Greedy Goblin

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

PvP and market economy are mutually exclusive

Considering that "free trade makes peace" is a central pro-capitalist theory, I'm surprised that I didn't realize its implication to video games: in order to have a PvP game, you must make it impossible for the parties to trade. This is the reason why Black Desert Online conquests are irrelevant and why EVE wars only happen because of grudges and philosophy.

The reason is simple and the same as in real world: why should I conquer someone's land to farm it myself, when I can just let him farm and trade the resources?! In EVE I had all the deadspace modules without ever putting my feet to a deadspace complex myself. I never felt the need to live in nullsec, WH space or lowsec, because I could easily buy everything they could offer from the money I made trading. Same thing killed Albion Online: it already lost 3/4 of it's online activity since server wipe, despite the corruption I've found have not manifested yet (it waits for the official launch for RMT). People didn't go to fight the Black Zones, since they could get everything from the Fort Sterling AH.

What can a game designer do make PvP happen, besides making everything soulbound and untradeable? It's not important for MOBAs and FPS games, but an MMO without economy doesn't feel like a living World. One thing they can do is going full PvE, making the monsters the enemy, so players can trade. But this is theoretical, there isn't a single PvE-war MMO, where the monster faction is driven by an AI to win. In the existing PvE games they just stand idly waiting to be slain and wouldn't win even if no player would ever log in. It's a good question why such game doesn't exist, but it's out of the scope of this post.

The solution is guild-bounding. When an item is gathered, crafted, looted from mobs or purchased from the item shop, it becomes bound to a guild. You can trade it with guildmates, but not with people outside of the guild. So the only way for a guild to get a resource controlled by other guild is war. To prevent trading (or stealing) by moving members, the player can't carry his items with him if he leaves the guild. As they are guildbound, they get destroyed when one is no longer is in the guild, just like when you run from your homeland, you do it with the clothes on you, you can't carry your home with you. Sure, proper kick-protection systems are needed to prevent griefing (like a member can only be kicked by a 2/3 vote of the guildmembers, not by the guild master).

The system can be further softened by allowing players to set themselves "soulbound": everything they gather, loot or purchase from the shop becomes soulbound and they can't trade with anybody, but can carry with them upon gquit. Items crafted from soulbound materials become soublound, crafted from guildbound items become guildbound.

I understand that not many devs would go in a way where gquit means losing all your assets, but you just can't beat economics! If you want real PvP (not "loser also gets reward" fake PvP farm like WoW) in your MMO, you must either do as I've suggested above, or do what the FPS/MOBA games do and have no economy at all. Not even the BDO limiting is enough, that just prevents RMT. The "problem" is fair and free trade itself, as it's incompatible with war.

This is probably the reason why I have a "bad feeling" about Archeage. I couldn't explain why but I was always approaching this game that "this can't work, I just need to figure out how". I know now that as you can trade gear and resources freely on the unified, always available, magic-transporting AH, there is no need to fight. I'm sure now that there won't be a project in Archeage, but it can still be a guide like in BDO, another evidence that trading and industry makes anyone rich.


Destabilizator said...

Back when I played ArcheAge (stopped with the Rumbling Tree fiasco in cash-shop and sieges promised-but-nowhere-in-sight), the idea was that you can easily buy "average" tier gear, higher tier being much more expensive, but the gains not that big.

And money source was supposed to be from farming and turning in the full ships of Trade Packs on pirate island - which is where the fights were supposed to happen, either on the sea stealing their loaded ships and turning in themselves or at the island itself.

By killing someone in the world you get jackshit and if they kill you, you get a tele to your home continent...

Soge said...

Ragnarok Online has an interesting solution to this problem: Extreme scarcity of high end gear through randomization. Not to go into too much detail, but the absolute best gear of the game, with abilities that are pretty much game breaking, will take a dedicated and coordinated guild between 6 months to 1 year, in order to collect a single piece, all the while being in direct competition with everybody else on the server. Of course, people can simply walk out, or sell such items for obscene amounts of gold. However, all meaningful content is group based, so it creates an interesting dynamic where a player might make a killing grabbing and running with a resource the guild worked hard to acquire, only to see themselves not trusted by everyone else on the server. Additionally, characters take a really long time to get leveled up (again on the order of months), so just hopping to an alt is a really involved process.

Anonymous said...

It need not be trade restrictions. Any exclusive content can drive conflict (although the idea of making content exclusive for a tiny fraction of your player-base might be a tough sell to the management). For example, I have played games where siege winners had exclusive access to support NPCs and dungeons.

Gevlon said...

@Soge: randomization is crying for rigging, since you have no way to check if the RNG is actually RNG. And unlike in casinos, rigging it isn't a crime. See also, T2 BPO lottery and T20 scandal. Also: WoT matchmaking.

@Dobablo: the content isn't exclusive if you can just trade it away for in-game currency. Especially if you can trade that (via shop or RMT) for money. C4-6 wormholes in EVE are pretty exclusive and yet every Tom, Dick and Harriett has a Tengu.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't a real scarcity of resources elicit pvp? Truly localized resources in full PvP area and you couldn't get them except in few different such places around world. If the amount of the high tier resources would be tuned lower and lower wouldn't it at some point cause PvP as control of them would be more logical than just trading for them?

Cathfaern said...

@Soge + Gevlon:
You can solve the same problem without random: you don't have to kill 10.000.000 mob to get 1 piece, you get one after every mob. But you need 10.000.000 piece to craft that gear.

Slawomir Chmielewski said...

A market economy is mutually exclusive with any game.
Free trade inevitably makes trading the most profitable activity in the game. What's the point fighting for resources when some Gevlon can do as much in an hour in Jita?

Gevlon said...

@Anon: no. Sure someone would control the rare resource, but others would simply buy it from them instead of trying to PvP. Remember OTEC in EVE!

@Cathfaern: true, but still does not contribute to PvP. Players would farm the pieces and the richest man would buy the 10M pieces and have the first item.

@Slawomir: no, trading is most profitable because there are only few traders. If the game isn't advertised to PvPers, but as a trading game, there would be much more competition.

Anonymous said...

PvP means one side wins something, other side loses something.

Soon as things go a bit extreme, problems occur. Example if you loose everything, while it is a good mechanic in game, it could be awful for a player, who could literally could fall back to start. Thats why its not implemented on open world systems, because player can easily lose months of progress and quit game on frustation. To counter that problem, wealth and currency is implemented. Even if you lose on PVP, you got a backup as wealth and can play along. Currency can be a rank too, like in LoL, where you expect to loose sooner or later and single defeat or victory has only weak influence of the game "currency" called rank.

Generally, wealth is good for poor, because it gives a simple way to replace loss. What is bad, that wealthy players cant lose anything. Good traders have such big income, that they can literally troll and abuse without a fear of losing anything. In extreme cases, abusing players who buy specific gear what you have monopoly on, is a way to get rich. All the unethical ways to get wealth, slowly force average players to be slaves in game. Problem is not that average players are slackers, but that its very hard or impossible to lose wealth.

There is harsh way to counter. Bounding wealth to player or to guild is probably needed, because without it, holding wealth on alts makes wealthy players immune to loss again. Other thing what i propose, is to make defeat dependent on wealth. I have to ask Gevlon, how many games you know where on PvP defeat makes you lose 5-20% of everything?

Randomus271 said...

Even without trade - if items are dropped in PvP RMTers can (and have) abuse such a system to simply sell the high-end gear and do all of their trading via letting the buyer kill them...And of course if you don't drop items in PvP then PvP reverts to pointlessness as you'd be much better off farming to get that equipment you can't buy from anyone else...

Why not instead of removing trade entirely simply remove *free* or *safe* trade?

By this I mean allow trading with anyone you want - but don't have a safe, secure, centralized exchange zone available to do it in. Make people physically travel to and interact with the person they want to trade with?

Alternatively - what if, instead of even that, you made people establish banks and trading outposts...but DIDN'T MAKE THEM INVULNERABLE.

This would simulate the real world - where banks and stores are vulnerable to criminals...But of course in video games there is much less stigma attached to being a "criminal" - and typically far less consequences as well - so people would be certain to partake in this violent content. This would of course lead to trading guilds forming, hiring guards/security, etc... - but they would constantly be opposed by gangs of bandits trying to rob them, and while they would likely be able to secure at least a few major trading hubs their couriers would likely suffer losses moving between them at the very least.

My point being that while completely free and safe trade may well be utterly incompatible with meaningful PvP - trade in general isn't. It just can't be safe/free. There are lots of other alternatives.

Anonymous said...

there is no real way.
In the end they will make a thread, talk out a treaty and split resources.
Aion 1.5 balaur heart items from abyss core for fenris/miragent set craft. Back then after release _the_ OP entry set everyone wanted. the alphas of both faction had very fast split the tiny grind spot in half and a non agression agrement killing of competition from the other faction and leave each other alone. to farm in peace. Also they rotated Main Forts between each other to get deced in PVP Coins needed for the pvp endgame stuff. after a very few months they where deced out and preaty much unbeatable.
I don't see how you can ever prevent this, besides changing EULAs to rediculous terms for banning such play. It is very hard to enforce pvp engagment.

In the end it's people they will exploit and abuse what ever system. you guild bound idea will be abused too.

Smokeman said...

PvP and a lot of things are mutually exclusive. That's why they have MOBAs.

Gevlon said...

@Randomus271: there is a way to make PvP meaningful without loot drops: loot destruction. If you kill the enemy, he loses gear, you don't gain it.

Randomus271 said...

@Gevlon: True - However that kind of conflict only appeals to a very limited section of players (specifically the traditionally labeled "Griefer" class). The rational player (admittedly rare) in such a game will not willingly participate in such combat - as there is no *reward* for success - only a penalty for failure.

Now, if the entire world consists entirely of PvP of course even the rational player will have no choice but to participate in the risks of combat...but without at least some safe zones people can hide in the game is unlikely to gather much of a player-base since new players will simply be camped to oblivion.

Anonymous said...


That would just turn all PVP into greifing since you gain nothing from killing players (unless you are at war then you are removing their resources).

In current games you can always justify killing noobs or nakeds because they might be trying to RMT or covertly transport a rare item. It would also remove even more risk taking behavior, because why would I enguage a guy with much better gear than me since I know I wont be able to get any of it even if I do win?

Gevlon said...

The "kill and not loot" is the system of World of Tanks, all FPS games and chess. You kill the enemy to win the match (war).

Randomus271 said...

True, that system works very well in instanced games such as those, with no persistent world to be affected and no "meaning" to the combat beyond competition and climbing in rank.

It just has issues when you try to bridge it across as the driving force in a game that has a persistent world of any kind beyond those instanced encounters.

Anonymous said...


Thats true but in those games it is a 1 on 1 your team vs the enemy team and the only 'goal' is to reach the objective (normally destroy all their pieces/players). You win the match and everything resets, nothing is persistent.

Its completely different than an MMO where you can infinitely replenish resources, their are third parties you can kill or be killed by who are not specifically the enemy, politics that can turn allies into enemies, and more.

Adam said...

I played a lot of AA when it originally launched, and did a lot of pvp. We were trade pack raiders. One of my favorite strategies was to sit in the port of Austera waiting for the reds, (the other faction), to bring in their packs that they needed to turn in for a quest. They were low level but they'd usually be escorted by high level players. We got a lot of packs that way and packs equaled in-game wealth.

We also cruised the sea in our clippers a lot, and intercepted enemy boats running packs. We had some huge sea battles. If we managed to score a trade ship then we would be literally rolling in it.

I haven't played for a long time but this was the best combination of pvp and economy that I have ever seen in an MMO. I left when they upped the level cap from 50 to 55 which killed the ocean pvp dead as everyone went back to grinding levels.

Gevlon said...

@Randomus271: both LoL and WoT has persistence, you gain XP, credits, ranking for winning. If an EVE battle would be on an instanced server, would it be different?

Unknown said...

Barring a strong PvP culture (what you describe as the driver behind EVE PvP), the end-state of a game where you have free trade in direct competition with PvP (or PvE) gameplay is that of Diablo 3 prior to the expansion. "Playing the AH" gave better returns than farming gear, therefore the optimal strategy was to maximize time spent on AH and minimize time spent killing demons. Literally the only winning move was not to play. This was when your options were AH or riskless PvE grinding. How do you imagine the added risk of PvP will affect the incentive structure?

From a rational standpoint (ignoring any utility you may get from kicking over another person's sand castle, just focusing on increasing numbers as fast and high as possible) all you will ever want to do is trade/invest.

Anonymous said...

devs will be devs: