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MMO Economy Manipulation.
by Sam Sherwood on 04/29/14 09:22:00 am

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.

 

Certain players sometimes referred to as “Farmers” in massively multiplayer online RPGs such as World of Warcraft and EVE Online manipulate the in-game economies by controlling the game’s flourishing auction houses and trading hubs with their supply of raw materials.


The term “Farming”  in the original sense of the word means to only kill a certain type of monster for the express purpose of getting them to drop certain items / materials. It differs from grinding XP, as monsters will continue to drop items regardless of the player's level. The term is also extended to include searching for ore and herbs, which does not have to involve killing NPC’s. A secondary meaning of the term is "collecting any crafting material". Although this activity does not rely on fighting mobs, many players feel that it's just as repetitive.


Some players who farm do it to progress their character’s skills in crafting for example a player that is a skinner will kill many animal NPC’s to skin them for their leather. This is the way that most players carry out the act of “Farming” but there is another group of players that specifically do it to saturate the auction houses with their wildly overpriced raw materials. It sounds harmless but these players will buy out opposing player’s auctions of relatively common, low priced materials and then re-post them with his farmed materials at extremely high prices. This phenomenon completely throws the games economy out of kilter because now an extremely common material that should cost a relatively low amount of money now becomes one of the most expensive materials.


Because a server’s economy is the basic flow of gold and materials this creates a serious problem. The “Farmers” are supplying massive amounts of materials into the auction houses which generates massive amounts of gold for them. There was a study done by a demographer to demonstrate the income inequality this causes in the game-world. What he found in a detailed survey of over 2,500 players was that the richest 1% of players in World of Warcraft control 24% of the game’s gold and no doubt this richest 1% are heavily involved in “Farming”. The other 75% of players only control a miniscule 14% of the game’s gold, this is an incredible wealth gap caused by the phenomenon of farming.


The whole in-game economic system is a seriously top heavy one, leaving large sums of gold sitting in the high level “Farmers” pockets and not contributing to the economy. If these “Farmers” had better interests in mind they could more easily influence and correct the markets to restore balance, although this is unlikely to happen.


Aswell as farming raw materials some players use the expression "farming the auction house" , meaning one of two things. Either they buy needed items instead of farming them, or they earn gold in the auction house by buying low and selling high. This is the more sinister type of farming because it involves taking into account certain economic trends in the gameworld. These,  in turn become easier via add-ons, designed to help players discover niches in the market and then in turn take advantage of them. This turned into such a problem that Blizzard had to update their exploitation policy to restrain the amount of possible auction house farming.
Another game that shares similarities in economy manipulation with World of Warcraft is the MMO EVE Online. WoW’s economy can be inflated, saturated etc. but it can never be destroyed, and that is exactly what a group of EVE players set out to do.


While the developers of WoW changed their exploitation policy to reduce the amount players can manipulate the auction houses, the developers of EVE welcomed the idea of players trying to destroy the in-game economy, which is one of the biggest and most complex seen in a MMO. It is infact so complex that some players go as far as to organise themselves into corporations outside the game-world so that the can reap in-game benefits.


The idea was put forward by a player to launch an attack on one of the main trading outposts in EVE with the objective of destroying the economy. Some 14,000 destroyers gathered together in preparation of the attack. If it succeeded it would completely obliterate the economy. This meant that many players who had accumulated serious in-game wealth would now be back to square one and have to start over.


While the players aren’t exactly gathering loads of raw materials to buy and sell so they can manipulate the economy the attack on the trade hub has quite the same effect. By laying siege to the trade hub and killing everyone bringing in supplies, shortages will be created which will drive up demand and inflate the price.


Interestingly this main trading hub, Jita, was not pre-determined by developers but became the largest trading hub in the game through emergent gameplay. It seems right the the player-generated economic bust should threaten the player-generated economic boom. One of the developers went on to say that the assault might be good for the game’s economy, where many well-off players will lose a hefty chunk of their buying power and be forced to start again.


It is noteworthy to see how these two player driven in-game economies compare against each other. They create brilliant real life situations that could never have been scripted, or pre-determined into the gameplay.


In conclusion I think it is evident that the online economies are always going to be controlled and manipulated by groups players in order for them to reap the rewards and in-game benefits that come with it. In short it works like a real life system of supply and demand, price will always be fluctuate because of this and for the players who know how to control and play the economies will always benefit.

 

 


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