat WoW and Wow eventually developed a massive economic moat around itself that helped protect it from competition. The moat was the huge amount of resources that were put into it each year to polish it and improve it and expand it. Nothing could compete with that.

Most of these new MMOs that came out after seemed like the same thing only with day 1 (or even worse) type of polish/features and a new coat of paint.

Only the stuff that was more niche was able to survive alongside the juggernaut.

To me it also showed there isn't much room for more than 1 large scale MMO in the market place at a time. The whole attraction of a MMO is to play with all these other people. And that sort of feeds upon itself to annoint one big king of the hill that everyone plays. And considering the cost of a MMO and the time needed to really play one it means the player can only play one MMO at a time exceptions nonwithstanding.

And now Wow seems to be slowly petering out as it can't come up with enough new exciting stuff to maintain its subscriber base. Most things I read from players that played WoW before is they just couldn't maintain that lifestyle. They couldn't keep pulling the lever at the slot machine any longer. They eventually saw it for what it is. They saw behind the curtain. They had their fill.

The reason MMOs kept getting bigger and bigger until WoW hit its peak is there was a lot of low hanging fruit to be picked in terms of making the game more accessible/easier to get into. It seems like WoW is the peak realization of the Ultima MMO design. The design is now mature or so it seems. And no one else has been able to come out with anything yet to take it further.

Bob Johnson
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Also I do think the whole "we want you to build equity and become more and more powerful, but also want new players to come in and be able to compete" is a catch-22.

As Kevin McCaughey mentioned above, the only solution is "permadeath." Characters have a limited lifespan. YOu can reach the top but only for so long before the "vessel" for your talents dies out.

I think "permadeath" would make MMOs more exciting. It would really keep the game fresh. It would make you enjoy the later age times more knowing that it won't last forever. It would clear the old deadwood so new roots can grow. The silly way the late game stuff becomes more and more a different end game could be eliminated.

There are many ways to make the time you put into your character worthwhile even with permadeath.

What if you could pass on weapons to new characters (or heirs) as you grow old. Your heirs could use those things once they become a high enough level. You could even become part of the lore of the land. The developer could work in some of the characters into the lore although if millions play that might become easier said than done although could be segregated by server. But just sometimes hearing stories of names of characters that roamed the land before would be entertaining especially if you happen to have come across a name you were familiar with more so if it was a mention of one of your old characters. Lands could be named after player characters. Those names could change over time. A personal history book could provide a trophy room of sorts detailing the lives of your characters that you have played. Equipment could bear the names of the last player character who wore or wielded the equipment. There are many many ways to make the lives of characters count for something even after they have virtually passed away.

Permadeath would also get rid of the need to always make content a higher level than the highest level of content before it. You get out of that need because characters only last so long.

Also I think it means playing new characters would be more fun. There would be more new content for lower levels because there would be no need to make new worlds just for the previous max level + 5 levels range of player characters. Your new worlds would be more balanced for all comers.

Next, a fresh start is really a fresh start. And the possibility of coming across mention of your old character or the characters of friends or once again trying to achieve a place in the history of the land would make the game worth playing again much more than it is today. Not to mention you'd still have the same reasons to play another character that exist today such as experiencing new races, classes, skill trees, new parts of the world you never visited, etc...

It also means that starting a new character who, for example, has a skill in herbs has extra meaning (you might say more equity than before) even if there is a guy now in your group who is a total master herbalist because that old guy won't live forever. And really what is re-spec-ing your character in WoW except for a sort of death? YOu wouldn't need that (cheese-ee) way of allowing players to totally change their powers. Permadeath is the natural change agent.

They gotta do this. And they don't have to make permadeath due to battle necessarily. It can be more of a natural lifespan thing with some randomization in there so you never know when it is coming. Also imagine the graveyards of your old characters in the land. Younger characters could give you a proper burial. You could spend money on a larger masoleum for your character.

Permadeath would solve so many problems with MMOs. I think it would build more equity. To me a better reward is a place in the history of the land etc rather than an artificially ever higher specced set of armor, or weapon that you constantly chase after in the endgame.

Ramin Shokrizade
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Bob, your belief (and here you represent many) that there is only one way to fix this particular system is job security for me. It took me 4.5 years full time to come up with my first solution to this. I don't expect it to appear anything but impossible at first glance.

If I can shorten the time it takes others to travel the same path, but not quite give them enough information to catch up completely, then everyone wins and I can still recover the cost of my last eight years work.

I like that you are thinking outside our current paradigms, and if even 1% of our designers do this then the next ten years of gaming will be a renaissance for our industry.

Bob Johnson
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Yeah I am sure you and others have ways of making things even better than they currently are. I'm a bit skeptical that the bottom line isn't anything but permadeath. Everything else just puts a band-aid over the real problem from what I can see.

I do see that it (permadeath) could be tough to do from a PR standpoint. YOu would have to have the PR machine ready to communicate very clearly why this is the direction to take with a next-gen MMO.

And I haven't thought through all the potential problems either. I am sure there are some besides the fact some players won't be able to deal with this notion of their character only lives so long. (Let me call them the hoarders.)

But to me it would eliminate so many current downsides. And it would keep the game fresh.

Permadeath would also let developers let the player characters wield more power in late stages of their character's lives than before knowing that they won't live forever. It lets the developer off the hook sorta speak. It lets them err on the side of letting players at late stages in their prime semi-abuse his or her power. Who wouldn't want to start a new character knowing they can get wield this sort of power if only fairly briefly if at least for a little while? Now I am only talking in the abstract. I'm not sure what these power positions would be in concrete details. But some power over the world of some sort or to affect other lesser characters to some degree would be needed.

I mention some ways to leave your mark on the world above. I can also envision some simple world builder that players can use to change the environment. The world builder could mean designing new buildings, planting trees, etc, etc. Admitted these are tough problems, but they are solvable problems. Path finding would have to be overcome if players can change the landscape to some degree. How this stuff gets added to a persistent world is another hurdle to clear. How do you handle this sort of thing on servers with thousands and thousands of players is yet another?

And all of this could and probably would have to start from a basic level. Crawl before you can walk.

Another way to affect the world would be letting player characters get to the point where players are writing quests to some degree or perhaps more accurately shaping those quests for others. Obviously a simple system of various variables with a pre-determined range of values could be fairly easily setup for players to mold to their liking. It might be a bit generic to some degree. But some personalization is the key to the reward.

But this could be part (a more positive part) of the "power over others" that higher level characters could enjoy. For example, one could set up shop as a master herbalist somewhere in the land once you have achieved that distinction. And then create your own "cave" or "hut" that would dot the land somewhere. And become part of a quest to discover the location of the master herbalist known as [your player character name] and learn from him the secrets of so and so. This seems like an attractive reward to me. Again personalization is the key. This would last x amount of time before your character gets too old.

And what if the quest lingers after your character's death unbeknownst to another player character who arrives at your location and is surprised and maybe a bit saddened or shocked to discover your character has passed away. Maybe then he reads up on some of the lore your character created during his travels from materials left about or from npc bystanders nearby. Maybe for some randomization the first player to discover that you have passed is taken on other quest you created (within the parameters of the developers) that leads them to an item you owned? What if later with one of your other characters you are able to track down this item and purchase it back? It's quest that sort of creates another quest. Maybe to track down the item you would have to at least be a certain level so the other character would entertain such a inquiry.

I am thinking of a very dynamic system here.

Ramin Shokrizade
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If permadeath could mean that a server drop could cause a total equity wipeout, this would be a customer service nightmare. It was bad enough in the beginning of EVE when people would use "trash traps" to make it take so long to draw the screen after warping that a pirate would destroy you in that time.

So unpredictable permadeath = bad.

Reincarnation is potentially great.

Bob Johnson
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Well I am thinking characters can't permanently die in battle. Permadeath would just mean your character's lifespan is limited and randomly so.

Even with PVP and PVE servers, I am not sureI would let characters permanently die in battle on PVP servers either. Although nothing stopping a developer from allowing some PVP servers to have more ways of achieving permadeath. Caveat Emptor in large print across the top of your screen.

And I think with characters having limited lifespans, character death and various problems with hacking etc isn't as much of a problem as it might be in a system where characters stick around forever. A developer might be able to spin any problems into the lore of the player's character by relating it to an-game event of some sort.

Bob Johnson
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But I also can think of a way to allow death in battle and prevent a problem like you mentioned or a glitch or hack or even a situation where you really got in over your head when you weren't paying much attention.

It's the Cat with 9 Lives solution. You can even randomize it to some degree for fun. Do you have 7 lives or 8 or 9? You don't know.

This would allow the developer to account for mistakes on both the developer's and player's parts. But I can also see that the developers might have to limit death in battle to certain defined areas or as part of certain quests. This would be less of a problem on a PvE server. But on a PvP server not so sure that 9 Lives could stand up to constant deliberate targeting/ganking of certain player characters. It would definitely have to thought through.

I guess that's reincarnation, but I would limit it to a specific number randomized to a small +/- 1 or 2 range. I wouldn't let a player reincarnate his or her character ad nauseum although I guess my "no permadeath in battle" is "infinite reincarnation" at least until your character naturally dies.

Bob Johnson
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And even with a 9 Lives feature, I would still have natural lifespans for characters where once they are dead they are dead. I even envision character lifespans having a physical prime and an age of wisdom etc. It would be another way to let players enjoy different positions of power over the world in the various stages of their character's lifespans without them having that power for too long to abuse it ad nauseum while giving these things a natural explanation while offering variety and more reasons to keep playing characters all the way through.

Also might be interesting from a PVP point of view to some degree. Your character might reach his prime and be able to abuse others characters to a certain degree, but what happens when he gets older and the other characters pop up that are in their prime and go after you? It lets you the player experience both sides. Although I can see a potential issue with players playing characters only up to a certain age if the "fun" stops there. That's why you need the latter part of a character's life to have benefits as well. The developer could also limit this by only allowing x number of naturally living characters per player at any given time.

And that brings me to another idea of better connecting players to the lore of the land. What if your server randomly chose player characters to bring back to life? Again thinking abstractly. For a concrete example, let's say a mad wizard learns to reincarnate a long dead hero of the land to use for evil. And what if that long dead hero is a player character? What if we randomize it so the long dead characters of your friends or of yours have a little bit greater chance of appearing than a stranger's long dead player character? Just enough so the character wont be automatically known to each player every time. But enough so amongst a small group of friends a buddy might encounter it and then have quite the tale to tell about the game. You don't want it to be automatic for everyone as it becomes too passe. And thinking further out, if you put enough of these types of systems in the game, you will encounter a few of these from time to time, and they be fairly unique. And they will really let the world breathe and give users unique experiences.

Or what if another player character gets turned into one of your old dead characters during a quest for a lengthy period of time - enough time so there is some chance you might encounter that player character walking about in the world? STuff like this would so spice up the game world for players.

Jim Murphy
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Well there is another juggernaut arriving soon and it will redefine the MMO genre at last

Elder Scrolls Online will make WoW obsolete !

The future in gaming should be the open world in a 1st person prospective without the ridiculous HUD information taking up all of you screen space , we await its business model for both release and post launch DLC .

Bob Johnson
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Well it will take much more than no-HUD 1st person view for it to take off.

Steven Christian
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Some very interesting points there Bob. I myself have come up with many of the same ideas as yourself and dabbled in such a game (I had to double-check that I wasn't reading my own post there). However, regardless of how you look at it, players don't like to lose characters in RPG's (specifically MMO's).

In The Sims, people seem to accept the loss of characters, but not so in RPG's and MMO's; even I must admit being turned off The Sims after the death of my character.

Bob Johnson
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Yes I realize that. I even mentioned it above. You need the PR machine ready to go to very clearly explain the reasons for this direction. You have to articulate the benefits.

No one really is supposed to like the death of a character either. It's supposed to be a bit melancholy, but that's what will make the game more exciting in the long run.

And there are so many ways for your character to live .....forever, sorta speak, in the game or at least linger for awhile or have potential to come back as part of quests etc. What about another perk? What if your old character (or a relative of it) is turned into an npc down the road? Isn't that a trophy of sorts? It would also help create a more dynamic world for everyone.

And death will let the developer give the player powers over the world during his or her character's lifetime knowing they won't last forever.

And what if characters constantly age even when you are not playing? What if lifespans are 6 months of real time +/- 14 days?

The world is constantly changing. IT's breathing. That's what something like WoW needs. WoW's world is 100% static.

This is can be fairly easily done on a small scale. But it's a logistics problem for an MMO.

Other ideas ...what if you are also playing for your family dynasty? What if the actions of your characters help build your family dynasty. What if that is part of the lingering/persistent effect so the death of your character isn't viewed in such catastrophic terms? In the simplest abstract terms this would just be a page in your account with values like honor, and wealth etc. But what if these things once accumulated to certain levels allowed you to even further influence parts of the game world? What if they let you create things only developers could create before?

That me is a nicer reward that what I always saw my friends get in WoW. The next set of spec-ced armor that was fairly pointless because the next expansion was around the corner. Not that the whole better loot system still wouldn't be in the game. It just wouldn't be the only reward.

I guess some of the direction I'm going on a bottom line level is the developers would, roughly speaking, give the world the same sort of dynamic systems they give the characters currently. And that both would ebb and flow. Characters would age and die out. And new ones would take their place. If lifespans happened twice per year it would really keep things interesting. The world also would ebb and flow. Changes made to the world might only last another lifetime. Maybe they last 2 lifetimes. Perhaps some linger even longer.

welcome to the future.

Simon Pole
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This is off-topic Ramin, but I would love to hear your opinion on PvP-only stats (perhaps in another blog post). My guildmates and I got in an argument about this, as I believe no PvP-stat is killing GW2's WvW. I also note the upcoming Wildstar will have one.

I can't find any technical discussion on PvP-stat pros and cons on the web, so there appears to be a void of information.

Ramin Shokrizade
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As David and Bob and perhaps others have alluded to here, equity does not just apply to the "virtually physical". Social equity is, from my research, the highest tier of equity. Typically any gear or vehicles you acquire in play, while being equity in themselves, are a means to generate social equity. I call this social equity "Prestige". It is at the core of all of my economic and monetization models, and my Engagement Equation (book in early stages).

This is because it needs to be. Games are inherently social, and as a species we are built this way. The human being is an organism. It has certain needs. Games can fill many of the highest level needs of that organism, but to do so they need to match those needs. Social rank is a very big high level need of humans. Even things like sex (for men especially) may seem like one of the highest needs for our species (marketers seem to think this way), but it is my opinion that just having someone shockingly beautiful on your arm confers social rank, even if it is just for show.

Rankings in games are a way of quantifying social rank. In more fluid game environments this rank forms organically. In games were I was the top player while active (Everquest, EVE, World of Warcraft, Pirates of the Burning Sea, Shattered Galaxy, Galaxy Online) I may have had the most stuff, but it was my social rank that made me #1. I had the most influence on the play of everyone else on my server. In the case of GO, a pay to win game, I capped myself at $20 total per server. I didn't have the most stuff by far. I still reached that #1 social rank spot and was perma-elected as head of my faction.

This is a serious rush, and people will spend a LOT for this. So, I'm not sure I answered your question (Simon) the way you expected, but hopefully I got close.

Simon Pole
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If I understand you, then PvP-stats are a way to preserve social equity for PvP-players? That way, a PvE raider can't come in with superior gear to the PvP space and undermine the equity built up by the PvP players.

That jives with the argument I've been hearing on ESO forums against a PvP-only stat (ESO is launching without one). The PvP-stat is viewed as elitist, or "dividing" PvP from PvE. But perhaps the division is necessary to preserve PvP social equity.

In the end though, I think the integrity of PvP equity in PvE-heavy games tends to eventually be undermined, as PvE'ers pay the bills. We'll see what Camelot Unchained can do with a purely PvP-space. Surely it will be an interesting experiment.

Caleb Simmons
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Referring back up the comments a ways to the discussion of WoW, I noticed talk of how the old raid content was obsolete. As a possible measure to make all content relevant again, how do you feel about attunements? They used to exist in WoW to a certain degree and I feel if streamlined a bit better could make all raid content in a game structured the way WoW and several others are very relevant and even a joy to play again. I really liked the idea of upgrading rare and raid pieces to current level involving quests that Booby K mentioned. I do not know the best solution but I feel encouraging players to experience the journey of the game and all the items, quests, and dungeons in between rather than circumventing a large chunk of it is a better way to go, or at least a step in the right direction. What do you think?

Bob Johnson
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Anyway not sure how I got to brainstorming about MMOs. But I think my mind dump is saying that ....Personalization of and Connection to the game world is what should build equity. Not outfitting your character ad nauseum with better specced gear.

And that one of the mechanisms that needs to be in place to facilitate this has to be permadeath or at least limited character lifespans.

In some ways what I thought about here reminds me of Civilization where you, the player, create the story. You help shape the world along with the other players. Your actions tell the story. It is an experience that has a beginning, middle and end. And there is a different enjoyment to those different points in the game. And once you go through that experience you don't stop playing. You play again and you do so from scratch. You start over completely.

I think that would work for a next gen WoW type of MMO where the lifespan of your character would be analogous to the beginning, middle and end game in Civilization except with your actions having a lingering/persistent effect on the world.

The developer's goal would to be to facilitate this. To supply enough story elements and parts in various lore subsystems to let players tell the stories within certain parameters.

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Titi Naburu
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There's more reasons why games aren't growing. One is graphics: since players demand better graphics each year (or companies think so), creating levels is becoming more expensive. So a solution is to not keep growing the size of levels.

Another is player attention deficit. There are more casual players than ever, and they have less time to play. So companies make smaller levels.

I love racing games. NFS 3 back in 2000 had 4-minute circuits and 4 or 8-lap races. Colin McRae 2 had 4-minute stages. Newer NFS games have 2-minute circuits and 4-lap races, whereas Dirt games have 1-minute circuits and 6-lap races, and 2-minute stages. So race lengths have halved!

The play/loading ratio is worsening very fast, and companies don't seem to mind that.

Ramin Shokrizade
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Titi, excellent! I was waiting (even before I posted this) for someone to challenge me on this. Another very big reason games are getting smaller is because the way we play games is changing. Thus the move to mobile and low immersion games. That said, the concept of equity applies equally to small games (note I said it really isn't about size) and this is a huge black hole in mobile game development. The games are not social, not persistent, and have no equity. There are a few very minor exceptions. This is why, as a whole, I have resisted assisting any of the mobile companies (large and small) that I have talked to over the last two years. I do not see this as a technological constraint, it is a design constraint. Designers don't really understand the consumer or their needs yet.

As far as graphics go, I'm going to suggest this is a fallacy put forward by hardware manufacturers. Many of the wildly popular Chinese games don't have good graphics, and really that sort of visual stimulus is very low on my "Engagement Hierarchy of Needs" list.

By assuming this is what consumers want, when it is not, companies waste billions of dollars in development yearly. Investors like games with good graphics, so will support such projects, but again investors don't know what consumers want either.

Bob Johnson
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Yes graphics have been holding things back for over a decade. I remember when fps games went 3d. That was a step back for those games for a long time. IN Duke NUkem 3d, which wasn't 3d, you have a really interactive environment for its time. But the move to 3d quashed that direction for a long time afterwards. Quake couldn't do it. I don't think Half-life could.

The same thing happened with rts games. The move to 3d made the games prettier, but they ,at least initially, were shells of their former selves.

The same can be said for making games more photorealistic.

but there is hope. WoW was a success and its graphics were never state of the art photo realistic.

Minecraft is a big success with really crude graphics.

I've been on this horn for a long time. Games need to be interesting. Read the Sid Meier "blast from the past" article posted on Gamasutra yesterday or so. IT is from GDC magazine circa 1997. He said the same thing back then.

Jonathon Green
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I'd both vaguely agree but ultimately disagree on a few points here.

As Ramin points out and Titi eludes to, it's not so much the demand for graphics as much as it is the graphics industry doing a good job of maintaining itself through various means that involve the partnership of companies and the gullibility of consumers.

And there in lies the first issue. Tools, pipelines and paradigmes are always increasing productivity, yet ... an almost absurd level of graphical excellence will be attributed to a lack of content more than a lack of content can be attributed to high fidelity visuals. Graphics over content is often an easily palatable fallacy.

Good graphics and poor content in reality, is simply an indication that resources were not managed correctly. And this gets equated and simplified by players to a graphics over content problem. However you'll never hear anyone blame the abundance of content for the poor quality of the graphics. Because the extent to which these two things truly effect each other in any well managed sizable studio is negligible.

Therefore graphics haven't made games smaller, especially not with the ridiculous increases in staff and budget numbers.

Secondly... Ramin, you mention, "Another very big reason games are getting smaller is because the way we play games is changing."

I disagree. Instead I believe, games are getting smaller and it's changing the way we play games. We didn't start playing on the iPhone or Android platform and suddenly need smaller games. These platforms needed smaller games, these games were created and then designed to draw in a large new audience of players and or in some cases milk them for profit.

The same with MMOGs, they got smaller *then* we started playing them less and jumping between franchises more etc.

I mention it, because I believe it's important to not place the emphasis on this being because of a consumer driven games industry, when the reality is, it's very much a money driven industry. Where companies will willingly make bad games that look good with high marketing budgets and sell them to consumers that they've told what to want, year after year, rather than change away from the industry's spray and pray approach to make big games deliberately designed to remain competitive over a decade or more.

To know what consumers need, is to start to know how to make good games, and therefore match them with good economics. Confusion in regards to why games are heading in the direction they are, that puts the onus on consumer trends, could very easily lead to some misplaced assumptions down the line.

Chris Dias
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Why not make a post-scarcity MMO? Or would that idea simply not be profitable enough to take seriously?

Robert Nesius
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I've spent a lot of time in WoW over the years, and generally have always viewed expansions with a bit of regret due the equity issue you describe above. I also very much disliked raid-nerfs as usually my guilds have been working on finishing up the content as the new expansion has approached and I wanted to finish that content on the original level of difficulty. Blizzard "helps" people finish out the tiers by making them easier but I prefer it when they implement those "helpful" mechanics in a way where the players still have a choice about whether or not they want to take that "help".

With the ability to transmog gear (put old graphics on new items) people are running old content or dusting off old sets they already had banked for fun. The transmog process has lessened the equity loss a little.

Blizzard has also effectively repurposed their old content (raids). They've sprinkled rare battle pets across all of the old raid bosses and adjusted fight mechanics on bosses (e.g., Razorgore) so they can be solo'd. A lot of my friends are doing weekly clears on the old content now just to rustle up all of the battle pets. I was always a bit puzzled by the fact that Blizzard just dropped old content on the ground and never looked back. It's cool they have found a way to pull it back in though I personally could care less about the battle-pets...