A lot of people e-mailed me about my other MMO related articles, and expressed their wish to do a follow up with an article about setting an MMO economy, and here you have it. But first a disclaimer:
This article is for your information only, and you should not trust everything you read here. Some advice might work for you, and some might not, therefore it is up to you to decide which, if any, methods you want to implement in your game. Many people complain about Eternal Lands economy, so please be advised that, although I do have years of experience in this field, I, like any other human, make mistakes.
Now that we are done with the disclaimer, let's focus on the real thing. In most MMOs, regardless of the genre and type (text only, browser-based, independent client), we have resources (items, money) coming in and going out of the game. Ideally, the ratio should be 1/1, that is, for every resource coming in the game, something of equal value must go out. Obviously, a perfect 1/1 balance is often impossible to achieve, but there are some tips that can help.
The carpenter has the hammer, the navigator has the compass (or satellite-assisted navigation system), and the chef has the stove and pots. It is obvious that each profession requires, or can be facilitated by some tools. Designing an MMO economy is no different. Here are your tools:
Before we start with the economy, we need to determine how the resources come in the game, and how they leave the game. Note that we will focus only on the items that actually enter and leave the game, not on the items that a player loses or gains. For example, if two players barter, they will both lose and gain some items, but no new item entered the game, and no old item exited the game. If a player drops an item when he dies, the item is still in the game; it can be picked by some other players. Please keep in mind that this list is not exhaustive and obviously, depending on the game mechanics, some methods of entry and exit will not apply. In the second part of the article, I will elaborate on some of them.
Something you should do is have your server log each and every item that comes in and leaves the game. All this information should be logged every day (or hour, turn, whatever is easier for you), and the information should look something like this:
Entry - 100000, Exit 120000
Monster drops: 80000
This way, not only you can keep track of the total amount of items that are in the game, but you can also see where most of the items come and go. If your game has a manufacturing system, you can even go as far to log where the resources go during the manufacturing process. Something like:
Iron ore spent on manufacturing: 1000000
Short sword: 5000
Long sword: 100000
Chain mail armor: 90000
Based on those logs, you can determine the following things:
Once you determine which items have problems, you can adjust all kind of factors, like the monster drops, manufacturing formulas, the cost from an NPC, and so on. If an item is not used too much, for example some magic ring, you can change its price, or perhaps make it more powerful. If an item is used too much, you can increase the price, the resource cost, or make it weaker. Asking for player feedback is very useful as well in determining why an item is overused, or not used enough. But more on player feedback later on.
One final word of advice before we move to the next section is that you should wait for a few days or weeks before you jump to conclusions, because the number of items in the game varies from day to day, so you will want to have at least a week of data before you take some decisive action. And, of course, you should correlate the number of daily items with the number of players that played during that day. During the weekends there are usually more players in the game. Therefore, more items will enter and exit the game than during the week days. In-game events can cause great fluctuations too, as the players prepare for that event (producing or consuming more resources). New items sometimes are underused for a while, until all the players know about it and incorporate it in their strategy.
Different games have different currencies. A medieval game typically uses the omnipresent "gold coin", while a futuristic game has something else, such as "credits". But they all represent the same thing: the 'official' currency. So what makes a gold coin valuable? Why would people trade in gold coins, rather than, say chain armor or sea shells? A long time ago, people used to barter for goods and services. A fisher would go to the marketplace with 10 fish and exchange them for vegetables. Or a blacksmith would trade his sword for a sheep. This system went on since the man started to form communities, and at one point they started to use "money". The advantage of using money, as opposed to bartering, is obvious: it is more lightweight, it can be stored indefinitely without spoiling, it's easier to conceal, can be traded for anything, and the value of a coin is relatively small, so you can buy only one fish if you want, rather than having to buy 50 fish in exchange for your sheep.
An interesting question is, when and how did people accept the concept of a coin? Why would someone trade their sheep for 10 coins? After all, you can't eat the coins, and they have no inherent value. The coins by themselves are useless, and you need to find someone willing to sell you stuff in exchange for those coins. In this day and age, the gold does have an inherent value: a lot of products require gold as an ingredient. But thousands of years ago, you could only make jewelry, statues and coins with it, and all those items are not necessary for survival, or even for wealth.
In an MMO, people are not so willing to accept the official currency unless if they have some use for it. If no NPC accepts it in exchange for items and if no game functionality needs the gold coin, then you might as well not implement it because the players are not going to use it. If an NPC requires 1000 gold coins to sell you some armor, but you can get that armor from a player for 100 flowers, then the gold coin will lose it's value and all the other prices will increase. Preventing this is relatively simple. Implement some rare and expensive items that can NOT be obtained by any other way except by paying an NPC with gold coins. Implement game services (creating a guild, buying a house, solve a quest) that require gold coins. And do NOT make the gold coin too common! (see the next section).
As previously discussed, a system without a 'state-controlled" economy is not good. You need some NPCs to buy and sell your currency. But a system without a player-based economy is equally not good. There are a couple of reasons why you will want the players to buy and sell items to each other, rather than buy them from the shops:
Implementing such a system is very hard, because you are dealing with humans who are very unpredictable creatures. You might design the game assuming that people will play only a few hours a day, but in reality many will be playing for much longer, sometimes up to 18+ hours. Or you might expect to take someone 10 months until they can get to a certain level so they can kill a monster, mine a resources, or make an item, only to notice that someone did some 'mad leveling' and they are there in 3 months. And of course, there will be some macroers as well, which will pump a lot of items in the game until they get caught. Also perhaps there could be some exploits that allow faster production of items.
While those issues can not be completely avoided, the 5P rules applies (proper planning prevents poor performance). Here are a few tips:
This is the end of the first part of the article. In the second part we will focus on the following aspects:
The author can be contacted at: chaos_rift at yahoo.com (e-mail only, no IMs please). If you are interested in the Eternal Lands development, you can visit my blog.
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