Greedy Goblin

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Red line for Albion Online

Oh, the irony! Just two days ago I wrote: " I can't draw red lines because I don't know what to look for until I find it. Devs are very resourceful in rigging. ... If SI rigs Albion, they do it in an unprecedented way that I won't know until I do."

Now I'm still not sure that it's intentional rigging or just critical mistake, so it's not a "Don't play Albion Online" page, "just" an ultimatum to fix it. I won't log in until they do and if they don't, I write the page:

The price of the shop currency (that you can use for buying subscription) versus in-game currency increased by 25% in a single day. I wrote multiple times how I don't care about the shop currency. I still don't. I accept the right of the company to monetize the game as they please, as long they do it in a transparent way. What I care about is gold speculation. Since you can freely trade gold, even without visiting an NPC, you can make silver by buying when low and selling when high. Anyone who bought gold a day before the screenshot made 25% profit overnight. Since huge amount of gold is moving in the economy, there is always liquidity, you can invest as much as you have. If you had 100M, you could make +25M. Obviously no in-game activity is near this in profitability. So it's already a broken design, that outshadows everything else.

But there is more: while you can speculate on everything, the price of gold has nothing to do with in-game activities. You cannot wear gold or craft anything from it. If you were the only player on the server, you couldn't do anything with it besides paying your subscription, which is a real world transaction. So the price of gold depends on completely out-of-game factors like paydays and holidays when kids get gifts, school breaks and exam seasons (when student have time to grind or don't) but above all it depends on dev marketing team decisions. The higher the gold price, the more players will decide to not try to grind for subscription but buy it. The more subscribed players will decide to not grind for in-game needs, but buy gold in the shop and sell it for silver. So there is a huge reason for the devs to increase gold price and they can easily do it: spawn a zillion silvers and set up a huge buy order. In the extreme case when every player sells his gold to this dev character, then you just have an item shop that sells silver. Again, it's not bad in itself, what's bad is that the most profitable "ingame" activity is guessing when the marketing team changes the price.

You know what's better than guessing their decisions? Knowing it, making a few billions, RMT it away and split the money with the corrupted dev who gave the insider info!

I later realized that this 25% increase is probably peanuts from the early rush. When the servers go online and no one has silver, gold is sold for 1-2 silvers. If a dev spawns just a million silver, he can get a million gold, without causing any visible inflation (as players will farm hundreds of millions in a few days). Probably the really big businesses are made in the first few hours, though for sustained business any stage speculation is great.

I suggested them a simple solution, the one Blizzard uses: when you buy gold from the shop, you can sell it for silver. When you buy it from silver, you can't resell it again, you can only use it for yourself. This way speculation will be irrelevant, those who can guess (or get inside info) on gold price changes can only decrease the cost of their own subscription which is peanuts unless you run 100+ alts (and even then it's not game breaking sum). Please note that this solution wouldn't hurt the income of the company at all, as neither the "buy gold for $ and sell", nor the "buy gold for silver and use" players would be affected, just the speculators.

I hope they take it or some other solutions (like high tax on selling gold) and make speculation impossible, because the game itself is good and I already have the guild plans (Hanura can testify that I do). I could bring them lots of new players for a completely in-game, positive and sandboxy project. Or, I can warn my audience to stay away. Their call. I'll give them a week, but I don't log in until the change is officially announced. If the gold speculation is still allowed on April 20, I make the page.

PS: here is the official forum link


Alessandro said...

1 week is too short. Some software dev companies only change their game in month intervals. (Unless extreme urgent, which might be).

I think the time limit must be at-least 15 days (2 weeks).

And you should also post that critic at the game forum, send feedback through an official way of contact

Anonymous said...

I support your action, and the solution you propose. I read the thread about this and so many players are shrugging it off but what the point of creating a virtual economy that can be manipulated by insider information rather than by knowing what is going on within the game.

If it can be rigged, it will, because someone will always know somebody...

Albion is good so far, I agree. Hope they address this and do not allow another Open Virtual world to get riddled with corruption at the expense of the casual players or those lacking the proper "contacts".

Gevlon said...

@Alessandro: I don't expect them to implement the change in a week. I expect them to acknowledge the problem and commit to fix it in a week.

Caldazar said...

This is something that has been possible since you started playing, and long before right? You only just noticed today?

While I agree it has to be fixed before launch (Or before whenever final prelaunch reset is), I don't see why they should suddenly jump when you say jump. Especially since your arbitrary timing is not after a change or a patch introducing something bad, but after a random point in time when you noticed it. I am not even sure their dev cycle even has time to reply in a week. Community manager notices what you posted and reports the issue (and hopefully leaves out the deadline in his report, since that isn't relevant to the problem), devs receive the report, check if it is correct and forward proposed solution to whomever decides on these things, they check said solution and report back to devs, devs start to implement, and when done send it up to patch notes. Most, if not all of these steps will take longer than a day. Expecting them to reply in less than a week seems exaggerating your own importance. Unless there is a massive community backlash about this, which seems unlikely, as it is still prelaunch and it is not a gamebreaking bug. Economy breaking sure, but that will be reset at launch.

PS: If the game has no more resets, feel free to fully ignore and even not post this comment.

Shalcker said...

Rather then ban those transfers why not tax them instead? That undercuts speculation a lot.

I happen to be admin in one online MMO game that allows to freely exchange "premium" currency - as well as trade it through "exchange". For freely available anywhere exchange people can only put silver on exchange and set sell price which also immediately subtracts 5% silver tax not returned if offer is withdrawn. Premium currency "sellers" automatically get best offer only - to which they can agree or wait until better offer comes up. No currency is "spawned by devs" ever outside of bugs.

I would primarily suspect game in beta to have some duping bugs that didn't get caught that would cause such price jumps rather then devs injecting currency. Absolute majority of MMOs produce a lot more currency then gets "sunk" anywhere - otherwise you get deflation, and large part of MMO allure is "steady increase in assets as result of playing" which requires inflation.

If you would suspect devs of "cheating the market", there are many ways to do it outside of injecting silver.

And for devs gold is stuff that pays their salary, while silver is product of people playing. The less silver available, the more need for gold to those who don't want to grind but still want to pay for usual sinks. They would be shooting themselves in the foot if they do what you suspect.

Gevlon said...

@Caldazar: I don't have to play their game. I don't have to be silent about their game being broken and probably corrupt. Their schedule is not my problem, it's their problem.

It is their INTEREST to "jump", when a somewhat recogized blogger (YOU are reading me and caring enough to comment) points out an economy breaking problem.

@Shalcker: 25% increase over a day, despite the price was steady for weeks is a problem.
The more silver someone gets for gold, the more likely they buy gold. If you get 2 silvers for slaying a mob and 20 silvers for 1$, you probably just kill 10 mobs. If you get 20000 silvers for 1$, you probably throw them a $ instead of grinding 10000 mobs.

Dàchéng said...

How is this any different from PLEX? I thought that also was a currency that could only be used to buy subscription time, and whose in-game value was set by player generated supply and demand?

I have not heard of any scams caused by devs manipulating the price of plex. Have you?

Gevlon said...

@Dacheng: Actually that's why I left: they made the NPC trading of PLEX impossible by high taxes and moved the trade to player citadels.

Unknown said...

I always advocate that any item spawned in any game can only be sold once. It is enough to sell your phat loot or buy an armour upgrade but completely eliminates speculation.

In any game with a free market the best paying activity is always speculation. It ruins games, as was shown by D3 and their subsequent removal of the marketplace.

Caldazar said...

@Gevlon: Caring enough to comment, sure, but I will never buy Albion and have 0 interest in the game. (Nor do I really care about this specific issue and if I played it would not bother me). Nor did I ever play Eve or BDO. Reading your blog does not mean interest in the game necessarily.

Also, I am not sure it is in their best interest to jump. I don't want a game company to jump for every bloggers opinion, that seems like an incoming massive disaster. There are plenty of bloggers that are a lot bigger than you that I would not want to touch my games with a 10 foot pole. I want a company to react thoughtfully, and as far as I care, they have till release.

Also, as a blogger, you are rather polarizing and known for economics, conspiracy theories, and a willingness to cry cheating where there might be none. You also draw a large amount of dislike and your eve fanbase sometimes follows you around to discredit you. It might even be in their interest to not jump when you deadline ultimatum them for it. (And then later fix the actual issue when they have time to properly check it)

Gevlon said...

@Slavomir: that would stop transportation too. If item drops in Eastern City and a buyer wants it in Western City, either the seller or the buyer must make a long walk, or there is no trade. A trader can do it for them.

@Caldazar: but you know about Albion. The worst barrier game devs face is letting people know about their game. There are so many games out there. If you read me, you read about every game I play. It doesn't mean you follow me blindly, but you'll know about it and at least make a decision about a game. For a dev, that's enough. Also, if I recommend a game, it's more likely that you try it than if I tell "don't play it, it's rigged". You care about my writing enough to be here, so don't even try to deny it.

I didn't just say an opinion. I've written opinions on lots of things in Albion Online and never set deadline or threatened them, exactly because I'm aware of "my opinion =/= universal truth". This case is crystal clear: an element about real money currency with no in-game relevance can be abused to get stupid amount of in-game wealth. It's a loophole that must be closed. If not closed, that's bad faith on their part.

While they indeed have time for release, that's an excuse for creating new content or rebalancing minor issues, not stopping loophole in the most fundamental system: monetizing (the whole game has the one purpose of making money for the devs. Monetizing is the basic layer, everything else is on that). The ONLY responsible thing for such bug report coming from anybody (hint: I didn't open the thread) is "everyone drop everything now, no one goes home until patched, gold trading is disabled until patch is out".

There is no opinion leader without haters. But can you imagine someone stopping playing just because I said "it's a great game"? Do you think haters will buy a $30 account just to troll?! It's not an F2P game. By the way, can you cite an issue when I did "cry cheating where there might be none"?

Ðesolate said...

Gev stated "I expect them to acknowledge the problem and commit to fix it in a week.", means "Yeah we have shit sitting there and we will fix that." !might! be enough (possibly).

souldrinker said...

Devs have complete control over the price of premium currency, but they are interested in maximizing their profit and therefore they will try to set the price at the optimum value.

There are two primary uses of premium currency:
1) Free players farm in-game currency, buy premium currency and pay their subscription;
2) Whales buy premium currency with real money, sell it for in-game currency and use in-game currency for their in-game needs.

So if the price of premium currency deviates from the optimum in either direction, game company will lose money:
1) If premium currency gets too low, more players start to pay subscription with in-game currency instead of he real money, and some whales will feel that their in-game spending is too expensive in real $ and quit;
2) If premium currency gets too high, whales will spend less real money on premium currency to get the amount of in-game currency that they need.

This means that keeping premium currency price at the optimum is #1 factor of earnings, there is probably a special division in marketing department that calculates it and uses all available price manipulation tools to keep it in the reasonable range (while allowing some fluctuations to make an impression of "free market forces").

The good news is that unless the company is corrupt to the core, opportunistic employees that do insider trading won't be tolerated, as they would be getting money out of the company's pocket (they disrupt company's earnings by causing price alterations that they need for profitable insider trading).

This 25% overnight increase is probably (but not guaranteed) a product of developers' manipulation, as the developers realized that at current gold price too many paying playes convert to free. Or it can be a product of real market forces if majority of players VERY suddenly realized that their subscription is about to run out (but this seems unlikely).

Unknown said...

So just like Diablo 3, the optimal way to play the game is to not play the game? Solid design, nothing could possibly go wrong.

Gevlon said...

@Souldrinker: again, it's not my business what the company wants with its premium currency and where it sets it. What I care about is that players can speculate on the marketing dept decisions and make stupid amount of money if they are right. Speculating on a real world company decisions isn't gameplay.

The company has ZERO reason to tolerate speculation (buying premium currency for silver and selling it again). For the company one and only one transaction scheme is beneficial:
1: Adam creates premium currency (buys it for $, refers a friend, whatever the company wants him to do)
2: Adam trades this premium currency for silver with Betty
3: Betty consumes premium currency (uses it for subscription, shop item or whatnot)

The fact that they tolerate or even support speculation (buying stuff on the marketplace has 3% tax, buying premium currency is tax free) is showing bad faith or critical ignorance.

So I believe (and they can convince me otherwise only by making speculation impossible) that either
- the employees responsible for this are corrupt and want to make money at the expense of the company
- some employees are corrupt, the others are idiots

The 25% overnight increase CAN BE market, because server wipe happened exactly 30 days ago, so morons could suddenly realize that they need gold for subscription now, but it's irrelevant. Again: changing the price, even rapidly is not my business. The ability to speculate on it is.

Smokeman said...

I know we're not supposed to mention this game, but...

Dàchéng said...
"How is this any different from PLEX? I thought that also was a currency that could only be used to buy subscription time, and whose in-game value was set by player generated supply and demand?

I have not heard of any scams caused by devs manipulating the price of plex. Have you?"

They are ON RECORD as saying they do exactly that. Sure, they word it differently, claiming the in game currency came from "dead accounts", but what is the difference? in game currency came from no where and propped up the speculative bubble.

unregulated, non-transparent speculation schemes will eventually be rigged for profit. Every. Single. Time.

Blizzard's mechanic is the best, with the dual token system, but that doesn't mean it's not rigged as well... they make big money with the RMT token, and have every incentive to make the in game currency token cost as much as possible. Easiest way to do that? Expensive collectibles! Mount and pet collectors are a huge profit center. Now they even have "Craftable Legendaries" for your alts (They can use them at level 101.) for even more inflation causing fun!

Smokeman said...

Slawomir Chmielewski said...
"I always advocate that any item spawned in any game can only be sold once. It is enough to sell your phat loot or buy an armour upgrade but completely eliminates speculation.

In any game with a free market the best paying activity is always speculation. It ruins games, as was shown by D3 and their subsequent removal of the marketplace."

Oh! I like that! Basically, it replaces BOE (Bind on Equip) with BOT (Bind on Trade.) It doesn't eliminate the "RMT runs" problem, where you pay for a dungeon clear, but that can be curtailed with incremental upgrades as opposed to wholesale gear replacement.

But yes, having the in game "free market" be too free takes over the rest of the game.

Gevlon said...

@Smokeman: Blizzard's system isn't "rigged", it's "regulated". It is within the right of the dev to do whatever they want with their game as long as they do it:
- transparently (players know what's the rules are and can make informed decisions)
- fairly (the rules are the same for every players)

I don't like what Blizzard does, so I don't play WoW. But there is no "don't play WoW" page on my blog, because they aren't doing anything WRONG, just things I don't like. Example:
- exotic restaurant with rat meat on menu: fine, but I don't go there
- normal restaurant with pork on menu which is actually rat: damn scammers, I sue them

There is nothing wrong Albion devs setting gold prices as they please. There is everything wrong that players can speculate on it.

Smokeman said...


Ok, I'm basically in agreement there. But I would make a "Potato, Potatoe" differentiation: "Regulated" is when a higher authority tells you to do it, "rigged" is when you do it yourself. There are many shades of grey as to how inappropriate the "rigging" may be. Blizzard's system appears to be the most rigging free, and you can thank the speculation barrier for that.

Here's a "Regulated/rigged" example using Blizzard's token scheme: Supposedly, there is a 1 to 1 relationship between RMT tokens and in game currency tokens, but there is no way to verify that. "Regulation" would be a third party auditing the system to verify that that firewall stays in place. "Rigging" would be subtly tweaking the rate to squeeze a bit of extra profit, say... selling 11 RMT tokens for every 10 that show up in the AH as in game currency tokens.

Now, Blizzard has every right to set these rates and ratios at whatever they want. and if they only tweak it a bit, like 10%... or gently slide the price up to make the RMT token more attractive... it's unlikely they will ever be caught as there is no audit trail. Well, so long as they don't get greedy like the Romans did when they started juking the silver content in their Denarius coins. It started slow enough, but eventually any fool could tell the difference between new coins and the older, full silver coins.

Gevlon said...

The problem with Bind on Trade (and Soulbound) is that trading is a catchup mechanism itself. When you get Sword of Uberness, you sell the Sword of OKness to some latecomer or casual, allowing him to stay near you for some currency. Without that he must either walk the road you did (which can be problematic in a 5+ years old game) or there must be a dev-generated catchup mechanism that gives him welfare gear.

Anonymous said...

Being able to trade back and forth in 'premium currency' enables players to protect their assets against inflation. Which I think is greater perk than the negatives caused by speculations on this scale. (Before patches, holidays, etc. 'Devious manipulation of markets' not included.)

Antze said...

@Gevlon: The ONLY responsible thing for such bug report [...] is "everyone drop everything now, no one goes home until patched, gold trading is disabled until patch is out".

As a game developer, I disagree (I don't like working overnight). Since it's beta, "problem acknowledged, we will fix it eventually before release, but so far you can play with the broken market as much as you like" is a valid solution too. Character wipe will clear any mess in the end.

On topic: no clue which side of Hanlon's razor goes here. If Albion in its early beta, it could be neither, just "we were planning to implement taxes/regulations later, for now it's not important, we just made it possible to trade gold/silver". If Albion is close to release, it's probably malice (stupidity is unlikely, since many people seem to report ingame economy as being good => devs are competent).

Gevlon said...

@Anonymous: protecting assets against inflation is not at all a perk. It discourages playing. Inflation comes from other players farming. By "protecting your assets", you are progressing as fast as the average player, without logging in.

@Antze: final beta, release date set: July 17.

Anonymous said...

"@Dacheng: Actually that's why I left: they made the NPC trading of PLEX impossible by high taxes and moved the trade to player citadels."

I thought you left because Falcon was being nasty to you and they could give out your API and laugh about it over the watercooler?

You were never big into the plex market, implants were your thing, so NPC taxes were not a problem for you. PLEX is also still traded in Jita and other hubs, and nothing stops you setting up a citadel yourself, or using one of the many 0% tax ones (unless you think 100 isk is too much to give to another player)

Gevlon said...


I mention Falcon often, because his actions are obvious and undefensible (no sane man can claim that an impartial steward of a game can act as he did). They are far from being the worst. The worst was the citadel expansion that gave all the trade profit to "friendly" players owning the Perimiter citadels.

Looch said...

I see much bigger issues in Albion Online.
Each Beta starts big and rapidly the population dies within 3-4 weeks.
Looks like SI had a great vision years ago, great innovative stuff, cool and out of the box graphics etc. ... and the more they test it the more they kill it.
I love AO for many reasons but I am very doubtful it will be an healthy game after release.

But anyway, you broke the rule not to talk about EvE anymore ... you should be fined now :D

Gevlon said...

@Looch: the no EVE rule will be probably scrapped, as Albion had one good thing done, I no longer compare games to EVE. I tried and played and liked Albion without thinking of EVE.

The no EVE rule was a mental support that I no longer need.

Anonymous said...

Price volatility will always exist, in part due to spikes when developers introducing new currency impacting features and promotions (which they will do because they want to make money from running an MMO). The best tool to diminish the impact of price volatility is an unrestricted system of arbitrage.
On the flip side, free markets work best with perfect information and unless the developer is going to details 3 months+ notice on all their plans there will always be a great deal of volatility in an MMO. The compromise solution with limited speculation would result in a situation where price movements would be slightly damped and there would be a limit the degree that any one player could gain.

Gevlon said...

@dobablo: let's battle volatility by employing those who have the most reason to make the market more volatile. What can possibly go wrong?