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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 4 of 4

The thing is, in real life, people can work towards making those things. You can say you'll paint the greatest masterpiece and set yourself to painting until you achieve it. In doing so, you're not likely to produce some other great masterpiece, like accidentally composing a fantastic symphony or discovering the cure for cancer. But in an MMORPG, it's all random. You could stumble across the greatest epic of your life dropped by the seventh rat in a kill-ten-rats quest. And you can't set yourself to trying to get it, even if you did want to take that up as your cause.

The randomness of these goods already makes them extremely volatile in price. Gold farmers frequently snatch them up when they show up on the Auction House and relist them for unattainably high prices; the only way to actually buy them is to buy the gold from the gold farmer. It's a viciously effective cycle for converting what people really want -- the shiny epic, not the gold -- into real money.

The way to fix faucets and drains is to wean developers away from the notion of equipment as a means of progression in MMORPGs. Instead, treat equipment like equipment: something to be used and replaced. Bring back item degradation, item loss. Make items something that players expect to buy on a regular basis. Make them affordable and common.

All of this can be done with improvements to one of the greatest shortcomings in modern MMORPGs: the crafting system.

EVE Online's powerful and stable economy is arguably strong not only because of its economic foundations but because of its crafting system. Everything in EVE is crafted; everything in EVE can be blown up and lost and need to be replaced.

Money flows in EVE because everyone always needs something from someone else. This is a huge difference from the design philosophy of themepark MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, where no one ever needs anything from anyone else because no one can ever get anything from anyone else. In WoW, everything of value is Bind on Pickup: you have to get everything yourself.

On the one hand, making a game's crafting system into one that encourages players to specialize into one role adds a lot of economic motivation to the equation. In EVE, you have miners, haulers, and crafters, each doing their own different thing. On the other hand, it's important to make sure that a game's crafting system remains sufficiently open so that players can compete in each aspect and ensure that no monopolization efforts introduce inefficiencies. EVE has some problems with that; other games, like EverQuest II, fared far worse.

When EQ2 launched, the game had a highly specialized crafting system. There were nine crafts and each finished item made by each crafter required components made by other crafters -- sometimes all eight. However, almost every single step required at least one liquid produced by alchemists, creating massive dependency on alchemists by every other crafter, and making it all too easy for a few alchemists to grind the economy to a halt.

"The game we had launched back in 2004 is obviously very different from what it ended up being in later years," explains Scott Hartsman, when telling me about his experiences with EverQuest II. "A lot of that had to do with us observing how accessible crafting was as a whole, how difficult it was to get started, and -- most importantly -- how much power were we letting small numbers of people focus over an entire server's economy.

"With that level of interdependency, that is a very complicated game to play. For some of these recipes, you would have to craft 40 things -- 40 subcomponents through different tiers -- before you could make the final thing. And when all of those things are dependent on other people, what we ended up with was very small groups of people effectively controlling an economy of an entire server."

I pointed out that one of the biggest problems in when EQ2 launched was the lack of a centralized marketplace system. EQ2 eventually added a broker system, but it required players to stay logged in for things show up. I asked Scott if he thought a market system like EVE's, with buy orders so alchemists could see which people were paying what for liquids and produce to fill those needs, would have made EQ2's interdependency more viable:

"I think it would make a more interdependent system more viable, to be sure. Here's the thing: crafting interdependency and dungeon grouping are analogues to each other in different action spaces. It's not that people don't like other people; it's that people don't like inconvenience. And other people are the most inconvenient thing in the world."

I've always said the worst thing in massively multiplayer games are the other players.

"Yeah! We all say that because it's pithy and funny, but it is true. So crafting interdependency is the same thing. Everyone likes the idea of, 'Oh, this is so deep and there's all kinds of stuff,' but 'Ohhh, wait. Now I've gotta find ways to get this stuff? Oh, this isn't fun.' So yeah, adding more systems like that, I think, are a great way to get more interdependency in a fun way."

So here's your checklist to making a successful MMORPG in-game economy:

a) Make sure there are resources that are needed that everyone can gather, including new players. Follow EVE's "more Tritanium!" model rather than the themepark "highest level mats only" model.

b) Encourage specialization of labor by making systems that reward players for specializing in one thing, be it gathering or crafting, and encourage interdependency by having different specializations require output from other specializations...

c) BUT DON'T make it impossible for players to go out of their specialization in order to correct for market inefficiencies. Most importantly, don't make it impossible for a player to change their specialization at no cost. This means: don't do a "two crafts ONLY!" system like WoW or Rift when you could do an "everyone can work on everything" system like in Final Fantasy XIV or EVE Online.

d) Build systems that make it easy for players to transact without actually having to interact. Markets with buy and sell orders are a great way for a player to indicate their desire to make an economic transaction without having to actually find someone to listen to them first.

e) Worry more about equipment faucets and rains than cash faucets and drains. Don't neglect cash drains, but worry a lot more about equipment drains. Binding doesn't count; eventually everyone will have a bound copy of everything and no one will be able to sell their goods. Get rid of permanent gear. Get rid of gear-based progression!

In the third and final instalment of this series I'm going to go way out of the in-game economy and talk about the real-world economy. The biggest F-Word on everyone's lips, when it comes to MMORPGs, is Free (to play). So I'll be re-introducing some of the ideas I discussed during my presentation at this year's Canadian Games Conference and adding in plenty of additional in-depth insight. Stay tuned!

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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