MMO Economies in 3 Easy Steps

I have an unhealthy passion for numbers. Spreadsheets everywhere. This covers my gaming habits – at least the more complex ones. I map out strategies for Starcraft, scribble trading notes from a small town and run giant spreadsheets for MMO gold making.

The next series of posts will focus on MMO economies and covers the inputs, outputs and systematic requirements for balance. It will focus primarily on PvE, since there are very few PvP games to use as examples outside of EvE.

Let’s get started.

Economics has two major fields: macroeconomics, the study of systems as a whole and microeconomics, the study of individual markets. Few people get either of them but most understand the basics.  Interesting fact – if you’ve ever written a personal budget, you’re in the top 10% in terms of financial management.

Open That Tap

At a macro level, MMO economies function on a tap/sink model. The tap is how much money the system generates and the sink is how much it takes back. Most taps seem small at first but due to scaling factors, pump in tons of money.

Let’s take a 1 hour play session as an example. You complete a few daily quests for 25g each, collect some materials for 2g each, kill some enemies who drop 1g each. In an hour, without actually trying, you’ve made nearly 500g. This is what I call easy money in that everyone has access to it with zero skill required. It’s also a constant flow, so that the available money in a system (the total across all players) is continually increasing. WoW, growing at 500g per hour, generates about 300,000,000g per hour across all characters.

I Can Eat Air

Still in a macro view but now focused on wealth for the playerbase, the large majority of money is found on only a few players. This is due to a very low standard of living cost. For a typical player to consume the game, there are some minor hurdles – typically reserved for travel and repairs. This is a true pittance, somewhere around 20g per hour, in bad cases. They don’t actively need more money so they don’t think about getting more. That’s where the moneymakers come in – people who make money just to make money.

On a good day in WoW, I could make 50,000g from the auction house – one day it was 300,000. I made 10,000g per day from Rift and more Astral Diamonds in Neverwinter than I knew what to do with. People that didn’t need/want the money, didn’t pay attention to markets and I made a killing.

Buy Low, Sell High

Macro view once more and this one deals with patterns. Did you know Tuesdays are the highest profit day in an MMO? That Saturday nights are the best time to buy? It has to do with player logons and priorities. Weeknights have less people who have less time. They are more focused on getting things done, like raiding. Weekends have tons of people and the market is flooded. People just post items, dropping the price by a penny each time. I did this in Diablo3 to test a theory on gems. Started with 100k and at the end of the month had about 150,000,000. Expansions are good too, where people are leveling up new characters. Farming low level materials for a few weeks before, then selling them at a huge markup makes a lot of money.


Crafting is more micro-economics, in that you move wealth from one person to another on the basis of time and it’s highly volatile and specific.  “I don’t have time to make this, I’ll buy it”.  The “ore shuffle” dance being the exception, no system generates more (a tap) from crafting.  If items are not consumable/destructible, then the market gets flooded and the floor drops.  Glyphs in WoW are a perfect example.  In LK, they were consumed upon use, then in Cataclysm you only ever needed one.  PvP games are much better at this type of market.  The recent battle in EvE had a $300,000 opportunity cost and people will want to replace what was lost.  There’s a real market here as there’s a real cost of living expense.

To Sum

In all games, there are system taps that put money into player’s pockets.  Some systems make it easier than others.  Given a general low cost of living, most people don’t even think twice about economies.  Games that do however, be it with large sinks, PvP costs, housing maintenance (all in the next post of the series) make players much more conscious about the economy.  Finding the proper balance between both is key.

4 thoughts on “MMO Economies in 3 Easy Steps

  1. 20g an hour? O.o I suppose raiding isn’t technically an average user, but I’m currently running through about 100g an hour on repairs alone. Add in flasks, food, gems, enchants, etc. and you’re looking at closer to 500g/hour.

    I guess if all you’re doing is the Isle of Perpetual Repair Bills, er, Timeless Isle, pet battles, or questing that seems pretty reasonable though.


    • I think MMO Champ had an armory survey on the % of people who completed SoO. LFR was ~60% (no consumables, death is nothing), Flex was ~30%, Normal was 20% (an uptick, granted) and then 5% for Heroic, where the costs are much higher.

      That said, if you’re out of pocket 500g/hour, odds are you make more than 500g/hour through other means. It would be an interesting question to see how much “wealth growth” players experience.


  2. Pingback: MMO Economies – Sinks & Drains | Leo's Life

  3. Pingback: MMO Economies – Finding Balance | Leo's Life

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