Holocron (aka Raph Koster) has posted some of the metrics that Star Wars Galaxies administrators use to gauge the health of their economies. This is the first time many of us have been able to see how developers track things. Kudos to Raph for making the numbers public, and thanks to Oracomm/Richard Beyko for sending us a link.
Some brief comments to jump-start discussion (if any)...
The tone of the article is that, basically, all is well with the economy. Two years ago, I would have disagreed, but now I'm more convinced than ever that virtual world economies are such strange beasts that we (meaning academic economists) don't even know what 'health' would be. Most of our metrics of proper functioning don't seem to apply in VWs. So, rather than proclaim something I don't know to be true, maybe I should just raise a couple of questions and point out contrasts to what we ivory-tower types would want to see in these numbers.
First, the economy has credits flowing out more rapidly than flowing in. Unless there are some other effects (hoarding patterns and whatnot), this means net decline in the money supply. That's normally associated with depressive effects in RL economies. Maybe SWG's economy is contracting, though. If there are fewer players, for example, or the players are doing fewer P2P transactions, then the money supply ought to contract. But if the player base is growing? Hmmm. Something seems strange.
Second, the wealth distribution is not just unequal, it is incredibly unequal. Raph says it is similar to the distribution of wealth in RL economies, which it is, but even the worst robber-baron economies were not this bad. The graph seems to show that 300 accounts (out of 5,000 or so, I am guessing) have 95 percent of the wealth. In a contemporary economy, we're upset that 50 percent of the income is held by the richest 20 percent of the people. In SWG, you've got 95 percent owned by the richest 6 percent! Maybe those 300 accounts are the IGE bots, I don't know. But it still doesn't feel right.
So rather than say that something is wrong from an economic policy point of view - I don't know that, hell, an army of Stanford Nobel laureates can't know that, not yet - all I can say is that something in these numbers makes me uncomfortable. Putting on a game designer hat, I'd still be concerned about whether my economy was serving the purposes I had hoped for it in the game. But that's not news. I think most devs already understand how hard virtual economies are. I think they're happy so long as the economy doesn't break something else.