How MMO Economies Work
MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, RuneScape 3, or ArcheAge Unchained have rich and fantastical worlds that you can get lost for hours in. However, despite featuring dragons and spells and medieval armor, they still have a lot in common with the real world. Economics is a fundamental element of any MMO, and creating a robust economic system is more difficult than it first appears. So how do they do it? How do MMO economies work?
The Hyperinflation Problem
In MMOs, players are always printing new money. In most MMOs, if you kill a monster, it will drop money or loot that can be sold for money. When thinking about a game with many thousands of players who are killing monsters every day, this can be a real problem. If this goes on for long enough, the in-game currency will eventually become worthless. This is bad for everyone. New players will feel discouraged from joining a game where you need millions of gold to buy basic items. Returning players will become back to find their gold is now worthless. Players with lots of extra gold will struggle to sell WoW Classic gold on platforms like Eldorado because the currency is no longer worth what it used to be.
One way to combat hyperinflation is with currency sinks. These are mechanics that periodically take money out of the game. For example, in World of Warcraft, there are auction house fees, gear repair fees, and more. Other games have property tax or take money by creating valuable items that can only be bought from a vendor. Some designers will create a dependence on consumable items and make these consumable items a core feature of gameplay. This can be a great strategy because if the in-game currency starts to inflate too rapidly, they can simply introduce a new consumable item like a potion. If players are already accustomed to using potions to get ahead, then they will be happy to switch to this new consumable and money can be taken out of the economy.
There are lots of examples of currency sinks in MMOs and if you've ever played an MMO, then you've certainly come across one. Ever had to pay a flight master? What about paying for fast travel? Or unlocking bank slots? Have you ever paid gold to send mail in a game? If you answered yes to any of these, then you've had your currency deleted from the game for the sole purpose of controlling inflation.
Currency sinks help, but they aren't perfect. If game designers try to take as much money out of the system as is created, then players will feel like they are only grinding just to pay taxes. No gamer finds that fun! A system too equally balanced might eliminate inflation but it will also lose lots of players.
Another way to combat this is with reserve currencies. This is typically done by tying the in-game currency to a currency that has real-world value (a currency that can be traded for real money). EVE Online did this with their Plex currency.
This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of EconoTimes