Violins: Magic Items in the Real World

I have been discussing violins with my neighbor, violinist Alex Kerr (who is both classy and world-class). 20061130_violin

Once made, a violin matures over the course of hundreds of years. It comes to produce sounds of unparalleled high quality: voice, sweetness, juice, subtlety. When played by an expert, the best violins produce experiences that approach a kind of transcendence for the player. For an eloquent expression of this transcendence, read these remarks of Thomas J. Beczkiewicz, founder of the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis. While we on the outside can detect the quality of sound, we cannot explain it, and we certainly cannot trace it to anything observable or measurable about the instrument. The instrument is, somehow, special.

The best violins have a known history: Who made them, who played them, for how long, and how they were transferred from one owner to another. As each generation of great violinists ages, speculation goes on about which members of the upcoming generation will inherit the great instruments. Once a great violinist has his hand on one, he does not easily give it up, as the instrument he owns becomes a part of his reputation vis a vis other violinists.

Violins become named for previous owners, such as the Strad ex-Gingold. While many violins sound about the same to an untrained ear, experts can detect minor differences in quality along many dimensions. Some violins are considered to be best in every respect; even though the quality difference between 'great' and 'best' may not be big, especially in terms of impact on the general audience, the price differences are huge. Since 1850, the price of fine violins has appreciated at 3.5% per year in real terms, better than US Treasury bonds.Given the high prices for the best instruments, fine violinists often enter into loan-to-play arrangements with groups of well-heeled investors.

Let me now describe violins in the terms game players apply to special items. Violins are magic items...

Violins are magic items. They can only be equipped by mages specced in music. Violins made by Grand Master Instrument Makers can only be equipped by top-level music mages. Relative to PvE violins, Grand Master crafteds enhance several stats of music power by a small percentage. Also, these items are generally buffed a tiny bit with each expansion pack. These differences make them extremely valuable. Elite music mages, especially those engaged in PvP, will pay almost any price to have a Grand Master crafted violin. Most of these violins are bind on equip. Because violins are so expensive, though, the designers have made some violins bind-to-guild, which allows mages to share violins in their guild bank.


One of the excitements of gaming is the ability to participate in the production and allocation of the most exciting and wonderful things in the world.

Comments on Violins: Magic Items in the Real World:

Chris Proctor says:

Lovely article, thanks!

The parallels are very striking.

Posted Nov 6, 2009 10:46:04 AM | link

Andy Havens says:

If you are not a high-level music mage (but a nouveau riche Russian lawyer and entrepreneur), you can still get one through the RMT market:

It confers no bonus on the owner (beyond possible investment increase) and actually gives a "-1 enjoyment" debuff to the Audience Guild.

Posted Nov 6, 2009 12:11:17 PM | link

Jonas Miller says:

Great analogy! I was like what is this...but then the whole ultra epicness kicked in:)

Posted Nov 6, 2009 6:43:41 PM | link

CherryBomb says:

This article was a pleasure to read. Thanks!

In a sense, though, "bind on equip" works the other way around: the instrument works its way around the world, picking up various musicians along the way. Once a violinist gets tuned to his instrument, it is always a bit awkward to play a different one, since no two are exactly alike.

Posted Nov 8, 2009 11:35:34 AM | link

etienne says:

Surely, though, the logic of price can't explain either the violinist's motivation to pursue a violin or their desire to keep it. Price (and its growth) may explain the collector's motivation, but not the one for whom the violion must be played? I suppose a violinist is both musician and collector, but what is it they are "collecting"? In that regard, as you touch on earlier, it is the sound of the violin that the violinist (or music-specced mage) pursues, where money is only an important, but relatively minor, means to an end.

Posted Nov 9, 2009 1:34:47 PM | link

makovsky74 says:

And my friend violinist talked like that...

Posted Nov 13, 2009 3:57:03 AM | link

Imant says:

Alex Kerr is great!

Posted Nov 24, 2009 2:38:01 AM | link

carlos says:

I like Music especially Violin music

Posted Dec 4, 2009 5:06:47 AM | link

Christoph Daseking says:

At first are there any new findings concerning the topic of hedonic pricing of avatars? I searched the Internet, article ressources, terranova,
etc. and found any articles or discussions.

At the moment I am writing my Master-Thesis about applying Castronova's pricing model from the paper "The Price of Body: A Hedonic Pricing Model" to collect data and extract price determinants.

Any comments?!

Posted Dec 8, 2009 6:48:34 AM | link

Olivier mauco says:

As a gamer and violonist, I was thinking about the nature of technique.

As a violonist reads the score, the gamer plays the code. But, the main difference is the way sensibility is expressed. You must master the technic to do a "musical" interpretation with a violin.

Grand master are the men who use the violin as a tool to let their soul sing. But you can do something with high expensive violins, even if you are middle class player. You will just not use 50% of the capabilities. Moreover, high expensive violins are not bought by top players, but loaned to them. Generally it is a company or a foundation who owns the violin.

Imagine that Blizzard loans a top stuff to top players, in order to play it in a high skilled way...

So the question is, is there another step after completing the game? A "videogamical" way to play the code ? A way to express feelings through a rational coded practice?

I mean that elite gamers can do top scoring, it is incredible, very impressive technically. But is it as beautiful as an Isaac Stern interpretation of Brahm's Concerto?

Maybe there is for now a lack of "ad libitum" in videogames - even in sand boxes VG. And in MMO the ad libitum seems to be the social dimension.

Posted Dec 18, 2009 4:20:55 AM | link

Amarilla says:

" is there another step after completing the game? "

Yes, to write a code in wich to sing your soul. A sort of fusion but it's very lonely "in there".

Posted Dec 22, 2009 5:45:51 AM | link