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Nov 07, 2005

Comments

1.

Is this due to the fact that there's no real differentiators (or not many) between service folk, other than reps?

2.

Is this due to the fact that there's no real differentiators (or not many) between the services provided? (other than reps...)

3.

Pre-CU SWG had a, if not thriving at least, pretty good service "sector". The major service being doctors giving buffs, but also entertainers doing fairly well with other buffs and fatigue healing.

Sadly it seems that most of this was removed from the game with the update, although I quit playing around then so I don't know for sure how much of it is left.

4.

What, you don't think naked dancing gnomes in front of Ironforge bank counts as services?

I agree, though, otherwise. Perhaps a bulletin board / classified ad service using the same template as the auction house would work. There are, however, plenty of forums and webpages dedicated to trading items and/or services, but since they're not accessible within the game, it's inconvenient for many.

Eve Online has a decent system, using its "Escrow" feature. Players can place items (and services like transportation of property) with details of the required service, a reward for a completed task, and collateral (so you don't run off with the goods in question). Eve also has a bounty system whereby anyone with enough cash can put a bounty up on the head of another player. Whoever "kills" the target gets the bounty. Now that would be an interesting addition to WoW. Bounties!

Sorry to come back to Eve, but some enterprising players have developed an interesting method of advertising: they anchor secured containers near jump points (by which everyone must pass to travel to distant systems), and they rename the containers to correspond to their advertising message. Anyone passing through should be able to see the containers and their "ads." It's funny, and apparently quite popular.

One drawback that corresponds to this point is the lack of renaming objects that can be crafted and sold in WoW. In SWG, crafters can name and slightly modify items, and the items end up being adverts in themselves. Yes, WoW does have in the description of items the name of the crafter, but that's quite limited, and with the "soulboundness" of most decent items, when players grow out of items, they are lost in the void, having been sold to vendors. It'd be nice to see a little (not too much) more flexibility in crafting/naming. I think this would help with some of the economy problems you've mentioned.

5.

When I was thinking about designing and building one of these (note the past tense), there were going to be items called Contracts, and the Eve Escrow feature sounds a lot like what I was going to do. The idea was built around the economic truth that paying gold for swords is mechanically no different from paying swords for gold. I don't see why I cannot auction off gold pieces in WoW, and state the items that I must receive in return. So you'd have buy and sell auctions already. A Contract item would be something you could sell for gold, where you'd put the service into the item. So, let's say it is Enchanting a la WoW. To make the Enchanting Contract item, you would target a blank contract in your inventory and do the act of enchanting, eating up the input items and so on. The Contract then becomes an executable item that performs the service on the item the buyer selects. Basically it's like making a potion. I thought that there's very few services that could not be bottled in this way. Hell, even escorts (not THAT kind of escort, you dirty old...). My Contract would allow the buyer to Pet my character for a fixed period of time. (I'd want to bundle that with an Insurance Contract, of course. Which would be possible; Contracts just need to stipulate conditions under which gold and items transfer, so you could easily have insurance against Death[s].)

The other idea was to have an Advocacy skill or class. High-level Advocates could receive a service and then disburse it later. You could call them Scribes - you need a high Scribe skill to write Contracts in the above mechanism.

Now, this has all been tried before, back in the 1980s, and failed then, so it is completely and totally impossible from now until forevermore. So ignore everything I just wrote.

6.

Edward,

I've tried implementing some of those ideas into various games I've played throughout the years, to no avail. In NWN, I started an insurance company and a bank whereby if you had a nice item, you could have it insured for a certain amount, and if it were pickpocketed by a thief, you could get a bit of cash back for it. Obviously this didn't work out because the thieves merely made deals with the insured to get a cut of the insurance, thus bankrupting the insurance company. (Insurance is gambling from both sides. The insurance co. gambles that nothing bad will happen. The insured gambles that something will. If the insured can guarantee something bad will happen, it's a profit for the insured. Generally this is called insurance fraud).

The bank idea failed (in NWN and every other game I've been in) because no one wanted to trust anyone else with their money. Quite understandable.

However, in WoW, many guilds have implemented guild banks. This is a person to whom everyone sends all their green items, dues (if any), and whatnot. The bank (usually high officer in the guild) finds the best repository for the assets and hopefully ends up with a decent amount of cash. The cash then becomes available to trusted guild members in the form of loans and sometimes gifts. Some guilds will have auctions for better items.

This fact, and other observances in WoW lead me to believe that the answer to the services question is guild organization and guild-to-guild relationships.

I like the idea of contracts. I wish it could be implemented and actually work. I think the economy would improve a lot if players had the ability to seek out one-time or even steady suppliers for certain items and services by making offers up front.

It'd be nice to make offer for quest escorts or other services without spamming, and also to people who aren't on at exactly the same time that you set up your ad.

If you can think of how to implement this within WoW, I'll vote for it!

(this is a democracy, right? ;) )

7.

It seems to me most of the things mentioned above are too easy to come by in WoW to merit a services market. You can really only charge for those services if you offer some advantage over the people who are willing to provide them for free, and those people are legion, found in groups and guilds, etc. There are almost always easier ways to get them than by paying, and the cost in crap groups that you sometimes get into is fairly low.

The banking idea doesn't seem to work because, as Psyae points out, it's pretty difficult to build trust in MMOs. I think that might have to come first, before a services market can happen. An interesting organization has sprung up in Second Life which, if it hasn't already died, could have an impact that could be very interesting. It's a resident-run court. The power of its decisions is contingent on residents agreeing to abide by them, but it has a different kind of power as well. I'm not sure if it's taking advantage of it, but picture this:

You form a resident-run court. Players/residents bring cases against each other. The court hears the evidence, deliberates, then enters a judgment. Whether the parties ultimately abide by it or not, all the judgments are available in a public record. Over the course of time, if the judges themselves are trustworthy and sufficiently Solomonic, those judgements themselves have a social effect on the community. If N1nj4l00t3|2 offers to run you through an instance for the low low price of 1g, you can check the record to see whether there have been any judgments rendered against him/her. When you see that no less than 14 cases of ninja looting have been decided against him, you turn down his offer. The advantage of system like this is that it isn't gameable, as almost any coded reputational system is. The hard part is that it takes a great deal of commitment from the judges to just do their job, do it often and be fair, and be willing to suffer all kids of trollish slings and arrows before the institution catches on. But if someone could do that, I think it could work.

One thing that works against systems like this is how much real persistence there is to a world: i.e., is the population stable enough over a long enough time to allow something like this to emerge? No idea.

And in closing: EVE ftw! In fact, there is exactly the kind of service economy I think Dan's talking about, at least in limited form. That is, there are mercenary corps who hire themselves out to fight on one side or another in the wars that rage through alliance space (where there are no NPC cops to prevent free PvP). Many of these corps have quite good reputations and get a lot of work. They do advertise on jetcans, but I'd bet they get more business from forum traffic.

8.

There is a service economy to most of these games, but it's so common it's easy to over look. Consider grouping: I will provide my class talents to the party/raid in exchange for a cut of the income. My cut of the income is automatic due to auto-splitting, so I don't even have to think about it. Of course, I can't really negotiate against the auto-split because the service I offer generally isn't rare. The one exception tends to be healers, since these are generally considered absolutely vital and there never seems to be enough healers to go around.

The thing holding the service economy back, especially when it comes to grouping, is that there's not really any rarity. Everyone is an adventuring class, so everyone can fill a position in a party. Obviously, some people are better than others but this only leads to preferential treatment (being picked first) rather than actually increasing your income.

Of course, games with different designs will have different economies as well. (Didn't I just complain about people playing one game and thinking the lessons learned apply to all games?) There's been quite a few times where my mortal character in Meridian 59 was hired out to some tasks. For example, one spell allows a character to give another character a boost in mana. I've been hired my character out to cast this spell on other characters allowing them to fight more efficiently. In M59 a "low-level" character can still be useful for a "high-level" one due to the skill-based nature of the game.

My thoughts,

9.

Also let's not forget powerleveling.com and suchlike.

10.

Also let's not forget powerlevelers.com and suchlike.

11.

Oops, what a noobstick. The second URL is the correct one. Sorry.

12.

I don't really see the difference between enchants in WoW and items, other than a design choice.
The fact that there is no market for enchants is because Blizzard has chosen not to itemize them. If they had wanted it to be traded like other commodities, they would have made it an item that could be used on a weapon or a piece of armor.
You could also see selling items as selling a service; The service of crafting it or killing mobs til you find it.
I see a greater distinction between items and power leveling services or information services. None of these are traded, as far as I know. One of the reasons could be that taking gold for grouping with someone is frowned upon by other players. Taking gold for providing info would be the same, plus you can get info for free most places.
But why is charging gold for items seen as ok, but not for services like grouping?

13.

I had toyed with the idea of providing tours around the World of Warcraft world for newbies - so that they could pick up all the flight-paths and see some of the higher level areas at a very low level.

I was going to call it WoW-Tours :)

Unfortunately I'm not sure it would be a very profitable way to spend my time so I've shelved the idea for now.

One can dream though. One can dream.

I find the whole paradigm (forgive the poor spelling) of virtual worlds facinating in this way. On the one hand they are just games to be enjoyed - but on the other seem to harbour sufficient differences to a 'normal' game that there is the possibility for an entire social and economic structure to grow.

As an additional point - which I guess I would raise given my line of business :) - what has surprised me about virtual worlds is that although the sale of virtual currency for real world cash (RMT as it has been dubbed) is quite obvious in most MMOGs, the real world trade of items (via provider sites such as, but excluding, IGE at any rate) is relatively rare.

I guess this is either because like in any economy currency can be exchanged for many disperate goods and services whereas items, although tradable in game for currency, are much more restictive in their use.

The other possibiility is of course that currency allows you to buy the more mundane, or one off items in a game (as examples in WoW mundane purchases might be scrolls or potions and one off items would be an epic mount), to which players assign sufficient value to pay real hard cash for, while prefering to pick up armour, weapons and the like as they progress through the game.

Or perhaps not.

14.

>The fact that there is no market for enchants is because Blizzard has chosen not to itemize them.

What is strange is that some enchants are items. I'm talking of armour kits. A leatherworker makes an armour kit that anyone can use to add armour to an item. These can be sold.

I wonder why BLizzard did not do the same for enchantments?

15.

Second Life isn't supposed to be a game, but of course it is, kinda sorta. Because people tend to do more RL kinda stuff there, and cash out legally for real US dollars, you would think the economy would become more fine-grained and diverse -- but while it might have a GNP of a third-world country it also tends to have the same kind of industries (tourism, sex escorts, real estate, trinkets, casinos, etc.) and a lot of the big deals and industries have a mafia-crony sort of feel to them with little transparency, high stakes, and lack of trust.

Still, some institutions are emerging. First, there's the Metaverse Stock Market and its one listed company, Cyberland Securities (www.slsolutions.org). Trading isn't exactly brisk, but it is increasing over the long term, it has proved viable in consolidating small real estate companies to compete against the one big land dealer in SL and it has already paid out dividends. There's also a bank, Ginko Financial, which is regularly questioned in the forums and the Herald as a possible pyramid scheme, but which continues to pay out 0.15 percent compounded interest a day. There are also mortgage and loan companies emerging and people strugging to do services-related companies, i.e. public relations, advertising, business start-up, project management, etc.

Too much of it is still like MMORPG-culture guild-to-guild or internal-guild trading, however, and has a claustrophic feel of people spoon-feeding newbies into their closely-knit commerce circles and apprenticing to masters in the high-kill fields like architecture, fashion, scripting, and vehicle creation. There's a lot of bartering that goes on as well, and complex deals that break down when relationships break up.

I often wonder what it will take to "become more like the real world" -- or if in that that is even a goal -- and it will likely be related to Mark Wallace's point about the rule of law. The Metaverse Superior Court, since it's Linden-mandated name change from SL Superior Court, has been strangely silent. Is it deliberating over cases? At first they said they'd take cases against Lindens even, but then when I probed them on this they indicated some definite caution. I think a prime area for class-action suits would be against shoddy television makers and crappy prefab builders -- these areas are rife with no-show creators who fail to do customer service, bad or broken scripts, huge prices for things that break if moved near sim seams, etc. etc. While I don't think we can really have viable democracy and government in this world now, I do think consumer rights and civic groups might have some traction.

16.

Actually I've seen people in Wetlands advertising "two lvl 30 warriors will walk you through Deadmines for 1 G!" which was invariably met with ridicule ("why would I want that?") when I was logged on, but at least it was an attempt at a service industry - a little like your suggestion, Mike.

17.

I like the contract idea, but isn't that simply what most of the potions do on a less permanent basis? For example, aren't healing potions simply a securitized form of a priest's heal and mana potions a securitized innervate?

This actually suggests a new profession for the game, the "lawyer." This profession would have the ability to securitize some of the race defining skills of certain classes. For example "Agreement to Polymorph" would basically be a scroll that would polymorph the player's target. The lawyer could provide his services, for a small fee, to every class in the game.

First, he would gather the necessary materials. For low level contracts all he may require is a "quill," a "small vial of ink," and a "single page parchment." For higher level spells he might require an "ironfeather quill," a "large vial of ink," three "twenty-five page parchment," and either a "triplicator" (one use) or "auto-triplicator" (multi-use).

Next, he would advertise his services, or, more ethically, have "esq." added to the end of his name and hope people came to him. Once he has a prospective client, he would combine his ingredients to create "Unsigned Contract - Rebirth." Finally, he would open a trade window with is client and stick the unsigned contract in the enchant window. The client would cast the spell, using up whatever mana and reagent is required by the spell.

All blizzard needs to do is add a check box to the trade window called "give or keep." Then, the lawyer can either give the new "Signed Contract - Rebirth" to the player for cash, or pay the player and keep the contract for himself. Either way, the cost will be transferred away from the lawyer (as it should be) and to the ultimate purchaser. This contract could then be sold at the auction house like a bond.

Just a thought.

18.

Well, the question might be asked what services exactly there are in the game?

-Enchanting: Yeah, it's not fun for them (or their customers) that things are so poorly organized, but Blizzard fears that at endgame it would become trivial to have all of your gear enchanted with low level spells that are still useful if every enchanter skilling up dumped all their chants on the AH.

-Guild Banks: Someone else mentioned these. I've seen so much forum drama that revolves around the disposition of guild bank assets when members leave that I maintain we are one bored lawyer being kicked from his MC guild away from a court case to determine whether guild charters hold up under contract law.

-Item retrieval: Obviously, a lot of things that people buy on the AH could be looked on as services (e.g. I buy a first aid manual from the vendor the next time I'm in Astranaar and resell it on the AH at a slight markup to represent a service fee for my time), but these are effectively folded into the goods market. Even if, for example, a raiding guild makes arrangements with a frequent supplier (e.g. COD Gromsblood at X price per stack), it's a good that's changing hands, not the service of harvesting it.

-Groups: Every other service that I can think of which can be performed in the game, be it sightseeing, PVP, quests, finding someone to show you the way to climb the mountain where the Blue Dragon lady lives without fighting the monsters around her, etc, is accomplished by grouping. Contrary to what some people have claimed, there certainly can be rarity issues: maybe you want to go to an unpopular instance and can't find a tank. Maybe your class is too popular (or the person organizing the raid doesn't want competition for drops). Keys are needed to open the door to the instance so the raid can enter, many raids want a mage (to create "free" vendor water for the group), and of course healers are in short supply. If you're trying anything but the three most popular endgame instance zergs (UBRS/Strath/Scholo), the supply of available people gets worse. For lower level characters, you're looking for someone who ALSO has business in the instance you want to go to, and is willing to go in exchange for the requisite share of the loot and quest credits. I *have* very occasionally seen people get desperate enough to offer money in the LFG channel, but yes, in general, the LFG "service market" is no better developed than the enchanting one. One might note that Blizzard is aware of this and attempting to fix it, first with Meeting Stones (which no one uses mostly because they never gained enough of a quorum to function) and now with http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-interface-customization&t=244981&p=1&tmp=1#post244981>a new request for feedback at the UI forum. I've sure spent enough time waiting around LFG that I'm hoping they come up with something.

19.

In WoW, warlocks can summon a player across large distances, mages can open portals to any of the major cities, rogues can open lockboxes, etc. I think what keeps these abilities from becoming marketable services is WoW's emphasis on guilds, which favors self-sufficient co-operatives over wide-open markets. That, and a dearth of in-game communication methods.

20.

This is actually part of the genius of WoW. Providing services can be fun for a while, but in the long run, they end up feeling like a job. WoW feels more like a game than any other MMO I have played. Do you want to live in a virtual world or play a game? Those might be the same from a technical point of view, but the experiences are different.

21.

Riley> Providing services can be fun for a while, but in the long run, they end up feeling like a job.

As was the case of with wizards and druids in EQ. What was originally a profitable service for some, turned into a chore or feelings of uselessness of their class, other then their 'portability' which eventually let to limited spires then the portal stones and tablets strewn in every zone. WoW just fast forwarded a few of these steps.

22.

How about a simple player matching system for grouping? Same deal here, leave it up to the players to figure it out. Some basic mechanics to automate matching need to supplier or players wanting to do the same/quest instance is badly needed.

23.

Talking about services in WoW, however, means you have to talk about the skillups and the drop system - because those are intimately tied with any crafting/chanting services. Low-lvl chants are always available for a nominal fee, because the very act of accepting one is a 'service' - it serves to (possibly) skillup the chanter. That then reduces it, almost, to an item trade - that of the materials required for the chant.

Since high-level chants are restricted heavily via drop/acquisition of the recipe as well as by materials requirements, perhaps it makes sense to view them in Marxist terms. The labor required to farm the materials (there's not much 'skill' involved, really) plus the means of production - i.e. the recipe (and perhaps a chanter's rod) equate out to the value of the chant at high levels. This is typically true - many high-level enchants can easily be found for free if you bring materials, or for a cost trivially over their material aggregate cost.

Crafting is the same, really. The really worthy crafted items are bind-on-pickup, so they are a service more than an item. The service of combining the materials is the only real trade.

Finally, 'professional' farmers throw the whole thing into confusion for me. If there were in fact a viable service market, there would be a huge incentive for the farmers to simply move in lock stock and barrel. They're on more, they can acquire whatever recipes/drops they need, etc. etc.

24.

Our text MMOs have support for certain services built into the worlds. Examples:

- Assassins. Formal systems that allow you to use your right to PK someone who has wronged you to hire a player to exercise your right of revenge in your stead. Mandatory fee goes to the assassins guild and the assassin only gets paid if he/she fulfills the contract.

- Bookies. Bookies provide the service of having access to a formal hardcoded system that lets them set up odds and accept bets on whatever events they choose, taking a percentage of the winnings.

- Clothing designers. People will pay good writers who are also in-fiction tailors to design nice custom clothing. Since it's text, you're not just slapping together pre-defined bits and coloring them.

- Combat trainers. It's not common at all, but there have been instances of people paying others to train them to fight well.

- Slave auctions. One of the cities in one of our MMOs (Achaea) sells the services of another player character as your personal slave. They auction them off to raise funds for the city.

The reason there aren't more services sold in WoW is because it's more gamey than worldy. Of course, the major exception is what people call item sales. These are just services that provide item transfer, since there's no ownership actually granted in nearly all cases (such as WoW).

--matt

25.

I've been curious for a while about the importance of contracting for services. Does anyone have feelings/anecdotes/(data?!) on how important enforceable contracts are for a service market? Do they increase the ease of making a deal, the frequency of services, or increase/decrease the price of services?

Providing formal systems in some cases will probably increase sales just because it reminds players that it's a possibility. In other cases, it will be clearly a possibility but it will make the deal less risky. One example I can think of is SWG's Image Designer profession, which originally provided a service without any formal contracting, and later had the price to be paid added to the deal window.

I guess of the services mentioned here, enchanting and lock-picking are contractable and grouping is sorta contractable (either the group leader could change the loot rules or the player could quit the group at any time). Teleports and summons aren't contractable: Is there much business for them?

26.

With all the pondering going on about enchanting in this thread. I thought I'd mention that while I was at BlizzCon the Blizzard profession guy did say that they will be adding a way for enchanters to sell their enchants through the auction house soon. As for how soon and how certain they are of adding this feature I don't know. But enough to spend a few minutes making promises on the subject during a Q & A panel for crafting..

27.

Enchantments are probably going to be packaged into an item like ‘Rune of Enchantments’ and then sold as a craft item (my wild guess).

But, in an effort to beef up the service gameplay I think designers should think about designing and institutionalizing an Adventurer’s guild which functions as a central exchange for adventuring services.

It doesn’t have to commoditize every unit of service, but it can formalize and improve upon the current modes of service exchange. Think of it as an union of guilds.

1. Pay 1gp per month for a bundle of union benefits, deducted straight from your union’s bank account, which pays 0.5% in interest a year. Wealth management and insurance services are extra.

2. One of the union benefits is the ability to borrow or lease-to-own a guild equipment: it’s not technically twinking as (1) wealthy benefactor donates/sell to the union and (2) the union enters into a service contract with union members, all game-code-ethics-law legal.

2. Central location for the NPCs to run in looking for heroes and give out “quests”: Farmer A: “where can I find a group of stout adventurers to save my wayward son?” Farmer B: “Why stand around here forever when we can go to the Adventurer’s guild and spam the LFG channel”

3. Central lobby area for grouping and related C2C services: “Will tank for food. 1gp for a ‘I fought with Tank t-shirt” I prefer the bazaar to auction houses.

The thing about not designing service-type gameplay is that players like hassle-free services: “Let me speak to your supervisor!!! Your service attitude needs improvement!”

As for the most part, goods perform as advertised. So you either package the service into a commodity item or you dig into the issue of in-game customer service.

My random points,

Frank

28.

I've seen a person being paid 5 gold to use his (hard-to-get) key to UBRS to open it for a raid that wanted to go there but had no key. Don't think this happens very often, though.

29.

I would like to disagree. There most certainly is a service market in World of Warcraft, it is just much less obvious.

For example, as an alchemist, I can charge people around 5 gold once every 2 days (the cooldown) to transmute their arcane crystal and thorium bar into and arcanite bar. I would definitly class this as a service.

Another example are crafters with rare patterns (patterns for purple items, etc) offering to make the items for people for the materials required plus a service charge. This is quite common, since the initial pattern, recipe, etc, would have cost the crafter a significant amount.

And yet another example I can think of is people hiring other people to help them look for certain items. For example, there is often a rogue offering 30g to people who will do the "Shanker Run" in BRD with them if the Barman Shanker weapon drops. Also a service.

So while the service market is nowhere are noticeable as the goods market on the Auction House, it is still present.

30.

I would be against such a system because it would kill the "community aspect" imo. Being a doctor in SWG and waiting in front of starports to buff people may be boring for others but I loved meeting and interacting with new people that way (I used to charge higher than other people to have less costumers but equal revenues, and took the time to discuss with each costumer and tell them to add me to their friends list if they need a buff or a rez at crazy places, I would then sometimes be asked to go buff in the middle of nowhere (mostly by Jedis when they used to have to hide to xp) for very high prices (100k and so)overall that made for a big network of friends and loyal costumers who enjoyed dealing with me even when I was no longer a doctor.

While markets (be it for items or services) are very convenient, they also reduce players interaction : you deal with an interface, not with other peoples directly.

I'd be interested in an in-game "ad board" at best for services, where people would write messages like "300 Enchanter open for service every day from 7 to 8 GMT at Iron Forge in front of the King's Siege", those ad boards should be placed next to every mail box in the world so that you can immediately and conveniently send an email to the maker of the ad for more info.

There should also be a system with it to report "bad ads" where if 5 or 10 players report the same ad as bad, it is automatically deleted. The ad should also last no more than a week.

The key is that players still have to meet, to interact, to play as a community. While I enjoy how convenient the SWG Bazaar or the WoW Goods Market are I don't like not dealing and chatting and discussing the price directly with players (skilled talkers often end up with very good prices, I know what I'm talking about :p ).

31.

I would also like to point out that in WoW (unlike SWG where Bazaars are all over) the fact the in-game markets are located in only one city (for each side) makes for great gathering places. This has created "a parasite market service", if you need an alchemy or enchanting or whatever service, you can be almost sure that if you go to Ogrimmar or Ironforge and do a local request you'll find what you need (provided the server has sufficient population and you're logging in between 4pm and 1am).

So in effect the way the Goods market is designed in WoW (one phyical place where everyone goes) it has created an effective Service market even though it's not a "formal" one.

32.

Hedek wrote:

This has created "a parasite market service", if you need an alchemy or enchanting or whatever service, you can be almost sure that if you go to Ogrimmar or Ironforge and do a local request you'll find what you need (provided the server has sufficient population and you're logging in between 4pm and 1am).

I've definitely noticed this--requests to open lockboxes and the like are regularly broadcast locally around Org. Fascinating example of an emergent phenomenon. But didn't Blizzard say that they are going to add more Auction Houses? Without some other means to encourage services, might this disperse the population too much for an effective service market?

33.

AC1 had the largest player run service sector I've yet encountered. Through automated clients with high-level toons, many people developed solid business opportunities with Buff and Portal bots. Placed in strategic, fixed, locations these bots would cater to a growing client base as word-of-mouth spread.

The model for this was based entirely on the game mechanics which required buffs for all combat encounters, while the developer did not crack down on automation.

Similar attempts in WoW have not met with the same popularity, as Buffs are less vital and Blizzard less enthusiastic about paying accounts whose sole purpose is automation.

34.

I think packaging enchantments / etc is a decent idea if and only if it is restricted to the existing bounds of the game. For example, they would have to be used in a certain amount of time in a public area that both players can access. Otherwise you start to break game dynamics - there could easily be ways using the enchantments in the field would be handy - and suddenly the enchanter would not need to be there!

In another note, back when I was on EQ, there was a flourishing services market. Services included teleports, buffs, powerleveling, and resurrections. What EQ had were: (A) Central, mob-less areas where players gathered. (B) Global channels that anyone could join - so there would be channel "taxi" where druids and wizards would hang out and wait for requests.

For more complicated services, the forum for each world / shard did just fine in advertising WTB / WTS.

35.

One thing that helps the provision of services out is adding in coded support for player-made organizations - no, not guilds. Guilds are too one-dimensional, given the usual exclusionary model (the only one I'm familiar with - correct me if any of the larger MMOs do allow you to join multiple guilds). These are clubs players can create and maintain, crosslinking across guilds and allowing specialist niche channels they can use at no cost.

Player> tell Enchanter Hi, do you have a moment to make my daggers nice and shiny please? :)
Enchanter> tell Player Wish I could, but I'm about to log off for the evening. I'll ask on the channel for you :)
Enchanter> shinythings talk Yo! Player's looking for someone to enchant for him, he's in Town and looks pretty rich. Anyone feel like wandering over, since I'm off for the evening?
OtherEnchanter> shinythings talk I'm onnit!

Mind you, long-range trade-associations aren't astoundingly helpful without efficient long-range travel as well. But fundamentally, almost nobody wants to be only a service character, especially given that most games have So Damn Many characters who can provide services, and being able to be part of a web rather than a one-and-only-group both helps you get other things to do and helps with branding and mass-promotion opportunities. (Ref. trust, lack of it, anonymity, reputation economy, passim.) The ones I've done business with and been part of in the past haven't behaved corporately, it's more based on an internal social economy and leadership who'll enforce quality standards, and clients always dealt with individuals not with "the group". Obviously, this is something that evolves along with the groups.

A quick note since while I was writing this, Hiro posted something similar - these aren't anyone-can-join channels, they're equivalent to "standard" guilds in their recruitment requirement and internal policy setting abilities.

36.

It's worth noting that Sam's description of clubs is more like a guild in the original sense--skill-based organizations that cut horizontally across vertically-organized (feudal) political organizations. That tension between vertical and horizontal organizations was productive of trade and reciprocity (the anthropological term for it is "cross-cutting ties" :-), as in Lincoln Keiser's work on Pakistan).

In any case, I always thought it made more sense to have "Enchanters' Guild" and the like rather than the enterprises/tribes we have everywhere. But we're no doubt stuck with the new connotation now.

37.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned DAoC Spellcrafting. Yes, over time I found many reasons to cringe when someone asked me to break out the spellcrafter, but it was definitely a service economy, not a commodity. The rates I charged for that were based not on the gems I made and the imbuing done, but on 1) my knowledge and facility with the system (before OC became common knowledge), 2) my ability to create a balanced, useful build (before spellcrafting calculators were programmed), and 3) my not insignificant investment of time, both in leveling up the craft and in each individual suit. None of that was based on just "buying the gems". Over time, of course, it became much more mundane as more and more people leveled up their own crafters to do their own spellcrafting, because SCers became rare. Part of the reason it was a rarified skill for so long, though, was the intensely service-oriented nature of the craft. Yes, it was a major expense and timesink to level up, but before calcs and OC bugs and common knowledge, you had to *understand* what was possible with particular combinations, and how to create builds that actually made sense. Even after the calcs automated the math, you had to be able to review the combinations proposed and point out what could be improved and what might be a problem.

PITA, yes, but without a doubt the most engrossing crafting trade I've ever taken up, and certainly the best example of game-designed service-based economics that I can think of at the moment.

38.

Didn't have time to sift through all the comments, but...

Several add-ons (guilded comes to mind) allow characters to 'advertise' their skills. Some add-ons have a built-in community monitor to allow all other players using the add-on to see each other's professions. We use an add-on like this in-guild, but I do know some people that used Guilded and other add-ons that had a large adtoption to help find customers for enchanting.

39.

Mike Timms: I had toyed with the idea of providing tours around the World of Warcraft world for newbies - so that they could pick up all the flight-paths and see some of the higher level areas at a very low level.

I don't know much about WOW, but this sort of thing has become a major industry in Guild Wars. "Running" -- ferrying low-level characters to towns that would otherwise be accessible to them only much later in the game -- is very common, and a significant source of in-game income for many players. The chat channels are full of messages along the lines of "Running to Piken Square for 300/Yak's Bend for 800/Droknar's Forge for 3k/etc".

(Droknar's Forge is the number one destination, because you can buy the game's best armour there, giving you a massive advantage in the low-level game.)

It helps that, as one of the developers admitted in a recent interview, parts of the the game world's geography were deliberately designed to make running services practical.

40.

Some observations:

1. There's more trade in items than in services in MMOGs because player-object interactions are:
a. easier to program (they're basically just database entries referencing static code/art/audio assets), and
b. harder to grief (unlike player-player interactions).

2. MMOG economies do have some service activity, but only because some players enjoy doing economic things even if the game doesn't explicitly offer features supporting such behavior.

3. There's a vast amount of potential service activity in most MMOGs that never happens because the code does not provide an enforceable service contract mechanism. (EVE Online is a respectable exception.)

4. Consequently, most MMOG economic systems are lucky to have economic systems much superior to a primitive barter facility -- namely, the Secure Trade Window. I'm not aware of any that offer economic institutions as advanced as those of, say, Western civilization circa A.D. 1800. (Show of hands, please: how many MMOGs include fractional reserve banking, arguably one of the greatest economic innovations in a thousand years?)

5. A couple of years ago I wrote an essay on the SWG web site that examined key economic innovations that MMOGs could implement to achieve more advanced economic systems. The essay went into the bit bucket when SOE removed that forum, but I preserved a copy if anyone would like a proposal to beat up on.

6. After I wrote that essay, whose main suggestion was to implement some kind of enforceable system allowing players to make service contracts with each other, I took some time to try to design such a system (which I've mentioned here on TN before). If you have access to the SWG forum, Player Contracts: A Design Document is still available; for those without access, I'd be willing to try to summarize the key features here if anyone's interested.

I'd really like to see a MMOG that deliberately designed into its feature set an enforceable contract mechanism. That would be a helpful start toward a truly robust player economy, not just because it would be cool, but because offering more and deeper economic features is seriously attractive to the people who like that sort of gameplay.

Are there as many economic players as combat players? Probably not. Are there enough economic players to make offering advanced economic content worth your development time?

Well, I certainly think so. :-)

--Bart

41.

Lawrence> With all the pondering going on about enchanting in this thread. I thought I'd mention that while I was at BlizzCon the Blizzard profession guy did say that they will be adding a way for enchanters to sell their enchants through the auction house soon.

I was there too, which actually was what prompted the musing about services. I thought it odd that they would commoditize one of the few service markets that they have.

42.

Could be that they're looking to decouple something seen as an essential - I don't play WoW, so I've no idea how essential or otherwise enchanting is? - from time dependence and personal presence? I know I've seen similar things discussed elseMUD as a means of encouraging solo-cum-casual play.

43.

To me, this whole very interesting thread raises the question of whether we really want solutions to things like contracts to be coded into virtual worlds, or whether they should be things that players themselves can build either through social structures or perhaps through player-designed content (including coded structures). Any coded solution is going to funnel people into certain modes of behavior. Would we prefer to see these things coded in by the gods behind the games, or would we prefer to have the tools be made available that let players do it themselves?

I realize that in the context of a deeply "game" world like WoW, introducing player-coded objects etc. is probably not desirable, but even there it's a valid question: do you want Blizzard to decide how contracts are implemented, or do you want to be able to decide it yourself? When we talk about virtual worlds and what we want to see in them, we often forget that the way most of these structures arose in the real world was not through the imposition of the authorities' best ideas, but in a more evolutionary manner, from the bottom up, as people tried different solutions and gravitated toward the ones that worked.

44.

The ability for even the most casual player to enjoy success in WoW is partly predicated on the ability to do so alone. Even if someone needs other people, most rewards in the game are for that one person alone. This personal success drives personal goals.

Service-side stuff requires player understand what OTHERS are doing. This was easy in SWG (and old UO and ATITD and Eve) because you knew everything came from another player.

In WoW, that's not a foregone conclusion. In fact, in the endgame, except for a few key craftables, most stuff is dropped or quested. Personal goals and personal rewards.

The only thing that makes it multiplayer is the need for other people to achieve.

45.

EQ2 has a few good ideas. There are actually Guild banks, and they're quite customizable as far as permissions go. But one of the best things I like about it is the player search features, along with the and (Looking for Work) flags. Anyone can flag themselves by typing /lfg or /lfw and wait until someone sends a /tell. Players lookking for services either in group or tradeskill form can search for characters with either tag on, in addition to class/level restrictions and so forth.

46.

Mark Wallace> do you want Blizzard to decide how contracts are implemented, or do you want to be able to decide it yourself?

That's a very good question. As far as I've been able to work it out, the problem is that a contract system has two goals whose implementations oppose each other.

The first goal of a workable contract system is that judges can objectively and effectively resolve the terms of all contracts. If participants can't trust that the terms of contracts will be enforced fully and fairly, they won't participate. At best, you lose some economic activity because some people don't trust the system enough to participate in it; at worst, the system doesn't attract enough users to work at all.

The second goal is openness of contract terms. If you limit the kinds of exchanges for which contracts can be written, you directly exclude some amount of economic activity from occurring. From the perspective of openness, a perfect contract system would be one that allows participants to voluntarily write contracts to cover any activity that's not defined as illegal.

So the problem becomes how to simultaneously achieve both of these goals effectively. An open contract system is subjective; contracts become hard to resolve, reducing trust in the system. But a predefined system that allows judges to easily resolve disputes prevents or criminalizes otherwise useful activity.

In real life we prefer flexibility in our contracts; we let people contract for anything as long as the terms can be written down and aren't illegal. The price we pay for this flexibility, however, is that an enormous industry of lawyers and judges has to exist to interpret whether the terms of some contract were valid, and whether they were met or not. Lawyers and judges being people means that the interpretive process becomes subjective, which reduces trust in the system, which makes some people decide not to engage in some economically useful activity. (This is one reason why the explosion of statutes and lawyers is so corrosive -- a system that becomes inconsistent, incoherent and arbitrary won't be used.)

Virtual worlds have the opposite problem. Letting anonymous participants act as judges seems to corrupt rapidly, so most worlds take the "code is law" route. A contract system in such a world would be trustable because the game itself would act as judge, "automatically" detecting when the terms of a contract have been met (or can no longer be met) and meting out the consequences with complete impartiality. But the price you pay for having a system that's guaranteed to be able to achieve this goal is that you have to pre-define every possible type of contract. You can make a lot of types, and you can make them somewhat flexible, but ultimately you're excluding some significant amount of economic activity because it can't be done through one of the supported contract types.

As noted before on TN, this is the difference (which I'm oversimplifying here somewhat) between the Anglo-Saxon common law in which anything not prohibited is permitted, and the Napoleonic civil law in which everything not explicitly permitted is prohibited. One is flexible but subjective; the other offers certainty at the expense of opportunity.

It looks to me like the more game-y virtual worlds are stuck with the Napoleonic model until they can figure out how to limit griefing through some means other than hard-coded rules. Sandbox worlds, meanwhile, might prefer to experiment with the common law players-as-judges approach to contracts.

--Bart

47.

There is a function in Lineage II which enables the crafter class, WarSmith, to sell crafting service automatically. Basically, the crafter chooses upto 4 recipes that he is able to craft, sets up prices for crafting each recipe, and then goes AFK. The customer need to bring all materials to the crafter which has the appropriate recipe and pay the service fee to have the desired item crafted.

The interesting thing is that the service is provided by a robot rather than by real person. However, this is good for suppliers, who not longer need to sit infront of the computer. It is also good for buyers because most of those crafting robots are online 24/7.

Customizable robot may be a way to provide services in game. However, it may not be good for some games.

-Ron

48.

The answer is, as always, Eve for the win.

A few months ago, my corporation set up a contract with naga. They gave us a complete working starbase at one of the best moons, that would extract materials that they needed. We would run the starbase, fuelling it and maintaining it and defending it, transport the product to their HQ and sell it to them at a fixed rate.

We now run a whole series of our own starbases, extracting and reacting moon materials, and selling them on contract to Naga, making money for our corporation.

I have a deep space transport ship, which is an elite cargo ship. It gives me increased defenses and safety when moving stuff through dangerous areas. The corporation wallet helped me buy it, on the condition that I used it to help move the starbase fuel and starbase product around, thereby making money back for the corporation.

We also have another corporation with the huge, expensive freighter cargo ships that is moving fuel from empire space to a more local station in alliance space, aiding all of the corporations running starbases in the area. They are paid for their services.

I'm a bit of an industrialist at the moment, and am manufacturing things in our alliance' space, to fill all the gaps in the market. I need lots of minerals, and I have two friends mining for me, selling everything they make to me. When I do mining myself, I have another friend who will use his advanced refining skills to turn the ore into minerals much more efficiently than I could. I've given him a set of advanced learning skillbooks as a thank you.

Eve is soon going to have a formal contract system built into the game. CCP have always taken the route of watching their players play, see what they do with the game, and then create features to accomodate them. I don't know how well the new contracts system will work, but hopefully it will allow us to do all the above with a little less administrative headache.

49.

As vaunted as Eve's system is, it's still entirely about player motivation. I do wish Eve's contract system would migrate to other games though. I certainly would have loved it for my SWG energy business.

But it's possible to make do without as long as you build in some wiggle room. I started small, just with my guild, all transplants from earlier games and rant sites. Over time they brought new people in, compelling me to hire "employees" (lot renters and generator emptiers) and then finally to take on partners. All of this took months of friend-of-friend growth. On those few occasions someone couldn't pay, no biggie. If they were a long time customer, I'd let them wait a few days before paying.

That's the thing I don't like about Contracts nor Napoleonic civil law that Bart mentioned. Developers and players can codify anything any unrestricted government or bureacracy can. However, doing so removes the human element, the mutually-beneficial relationship building that forms as tight a relationship that any lawyer could draft, yet without the restrictions. And rate :)

50.

"This is actually part of the genius of WoW. Providing services can be fun for a while, but in the long run, they end up feeling like a job. WoW feels more like a game than any other MMO I have played. Do you want to live in a virtual world or play a game? Those might be the same from a technical point of view, but the experiences are different."

Yeah, I agree with this. Services are too much like work. I don't work stuff in my game. I just want to have adventures, etc.

Another problem with implementing services is that the gold farmers will be the ones who provide them. I just don't want to encourage that kind of activity in the game. These guys already get in the way at times.

51.

Services do exist in WoW, it's just that they involve the absolute minimum possible of labor: clicking a couple of buttons to grab the materials needed for production, then doing it, and letting the darn thing chug out whatever enchant or item is supposed to be produced.

That is to say, the value of labor is in the production of materials rather than the production of what those materials can be used for, because the only difference between my services and the services of another is that I can make x and they can't. There's nothing else, really. Anyway, at some point the only difference between our services is who is providing the materials.

It just so happens that if you're enchanter, you want to make sure theres a market for your services, but your marketable skill isn't enchanting; that just happens to be there. What you actually sell is mats. It's really a service profession in the "public service" sense of the term. You can never make money off the ability itself, unless of course you control a formula that no one else has access to, and if all you wanted was to make money, then really there would be no point in learning the actual formulae to skillup the profession-- It's much easier to sell tenths of materials needed than the whole shebang, after all, and much more profitable to boot since people are more willing to buy those (much more versatile) tenths of mats required than the whole shebang.

Of course, this is a problem that isn't limited to enchanting. It's also a concern for leatherworkers, blacksmiths, and tailors. The basic moral of the story is that for the most part, professions are there "just for show/flavor", with the exception of BoP crafted items, since really the only labor going into anything is the gathering of materials.

52.

In Star Wars Galaxies PreNGE I, and many other rangers, did provide services (as opposed to crafted items) to other players. These included tracking particular creature types to assist jedi undertaking their Knight Trials to gathering resources (meat, hide, bones) for crafters who were either unable to go hunt as they didn't have the skill or who needed a massive amount of material for a factory run.

For resource gathering I'd buy in the services of other hunters, paying them 50% of the price I'd negotiated with my client.

Most business was obtained by word of mouth. Satisfied customers tend to refer folk on to you. There were, on some servers, chat channels for Rangers where potential clients could pop in and ask if anyone was available but that is really just an extension of the 'barker' method of business.

Likewise those few rangers who advertised on the auction channels by spamming every so many minutes.

If a game comes along which has a) an in depth crafting model, b) a realistic resource model (ie, not just random loots off MoBs but scalable harvesting of specific resource types per MoB and c) a functional way for me as a 'service provider' to advertise those services, I'd certainly be giving that game a hard look.

Picture this.

Joe Hunter knows there are large herds of nerfs in the nearby mountains. They give leathery hide which is currently good for tailors (at other times the stats shift so it is more ttractive to other crafting profs). He also knows the big chickens down by the river have awesome eggs right now...

Joe has a choice, go harvest resource a or resource b then hope to find a client for the items.

However, in 'this' game Joe has an advert on the Local Services board, and Tommy Tailor has noticed that Joe will gather hides for n gold pieces per 100 hide. Tommy can turn 100 hides into 20 good shirts... he could make a profit if only he could get hides, but as a tailor he gets eaten by large scary monsters 'out there in the wild'. So he drops Joe a message saying "Yup, n gold per 100, can you get me 1000 by tomorrow?" and goes off to plan how he's about to become the shirt king of MMOTown.

Joe logs in and finds he's got an offer! He now knows what he's doing this evening and goes off to hunt for fun and profit...

Y'know, it could just work ;)

53.

As a rabid WoW player, I would like to add that a market for services does in fact exist. If you stand on the bridge in Ironforge -- just outside the auction house -- you will hear the barking of enchanters calling out their services. A lot of the cost for enchantments comes from the fact that they own the recipe themselves, thus they can perform a more elite service for you. You are paying for their use of their recipe; they are providing a service for you. Clearly you cover the price of materials, and you often cover the price for them to have the recipe or spend their time there. The trade channels are usually open as well.

Also, a more informal route is taken whereby you get a semi-random grouping for an instance dunegon. For instance, if you want a 5 man Strath team and you simply must have a priest, you bargain for their service by allowing any item that is cloth to drop to automatically go to them.

Someone mentioned earlier that guilds have banks and pool their resources. This is completely true. I am in a 166 member guild (Awesome, on Medivh server) and we get recipe drops and it comes with the implicit rule that once you have it, you either pass it to someone who can use it and if you can use it you do not charge any member a fee to create the item. You may ask for components to be delievered, but you do not charge a creation fee.

A side note on why people do not charge for services is that WoW rewards you for leveling your skills. The higher you are the harder it is to level your skills. For example, as a rogue (level 60) I tend to stand outside the Bank at Ironforge and offer to pick lockboxes. This service is often free because you need to skill-up. Some people once they have maxed the level tend to charge, when the market allows (aka no other rogues around).

Cheers and best of luck!

54.

Coming from a guy that works 80 hours a week, i have used powerleveling services, and i beleive it was the http://powerlevelers.com one mentioned above. I was able to get back a sticking point and actually catch up to buddies and play again. So it has its good points and bad points...

-Franky

55.

No services? Are you forgeting about retail. Now that's a service that it is well developed in MMORPG's.

How about hitmen? http://eve.klaki.net/heist/

56.

Come on... A little moderating please? This spam has been posted for almost a month and keeps getting added to. :(

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