Constructing the Market (or “1000g for you, auctionbitch”)

The auctionhouse (AH) in World of Warcraft is an interesting place. I like it mostly for the fact that it’s one of the few unscripted places within the world, where player autonomy means that a number of unplanned and emergent features can emerge. We’ve mentioned a few of these before: here, for instance, and, um, here, and, oh, also here. An interesting aspect of this though is that emergent, player-created artifacts are not viewed with universal enthusiasm. My guildies and I have been trading in the AH a lot, and this weekend we start work on our cartelization program. I doubt that we’re going to win any new friends with this little initiative. But even in the normal operation of the market the response of some players is fascinating.

The most active AH camper in our guild is Eric Nickell, one of the happy crew at Xerox PARC who study MMOGs and who report their findings at the fabulous Play On blog. He recently came into abuse when he asked for advice in the trade channel about what price he should list a particular item. He was told figures between 100g and 150g, and also, “1000g for you, auctionbitch.” Now this latter comment may be explained by the fact that he was probably undercutting the auctions of the unhappy defamer. But in another incident he got into an increasingly heated exchange over the price he was prepared to sell a particular item. He offered to sell it for 239g, but the would-be purchaser only wanted to pay 160g because “Allakhazam says it costs 175g” , and then later “But I can use it in PvP!” , and so on. When Eric stuck by his price the would-be purchaser started to become abusive, to the point where Eric stuck him on /ignore.

I’m interested to explore these sorts of reactions, and why they happen fairly often in MMOGs, but relatively rarely in real life. Is it because the AH is seen by some players as a kind of distributed NPC vendor with semi-stable prices; or maybe that these players have limited sources of information (ie Thottbot and Allakhazam) and so don’t really see the AH as a market at all? Or is it because the would-be purchaser doesn’t really understand markets, or is unhappy being on the wrong end of the supply-demand curve? Are derogatory comments about being an “auctionbitch” or “AH camper” an indication that there is one or two sanctioned ways of playing these games (PvE and PvP) and all other activities are seen, at best, as secondary to or supportive of these two; or, at worst, inferior to them?

Obviously I don’t know what the individual answers are in relation to any of the incidents above. But I think it’s interesting that the marketplace plays such an unusual position within the game, and that there seem to be different constructions of the market in the minds of different players. (This is tied into the construction of the concept of “Chinese gold farmers” about which we’ve talked about a bit—here, —here, and here, for example—and about which the Xerox PARC guys and I will have more to say in a couple of months).

I think that most people have a fairly clear and shared understanding of the nature of private markets within the real world (even if they are not always happy about them, or may contest the application of the market in certain contexts). But I’m not at all sure that this is true in the virtual worlds.


Comments on Constructing the Market (or “1000g for you, auctionbitch”):

Jane Q Gamer says:

"I think that most people have a fairly clear and shared understanding of the nature of private markets within the real world"

I'll bet you're wrong about that. And that's at the foundation of people's anger on pricing. People cling to the notion of an inherent worth despite all rational evidence otherwise.

I work in a tax office and hear day after day people complaining about their property valuations. It's explained that it's based on market value and what they could sell it for and they will almost always admit that oh yes, they could sell it for that much, but then they will continue "but it's not WORTH that much."

Posted Dec 15, 2005 10:01:19 AM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

Dan wrote:

Is it because the AH is seen by some players as a kind of distributed NPC vendor with semi-stable prices...Are derogatory comments about being an “auctionbitch” or “AH camper” an indication that there is one or two sanctioned ways of playing these games (PvE and PvP) and all other activities are seen, at best, as secondary to or supportive of these two; or, at worst, inferior to them?

Both of these possibilities point to the primary reason for this unseemly behavior, in my opinion, and that is the way VWs like WoW frame experience in strange ways. Most obviously, they do this as 'games', a frame which supports (but does not determine) an ethical stance toward the world and what it's for, one which rejects activities not directly concerned with, in this case, PvE or PvP. Ironically, the AH is just as much a game as the broader game around it. Does its relative separation from most game action and its association with narrow market interest make it inherently vulnerable to this rejection on the part of other players (which expresses itself as personal attacks)?

Posted Dec 15, 2005 11:29:19 AM | link

The Quixote says:

In my experience with SWG and my limited experience with WoW I would say the general game populace has very little under standing of how markets work, the importance of price as a means information transfer and absolutely no understanding that an items value is determined by what someone will pay and sell it for. In SWG this may have been a case of a few but very persistent forum writers, but day in and day out there was multiple threads started requesting some sort of price controls, bank account limits, (just whacking a few Zero’s off the end of rich accounts was a very popular movement for a while) or some sort of generally socialist solution to a perceived unfairness in game.

Posted Dec 15, 2005 11:34:59 AM | link

bruce boston says:

"I think that most people have a fairly clear and shared understanding of the nature of private markets within the real world"

I'd also disagree with this, many people don't have even a basic understanding of the theoretical principles of how real world markets work, let alone any sort of practical understanding of what is actually going on in the many dark corners.


Winston Churchill> "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried."

I have the same feeling about Capitalism, i.e.;
'Capitalism is the worst form of economics except for all other forms that have been tried.'

What's wrong with Capitalism, where do I start? This question is actually well documented elsewhere. But, to over simplify the issues, Capitalism doesn't always benefit the community, and sometimes disadvantages it (which is why its rarely employed in times of crisis). I think its also safe to say that Capitalism doesn't always benefit the individual, and sometimes disadvantages them. That said, because Capitalism disadvantages the community less often than other forms, and benefits both the community and the individual 'more often' than other forms it is tolerated by both.

As far as communities/individual’s negative reaction to those that try to employ Capitalism, I think this is a very common reaction. In the Edo era in Japan they formalized this reaction in their social caste system setting the rankings: samurai, farmers, artisans and then merchants. While there were 'outcasts' below merchants, for the most part they were pretty low in the totality of the system. And, this isn't because anyone thought that merchants were an necesary part of society, had they thought that they would have quickly dismissed them all together.

In WoW, I am not surprised that hardcore PvPers are upset that auctioneers often have access to better equipment than they do. Is this fair? Is this efficient? Probably not in everyone's eyes.

In a similar way, I remember being nearly run off the freeway my someone who obviously couldn't do everything that they were trying to do while driving their six-figure car at 80mph, and thinking, ‘why is it that people that can't drive are given access to the safest cars...’

Who does Capitalism benefit the most? Those that devote their entire life, and every hour of everyday to understanding how and why it works. The problem with this is as the Edo Japanese recognized it, mainly that without the artisans and the farmers, etc, all the economic fu in the world doesn’t get people fed, clothed, sheltered, educated, protected and entertained. The last thing that communities want is for people to think otherwise, and as such, I fully expect communities to continue to downplay the role that economic fu masters play in their societies.

-bruce

Posted Dec 15, 2005 11:38:52 AM | link

says:

Corrrection:

Was> And, this isn't because anyone thought that merchants were an necesary part of society, had they thought that they would have quickly dismissed them all together.

Should be> And, this isn't because anyone thought that merchants were *not* a necesary part of society, had they thought that they would have quickly dismissed them all together.

-bruce

Posted Dec 15, 2005 11:42:31 AM | link

Hellinar says:

Dan Hunter>Or is it because the would-be purchaser doesn’t really understand markets, or is unhappy being on the wrong end of the supply-demand curve?<

I’d rephrase that as “they do understand markets, and are unhappy at being on the wrong end of a supply and demand curve”. The AH is fun if you like that sort of thing, but in a game that has large yellow “!” and “?” over quest givers, it is a complex anomaly. For someone who simply wants to level up, an NPC vendor that sold items at a fixed price would make it much easier to decide when to upgrade your sword. I’m not at all surprised that people would be angered by Eric playing a market game in the middle of their “fun” level up game. Its creating an unwanted and unneeded complexity in their gameplay. They want to look up the price on Allakazham and pay that, as an when they need the item.

Posted Dec 15, 2005 11:45:23 AM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

Buce wrote:

all the economic fu in the world doesn’t get people fed, clothed, sheltered, educated, protected and entertained

Or, as even Adam Smith recognized, the invisible hand doesn't rebuild levees.

Posted Dec 15, 2005 11:46:05 AM | link

Edward Castronova says:

There's a long history of moral outrage over pricing. The Schoolmen devoted many (laboriously hand-copied) pages to the question of the Just Price for a good. In terms of contemporary theory, I believe the Just Price is the minimum of the average cost curve, which also happens to be the equilibrium price under long-run pure competition. It's the price one would charge that just covers the lowest possible cost of the resources used to make the good. Remember that the labor time of makers and sellers is part of the notion of resource here. Anything above the lowest feasible per-item cost is unfair in the sense that it is a payment for no service - a payment above and beyond the resource cost, hence a payment for nothing.

In the AH, as in any real market, prices regularly deviate from long-run competitive equilibrium. When they do, arbitragers like Eric step in. Arbitrage stabilizes pricesd and could be thought of as a service, which is receiving a just compensation. But most people view any price above the long-run average cost - a price they've learned about by hearsay or past experience - as gouging.

I am sure the price of boats in New Orleans rose above long-run minimum AC when the hurricane came. The invisible hand rose the price so that the boats went to their most-valued uses. But most people there probably didn't feel it was a benign response. We expect to pay the Just Price - the price derived from underlying costs, resources, technology - regardless of current market conditions.

Posted Dec 15, 2005 11:57:51 AM | link

Hellinar says:

The Quixote>In my experience with SWG and my limited experience with WoW I would say the general game populace has very little under standing of how markets work, the importance of price as a means information transfer and absolutely no understanding that an items value is determined by what someone will pay and sell it for.<

On the contrary, I think many players have a clear understanding of the importance of market in game worlds. That understanding is “not important unless you like playing markets”. Whether you want to have a market game in your VW is a design decision, not a necessity. Markets are about allocating scarce resources. Resource levels are an arbitrary design decision in VWs. If in this world we could patch in an extra 50 years of oil supply when needed, or hotfix carbon dioxide levels when they were causing problems, markets would be less significant here too.

Claiming that markets are “necessary” in game worlds seems to me to imply that “my playstyle is more significant that yours”. And so is likely to annoy people. Markets only make sense where the pre-conditions for markets are present. And those preconditions are a design decision. Some people prefer designs without them.

Posted Dec 15, 2005 12:17:37 PM | link

Weiguo says:

my direct observation (I play FFXI) is that the general playerbase is way beyond ignorant of the way the game economy works (FFXI's specific realization thereof), much less how real-world economics might or might not apply.

I belong to a linkshell (guild) dedicated to crafting...probably the only one on the server, and certainly the only English-speaking one. But even our web fora -- frequented by our crafters, who live and die by the market -- are filled with posts bemoaning "inflation", players complaining about others paying too much for materials (even though ample margin on final products remains), or even crafters stubbornly selling their wares below market price ("that's what they used to sell for!") and then complaining that they aren't able to recoup the rising cost of materials.

and as mentioned above, players who cling to (outdated) historical prices -- as ridiculous as saying "why, when I was young, cars only cost a few hundred dollars!".

Posted Dec 15, 2005 12:47:04 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Jane Q Gamer: People cling to the notion of an inherent worth despite all rational evidence otherwise.

Bingo. This is highlighted by the oracular reliance on sites like Allakhazam, which (along with the game-wide fixed pricing on anything to/from NPC vendors) furthers the illusion of a controlled market. (It's worth noting though that Allakhazam provides excellent statistics on the price variance of most AH-able items.)

Thomas Malaby: In my experience with SWG and my limited experience with WoW I would say the general game populace has very little under standing of how markets work, the importance of price as a means information transfer and absolutely no understanding that an items value is determined by what someone will pay and sell it for.

Bingo again. This shows up in the real (esp. western) world too -- the disbelief of people in one area, for example, that housing prices really are 3x (or 1/3x) of what they are where they live. Or the incredulity when a much-hyped stock augers into valuelessness. People often seem shocked that such unbridled market differences could really be "allowed" to exist.

Wouldn't it be neat if there was an MMOG that gave people not only ample opportunity but also the feedback and tools to learn about markets in ways that apply back to the real world? Something entrepreneurish like the Flash-based Hotshot Business game (created by Disney and the Kauffman Foundation), but done as a MMOG so you get the AH-like dynamics as part of the natural course of things -- and without seeming like an inscrutable add-on to a game where the play is typically directed by large yellow exclamation points.

(I'll now wait for Matt or someone from Eve or Project Entropia or Second Life to come along and note how their game already does this. ;-) )

Posted Dec 15, 2005 12:59:14 PM | link

Dmitri Williams says:

I've read "people know markets" and "people don't know markets." This is an empirical question, but I am very sure that the best sampling method is not our own experiences. Those are rarely representative samples. Until and unless someone has data on the level of efficiency and/or inefficiency to correlate with some measure of real-world market mechanism awareness, this is all speculation (if interesting).

As to the presence of arbitragers, those have always been predicted by two things: one, some capital to start with and two, more information than someone else.

Thus:
"Who does Capitalism benefit the most? Those that devote their entire life, and every hour of everyday to understanding how and why it works." i.e. those who know what SAND stands for and think Hal Varian is a fun read or who have intuited it on their.

In WoW this can be rephrased as "those who are running the Auctioneer add-on." And I'll bet that is predicted by time, interest and awareness.

Posted Dec 15, 2005 1:12:29 PM | link

Rich A says:

As a casual gamer, I usually just read the discussion threads on this site, because they're always interesting. This topic actually motivates me to respond.

Please, don't go calling people ignorant if they don't accept the free market ideology that you assume should be treated as demonstrated fact in either the real world or a game world. Their understanding may be deeper, and more founded in real world knowledge and experience, than you think.

As a casual gamer in World of Warcraft, I always avoid the auction houses. This thread reminds of me why. I prefer not to be a pawn in a subgame of market manipulation that bears little direct relationship to the structure of the rest of the game.

Posted Dec 15, 2005 1:19:49 PM | link

Hellinar says:

Mike Sellers>Wouldn't it be neat if there was an MMOG that gave people not only ample opportunity but also the feedback and tools to learn about markets in ways that apply back to the real world?<

To learn about markets, you should be building some worlds that are designed to support them, and some that are not. The question is, under what conditions are markets a useful tool, and under what conditions are they not? To properly test a new drug, you need control groups who don’t use it. To understand markets, you need worlds that function without them. That is where VWs provide a new opportunity for understanding. The familiar world is too complex and interconnected for that kind of experiment.

Posted Dec 15, 2005 1:28:11 PM | link

John W says:

I think that most people do not have anything close to "a fairly clear and shared understanding of the nature of private markets within the real world." And doubly so when you talk about an online game where children make up a large percentage of the population. The "auctionbitch" comment strikes me more as an indication of maturity level (a child) than anything to do with economics or optimal game play.

Posted Dec 15, 2005 2:04:05 PM | link

Sam Kelly says:

A fair few of the comments seem to be along the theme of "X's game ruins Y's game", which is fair enough - anthithetical play styles always cause problems. But I'd argue that there's a kind of complexity-gravity here - that is, an organizing principle that shows definitively which way "up" is. Simple games can exist within complex ones, so people can and do play while ignoring the AH entirely, but it's much, much more difficult to get those emergent effects if the game hasn't been set up with the kind of social and economic slack (crosslinking, variability, differential information levels) that allows them.

But then (partly because I'm a MUD coder, I think) I'm always in favour of more complexity and possibilities. The barrier-to-entry is the problem with that, though.

Posted Dec 15, 2005 2:09:00 PM | link

Timothy Dang says:

Arbitrageurs, speculators, and middle-men have always been viewed with suspicion. I think there is grounding for this suspicion. While economic theory tends to point out ways in which these roles increase efficiency, it is clear that: (a) those in these roles profit from inefficiency, and so have an interest in promoting it, and (b) what is essentially a benign role (arbitrageur) can easily meld with a malign one (market manipulator).

So, how much are those who play the AH game making a profit by merely "flipping" something priced too low, versus making sure they totally pwn the market for, say, wool, and restricting supply? And, if the latter, do the resentful players have a legitimate gripe?


Posted Dec 15, 2005 2:21:30 PM | link

Bart Stewart says:

I've always found it odd when I see a combat-oriented player running down other people for preferring to play an economic game. After all, they're both competitive games. On the other hand, Napoleon may once have derided England as "a nation of shopkeepers," so this antagonism is probably just an old conflict in a new venue.

Overall I think Hellinar nailed it -- combat-oriented players view markets as a problem, not as a useful feature. For some, I think this attitude does come from a lack of understanding of what markets are for. For others, it seems to be nothing more than an emotional "I want it now and you won't give it to me" reaction. Whatever the reason, it definitely generates a lot of stress between traders and combatants.

One of my favorite threads over on the forums for the late and lamented SWG was "Annoying Customers You Want to Throw in the Sarlacc Pit." Running to over 400 messages, Merchants used this thread to share their anecdotes of players who had problems dealing with markets. Here are some representative exchanges between buyers and sellers:

***

Annoying Customer: Hi, do you sell furniture?
Me: Yes i do, I have a stocked Vendor/Showroom outside of Bestine will send ya a [waypoint]
Annoying Customer: Oh good, can you make me a couch
Me: I have many styles of couches in stock on the vendor
Annoying Customer: Well can you make me 2 of them
Me: I dont need to make them, they are already there. I have over 300 items on the vendor.
Annoying Customers: I also need chairs.
Me: Why dont you go down to the vendor, and check out what is there. If there is something you need but dont see, send me an email, and I will have it ready for you tomorrow.
Annoying Customer: Oh I dont have any money.
Me: uh, ok well look me up when your ready
Annoying Customer: Can I give you a house deed for some furniture
Me: Im a Master Architect I really dont need any more houses. I also stopped selling houses a while back, I just stick to furniture now.
Annoying Customer: Oh well, I guess Im not as rich as you. Ya know some people dont have money.
Me: sigh, im sorry to hear that, maybe you should wait to go shopping until you get some.
Annoying Customer: Your pretty rude.
Me: Thanks, have a good nite.

***

Customer: Do you sell [insert ridiculously obscure item here]?
Me: No, we don't get a lot of call for that. Usually a custom thing that people go get for themselves.
Customer: What the hell? [player name] has them for sale! Why don't you?
Me: Well, if he has them for sale, then good for him. He must have a supplier for them. I congratulate him on being able to provide your needs. You can go to him and get one.
Customer: I don't want to buy one from him, he's too expensive.
Me: Do you think we'd sell it cheaper?
Customer: Well, yeah! Because I'll buy it from you and not [player name].
Me: Oh, So you're a special person that I should sell something below market price for. But not special enough that [player name] would sell it cheaper to.
Customer: Huh?
Me: Never mind. I probably can't sell it cheaper, we'd charge a very similar price for that.
Customer: But if you make me a deal, I'll buy it from you.
Me: I don't even have the item to offer. I'm sorry.
Customer: Well go get one! Then you can sell it to me. Duh!
Me: Tell you what, I'll go buy it from [player name], add a 20% shipping charge to it, and then sell it to you for a 10% discount off the total.
Customer: Cool, when can I get it
Me: [sound of blaster fire]

***

[a simulated conversation from a Merchant's point of view]

Customer: What's your price on [item]?
Me: Um, I think it is 12500, but its on the vendor over there you can check.
Customer: Thats too high [another merchant nearby] is selling them for half that.
Me: Oh... then go buy one there.
Customer: He's out.
Me: Well then he isn't selling it for half today then.
Customer: [profanity filtered for your protection]
*Customer runs out of the store*
Me: (aloud) Why am I a merchant again??

***

There were many more, but you get the idea. One person finally summed up how traders think they're perceived by combatants:

1. You will drop everything you're doing to serve them.
2. You obviously make plenty of money so whatever they want should be free. (Do we ask fighters to run missions for no pay out?)
3. Crafting takes no time. There are no failures and resources are cheap.
4. You don't mind traveling over 5k to meet with them, bringing various wares so that they can try them all out.
5. You have no other tells.
6. You don't mind explaining things to them that they could clearly figure out if only they'd... read. (Or check your vendor.)
7. They want the "best." (NM they haven't done the research to find out what that *is*.

***

If anything, I'd say virtual worlds with player economies are doing the real world a favor by educating people about markets. TANSTAAFL!

--Bart

Posted Dec 15, 2005 2:36:26 PM | link

Sean says:

In WoW I have noticed that people really have no idea how to work the economy or in my belief the game. I have been berated at the AH and have had people yell or tell on general not to buy my toons products because I am dominating on the herbs/alchemy market or on the metal ore market.

I use multiple alts and I also have alts set up for PVP in battlegrounds or just PVE. For the PVP my focus is to build up the reputation points to gain access to the very good items sold there. If they are all bind on pickup then fine I will use the gear myself, but if not then I will buy them up and sell them at the AH. For instance my level 11 PVP gnome has been berated and insulted and amazingly when I explain to them that it is not the honor I am interested but the simple 100 rep points per battle to build the rep to exalted…they still don’t get it.

I have also seen lots of gold beggars. Sometimes I explain to them, just go fishing, eventually you will get fish that sell for 10g per stack of 20. Do it 30 times and you are set for a while. They then tell me that I am wasting my time??

I admit that I use auctioneer, the add-on. I don’t want to pencil and paper all the data on 173 pages of auctions and try to guess the minimal price, but for those less inclined and who do not want to have a tool to generate your stats then simply tripling the price earned from a vendor sale will do nicely…and make sure your products move.

In general the hostility towards traders and gatherers comes from others who have a very specific view of how the game is to be played. Just like on the PVP, because I stick in a level 11 rather than waiting until 19…I am not operating under normal conventions and thus am a target for harassment.

Posted Dec 15, 2005 4:20:37 PM | link

Weiguo says:

my use of "ignorant" was directed towards players who insist on participating in the process (whether it be using the auction house, buying from vendors or players, or otherwise being involved in the economy-at-large). Obviously it makes no sense to deem someone "ignorant" of the workings of the economy if they never take part in it (the same way you can't claim to know how well someone plays the violin if you've never heard them).

but if one insists on, say, using materials to create finished goods, and using the AH to buy those materials and sell those goods, then they can either choose to be aware of how the prices of one might influence the other, or they can choose to not be aware. If they choose the latter then they have lost all right to claim that the market is unfair, or complain that they are losing money.

Posted Dec 15, 2005 5:19:34 PM | link

Timothy Burke says:

I think I disagree also with Dan about the generally distributed knowledge of markets. I think in fact that the response Eric got is partially a market-wise use of moral discourses about markets (e.g., a competitor trying to use moral discourse about economic behavior to inhibit competition) but also some of this is about what anthropologists call the "moral economy" view of the world--a cultural habitus that is uncomfortable with or actively hostile to market forms of social relations. It takes particular forms in virtual worlds, forms that intersect with what some players understand a "game" to be.

So a bit of this is an old clash between different cultural paradigms about what kinds of implicit rules should govern economic behavior. A bit of it is also much simpler: different tiers of age and experience in most virtual worlds. To some extent, virtual economies may also be teaching some teenagers about what markets are in a genuinely educational way. It's not as if we're born with a "market" gene (I await correction from the genes-are-everything crowd). Markets are like politics in virtual worlds in this sense: in both cases, you get some young players who look, bewildered, for where these things are in the rules, and they get frustrated to find that both markets and politics are only to be found in the real sociality of human beings as that sociality manifests in a virtual environment.

Posted Dec 15, 2005 5:51:30 PM | link

Rachel says:

"...and as such, I fully expect communities to continue to downplay the role that economic fu masters play in their societies. - bruce

But what role _do_ they play? Much like those found in the "rl" market economies; aren't they just functionless economic leeches living off of high-end number juggling without actually contributing anything of value to tangible systems? That's bound to anger fellow players, whether they fully understand the root of that anger or not.

Posted Dec 15, 2005 7:19:26 PM | link

monkeysan says:

Frankly, I don't think any of the reactions described in Dan's anecdote, or many described by other posters, have much to do at all with economics or morality per se. I think the economics lens is a frame that the theoretically minded among us tend to impose on this issue. If I were playing that game atm, I might say something like "People resent arbitragers and the like because players intuit a very Kantian principle about markets--namely, that participants become a 'means to an end' rather than 'ends in themselves' and it's no fun to be the means to someone else's end."

Instead, I see the situation as being, fundamentally, one of very bad game design.

The reason most people who react negatively to AH'ers do so is that they don't consider market-gaming to be 'part of the game'. They accept that crafting is a legitimate part of gameplay, if for no other reason than than it is a mechanic that is explicitly part of the game world. But as a few have mentioned, market-gaming, typically, is not.

In addition, many many players (I'd guess the overwhelming majority) are attracted to digital worlds precisely to escape the worldly realities of things like markets and market-gaming and the like. It's not that they're necessarily ignorant of economics, they just don't find any entertainment in being subjected to what amounts to involuntary economic PvP. Almost every major digital world offers variations in the amount of combat PvP allowed, but there are none that offer servers where economic PvP is either a restricted or non-existant game mechanic.

This situation is easily exacerbated when world designers give crafters one or more of the following: the ability to produce items that are better than what can be acquired otherwise; relatively exclusive control of the market in general (absence of NPC vendors); unbalanced ability to add value to in-game resources, etc. These sort of design decisions tend to elevate the impact of economic PvP for the entire game population. Couple this with the generally pathetic level of up-to-date, official documentation of a digital world's game systems in general, let alone those that are more subtle or implicit, and fury erupts.

I think much of this owes to the fact that while digital worlds still rely on a combat/advancement system essentially cribbed from PnP RPGs and which designers have become very good at building, game designers, in general, have not reached that same level of competency when it comes to building economic game systems.

Perhaps it's not the players who need to learn more about markets but the designers.

Posted Dec 15, 2005 7:33:16 PM | link

The Quixote says:

[Timothy Dang]
So, how much are those who play the AH game making a profit by merely "flipping" something priced too low, versus making sure they totally pwn the market for, say, wool, and restricting supply? And, if the latter, do the resentful players have a legitimate gripe?
[Timothy Dang]

I say no.

In the two cases you state there is really no difference. In both cases the reseller has found suppliers willing to sell items for less then they are worth and capitalized on it. And in both cases the reseller is taking a risk in being wrong and losing money since there is the whole rest of the game to get the items from if people feel the reseller is charging too much.

So the reseller who corners a market is pointing out a scarcity. The reseller will continue to point out that scarcity as long they can make money doing it. Over time the existing providers will notice the price the reseller is charging and sell at the resellers price. At the same time people will notice the money to be made and more people will try to fill that scarcity. Soon after that the price will drop as supply surpasses the number of people willing to pay for an item at that price.

What is happening here is the free markets is slowly adjusting the number people gathering resources and the number of people in each profession to fit demand. In the end instead of a few people getting a real good deal while everyone else gets nothing, the market has created more supply and more people get what they are looking for at a fair price. This is what people fail to understand. For markets to work suppliers have to charge what people will pay given the supply. If they don’t surpluses or shortages don’t get corrected because it’s the price that the market uses determine how much effort is needed to fill demand.

In a game there are some solutions to this if people don’t like it:

Price caps. In which case most of the time you wont find the capped item at the auction house no matter how much gold you have.

Make all player crafting like some engineering items where only the crafter can use their own products. In which case you will have no use for the item, only enchanters will have enchanted items only alchemist will have potions.

Remove player crafting completely and make all those items loot drops or vendor items. In which case you either get lucky with a drop, have to farm it, or diminish it’s value by putting it on a vendor everyone has access to. For example, if potions were on vendors then every one would use potions all the time unless they are priced at the point that caused the complaining to begin with.

Allow crafters to operate on a much larger scale to increase supply. In which case you would get a lesser degree of the NPC solution and raise the combat ability of everyone. Except for items that are made from rare drops. In which case someone will be complaining in some forum somewhere about someone charging too much for some item and this discussion will begin anew.

Posted Dec 15, 2005 10:28:28 PM | link

Hellinar says:

The Quixote > So the reseller who corners a market is pointing out a scarcity. The reseller will continue to point out that scarcity as long they can make money doing it.<

What your analysis seems to be ignoring is that we are talking about a computer rendered game world, not the familiar world. In the familiar world, scarcity is imposed by the underlying reality. In a VW, scarcities are design choices. In the familiar world, we need prices to point to the unknown supply and demand. In a VW, if so designed, the Server knows the daily supply and demand. Hiding supply and demand so players can play “markets” is no different from hiding MOB location, so hunters can be special and have “tracking”. The Server could compute a market clearing price, it’s the designers choice to let players do that.

There are lots of other world features that lead to a “market” being needed or not. For the first time, we can build worlds with these features “on” or “off” and see the effects. As I see it, that will lead to a better understanding of markets that just examining the limited and interlinked cases in the familiar world. I think there is a section of players who do realise markets are an “optional” feature in such worlds. And some of them would prefer to do without. It’s the some of the market enthusiasts that don’t seem to grasp the basics of markets, and the contexts that make them functional. And that leads to treating all the world as a nail because you have a hammer.

Posted Dec 17, 2005 12:08:31 PM | link

Rich A says:

The Quixote > What is happening here is the free markets is slowly adjusting the number people gathering resources and the number of people in each profession to fit demand. In the end instead of a few people getting a real good deal while everyone else gets nothing, the market has created more supply and more people get what they are looking for at a fair price. <

How much of the demand is coming from people who bought their gold with real world money? Is it a fair price for players who choose to honor the clearly stated policies of the people who provide us with WoW, and who therefore restrict their in game wealth to what they can generate by playing the game themselves?

Posted Dec 17, 2005 5:00:47 PM | link

Shanoyu says:

I don't think it necessarily fails to mimic real life interactions. People bemoan the existance of real and supposed monopolies on a daily basis, and in really any sort of barter economy I think you'd tend to see those sorts of negative interactions.

People talk about designers "building" an economic system, but really designers have very little control over economics in any game. They certainly can't restrict real money going through the game via out of game sales, and if it weren't for the auction house in WoW you'd see basically the same thing going on. After all, the economic system is simply a formalized exchange relationship that extends to a greater or lesser degree throughout the game. The only way to really change it is to change the fundamental nature of the economy. Regardless of what degree a professions materials are bind on acquire or not, or whether you even /have/ currency in your game, you'll still have supplier/demander relationships that you can't get out of. I don't really have the answer to how you change the fundamental nature of exchange to alter the nature of an economy.

All that a designer can do is impliment outside checks and balances on the economy. Of course once you have something like a price cap with an unlimited supply, inflation no longer fails to correct for everything else going on-- as long as income outpaces money sinks then the price capped commodity becomes trivial and essentially removed from market exchange.

Posted Dec 18, 2005 12:07:27 AM | link

Hellinar says:

Shanoyu> The only way to really change it is to change the fundamental nature of the economy. Regardless of what degree a professions materials are bind on acquire or not, or whether you even /have/ currency in your game, you'll still have supplier/demander relationships that you can't get out of. I don't really have the answer to how you change the fundamental nature of exchange to alter the nature of an economy.<

I’d point to “A Tale in the Desert” as an world in which trade and markets play a very small role in the world. The fundamental nature of exchange there is different from most game worlds. ATiTD is construction based game. One of the early design decisions there was that everyone could make pretty much anything, and that all basic materials would be evenly distributed. This limits specialisation, and hence the need for trade.

ATiTD is also largely missing another basic requirement for a market economy. That is, that producing stuff requires “work”, for which the producer wishes to be compensated. The main point of the construction game is to have fun making stuff. Hence the supplier/demand relationship that drives markets isn’t present (or rather is much limited, I am exaggerating a bit here, not everything is fun to make). Producers of stuff often have supplies laying around, waiting for an opportunity to be put to use. The economy is often closer to the “potlatch” model, where status comes from giving stuff away, rather that western market model of status coming from acquisition/consumption.

Humans have a innate propensity to consume, well beyond survival requirements. Tap into that, and your gameworld will likely develop a market economy. But humans also have an innate propensity to create, well beyond survival requirements. Base your gameworld on that, and markets become pretty superfluous. Having at one time been one of the best known traders in ATiTD, I’m pretty sure of that.

Posted Dec 18, 2005 1:05:23 PM | link

says:

There is always a lot of contention between players on this subject. Certain items are designed to be rare in that not everyone who wants one can have one. Like a rare bottle of wine or a original Picasso in the real world, the richest players in the virtual world chase after these luxury items competing with their bank accounts. The problem is people have to compete with each other for a limited item, but expect to only have to compete with the game.

As stated in above posts, the developers can make a game any they want to. They can make it a game of equal opportunity in which you have to compete for limited goods, or they can make game of absolute equality in which everyone is the same and ends up with the same equipment. They can take out the auction and trade abilities or make everything bind on pick up. They can completely remove need for markets. At at that point they could remove the ability to trade currency. Make it so everything must be obtained by the individual toon.

I agree that’s a potential “fairness” that could be coded in as much as equal opportunity can be. But for a lot of people that invalidates the purpose of the massive multiplayer and role playing aspects of the game. It removes the freedom to obtain items through means other then brute forcing it out of a mob. What you get is a single player game with a chat room and co-op functionality.

I’m sure there is room in the market place for both types of designs but in the end a game company ultimately has to answers to accounts lost from players that don’t want to compete with each other or players that get bored from the lack of competition and economic interaction.

I think a more functional question is when a company makes a game in one way how do they manage the expectations of the players that expect to play it in the other way?

Posted Dec 18, 2005 1:55:02 PM | link

Barry Kearns says:

Rich A wrote:

How much of the demand is coming from people who bought their gold with real world money? Is it a fair price for players who choose to honor the clearly stated policies of the people who provide us with WoW, and who therefore restrict their in game wealth to what they can generate by playing the game themselves?

This might be a meaningful observation, were it not for the fact that a great number of players already bypass the "generate by playing the game themselves" gate by having friends or alts gift them with ridiculous amounts of wealth even without a corresponding real-world money transaction. Rampant twinking ruined this premise long before real-money trading became as prevalent as it is today. RMT just made it a bit more flexible and efficient.

Largely-uncapped receipts of unearned wealth between players for any reason leads inexorably to a decoupling of in-game wealth (what you have) from in-game achievement (what you've earned)... and leads therefore to the types of reactions you describe. Allowing such transfers between characters is a game design decision, and one that has implications that should, by now, be obvious.

So design in such a way to strike at the root of the problem. Eliminate the game mechanics of unrestrained twinking.

Posted Dec 21, 2005 3:59:23 PM | link

jon says:

> they happen fairly often in MMOGs, but relatively rarely in real life.

Apparently you have never worked in retail...

Posted Dec 21, 2005 4:52:05 PM | link

StGabe says:

It's a combination of ignorance about economics and, perhaps more important, a general feeling of entitlement.

It's really not that different from the person who demands that they "deserve" a good item that a group has just looted. They are generally unconcerned with the fact that it may be just as useful for another player, that another player may have been trying to obtain it for longer than them, etc. They simply feel that they are entitled to it and will grasp on any rationalization that fulfills this notion.

To me a very interesting example was playing on the test server of the game Star Wars Galaxies. The test server had a relatively small population and had held over many of the feelings of a "beta". Players assumed that other players would sell them items not at "whatever price the market would bear" but at cost or below. The crafting system, in SWG, could require vast investments of time in order to create some of the higher-valued items (value defined here by in-game utility). On the order of hundreds of hours. Players ignored such investments of time, and ignored that, for example, millions of credits could be earned in a similar amount of time through non-crafting means.

The result was a market where crafting was not rewarded. Given the huge rampup time for crafting the best items, this meant that the best items simply did not exist on the server for literally the first year of its existence. And those items that did exist had be ordered well in advance.

So ironically, this feeling of entitlement created an impoverished market where good items were unavailable.

I entered that market because I wanted these goods to be available for me and my frieneds. And I spent the hundreds of hours I needed to in order to get setup. I then started selling items at prices that were an order of magnitude larger than what players were used to. My stock sold out within hours of being made available (and it would take me days to restock). Players literally camped my vendor to buy armor when I next made it available. Obviously it was quite affordable.

I tried to explain that I was improving the market. That I was providing items that were formerly unavailable and only offering an opportunity. That by demanding a higher reward for crafted goods I was helping to insure that crafters were adequately rewarded and that crafted goods would be supplied. Still a lot of hate was directed at me for daring to offer items at such prices and thus breaking the implied social contract of the server. Surely enough, the market did grow once I broke it open and within months there were people offering the same items as I was and undercutting my prices. But I still received mostly ire from the rest of my community. Hateful comments were frequently made about how I wanted to control the market. People believed that I actually had a greater supply of goods and intentionally kept it off the market to keep up prices, etc. And all the while I was aware that I could probably triple or quadruple my prices and still sell out as fast as I could make stuff.

A central tenant of most traditional economics is that those in the market are rational. I can't think of a better counter-example than MMO's.

Posted Dec 22, 2005 2:44:16 PM | link

Zubon says:

The market as a whole tends towards rationality. There will be vast imbalances at any time.

I must have missed it if anyone said it, but it is perfectly rational to make irrational demands, at least as a short-run buyer. Many people will bow to moral condemnation, community pressure, etc. If I can convince you to sell to me at a lower price, even if you consider my haggling methods inappropriate, I win. If I can convince others that your haggling methods are inappropriate, and you bow to social pressure and stop making irrational demands, I win.

Better yet, as a consumer making irrational demands, you do not need to worry about the long-run effects of your actions or even realize that you are using a potentially sophisticated bargaining technique. First, you do not need to know the theory behind what you are doing to do it. Children catch fly balls without being able to chart the trajectory and solve the equations that show where the ball will land; they just know "it should be about here" and go there. Shoppers just know that, if they complain about unfair prices, sometimes prices drop. It costs nothing to complain, and it sometimes works; therefore, complain. Second, who cares about the long-run effects, when you plan to be on another game within six months? Or say you completely trash the market for level 20 equipment. So what, you will be level 30 next week? There is no disincentive to be completely short-sighted. Sure, you deal with the long-run effects of the people making economically irrational arguments six months ago, but that might as well have been beta for all you care, and you just want your problem fixed now.

Complaining is a very cheap and effective technique, and it seems that only crafters think it should not be done. Unless most players will shun someone who complains about AH profiteering, you stand to gain more by complaining about the profiteer.

Mildly perverse incentives, perhaps?

Posted Dec 23, 2005 3:26:25 PM | link

Hellinar says:

St. Gabe >A central tenant of most traditional economics is that those in the market are rational. I can't think of a better counter-example than MMO's.<

I think humans are fairly rational. But you can only apply logic once you have a set of axioms to argue from. Your story sounds more like people arguing from different sets of axioms about the world than any failure of rationality.

A base assumption in your story is that crafting is “work” which should be compensated for. Which apparently is true for you. But many people approach crafting in a game world as a “fun” thing to do, and the end result is a “waste product” of that fun. In that word view, compensation for a crafted item can be minimal, just enough to cover costs. If crafting is not sufficient “fun” in SWG to be worth doing at cost, this seems to me a failure in game design, not in human rationality.

Posted Dec 23, 2005 3:59:21 PM | link

J.K. says:

Disaffection with those who play a certain variety of "economic game" can't be laid at the feet of widespread ignorance about economics.

1 - The WoW auction house system has numerous features that impede it from functioning as an efficient market. For example, even those using the Auctioneer mod do not capture basic information regarding supply, demand, and market rate for goods. As another example, players cannot place orders / bid remotely. And so forth.

2 - Most of what is here being called an "economic game" amounts to no more than arbitrage at best. Arbitrage might not be so annoying. But in many cases, "auction-house campers" play an active role in driving prices up, as well. In effect, they are causing the in-game auction houses to more directly resemble a true auction economy, whereby producer surplus is maximized and consumer surplus minimized. Agents who systematically act within the game to eliminate the consumer surplus in this way should expect no less than the ire of their peers.

3 - I would like to hear a strong defense that the "economic game" adds value. It seems to me that this activity is essentially rent-seeking behavior and parasitic by nature. The fact that you are taking a risk does not justify a return; ultimately any economic system must rest on *production*, and that is something we all have an innate moral understanding of.

If you truly wish to play an economic game, you should play as a producer rather than as a parasite if you wish to be in the good graces of your fellow gamer. If you wanted to add value and justify your profits, you would place your bets on what the most valuable commodity to farm is, farm it, and earn your profits from selling it to those who effectively compensate you for your time (rather than for your clever manipulation of stored capital).

Posted Dec 26, 2005 4:46:00 AM | link

pneumatik says:

I think the real issue of people being unhappy with the economic game in WoW or any other traditional-video-game-like VW is that as you increase realism and the number of people participating you get closer and closer to real life. If people play the game to get away from real life, then they only want a limited amount of realism. Unfortunately, since people are involved the designer's control over the degree of realism in the game is limited.

Imagine WoW with no ability of any sort to exchange goods or money between characters. This turns the game into one large co-op video game. Players will want the ability to gift other players with loot they don't need for the greater good, and besides it's very unrealistic to be walking around with someone but not be able to give them the extra armor you don't need. As soon as the designers implement this ability, some sort of economy will develop. Players will want their characters to have the best stuff, so they'll start trading with each other to get it. Even if the designers make every game available for purchase from NPC's a market of some sort will develop as long as the price a character gets for selling an unwanted item back to a vendor is less than the cost of buying that same item from that vendor.

I think the real lesson for game designers to learn is that they need to build in natural controls to the VW economy. Scarcity of items, their prices, etc. should be monitored so that the market remains in whatever state they want it to be in. I'm no economist, but I could imagine some sort of in-game agent who monitors an AH and takes actions to control prices. I don't know how easy or difficult this might be, but if you want to have a game world where 1) At level X a character has access to items Y,Z, and A, and 2) players can exchange goods and money with each other and in effect create a market, then I think you need to have in-game agents that effect that market in (2) so that item (1) can remain true.

Posted Dec 27, 2005 10:23:53 AM | link

J.K. says:

In WoW, supply is directly affected by player effort. In a game with so many time sinks, time spent farming rare items is valuable. If it is the designers' intent that any player who wants an item should have to farm it themselves, currency can be eliminated entirely. Barring that, you don't really want an agent to control prices, any more than you'd want to control them in real life. The only variable the designer needs to adjust to control the market (if desired) is the scarcity of an item, i.e. the drop rate.

My theory is that people who play MMORPGs are not adverse to encountering behavior that mimics real life - but that the fact that this is a game does not necessarily translate to the acceptance of actions that would be equally lousy if taken in real life.

Time sinks and the loot tables are universal enemies in the game, so any activity that tends to increase time sinks and decrease loot availability for others is bound to be unwelcome and I think there is a case to be made that it is ethically unsound to play the game that way.

Posted Dec 27, 2005 11:47:37 AM | link

pneumatik says:

I agree that using some sort of AH agent isn't a great way to control an economy, but I think that it would work better in a VW than in real life. Since scarcity of "natural resources" - drops and mined/found items - is completely artifical, an AH agent will be able to effect supply instead of trying to directly control prices. Though I suppose that since the money supply has less of an effect on the economy in a world with no loans or interest rates (if I remember my one semester of macroeconomics, the money demand curve either doesn't exist or is much less important in the economy in WoW than in real life), then the AH agent could probably just spend a lot of money on maintaining prices on items and it would have less of an effect on the economy than when a country tries to do so in real life.

My concern with controlling the price of items by controlling supply - drops, mines/finds, and craft rates - is twofold. First, it can take a significant amount of time for a change in the drop or find rate of an item to effect the price of an item. While that change is percolating through the system, the prices are still out of wack. Second, the rarity of raw materials may not be enough to change the price of a crafted item. It may also be necessary to change the amount of time it takes for an item to be crafted. Not only can that also take a while to effect prices, but it also screws with players. Guilds decide how many crafters of what type they need to create the correct amount of various items. Additionally, adjusting the craft time for items makes it very difficult for people to plan their characters. And when you through in the fact that different items are desired different amounts at different character levels, and there are always people levelling up, and it becomes very complicated very quickly.

That's why I think the best thing to do would be to use an NPC who puts overpriced items up for bid to keep the prices down. I don't think it's as big a deal if there's an excess of supply because people will naturally spend less effort on making those items. If dropped or found items are too cheap, that's a sign to the game designers that people just don't want that item.

As far as ethics goes, I think it's very difficult to decide what's ethical and what isn't in a VW with both rules of conduct and an in-game sytem to handle some aspects of PvP-type play. If you're not violating any of those rules, then I would argue that what you're doing is implicitly acceptable to the game designers, and they're the ones who decide what's okay and what isn't. If time sinks and loot tables are bad things in the game then the system should be redeveloped to not require them, ideally.

Posted Dec 27, 2005 8:59:48 PM | link

StGabe says:

Hellinar> I think humans are fairly rational. But you can only apply logic once you have a set of axioms to argue from. Your story sounds more like people arguing from different sets of axioms about the world than any failure of rationality.

I absolutely agree with this by the way. The problem is that allowing for this relativity of rationality ruins the usefulness of rationality as an assumption on behavior in the market. Because it then becomes rational for a person to wish to minimize production, etc. It just requires the right set of axioms. Typical economic arguments posit not only rationality but a certain sort of rationality -- usually a desire maximize individual profits.

In this case, yes, I still think the players were being largely irrational. Yes they had a different outlook on the ecomony, a different set of axioms. However these sets of axioms were contradictory: they posited a desire for ready availability of quality goods to be achieved through a behavior of not sufficiently rewarding said goods. Which made crafting so unfun that no one did it.

Posted Dec 30, 2005 4:33:33 AM | link

The Count says:

As far as player resentment, I think it is more a matter of experience, especially the younger (less experienced) the player is. Most players are not economists or market traders, so they are educated by their experience at the mall or the grocery stores. They see an item and it has a fixed price, the same price as all other identical brand name items. There is no haggling and that price fluctuates in the short term by a few percentage points while the greater long term price changes are mostly forgotten.

What these people don't understand is how that price was derived (the higher level resource market, cost of fuel to make and ship, R&D, etc.), they just see how a manufacturer can maintain a relatively steady price over a certain period of time (volume of manufacture and volume resource purchasing contracts, etc.), which is where the WoW AH gamer is coming from. The best education for these folk has been the recent spike in the price of gasoline or home heating oil, which then lead to the resultant outcry for government intervention, etc. (more or less the real-life equivalent of complaining on the WoW trade channel.)

Not being part of the WoW design team, I can't say whether the AH (which to me includes all trading in or out of the AH) was meant to be a game in its own right. For me it is a great diversion as I've been a strategy gamer since the first time I rubbed up against an Avalon Hill game in 1968 (Jim Dunnigan's 1914), and the AH game is one of the few places where I can practice that genre of gaming in WoW. The AH game varies from folk trying to make a quick buck, to scammers, to (so to speak) futures traders, to arbitragers, to grand schemers, etc. They are all AH players.

The main point is that I can easily see why folk who are disinterested in or ill-equipped for an economic game take umbrage to "da playas" because they are caught in the crossfire of the AH game, when all they want to do is buy some dingus or another at a stable and/or predictable price. Imagine if you had to do your grocery shopping at the NYSE!

----------------------------------------

As a humorous side note on arbitrage, on my "normal" server I have a "Muttski" and a "Jeffski" stationed at the Gadgetstan AH to receive, exchange, and ship goods between factions. Since I'm weird, I like them so they aren't naked (like the more business oriented level 1s that you see in Iron Forge or Orgrimmar.) They wear the best outfits I can make and being the same class they also happen to look alike since I "dressed" them identically.

This has the side effect of drawing a certain amount of attention when they are both on, from the local passers-by. You could probably say that I'm doing that intentionally. Anyway, I get a certain amount of "wow, that's cool", to "I'm going to report you". What's interesting though, is the folks that actually bother to strike up a conversation usually walk away with a better understanding of what arbitrage is and how the WoW market specifically (not the real-life market) works and how basic supply/demand works. How it can be a win-win situation by meeting localized shortages or factional unavailability of goods while making a modest profit. I usually end the conversations by encouraging them to at least look into playing that game themselves.

----------------------------------------

And to return to the topic, I say a modest profit, because while folks may be uneducated they are by no means stupid. I have gotten wealthy over time, a little at a time.
1) Buying really low and selling really high is something that happens extremely rarely. The more typical day to day experience is buying and selling a good with a 5-10g average differential, which also includes converting the profit on the Horde side (since I'm basically an Alliance player) to a reliably sellable good (Essences, Arcane Crystals, etc.) to avoid the Gadgetsan AH 15% tariff. So,
2) As mentioned above, your selling of a good will have an effect on the overall price of the same good in the market, so you can't invest heavily in a good or you will have excess inventory with a rapidly declining value, which means you already need to be thinking about what next to buy. Meaning,
3) That the long term AH players can actually bring a sense of stability plus unavailable items to a market, which ultimately benefits all.

And that's how I justify being a parasitical running-dog capitalist lackey!!! :D

Posted Jan 1, 2006 4:38:06 AM | link

Rich A says:

Barry Kearns wrote:

>Rich A wrote:

>>How much of the demand is coming from people who bought their gold with real world money? Is it a fair price for players who choose to honor the clearly stated policies of the people who provide us with WoW, and who therefore restrict their in game wealth to what they can generate by playing the game themselves?<<

This might be a meaningful observation, were it not for the fact that a great number of players already bypass the "generate by playing the game themselves" gate by having friends or alts gift them with ridiculous amounts of wealth even without a corresponding real-world money transaction. Rampant twinking ruined this premise long before real-money trading became as prevalent as it is today. RMT just made it a bit more flexible and efficient.

Largely-uncapped receipts of unearned wealth between players for any reason leads inexorably to a decoupling of in-game wealth (what you have) from in-game achievement (what you've earned)... and leads therefore to the types of reactions you describe. Allowing such transfers between characters is a game design decision, and one that has implications that should, by now, be obvious.

So design in such a way to strike at the root of the problem. Eliminate the game mechanics of unrestrained twinking. <

You're missing the point I was trying to make. I was responding to this comment from The Quixote:

>What is happening here is the free markets is slowly adjusting the number people gathering resources and the number of people in each profession to fit demand. In the end instead of a few people getting a real good deal while everyone else gets nothing, the market has created more supply and more people get what they are looking for at a fair price. <

The fundamental problem with the notion of a free market in WoW is that it is not confined to exchanges between players. Instead, we have the added, and forbidden, phenomenon in which a business person hires a worker to "play" the game, thus generating in-game wealth which can be sold by the business person to a player for real money. The worker in this scenario is not a real player, and if a real player buys the in-game wealth generated by the worker, he is not participating in a market within the game, he is participating in a real world market. Even if the real player doesn't buy in-game wealth in this way, the in-game market he participates in is still influenced by this sort of activity.

The point I am trying to make is that it is meaningless to talk about some sort of in-game market that adjusts supply and demand, independent of the effects of the illicit market in which in-game wealth generated by hired workers is exchanged for real world money.

The illicit exchange of real money for in-game wealth is fundamentally quite different from a number of possible other scenarios in which in-game wealth is transferred between real players, without either real or in-game money changing hands. Generally, what happens in those scenarios is that friends help one another out, or like-minded people join together in some sort of arrangement to be mutually beneficial, as in a guild. This sort of thing is quite legitimate, happens entirely within the game, and is a feature of the game, not an attempt to circumvent it or pervert it. If you're gaining in-game wealth by these means, you are playing the game. If you're gaining in-game wealth by buying it with real world money, you are subverting the game, and the effects of your activity contribute to destroying any sort of genuine game market.

Posted Jan 1, 2006 3:09:07 PM | link