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Elder Scrolls Online Column: Examining the Economy in ESO

By Christina Gonzalez on February 26, 2014

The Elder Scrolls Online will not launch with a feature that some MMORPG players almost take for granted now  - an auction house. Instead, ESO will feature a system where individuals are on their own, as well as an economy intricately tied into the game’s guild system. This way of handling the player economy has multiple implications for ESO’s features and seems intended to encourage players to actually talk to one another in some ways. Will it be a success?

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In most other modern games, you can go browse for an item you want, and in a few clicks, have it in your inventory or delivered to a box for pickup. There’s no middleman. The gold sink of an auction house or trade system takes a cut, money disappears out of the economy, and both buyer and seller walk away with their gains. In ESO, things work differently. There’s no centralized location for simple trading. Players will be able to join up to five guilds per account and guilds can maintain a guild store for their members. There will be an item limit in guild stores, but this will be the closest to a standard auction house you get, and it will be there for you to buy what you want. What ultimately winds up in the guild store will probably be an assortment of basics, and probably a smattering of the best equipment member crafters can produce.

Yet, if a guild takes and holds a keep in Cyrodiil, then things get really interesting. A guild can then run a shop open to those outside their membership ranks as long as their control lasts. With several keeps available and some more strategically placed for shops than others, expect things to remain contested. That also raises the distinct possibility that a shop you want to buy from might not be there tomorrow. Or in an hour from now. This element of instability also affects this system, and it seems to work at doing several things. It creates a sense of scarcity, it encourages guilds to diversify their membership (having all your guildies be located in the same time zone as you might not bear well for holding a keep), and it encourages players to enter Cyrodiil.

Naturally, all of these arms (imagine an octopus as the embodiment of the economy if it’s an easy visual) touch upon different features and situations to be addressed. Many players are used to not having much interaction with one another these days, which baffles a lot of MMO veterans, but these systems do and have saved players a lot of time. Yet Zenimax wants people to interact with one another in order to trade. Whether that’s within a guild or maybe to fight to keep a specific guild in your faction in charge of a keep. By not having one central hub for all, it also actively encourages exploration and gathering raw materials, and by extension, incentivizes crafting. But for those that don’t wish to devote the time and gold into crafting items themselves, it’s still a timesaver to trade, but we might not see everyone undercutting one another until prices fall across the board as they’d be if it were an automated system. Negotiating costs seems realistic, as do custom orders. Crafting specific guilds might arise, and with the ability to join a few guilds, there could be some specialization going on too.

Gold seller spam and auction botting should be reduced here since the system relies upon humans behind their screens to make it all work.

Naturally, there are some possible downsides to the whole thing. Guild membership has been capped at 500 per guild, meaning that if a guild has wonderful items, you might still not find a spot in that guild. The guild cap works as both positive and negative here, as it prevents one guild from becoming a huge, server-dominating swarm, but it can limit item supply on the whole. Guilds are not (yet?) cross-faction, so there could be an imbalance in item supply and quality there too. Players who pick up the game later rather than earlier might be shut out of the top guilds, especially if they get to cherry pick their members and want say, the most skilled of the skilled in crafting. And if you are in a guild, your spot might be at risk of being lost if you’re unable to commit to certain activity levels. Guild turnover might be high since it’s so tied to trade. And smaller guilds might never have a shot at getting a keep, let alone holding it. There’s a real chance that zerging takes over in multiple regards. 

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