Economic Ignorance

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”.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in crafting, EVE Online, MMO design, Rant. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Economic Ignorance

  1. sid67 says:

    It’s worse than just it’ll work itself out.

    Devs will often inadvertently subvert their own economies without even realizing it. They wield a wrecking ball called “the patch” and don’t consider the ramifications of the actions. Or if they do, they are short-sighted and are just trying to resolve one specific issue.

    But WORST thing you can do is make your economy irrelevant by making everything common. Do that and you can quickly and easily get rid of one of the most important forms of player interaction in an MMO.

  2. Bhagpuss says:

    I’d pay a premium to play an MMO with no economy. Yes, I do get sucked into all kinds of economic activity in the games that have them (all of them, that is). But its almost always time I regret spending on an activity that isn’t very entertaining.

    I’m all in favor of massively multiple online economic simulations, but I’d like them to congregate in some genre of their own and let us get back to exploring and adventuring.

  3. Derrick says:

    The problem is that most MMO’s *can’t* have decent economies due to their fundamental design. The vast majority can only have pale shadows that try to serve as a reasonable facsimile of an economy.

    • sid67 says:

      I would strongly argue against that idea. I think a decent economy is vital to an MMO. It can provide a value and purpose to an activity long after the novelty of a newness has worn off.

      There are two key areas for a dev to consider when evaluating their economy. The first is related to growth or the acquiring and making of items.

      Most MMOs focus on this aspect of the economy. How do you get stuff and how do you make stuff.

      My criticism here is that they usually don’t try to make the getting or the making itself very fun. For example, EVE has a great economy but the *doing* of it is about as fun as pissing on a flat rock.

      The other key area is equally important and is the one that constantly gets ignored by players and devs.


      In order for there to be a need for players to continue to gather and make stuff, there also needs to be some mechanism for them to decay or disappear.

      If you don’t have decay, then everyone only plays the economic game long enough to get what they need and then they are done.

      You can’t have a persistent or lasting economy that way. This is the area where EVE really shines because there is so much loss when a ship is destroyed.

      However, even in a positive sum game like WoW, you still need decay. That’s why you see gold sinks (like mounts) and one-use consumables.

      So I would say that’s it’s not that MMOs *can’t* have a decent economy, but that devs choose to focus too much on the Growth and not enough on the Decay necessary for a healthy economy.

      It’s a bit player driven in that players love hearing about Growth and loathe the idea of losing stuff through Decay.

      • Derrick says:

        I think you misunderstood me. I didn’t mean it was impossible to have a good economy in an MMO, but rather that the currently existing crop – for the most part – is designed against it in the very way you state.

        With the most important objects in the game not being able to be traded AND not decaying, the economy can be little more than a second class citizen.

        Eve, for example, showcases an excellent example of a solid MMO economy.

        The problem though is that adjusting to this is not simple. You can’t just add decay to wow and poof! A good economy. Progression being tied to gear makes decay punishing, and risks players falling behind and being unable to catch up (rich get richer; poor get poorer).

        The game must be designed around this from the start.

        Quite simply, it needn’t be decay in particular, but there needs to be material sinks in the game to prompt eeconomic movement.

      • Jordan says:

        I don’t entirely agree that decay has to be a key ingrediant of a successful economy.

        You can have a game with a crap-ton of items from the extremely common to the extremely rare and everything in between. Make those semi-rare, rare and ultra-rare items actually “rare” enough and they will maintain their value for 1, 2 or even 3 expansions. More than long enough for the expacs to provide a new influx of items to keep the economy healthy.

        See: EQ.

        Some of my best memories of that game were spending an hour or two at the EC bazaar either trying to sell my stuff or trade up to get some item i’d been coveting for a while. My favorite transaction? Trading a fungi for a MQ Shattered Emerald of Corruption to get the other half of my ranger epic. Then, along comes the “real” bazaar which totally ruined the experience.


  4. Dblade says:

    Meh, all EVE’s economy has done is suck, honestly. It drives negative content, not positive: low insurance rates made suicide ganking much easier and insurance fraud possible. This heist just shows how impossible it is to have positive economic interactions like banks or funds.

    People mostly are not economic creatures. They don’t play games to make money or be worried about making money: that’s a present worry in real life. The best content happens when you forget the economy and focus on the gameplay experience. Most people literally ignore the Economy in EVE by buying PLEX to sell, or making virtually everything they need in-house.

  5. Yak says:

    @syncaine Great article man! Didn’t know that there was an MMO in existence where they encourage you to scam. I really do love that! I would love for you to be a guest on my show and talk about EVE, the MMO economy or whatever the hell you feel like! I am apart of the MMO Smack Talk Domain. If you are interested please email me and let me know. ;) I apologize if this double posts as it did not take the first time.

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