Sunday, October 14, 2007

Gold Farming II: Money sinks and inflation

Last time, I ended with a cliffhanger. Buying and selling WoW gold is a bannable offense, but why? Sure, there are purists who argue that it's a bit like steroids; spending gold that you didn't swing your own sword (or mace, or axe, or staff, if you happen to be a melee mage) to earn takes away from the game experience. There are legal beagles who point out that World of Warcraft®, a Medieval-Themed Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (hereinafter "WoW") is the intellectual property of Blizzard Entertainment, Inc., LLC, LP, Ltd. (hereinafter "Blizz") and thus all components of WoW are the property of Blizz. In simpler terms, the farmers don't "own" the gold they're selling any more than they "own" the coding that allowed them to farm it in the first place.

But the real reason why gold farming is bad is much simpler. It'll eventually ruin the game.

And not in the purists' sense of the word either. I mean it'll literally make the game unfun, unfeasible, even unplayable. Even more so than Warlocks.

Let's take a gander at the in-game economy model. The two most basic methods of creating wealth in WoW are grinding and questing. If you kill a mob and it drops 16 Silver, 38 Copper, that money is "created" on the spot and added to your inventory. If you hand in a quest and are rewarded 11 Gold, that money is likewise created out of Netherweave--er, whole cloth. Then, if that mob happened to drop [Platemail Bracers of the Whale], and the quest reward was [Two-Handed Sword of Spirit], and you realize both items are crap and you ditch them at the vendor, that gold also didn't exist before and appears in your backpack. (For many players, the Auction House provides much more income than grinding or questing, but since that gold is merely going from one player to another, it doesn't introduce new money to the economy.)

Now, take into account the sheer number of players who are grinding and questing at any one time, and try to contemplate just how much gold is created on any given server on any given day. What you should realize quickly (unless your Intellect is unbuffed), is that with all this gold being created daily, and with most players' equipment either being bought off the AH or looted from a dead instance boss, the economy soon bloats.

And it would, were it not for Blizz's use of money sinks. That term refers to any means by which money is removed from the game environment, and they're everywhere. Vendors are the most obvious money sink, and we buy from them a lot more often than we realize. 50 silver for a Rune Thread, 6 gold for a tailoring pattern, 2 gold for a handful of Imbued Vials, 3 gold for a stack of Purified Draenic Water--it all adds up, even if we aren't conscious of it. If you're as bad at the instances as I am, then any given run results in a 15-gold repair bill. And if you're tempted to splurge on a vanity pet or what have you, then kiss a few more gold pieces goodbye. Training new skills (and re-speccing) also can lighten your purse; at Level 70 expect to pay 10 gold per new ability. Even listing items on the Auction House is fraught with hidden tariffs--the deposit cost and the 5% Auction House cut.

But by a big margin, the most daunting money sink that every player eventually encounters is the mount. At level 40, the price tag is a (comparitively) modest 90 gold. By level 60, when 90 gold seems, if not a trivial amount, then at least a realistic goal, the epic mount will set you back 630 gold. Once you've reached the pinnacle of your WoW-ness at Level 70, your normal flying mount costs a cool grand, while the awe-inspiring epic flier commands an equally stunning price: 5,200 gold.

As ludicrous as the price structure may seem, most players do eventually attain at least one or two of the mounts, thereby removing a decent chunk of change from the gamescape.

But why is that so important? Why can't players just amass thousands upon thousands of gold pieces and swim in them, sleep on them, very painfully make love to them? Quite simply, because it would cause hyperinflation. (And possibly a urinary tract infection; God only knows what else Taurens do with their gold pieces.)

The current system of money sinks is adequate for a normal economy whereby players still making their way towards Level 70 earn a substantial amount of gold, while players at the level cap abandon grinding in favor of raiding (which trades income for drool-worthy epics). An endgame player wouldn't spend his time grinding in the Elemental Plateau; he wouldn't have any need to. He would rather be blasting his way through Karazhan and stomping upon Serpentshrine Cavern.

Ah, but then what's the problem? Why is this well-designed economy still potentially headed for disaster? I know, and maybe you already do as well, but if you don't, you'll have to wait till the next blog... /dance

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