In a panel at the 2008 ION Game Conference titled Real Money, Fake Money and Loot: Designing Economies for MMO Games, participants representing a variety of MMO developers, including Big Fish Games and Sulake, discussed the game design and economics issues that can make or break a game.
"Set it up from the beginning so it doesn't hurt you that people will pay someone in China to farm your game," advised ArenaNet skill balancing designer Isaiah Cartwright. "You'll always have a black market conversation rate for your game, so bring it in and use it to your advantage. The game demographic is growing up and having more money than time, and you should take that on from the start."
AristoDigital's Jay Minn, moderator of the panel, agreed: "You need to know the economics from the beginning or you'll get stuck on design decisions about encouraging certain player behaviors over others."
On the topic of the need to plan an economy before the community develops its own, Big Fish Games' Toby Ragaini pointed to Asheron's Call as an example: "In Asheron's Call, they made money weigh something, so rich people couldn't carry their money around. So players came up with their own exchange for a small, lightweight item (shards). Everyone traded based on these items."
Habbo Hotel developer Sulake Corporation's CTO Osma Ahvenlampi noted, "In Habbo, at first they made the currency non-tradable, but players were trading everything else. They finally decided it would make it easier for everyone concerned and made bags of gold etc. When that happened, it reduced eBay transactions because it was easier and more trusted by players to do it internally."
"You can't create a complex game without an economist on board, or pretend to be one," Ahvenlampi added, pointing to Habbo Hotel's 10 million transactions per day.
Cautioning designers on the dangers of not planning economies, Cartwright said, "The gold farmers aren't trying to use the in-game money, they're trying to turn that into real money as soon as possible. Anything you do to benefit the casual player, you're also benefiting the gold farmers 24 times, because they're playing 24 times as long" -- to which Ahvenlampi concluded, "This is why game design is turning into economic balancing."