Saturday Debate: Game Wide Markets / Auction Houses
Staff Writers Dan Fortier and Derek Czerkaski take opposite sides of the issue of game wide markets and auction houses. Do they help or hinder?
Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the author and not necessarily those of MMORPG.com, its staff or management.
One of the best and worst things about MMOs are the complex virtual economies they create. Poor planning, excessive hacking and infinite cash generation have caused serious inflation and top heavy markets for a number of popular games in years past. This weekend we are going to debate one specific issue in particular: Game wide markets/auction houses. The question will be whether listing all of the items in the game for sale and being able to buy them from any location is good or bad.
For some players, having every possible item available for bid or purchase from anywhere might seem like the most convenient way to runs things. The problem with this type of system is that only the most successful crafters/farmers will get their items sold since they can sell it for significantly less than Joe Nobody out in the borderlands, even if the items he creates are easier to gather/produce in the area he is in. Keeping markets specific to certain regions forces prospective entrepreneurs to develop a strong logistic system if they want to dominate a global market, which is the way it should be.
While setting up a regional economy can help to generate a more realistic feel to the game, it doesn't really have a place in today's world. A little bit of healthy competition never hurt anyone in the market place. By creating a world market, you're allowing players to get the most bang for their buck; more goods for less money. Aspiring crafters may not do as well to start, but the overall adventurer will benefit from these lowered prices. This is much more realistic; obviously a Mom and Pop grocery store won't be able to beat out a world famous brand like Wal mart, so why should Joe Schmo's inferior goods be as valuable as Mr. Elite's superior wares? In the world market, you have to build your reputation to earn your keep; you're not given an advantage simply for "born" into a different region.
Would you rather travel to Point A to buy your helmet for an inflated price, Point B to buy your chestpiece in limited supply, and then to Point C to try and find a sword, only to find out there's currently none in stock? I thought not. Having world access allows buyers easy navigation and comparisons between goods and their pricing. I for one prefer NOT to alt + tab to check popular websites for auction values every time I want to make a purchase. I want to see competitive gear, compare before I buy, and I want it readily available for my disposal. Reward those who play the market, and penalize those who just throw money at the AH until they succeed.
Lower prices sounds great at first until one group or another develops a monopoly and starts jacking up the prices. There is a good reason why governments in the real world give giant subsidies to small business. Everyone knows what happens when a company gets a firm monopoly in an industry and, unlike the real world, there isn't anyone aside from the Devs who can regulate this.
Games that require no skill or effort to sell items are usually top heavy because the high level players don't need anyone else to sell for them when they can just throw it up for auction and go back to farming those raids. MMOs are supposed to create opportunities for players to cooperate and a single market economy completely destroys this.
Other issues that would arise with a region specific economy can be noted with 3rd party markets. At least with a world market, players have to compete for the lowest prices, and there are a larger variety of sales opportunities at any given time. In game currency farmers already destroy economies; imagine how much more simple it would be for sites like www.ige.com to take advantage of a regional market. Massive farmer guilds could simply monopolize regions entirely, completely limiting the control and flow of certain goods and resources to the player, and in the end, everyone suffers, while the ''cheaters'' who buy their in game currency are rewarded. This is not a trend I feel should be rewarded, ever.
Also, with most regional economy setup, the game slowly evolves into a more centralized market anyway. I can cite FFXI as an example. There were numerous auction houses which were region specific. However, Jeuno was a central city in the game, and as a result, it became the central hub for ALL trade in the game. While establishing regional economies may work in the initial stages of a game, players almost always choose to centralize a specific location themselves. Why prolong the inevitable? All it's really doing is hampering the rate at which crafters can produce goods, and the rate at which they can sell them.
Having a single market does more to encourage RMT than it does to stop it. The type of regional market in my example is one that requires you to actually be there to engage in commerce in that region. To dominate a region as you suggest may be possible but once again the idea is make it as difficult as possible for a single entity to monopolize ALL the markets in the game/server. As I mentioned previously, it would require a well run logistics method to achieve anything resembling a large share of every market. This would force people who wish to engage in this sort of thing to actively participate in the game and use it’s mechanics in order to make money, which is something all but the largest currency seller have been unwilling to do.
While it is impossible to generalize the many varied in-game economic models, I am of the firm belief that any step we take toward a realistic player-run economy is a good one. Having a one stop shop for all items is counterproductive to the development of smaller specialized crafting and discourages well planned merchandising.
Now that Derek and I have spilled our guts on the topic, we want your take on the different kinds of in-game markets. Come out swinging!