Greedy Goblin

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Game moneymaking isn't what it used to be

While I'm making progress with my Archeage moneymaking methods, at this point I'm unsure if I'll be capable of making more in-game money in an hour than I could make by one hour of real life working and buying APEX. During EVE, BDO and my short time in Albion, this was achieved after learning the game. I can't really talk about the old WoW days because back in the day there was no WoW token.

Which is the point. Back in the day (gather around the fireplace youngsters, grandpa will tell about the good ol'days when we were riding on faction mounts instead of cash shop dragons) the only ways to get in-game currency were:
  • Farming it with horrible efficiency
  • Getting smart and trading
  • Risking ban and botting
Among these, trading was obviously the best and that's why my blog gained audience fast. But since the microtransaction "revolution", a fourth way - kind of - opened: buy token from the item shop and trade it for in-game currency. It's "kind of", because the in-game currency is still created by the above three means (trading increases GDP by motivating farmers), it's just given from the original currency maker to the one who pays for it with real money. This removes the need of being effective. You don't have to care if the currency you buy was gained inefficiently by someone who "farmed for free". You have nothing to fear if you buy botted gold on the legit, anonymous marketplace, even if the botter is banned, you won't be negwalleted. What was once a must-be skill for competitive play is now a niche, as you can make all the in-game currency you need without any in-game moneymaking knowledge, just by throwing the salary of few hours of work on the game.

Sure, in some economy focused games like EVE a good businessman can make more in-game money than by spending the same time in an average wage (Western) job and buying PLEX. But someone who has the brains to do it is probably not working in an average wage job and even my peak EVE income (about 150B/month = $27K/year) is low compared to a high-paying job.

It doesn't mean that I think the money game is over. The Diablo III failure showed that the microtransactions can destroy a game as players realize that the above means that the best way of playing is not playing but working and paying, so they didn't play and after some time they also realized that they are dumb for paying for a game they don't play. But the developers are also in a tough spot, they must include pay-to-win to have income as the results are clear. The solution is to realize that the in-game free market is the problem, as it replaces competition. I'm sure that the future big MMO will be limited market, where the various opposing groups (factions? guilds?) can only trade between themselves and intra-group trading will be impossible.


Smokeman said...

I will agree that the future of MMO markets is a more limited form of the "free market", but not limited in the way you envision. I expect what will evolve is a broker driven market where NPCs do all the actual buying and selling and other NPCs set the bar for arbitrage.

The other thing that has to happen, and I'm not sure how feasible this is, but "rarity" in that the rare item is fabulously expensive has to go. The game CANNOT run on in-game currency, in game currency has to be a tool to use for casual purchases, but not a speculation target or commodity needed in huge amounts to play the game effectively.

Mechanics like incremental upgrades, and soul bound drops that you collect to craft better items for yourself (Or for someone who also collected the items, someone in your guild / faction / at the least not hostile to you.) where at best, you collect a small tip on the transaction will have to be the future. (This mechanic fits with Gevlon's concept, and would be fine in PvP oriented games.)

It has been clearly demonstrated (To me, at least.) that you cannot fight illicit gold selling by selling it yourself. You have to make gold a casual tool, not the great funginator of your economy.

The core flaw in making gold the king is that MMO economies are nothing like "real" economies. There is little or no "rent", "storage fees", or the constant overhead that drives a real world business to constantly manage their cash flow or die. There is literally nothing (Or very little) stopping you from hoarding gold or the materials of commerce.

Yes, I realize that this is a "gold making blog", and I too profess a certain glee for making the piles of pixel gold, but we're almost full circle now... and it is not a sustainable circle.

But... there is an 800 pound gorilla in the room. Profit. Selling gold and limited power items directly to your customers WORKS, it brings in the profits. The big shift will happen when people are tired enough of the down sides to that and just want to play the damn game to quit the big titles. But then, the human race isn't exactly an enlightened species... the profits may rule the genre forever.

Anonymous said...

agree with Smoker

So what do you know - the profit motive does not lead to desirable outcomes after all (have you renounced Ayn Rand yet?). On a serious note, now you can't even make the argument that sure, we don't get the games we want, but the great masses of customers and the companies get what they want - buying power now/lots of profits now. Not on a long term though - everyone loses on the long term: game experiences are shallow and unsustainable, the companies see a one time boost in sales then a declining slope (now even in EVE), games become worse by the year. It's a corporate failed marshmallow test / prisoner dilemma of one / perverse incentive trap.

The only solution has to come from growing maturity. P2W is the ultimate Bartle poor-feature (short term good long term bad). I'm certainly there - I won't touch another p2w title for sure. But now I also start to think having an in game economy (that matters) may also be STGLTB, or at least unsustainable in the current age. People respond to incentives, and if gold is meaningful to the game experience, the pressure to cheat becomes enormous, as is the pressure on the suits to monetize.

Steel H. said...

... con't

In fact, have you considered that trading/making gold in an mmo is actually another boss-dance-in-a-progression-raiding-mmo / pushups-at-a-math-competition design feature? Who actually cares/likes the actual process of making a ton of pixel gold in the game via trading? Only a few freaks. That's why "trading is OP in every game". Nobody likes it or can be bothered to do it. I certainly don't play MMOs to play excel/accounting online - I play to slay the dragons, experience the synergy of a well tuned group, pwn miners, whatever. When I'm at the marked UI, I just want to get in, get just what I need to do the stuff I want and get out, as quickly as possible. I will gladly undercut or buy from sell orders if it means getting the hell out of there and back to the world. And so are the majority of players. That's why cheating is so rampant and the pressure is so great.

A vanilla wow example: what type of gameplay was more fu... I mean memorable and engaging: grinding 900g to get the epic mount, or the warlock felsteed questline? Is anybody making a video about the awesome legacy of grinding 900g (or making it quickly as an AH wizard?)

Gevlon said...

@Smokeman, anon: BDO does that NPC-fixed economy to little effect. It helps fighting goldselling, but it doesn't help with the "best way of playing is not playing" problem.

Replacing currency with items doesn't help, as it was seen in Diablo II, where rare rings were used as de facto currency.

Trading is NOT needed for P2W, see World of Tanks gold ammo. These are separate issues. The game company can remove the inter-player trading while still selling power. The only rule they must keep is not selling outcomes but advantage (you can't buy tank kills in the shop, just gold ammo that makes it easier to kill)

@Steel H: making trading guild-limited would solve the market wizz problem WITHOUT removing the market enthusiasm: one can still trade all he wants, but he can only do it at the expense/for the benefit of guildmates.

Making my first 5K gold had some big memories because it was brand new. Trading is fun for those who like thinking. But in a game, it must be within rules instead of going all wild west, because that's the point of gaming: to play within rules (see also: boxing vs street brawling)

luobote kong said...

"... the future big MMO..." There won't be one. Technology (tablets, smartphones), new entertainment platforms (Netflix etc), the business modules investors insist on alongside falling wages means the days of the grand MMO are over. It's a legacy industry supplanted by the modern world and only relevant for old time players. I think this is fundamentally the issue you are rubbing up against.

dobablo said...

Money-making is a valid form of gameplay on its own. Many uber-rich players have no plans to spend their wealth. Why accumulate something that they aren't going to use unless building up their bank balance is the game. I'd like for my WoW bank mule to have 1m gold. The most trivial method would be to spend $100 on tokens but that defeats the entire purpose of the game. It would be like those kids in the 80s, boasting about how they completed Mario because they got the cheat code from a premium rate phone line.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure whether your way would be better or worse, but my guess is it will be at most rare.

I think MMOs, but especially large/AAA MMOs, are in decline. Thus, less opportunity for innovation. Since the growth is in MOBA/FPS/WoT and co-op things like destiny, I see MMOs appealing more to "traditional" MMO players. I may be an outlier but guild only trading seems too "out there" for me. Besides, remember the Tobold post that speculates the word that most follows "guild" is "drama?" Guild-only seems exploitable (join the Goonswarm guild?). If I care about economics, I don't want the added burden of guild issues involved. IMO, straight p2w sales like WoT or traditional MMOs are the future.

Smokeman said...

"Replacing currency with items doesn't help, as it was seen in Diablo II, where rare rings were used as de facto currency."

Anything that's fungible and holds value can be a "currency". That happens everywhere the more desired currency (actual currency) isn't available. In prison, it's cheap cigarettes that are the currency.(good cigs are for smokin', apparently.)

Rare rings that are tradable are begging to be used as an alternate currency. The problem is that the rings just appear as loot, but are rare. If they were, instead, constructed from non rare, but a time sink to get parts that could not be traded, then assembled as a ring that is soulbound, the rings would still exist in the game in essentially the same quantity, but not available to use as a currency. (Holy run-on sentence, Batman!)

And that's another point... you should NOT NEED currency to the point that you're replacing the controlled currency with rare but fungible items. So many fails right there. If your choice is "I could wear this GREAT RING, or use it as currency for a better item later" then the devs have already failed. What was the point of the rare ring?

So many of the concepts that are current dogmas need to go before these issue even start to be addressed. And the "OMG! Slot Machine super rare loot!" is one of the first. But... will people play a game that doesn't deliver the endorphin shot from the "OMG! Slot Machine super rare loot!" mechanic? I think they will if it fixes the other issues. Especially after they experience the "super rare loot" as a routine result, like it currently is in WoW.

Smokeman said...

That's true only if the game currency was otherwise undesirable to black market forces. Then "hoarding gold" becomes like "collecting mounts." There are lots of people that collect mounts... but no one gets their account hacked / etc. for their sweet, super valuable mount collection.

Mounts are simply not fungible. Even Battle Pets aren't tradable if they're the rare or collectible types.

I guess my axiom then would be "Money in MMOS should be for repairs and buff food. Anything of value must be earned with effort." Of course, people will still cheat by paying others to play the game for them, but even that is minimized with incremental upgrades.

Anonymous said...

Interesting, Elder Scroll online already has guild only trading in place.