The previous post in the series went over a high level view of economies and focused primarily on the taps (system generated wealth), the transfer of wealth and the patterns/tools that enable both. This post will focus on the other end of the equation, spending. This is accomplished in a few methods, but systematically through sinks and drains.
Down the drain
A system drain is one that is pervasive to all players. It’s always there, always active. Very few games have effective drains as it’s a continual upkeep. F2P games have drains, where there’s an energy cost to perform an action. Repairs are sort of a drain but if you avoid combat, it doesn’t matter. EvE’s clone system is a drain but if you never die…
Sinks are targeted for activities that remove wealth from the system. Auction house fees are the most obvious example and the easiest to measure. Repairs, housing upkeep, crafting, travel fees, NPC purchases (like training and mounts) are all sinks. There’s a baseline sink, based on assumed wealth at a given time. This is strategic planning, where you decide if you want the sink to be an inhibitor to progress or simply an afterthought.
WoW is a solid example, given it’s age. In Vanilla, mounts were available much later in the leveling curve and unless you were penny pinching, odds are you couldn’t afford one at level. When you saw someone with a mount, it was prestigious. As the game progressed, and the monetary barrier went away, everyone had a mount. Eventually Blizzard reduced not only the level requirement but it made the cost a fraction of what it was. A sink of 100g for 7 million players to a sink of 10g, is an order of magnitude. Prestigious mounts in WoW today are acquired through achievements and boss kills, rather than outright cost – with a few minor exceptions.
Auction house sinks are the most common and related to real life. A vibrant AH community will flush out millions of gold per day. There’s a catch here, where an AH has or does not have a posting fee that is non-refundable. In the latter case, the AH actually acts like a bank and misses out on a massive sink. It doesn’t have to be a large posting fee. RIFT at launch didn’t think this part through and their non-refundable fee was much too high and it prevented a market from opening. It should be large enough to pull money out of the system but small enough that commodity sales are not negatively affected.
EQ1 didn’t have an AH for a long time. It suffered from massive inflation, where an item would increase in platinum price on a near hourly basis. The Bazaar came in, and while it wasn’t ideal, it drastically reduced inflation and made the game much more accessible to new characters. AH design, or wealth transfer, is the heart and soul of an MMO economy. The better thought out the toolset, the more responsive and intuitive, the easier it is to control the economy. I’ll get into this in another post.
Item loss is a great money sink. Outside of UO and a few smaller sandbox games (SWG of a sort), the real prodigy here is EvE. Darkfall, for all Syncaine’s rumblings, does not get the concept of an MMO economy. Items in EvE take time and money – sometimes lots of both. A Titan will take months to build and to buy. Losing it has a massive value, emotionally as well. But the smaller crafts, they have value too. And because EvE has a net-loss system for PvP (where you always get less than what’s available at the start), there’s a constant drain on all resources. In most MMOs, the Uber Sword of Awesome only gets replaced when you find the Awesome Sword of Uber with better stats. It then makes all the previous content obsolete and useless to the economy. If there’s always a chance at item loss (which is an entirely separate discussion) there is much more trade, and therefore more drain on the economy.
If you build it, they will charge you
Housing and player customization is my absolute favorite money sink. It is 100% optional and can have some crazy fees attached to it. Prestige/comfort/individuality are traits that align very well with people who have a lot of wealth in the first place. A person doesn’t buy a 100,000g mount for practical purposes, they buy it to show off. Same with a house and costumes. Where player customization has a one-time cost, per item, item acquisition is constant. Housing also has a bunch of one time fees (smartly they should be upgrade costs on the domicile, instead of entire new plots of land). It also should include an upkeep cost, comparative to the value of the house. A shack should cost X, a cottage filled with items Y and a castle with butlers Z. If you can afford the upgrade, you can afford the upkeep.
Sinks and drains are designed to keep inflation in check. They are there to systematically remove money and counteract the system taps. When there is a lack of balance between the two, money starts to lose all worth for older players. It does however make new players start at a massive disadvantage. If the average player is sitting on 10,000g and a new player can only acquire 1g per day, that’s a pretty big hill to climb.
Few games launch today with adequate understanding of MMO economies. Many look to WoW and try to copy today’s implementation, which has gone through 9 years of refinement and inflation. WoW today is not a good example of an economy. It will take some smart people to fix that gap.