MMO economies are, in my opinion, one of if not THE most overlooked and ignored features in the genre. At the same time a strong economy is perhaps the single greatest driver of ‘content’, and not just for those who focus on it, but really for the majority of the player base.
By now I’m guessing most of you have read the story about the 45k heist in EVE. It’s a rather complex and layered story with many interesting parts, from the fact that someone would put in such dedication, building up an online reputation for years to cash it in for one major score, to the fact that such a massive pile of wealth could be accumulated in the first place. And of course like everything else in Agon, whether you are directly involved or not, this major event happened on ‘your’ server, so likely has SOME impact on you, direct or otherwise.
I don’t want to get into the details of the heist itself however, as it’s really just a catalyst for my overall point; a strong economy is key to a great MMO. Think about your current MMO, can something like this happen? First, is it even possible to get such a huge amount of wealth? Is there ANYTHING of such high value? And if so, is it possible to have it removed/stolen/lost? If something like that is possible, or at least close, how many players does it impact directly and indirectly? Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands? And to what extent? Does the impact cause a massive shift in the population, or a stark increase/decrease in market value for certain items? Does such an event have other wide ranging impact on other dev or player-run activities, even those in no way related to this incident?
Of course much of the above is possible in EVE because of just how unique EVE is among other games in the MMO genre. From it’s single ‘server’ setup, to the way character growth works, to what role ISK plays, it’s just a different animal in almost every way from all other MMOs. Yet that does not change the fact that what drives many of these major events is still the economic backbone. The fact that ISK = power, that you truly never can ‘max out’ on ISK, and the simple fact that in EVE, it’s not how much ISK you have, but how fast you can gain it, all set the tone and drive players forward.
CCP has put in a lot of effort to keep the EVE economy going, but to me what’s more surprising is not that they hired a professional economist to help out, but that so many other MMOs simply forget about the economy, or assume it’s just going to “work itself out”. Considering just how much ‘content’ has been generated over the years directly related to economic activity (not just in EVE mind you), it’s really shocking that more devs don’t bullet-list it early in development, or that more time is not spent promoting it’s importance.
Perhaps the real key here is not how best to promote the economy itself (as being a trader/econ guy is itself a niche activity among the hordes of raiders, PvP’ers, and solo-heroes), but to sell the results of getting it right. EVE has certainly benefited countless times from the ‘hype’ generated by such highlight events; one would think other devs would try to cash in on this kind of free promotion in their games, yet even now we continue reading about ‘built-in’ story, the next instance, or what the latest items to replace your current ones will be. It all just sounds very… shallow by comparison.
Chuck-o-the-day: Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” was originally titles “Chuck Norris”.