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.