Why MMO Economies Are Broken & 4 Ways To Repair Them

Want to find out more ways that the MMO genre can be improved? Check out the rest of our series on fixing broken MMO mechanics!

It’s difficult to strike it rich in the real world.

There are all sorts of problems with gathering capital and managing a business. Maybe that’s why MMO economies are so appealing to the average player. There is the sense that the virtual you – unlike the real you – could be an affluent and influential person in the world of internet economies; that you can be among the rich and powerful in a videogame, even if you can’t be among them in the real world.

And this is true to a degree. Players may have to surmount steep cliffs to make it big, but those cliffs are significantly less daunting than the kind they face every day at their jobs. In a videogame, you can earn your capital by killing monsters instead of cajoling investors, and you can gather the resources yourself instead of contracting a company. The only restriction to your wealth – besides knowledge of economic principles – is time.

Perhaps this is why virtual economies are the most interesting aspect of MMOs. There are endless stories and lessons to be learned in them, from the simple auction house of World of Warcraft to the complex player-driven market of EVE Online. A middle manager in suburbia can learn a surprising number of economic skills gaming the market in mithril ore, and he can have plenty of fun doing so.

Why then do so many games get their economic interfaces wrong? Why do so many games approach their in-game economies from the wrong angle? Even the games with the best economic mechanics tend to botch at least one area. With so much emphasis on building virtual economies to play with and study, why is it that developers can’t seem to find the right way to make those economies appealing?

As a primer to this article, I suggest reading my article on MMO crafting and why it sucks. Crafting and virtual economies are bound at the hip, and no amount of tugging will extricate them from each other. Thus, in order to understand virtual economies, one first needs to understand why crafting just isn’t up to snuff. This article will be focusing more on the ways in which players interact with virtual economies rather than on making crafting fun.

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3 Comments on Why MMO Economies Are Broken & 4 Ways To Repair Them


On March 8, 2013 at 6:51 pm

There are easier ways to make MMO’s more fun. I myself have constructed a full proof formula that makes MMO’s very user friendly and challenging to all types of players. But I can’t give away my ideas sorry. But I can tell you this. Getting rid of Leveling up is a huge start.


On March 8, 2013 at 9:24 pm

Your suggestions basically mirror what you can do in EVE online, an i totally agree.

While i first got into that game, i had no clue about economics. about a month in i lost my first Raven to inexperience, and believing that because i could fly it meant i should, which is a common newb mistake. i had a choice, i could go out in my drake again and mission for the money, or i could try and sell a bucket load of low tier ore. i went to try the ore and one of the main trading hubs and while the ore was , i bought a T2 module for cheap and re-sold it for high. my little economic carrier took off from there, and i ended up making the money for my raven in two days.

I did this because eve gives you all the info Auctioneer give you as a baseline, including stock market graphs. its an absolute amazing system, mostly because it acts like a real world economy because ti all player driven.


On February 8, 2014 at 3:44 pm

Your fourth point is actually something that isn’t true for all MMO economies.

Taking your example, EVE is a game that is just as much about the economy as it is about the game. In many ways, the economy is more important to the game than many of the ‘real’ game elements. And, of course, a large part of that economy is the imposed limitations, such as preventing

Taking your fourth point, it is just as easy to argue that preventing people from trading outside of where they are ensures that the economy – an integral part of the game – remains interesting and, potentially, dangerous. It also preserves the risks and rewards of operating in null-sec and, as a general rule, ensures that the economy doesn’t become hyper-competitive to the point where competition in many goods is impossible for players with little to no ISK on hand.

It might be fair to say that they should be able to view the entire economy from one place, and maybe put sell orders up anywhere, but allowing people to buy items put up for sale anywhere in the game from the distant ends of null-sec would really damage a large part of what makes the game interesting.

Remember, game economies exist to serve the game, not the other way around.