Monday, May 30, 2011

On the tax payers of virtual economies

I promised myself that I'd stop posting comments on Spinks' blog, as they tend to be too long and dominate the comment scroll. I also don't get a lot of follow-up conversation, honestly, so I'm really wasting everyone's time.

Oh well. Here we went again [sic]. Figured this was interesting enough (to me) to capture here too. This is from Spink's "Enchanting and the gear tax"post.

Or in other words, enchanting is an artificial way to stimulate demand in game.

Two long points.

The in-house Ultima Online researcher (years ago) had a great presentation on the way UO initially wanted to simulate a closed economy. Turns out a market flooded with n00b leather caps and sandals doesn't work so well.

The economic paradigm in UO quickly changed from a closed economy to a "faucet and drain" model. You pump gold in, and you provide drains to pull it back out. It's all subsidies and taxes.

Here, you take the players invested in farming mats (faucets) and crafting (small drain with recipes) who create useful enchants (money magnets/tax collectors) and then you hook larger drains up to these harder-core players -- repairs, guild rewards, mounts, etc.

It's not just demand that's stimulated with enchantments. It's a specific implementation of the faucet/drain system, one that involves setting up a system of tax collectors.

Am I really the only person who would prefer to be able to just grab a cool drop and be ready to go without being asked to do all the legwork for an extra minor bonus? It’s funny, once I used to find these extra complexities so cool. I think that I’m over it now, or at least I’ve done it over again in enough games that I’d rather just cut to the chase.

Second point -- you have to striate the market to maximize its appeal. This is the same as with difficult games and game guides. Who would finish all of Metal Gear Solid without a little help? Same with many quests in MMORPGs. Casual players can read guides. Minigame players and completists can take the time to learn professions. Harder-core players can challenge themselves and prepare for Heroic dungeons (and I can't believe how much time I've wasted researching and then gearing up, and I'm not that hard core).

As my third foray into Heroics showed me very quickly, many don't bother with gems, enchants, etc. It's a way of striating your customer base. You have to provide avenues for multiple playstyles to enjoy your content, whether they're completists, or (and I can't find the reference, which is killing me), folks (apparently young girls in the article I can't find) who would rather drive around Liberty City for fun rather than maim and rob. These are all games within games ["within games," Frank Herbert added, "You have to say it three times to achieve full effect."]. It's not that there's no right way to play. There are many right ways to play.

Very little is more fascinating than "virtual" economies -- of gold, of goods, of bits, and, most importantly, of dollars and time.

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