Monday, December 22, 2008

Game over and the economy

There is an interesting phenomenon going on in the World of Warcraft economy: Deflation, prices of nearly all goods are falling. The WoW economist and the Greedy Goblin have different explanations for it, but I think they are both wrong. Both are far too much looking at the WoW economy like a real economy, and forgetting that World of Warcraft is first and foremost a game.

The reason why one would expect inflation in Wrath of the Lich King is that players can now make even more money when doing daily quests. And there are less money sinks, WotLK flying is 5 times cheaper than the TBC epic flying mount. So people could grind 25 daily quests a day, and spend that money on crafted epics, enchantments, potions, special buff food, and whatever else there is that can make their characters stronger. Which is what they did in The Burning Crusade, so why wouldn't they do it in Wrath of the Lich King?

Because in Wrath of the Lich King they don't need to. In a real economy it makes sense to get as rich as possible. In a game economy virtual gold is just a means towards a final goal: The game over screen. Wait! World of Warcraft has a game over screen? Not a real one, no. But at some point in time you will feel the game is over for you. Either because you just didn't have fun any more. Or because you reached something which is as close as it gets to a game over screen in a MMORPG: You killed the final boss and got the final gear, with no way to further develop your character any more before the next content patch or expansion adds more. And in Wrath of the Lich King that point is a lot closer for all of us than it was in the last expansion.

Nihilum famously "finished" Wrath of the Lich King just 65 hours after it was released. But even regular raiding guilds like mine cleared already most of the currently existing raid bosses. Not yet 6 weeks into the game I'm already wearing 7 level 80 epics, and getting full epic is only a matter of time. And as long as we are making good progress, why would we want to push much harder? The kind of effort where raiders were grinding all day to get the very best in enchantments etc. is simply not necessary any more. Be Imba! tells me that not all my gear has the best possible enchantments or gems in it, but I'm so not going to put an enchanment that cost several hundred gold on one of my remaining blue armor pieces! And I believe that most people think that way. If you can reach your goal with a reasonable effort, why would you want to make an exceptional effort, and grind money for hours for a small incremental effect? Especially if you can expect to soon find better gear, spending too much money on enchantments is just a waste. It is only when raid guilds get stuck that they go into overdrive, and try to get past the blockage by using every tiny little advantage. In Wrath of the Lich King most people simply don't experience that blockage yet, and depending how hard the future raids are, they never might.

Raids being easier and the end of the raid progression being so close right now has a profound effect on the WoW economy. Green Armadillo helpfully lists all the options you have to get an item-level 200 cloth robe, and concludes that by far the easiest way is to get it as drop in a raid. My mage is tailor and made a moonshroud robe for my priest, and an ebonweave robe for himself, but because of deflation and not needing the mage robe right away (mage is still 70, robe is 80), I'm trying to sell it on the auction house. No takers, although I'm just asking for a bit over the AH prices of materials. Because anyone who feels he would actually *need* such a robe, is probably in a position where he could get it easier as a raid drop. Why farm money or grind reputation if the same reward can be had with a bit of luck on your next raid night?

So I think inflation isn't happening because people just don't see the need to farm money to buy things. And WoW being less of an end game grind is totally fine with me. The current deflation is from prices falling towards a reasonable level from an initial "oh, new, shiny, I must have that immediately" level. The huge inflation in lets say enchanting materials that the WoW economist expects might still happen, but only if the next raid dungeon is a lot harder.

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