Learning about MUDs (was: Re: [MUD-Dev] Re: MUD-Dev digest, Vol 1 #301 - 15 msgs)

Brian 'Psychochild' Green brian at psychochild.org
Tue Apr 3 01:11:49 New Zealand Standard Time 2001

McQuaid, Brad" wrote:

Nice to see you posting on the list again, Brad.  I'll try to be nicer
this time around. :)
> Brian 'Psychochild' Green wrote:

Damn, called out on a post I wrote. :)

A few things before we go on.

  1) I apologize in advance for being negative, but we are talking
  about how something is broken.  All games have both good and bad

  2) I'm not a professional economist.  I took some economics courses
  in college and have done some informal study since then.  People
  with more experience and/or qualifications can feel free to leap in
  and correct me.

  3) I have not personally played EQ in several months.  Two of my
  friends are pretty hard-core players, though, and I exploit them for
  all the information I can get.  Therefore, my information is second
  hand and likely a bit out of date.

>> Every high profile, commercial online RPG has had its economy
>> broken.

> Honestly, we weren't shocked at all, and knew it would happen.

This is the first time I've read this from a developer. :) I've read
several papers (admittedly not by EQ developers) where developers have
stated that they were shocked by this phenomenon.
> Could you define broken?

Going back to the paper I referenced, "Lessons from Lucasfilm's
Habitat", it wasn't the economy itself that was really broken, it was
the currency.  People still traded items between themselves and
carried on other economic activity, it's just that the medium of
exchange was no longer the intended currency but rather other items.

I probably should have been more specific myself.  When I said
"economy", I meant "currency".  The economies of the other games are
not really broken; this would only happen, for example, if no
reasonable economic exchanges could take place due to wildly
fluctuating values of items, or due the common worthlessness of all
items in the game. However, the currencies in each game have become
devalued to the point of being worthless.  Sorry if it seems I'm
splitting hairs here, but it is an important distinction.

I should provide a little background for those not so well educated
about economics.  Others can skip the next two paragraphs.

A basic tenet of economics is that value is determined by utility and
scarcity.  Things that are more useful and harder to find are worth
more than common items with little practical use.  My car has more
worth than your dull pebble.

Currency is a bit odd in this respect.  While gold or the funny
colored paper in my wallet doesn't always have inherent utility,
society has agreed that it can be exchanged for goods and services,
thereby giving it utility.  Of course, a measure of scarcity makes for
a better currency; for example, the paper in my wallet tends to have
very specific identifying marks to separate it from forgeries.

To put the concepts of utility and scarcity in MUD terms, the
Doomsword of Ultimate Slaying +1000 is going to be worth more than the
Dull-Edged Newbie Knife.  This is a measure of utility.  A game where
the Doomsword drops from every monster will cause the value of said
Doomsword to be lower than a game where the Doomsword drops only 1% of
the time from one certain monster.  This is a measure of scarcity.

What happens in many games is that game currency somehow becomes more
common than it should be.  This usually happens because a) more money
is found than is spent by the players, and b) there are bugs in the
game (dupe bugs, etc).  If game currency becomes too common, then
people stop using it as a medium of exchange.  Items with more
scarcity (or a stable scarcity) become the new medium of exchange
because the value of the items are higher.
> Now, as for high-end items being traded and not sold... when this
> occurs, this means that currency (in this case, platinum) isn't as
> useful at the high end as it could be.

Why is platinum not useful at higher levels in EverQuest?  From my
experiences, it's because the value of platinum is too low to be
useful as a currency at higher levels.  There's too much platinum
floating around at higher levels.

Why is this?  Because EverQuest is a good game but a poor economic
simulation; players generally gain wealth faster than they spend
it. This means that bank accounts get fatter as players go out
adventuring. This is fun for the player because they feel like they
are becoming more wealthy in raw numeric terms.

On the other hand, items are more strictly controlled in
EverQuest. Specific items generally drop off of specific monsters,
particularly at the higher levels.  Again, it makes for a good game,
because it means that you've really accomplished something if you find
some uber item.

Yet interesting things happen when these two phenomena
interact. Platinum is getting more and more common as time goes on,
but the uber item I found is only getting slightly more common as
people find it. Therefore, the money I get for my uber item today is
not going to have the buying power next week that it does right now.

To see an extreme example of this, see if you can find anyone in
EverQuest willing to sell items that don't drop anymore (mana stones,
rubicite armor) for any reasonable amount of platinum.  Most people
won't.  Yet, if you offer an item that no longer drops in exchange for
another item that no longer drops, you might get more interest in your
proposed transaction.

> That said, I'm not totally happy with platinum's value at the
> high-end, and that's why we've put in various money sinks recently
> (coffins for corpse retrievals, other costly spell components, etc.)

Which helps demonstrates my point that the standard currency,
platinum, has become too common.  As platinum is taken out of the game
(hopefully about as fast as it enters the game), then the value falls
more in line with expectations.  Broken doesn't mean irreparable.
> I don't think, however, that some high-end items being traded as
> opposed to sold makes an MMOG economy broken.

I think it is important to see why they are trade only.  If it's
because the currency is viewed as useless at that level, then the
economy is probably hurting on some level.

To be fair, EQ does seem to have the least amount of trouble with its
economy.  This is probably due to the fact that there have been very
few reports of rampant dupe bugs and there is aggressive policing of
such exploitation when it occurs.  Yet, I wouldn't give EQ a
completely clean bill of health.
> What's my definition of broken?

Your definitions are fair.  I think that as with most things, broken
isn't an entirely binary definition.  Some games are more broken than
others.  But, we should be polite and not make fun of those in worse
situations than our own. :)
> Anyway, sorry for going on and on, or for taking the thread on
> another tangent (not that that ever happens here :), but assertions
> that EQ's economy is 'broken' are one of those that set me off :)

Fair enough.  We all have our pet peeves. :) Not like I haven't gone
off on a tirade before myself.  Hopefully this post answers some
questions and sparks some more discussion.

"And I now wait / to shake the hand of fate...."  -"Defender", Manowar
     Brian Green, brian at psychochild.org  aka  Psychochild
       |\      _,,,---,,_      *=* Morpheus, my kitten, says "Hi!" *=*
 ZZzz  /,`.-'`'    -.  ;-;;,_   "They're not bugs, they're 'place-
      |,4-  ) )-,_..;\ (  `'-'    holders for code that works.'"
     '---''(_/--'  `-'\_)         - Andrew Kirmse, Meridian 59 creator
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