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The F-Words Of MMOs: Faucets
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The F-Words Of MMOs: Faucets


July 21, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next
 

For every good that has both a fixed floor price and a fixed ceiling price, the price of that good when traded between players will always be within that price range. Well... maybe not. No player who actually knows about the economy would pay more than the ceiling price or sell for less than the floor price, but players who are ignorant of those prices might.

Some online games, such as EVE Online, have economies that thrive on preying upon this sort of economic ignorance. Other games, especially those with extremely well-used and comprehensive wikis, help players avoid making these sorts of economic mistakes.

Thus, getting back to Stites' description of faucets, his fear that inflation would make the game difficult for new players is completely unfounded.

Provided that your game is well-designed, that all key goods needed by new players have floor and ceiling prices, all new players will have the same opportunities to earn and spend money no matter how much money is in circulation or how inflated player-market prices are.

Take, for example, World of Warcraft. Players can basically treat WoW as a single-player game, questing on their own, earning money on their own, and spending it at vendors on their own.

Neither the game's money supply nor inflation in the auction house have actual bearing on the experience of a new player who sticks to the game's solo content. However, at some point, that player might click on an auctioneer... and what happens then?

This is where I get to repeat myself. Time = Money. I said it back in Part 1; I'm saying it again now. It's a basic, crucial truth upon which every economic reality is based.

When the player looks at the prices of things on the auction house, the player has to make a choice: buy it at that price on the AH, or go get it yourself. One costs money, the other costs time. If a player is equally willing to spend either resource, then they should do whichever is cheaper: if the player can get the money to buy the thing in less time than getting the thing itself, then they should buy the thing.

Really, this is the basic idea behind real world economies, too. How much time would it take you to make a loaf of bread if you didn't buy (or steal) anything? You'd have to go find unclaimed arable land, which might not actually be possible, but let's assume you can.

Then you need to either find wheat on that land or find wheat seeds and plan them on your land and wait for them to grow. Then you need to harvest that wheat, which might be difficult with your bare hands. Maybe you find some wood and stones and fashion your own tool. Then you have to grind the wheat grains into flour, and also find all the other ingredients, and very quickly you realize you might many weeks to a year to make just one loaf of bread.

However, once you have the process of making bread down to a practiced art, it's easy to make a lot more than just one loaf of bread. In fact, it's easy to make far more loaves of bread than you yourself can eat. At this point, the idea of spending more time making a lot more loaves and trading them makes more sense than making just a few loaves and then spending time doing everything else yourself too.

And, as it happens, the more you specialize in what you do and the more you trade with others, the more efficient production becomes. So if you have one person specialize in making wheat, one person specialize in grinding grain into flour, and one person specialize in baking flour into loaves... well, I'm sure you've seen that three step mechanic in many games already.

And yet, you probably haven't seen it very often in MMORPGs. That's because most activities in most MMORPGs are highly isolated and designed to be extremely self-sufficient. Most of these games haven't just made it viable to do everything yourself; many of them require you to do everything yourself. I can't tell you how many times I remember someone in WoW saying, "Yeah, just a sec, I gotta mail these herbs to my alchemy alt and mail back the elixirs." Everyone did everything; trade with other players was not a route to efficiency.

That's partly because of how these games design their resource-gathering systems. In most MMORPGs, gathering resources is largely a hit-or-miss event where you wander around clicking on nodes or killing monsters for random drops.

Most crucially, the time spent and resources gathered are a linear relation: if one hour will net you 20 herbs, two hours will get you 40. This is a key difference from "real world" harvesting, where the result of your labour goes up dramatically with extra work. Spending one hour a day for one hundred days might net you 10 pounds of flour, but spending eight hours a day for one hundred days might net you 10,000.

The big difference is that, in MMORPGs, spending your time specializing in gathering one type of resource is no more efficient than being a generalist gatherer. In fact, quite the opposite: gathering multiple resources at the same time is far more efficient than harvesting just one type.

And, to really throw a kink in economic principles, you often end up gathering more resources than you initially set out to get. Basically, harvesting in an MMORPG like WoW is like a farmer who keeps picking up ore nuggets, fruit, nuts, live animals, pieces of advanced technology, and magical artefacts and popping them in his sack while he's just trying to harvest his wheat. It's an absurd extreme opposite to the realities that make specialization of labor valuable.


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