Call Mario, we got a problem with the plumbing!

For the most part, the MMO’s now definitely planned on how to distribute in-game wealth among the players. And for the most part, it works since no one is gaining excessive amount of gold, credits, what-have-yous to increase prices on items. Usually that balance of needs and wants play critically in game economies. However there are some of those that seem to not get the picture.

Let us start of simply in game terms. A “sink” is a form of transaction where most of the funds will be placed into as a form of maintaining inflation. For those who are slightly off centre about what this is about; put money in and you can buy things at around the same price. Whether it is that magical staff or a simple health potion. Realistically of course a lot of other factors put into prices in the game of choice; rarity levels, player base level, item demand and collection difficulty are just some miscellaneous factors that can define what is pricey and what is easy to receive. By in large, equations don’t put it in the cost and sell price. Usually what comes down to it is supply and demand. How many people are buying in and how many items are going in.

There are lots of thing to throw off the economic equilibrium. Most to be seen is usually the inherit systems hard-coded. Benefitting the player than penalizing them. Thus why money sinks are usually handy to have around especially preventing players from gaining the necessary gear to overpower whatever they achieve (instances, PvP etc.) It’s a good thing they rewards come around and put you in a euphoric state of accomplishment. However it can grow tiresome if it’s simply too easy to complete.

Sinks however can easily be build around any other existing system that may push beyond the boundaries of storyline and technical expertise. But lets just take something super simple as an example, quest rewards. So lets just say there was a repeatable quest that yield a large chunk of change per turn than other means, this is going to be used most often. Of course this is farming, but what if the quest was accidently extremely easy? Then there would be an influx of money going into the population (even if it’s just one guy doing it, it’s money that goes to everyone sooner or later.) And now since this increase in productivity there, there would hardly be anyone gathering or crafting items which results to in marginal product yield, not a lot is going into auction house and so forth. Now the human component; players notice this influx of money spent in shop and they do what is necessary to keep up with demand. Usually demand would be way too high to match so they raise the price. Now imagine throughout the prices of everything increasing, because of this. players would spend more time farming than playing the game in its entirety. So with this overflow that would never end, it would just slowly go out of hand. This here would then spill into other aspects of gameplay, like how teams would be organized and how overall fun factor would be. In the end; the result would likely be decreases in server population and even just people not caring to really play and just farm money (albeit from gold farmers or just self collection).

Now sinks on the other hand are put in to do one thing and one thing only, scoop up the overflow. This could be cost increases to guild stuff, even an upkeep cost. As well to this even solo-based sinks through systems like in-game marriages, transportation cost, certain quests requiring input of money (I haven’t seen it myself but it happened somewhere) and even larger implementation of customization to fend off the impending spill. This is not the only way to makes money sinks in a game.

Some games even implement credit exchanges where players can trade in game money into credits or point bought with cash. Usually this is pretty good from what I’ve seen to stem it since cash stores usually provide interesting items to purchase but it should be enticing to let player buy into it. This works superbly when there are only two forms of currency in the system, cash based (you buy with your real money) and time based (the gold, credit, silvers, coppers, and whatever you folks may name it).

How about we throw a wrench into this and say it was a 3-currency system where the third is only gained from dungeon raids and such, lets examine this. Say if it was exclusive to these raids and so forth and this system takes over most of the economic purchases in game. Then you have a problem with demand since everyone needs these dungeon coins to buy their next piece of gear. Now you’re back where you started with a cash sink but with this cash which devalues the previous system especially if the items are exceptionally better. Now for the sake of argument, this coinage is non-transferable (you can’t trade it). Now it’s exactly the same situation even without thinking about it since players will farm the instances to receive them to buy the better gear and old game currency would be used for anything requiring the currency and nothing more. Now, you will have a high demand of these tokens and low demand of credits (for the sake of argument, lets just say they’re credits). Now any player driven economy will increase price to meet demand, back to square one.

Though I only played a bit as a trial, I did notice this about Star Trek Online and other games where there are lots of currencies in game (at this time, before free-to-play). Marks, honor, latinum and energy credits (the main currency). By the end from what I’ve heard and read, players have accumulated millions of credits just because of the fact of the low demand of use to them compared to other items in game. The crash has been noticed and being fixed for the next chapter of this sci-fi MMO. With a 3-currency economy (chill…the third is just a novelty currency), personal prediction says it’s going to go fairly well. Contra to that would be Global Agenda where instance coinage dominates all the shop purchases with basic gear to be sold with the main game currency received in game. Biggest bastardization would be that to be use these credits in the auction house would be to buy a subscription to use it which already provide you with points to purchase the gear you desire therefore rendering auction house and credits to token economic needs. Maybe it should have a bit a sink that free players can take advantage of; like I don’t know, auction house for all? I’m not a genius but I know when you’re doing it wrong.

The lesson here to take into mind the next time you log on to your point and click games is that what you do and how you do it affects the economy. Maybe not so hard but if a large number does the same, it can have impacts that can wreck the economy in-game. Not saying it’s fully you’re fault, just saying there is a reason why that rare weapon is worth millions of gold.

Found a failed game economy and want to share it? Feel free to comment! Until next time…


2 thoughts on “Call Mario, we got a problem with the plumbing!

  1. Failed game economies? I guess the economies most likely to fail would be ones that simulate real economics such as in Second Life where virtual goods and services are exchanged. Although I haven’t played the game, they have their own virtual currency called the Linden which can be exchanged with real currencies. The Wikipedia page highlights quite a few real-life economic issues arising from Second Life at

    1. Actually games like Second Life and Entropia are doing well with a cash-only game considering you are allowed to play it for free but by purchasing goods to enhance the experience. Depending on the degree of fun you can handle, this could be fun or could feel more like a cash grab. Since it’s a “one currency” economy, players can easily identify what they need to buy goods.

      Last time I can remember, you can gift people Lindens if you choose to which is an advantage if people want to “hire” you for “jobs and stuff.” So even if people are mooching off other people, someone has to pay someone for the Lindens and someone would have to buy them in the process. Second degree to these two games I’ve mentioned is Habbo Hotel, which does the same model of payment plus subscriptions for extra “pixel” currency which absolutely does nothing since there’s hardly anything you can buy with it worth buying unless you have a subscription which increases pixel drop rate by two or three (?). All three are doing well for itself by letting players have the game for free with micro-transactions, however there’s not enough demand through game currency and subscriptions because those models don’t entice players to purchase it for other reasons. I know for certain Habbo did at one time started to expanded because of the influx of capital. Now they’re trying to cut down on costs by merging services with others due to people not buying into the subscriptions or the game store.

      Thanks for reading!

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