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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 3 of 4 Next

If you're worried about "faucets" flooding your game with cash, maybe you should take a serious look at faucets of other resources too.

What do you think happens when a player gets back to town to sell what they harvested... and all the other junk they picked up along the way? All this other junk is useful to someone else, but it's junk to the person who gathered it. They didn't want to gather it. It just sort of fell into their pockets. So they go to the Auction House, look at the current price of that junk, and undercut that price. Why? It's simple. They just want to get rid of it as fast as possible. It's junk. That's what you do with junk. You get rid of it.

It turns out that the real faucets in many MMORPGs aren't the cash drops: it's everything else. And the result isn't inflationary prices. Quite the opposite: because of all the competition to unload junk on the open market, prices deflate very near to the floor price.

At some point, it's cheaper (and more convenient) to just vendor the junk than to try and sell it to other players. That's a good sign that the market is saturated with that item and it has reached rock bottom prices.

As it happens, currency faucets aren't an issue at all. Besides, such faucets already exist. At any time in most MMORPGs, a player could dedicate themselves to performing activities that generate money, such as killing monsters.

Because players are in control of the money supply, they can already open that faucet all the way and flood the market with currency. The only thing that stops them from doing so is time. At some point, their time is better spent doing something else.

If the market isn't completely deflated, they might be better off spending their time gathering resources. But that's unlikely in most MMORPGs.

The bigger issue is when players would rather spend their time outside of the game. Picture it: someone wants something, but doesn't currently have the money for it and doesn't want to spend the time gathering the money for it. Why? Their time is limited. And when time is limited, it's worth a lot more.

This is where gold farming comes in. Gold farming is the ultimate faucet: you pay someone real money for them to spend their time getting you gold. At least, that's how it works in theory. When it comes to gold farming, there are two basic facts:

  • Players and game makers alike suffer from gold farmers.
  • Players and game makers alike don't suffer from gold buyers.

That players suffer from gold farmers is undeniable. The spam alone is horrible in many online games. Gold farmers also try to find exploits they can abuse, many of which disrupt the game for other players. Gold farmers can also have a deeply disruptive effect on the in-game economy if they can get money from other players more easily than from the game world. They also hack into players' accounts, stripping them of everything of worth in order to more quickly fill their coffers with more gold to sell.

Game developers and publishers also suffer from gold farmers. "If you're talking about what different kinds of fraud exist in the world, the ones that for us as a developer and a publisher, the kinds of fraud that concern us the most, are the actual credit card frauds," says Scott Hartsman, executive producer of Rift at Trion Worlds. "Where you go buy gold from a disreputable gold site, and they say 'thank you' and deliver your gold, and sell your credit card number, or start registering accounts with your credit card.

"It's those kinds of things where people laugh and go, 'Oh, that never happens.' No. It happens. It happens a shitload. To the point where, over the last three or four years, I would dare anybody to ask an exec at a gaming company how much they've had to pay in Master Card and Visa fines, because of fraud. It happens a lot. Those fines are money that should be going into making games better, and instead they're going into fighting the fact that people are jerks in the world."

So it's clear that gold farmers are bad. What about gold buyers? Is it bad that they receive big chunks of gold they don't work for? I don't think it's a problem.

"One millionaire blows out the experience for their rewarded character or even their friend's first-level character," says Turbine creative director Cardell Kerr. "I think that's fine in today's game-space, mostly because I want to play with my friends.

"We've got to the point now where, when I log in to a game, whether it's an MMO or an FPS or some odd combination of the two, I want to go over to my friends and hang out with my friends. Because of that fact, because that's the experience that I think is important nowadays, I think that compensating for the money coming in, in terms of the money you're creating on a moment-to-moment basis, is probably tilting at a windmill."

I think there's a very simple comparison: would you think it unfair if someone logged in and their friend handed them a big pile of gold and/or gear? Probably not. Even though it's "unfair" that this person has a friend helping them and you don't. So I don't think the "unfair" argument applies to gold buying either.

So, if gold "receiving" is okay but gold "selling" is bad, what's the solution? It's quite simple: MMO makers should just sell their money. And this, my friends, is where we finally get into the economic nitty-gritty.

Remember, there's already an infinite gold faucet wide open, waiting for players to hold their buckets under it and wait for them to fill. The only difference is cutting out the wait time. What you're doing is just make the faucet flow faster.

This is where people panic. Oh noes! Prices will go up! That's not actually a bad thing, really. Remember that prices are deflated to rock bottom at the moment. There's already way more production of goods from random adventuring than there is demand for those goods, mainly because everyone's out there doing the adventuring gig too. Bringing in some gold buyers would help clean up all the junk those pesky adventurers bring back to town with them.

The real concern is what those players are buying at the Auction House. What is it that will go up in price? Most likely, the items that will really go up a lot in price, the items that give concern about inflation, are the super rare items that are already prohibitively expensive. So prohibitively expensive they prompt people to buy gold from gold farmers to be able to buy them.

See, here's another way in which MMORPGs differ dramatically from real life. In real life, producing a really awesome rare thing is usually the result of a tremendous amount of work and time and creative inspiration. In an MMORPG, it's the result of right-clicking on a sparkle and getting that one-in-a-billion random loot generator result with a purple name.

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