One of the things I find fascinating about a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game is the concept of the in-game “economy.” In World of Warcraft, cash and items enter into the game economy in the following ways (most of this article should hold true for other games as well):
- You loot items and money from the bodies of the monsters and opponents you kill.
- You sell the items you loot to vendors for cash.
- You buy items from vendors for cash.
- You trade items with other characters, or buy and sell items from and to other characters.
- You buy and sell items via the auction house.
- You use components via your trade skills to create useful items, then use them or sell or trade them.
- You buy services, such as training, from non-player characters.
- You buy services, such as enchanting, from other characters.
- You fulfill quests and receive rewards in the form of items and money.
There are a number of things that affect prices of items. First, if an item is easily available from a vendor, then odds are other characters won’t be able to sell the same item for a lot more money. However, the prices of other items are heavily influenced by supply and demand.
On the one hand, the great thing about an MMORPG is that you can go out and “farm” almost any resource you might need. Need cash? Go kill some bad guys carrying it or complete a few quests. Need copper ore? Go raid the Fargodeep mine and mine the ore nodes there (assuming you have the mining skill). Need linen? Kill some of the bad guys that carry it. Need a new weapon? Find out about a quest that offers one as a reward and complete it.
On the other hand, there can be stiff competition for such resources, particularly at busy times of the day–if you only play during peak hours, you might not find it so easy to farm your needed resources. Not everyone wants to do this; some people would rather just pay for their materials and be done with it. Some resources are a bit on the rare side and you can’t be guaranteed of getting them when you go out looking for them. And in WoW, things are set up so that no matter what trade skills you take as your two main skills, you’ll almost inevitably need resources provided by the other trade skills (it encourages socialization within the game). To a certain extent you’re going to have to realize that if you don’t like farming up your own money and resources, you won’t have as much of these things as other people–just as folks who don’t want to spend their time raiding won’t get as many amazing epic items.
Some folks solve their lack of resources and money in a way that I think most players dislike: by buying gold or items through places like ebay from “professional farmers” who game solely for the purpose of selling game items for real-world money. Apart from the rather sad statement on an individual’s priorities that this makes, it can also unbalance an economy to a certain extent; you’re only helping to drive prices up further and encourage farmers to monopolize farming areas when you do this (which means you’re making your own problem worse).
However, in some ways it seems to me that the whole argument is moot. There are some fairly easy steps one can take to ensure that anyone deliberately trying to drive prices sky-high doesn’t ruin your gaming experience:
- Spend at least part of your game time farming your own supplies. Don’t always buy them from others. If you don’t like the price you’d have to pay for something, simply find out where to acquire it on your own and go get it. If you aren’t willing to do this, accept that you can’t have everything you want.
- Don’t fall into the vanity trap of having to have that one perfect item right here right now. Either wait until you’re high enough level to acquire or create it on your own, or go without. If you really must buy it for some reason, then keep watch on the auction house and trade channels. Decide in advance what a reasonable price for the item would be and do not buy it until you see it for that price (or close to it).
- For that matter, make auction house buying a sort of mini-hobby. Keep an eye on general pricing of items you tend to buy. Develop an idea of prices that are reasonable, and don’t buy items that aren’t priced reasonably. People can only sell items for outrageous prices if there are people buying them. You’ll find plenty of mods out there to help you with auction housing.
- When you sell items that tend to sell for ridiculous prices, sell them for a little bit less than the going rate. If you sell them at the insane rate then you’re simply adding to the problems. However, if you undercut the insane rate by too much, all you’re doing is enabling the folks selling at ridiculous rates to buy your low-priced items then turn around and sell them at the ridiculous rates. Whereas if enough people undercut the high rates by a little at a time, it can slowly drive the prices back down. I’ve seen this happen on some servers, so it can work. Another way to do it is to put a very low starting bid, a relatively high buyout (again, a little less than the current too-high rate), and a length of auction of 24 hours. Most professional auction house buyers don’t want to wait 24 hours, so this gives people a chance to get something for less.
- Join and encourage the kinds of guilds where people help each other out and trade items and services between members. This seriously keeps costs down. You do have to be a little discerning if you want to do this, however–group with people you’ve played with a little and feel you can trust at least minimally. Otherwise you can end up with one or more people mooching off of others, and that just fuels the imbalance.
Thanks to the fact that MMORPGs have resources that anyone at all can go out and harvest, there’s little reason to let someone else ruin your experience of the economy. Instead of letting a lack of money get you down, farm your own resources, make some money through selling things so you can keep up with the economy, and undercut some of those high prices by just enough to make a difference.