I started playing RuneScape in 2005, shortly after it’s second version just launched. My experience with MMORPG was very little, and the only other MMORPG I played was Maple Story (when online games are deemed “useless, harmful and cost unnecessary cash” by my mother, which are all painfully true). After completing all the free missions and countless hours of grinding I made myself a “considerable” fortune; the problem was that this fortune was barely usable, since at that time the only ways to spend that money were either purchasing items from NPCs or trading with random players, who will probably only accept the request if you offer ridiculously more than expected.
Then in 2007, a new feature was implemented in to the game — the Grand Exchange. Essentially it collects all the needs and offers across all servers, and let’s players to purchase items through a price decided by the market. This allows players to get what they want for a reasonable price, and also allows sellers who want really wanted to sell items an easier way to find the correct customers instead of wandering around in the world inefficiently.
MMORPGs nowadays all have similar trading systems. For example, Blade and Souls has the exactly same market system that allows players to put their items on sale for the entire community.
A Stuck Market
When I dug deeper into the actual numbers — the price change, the charts and the diagrams, I found something very mismatching to the reality: the prices hardly fluctuated. In real life, stock values change every day, as well as precious goods and commodities (raw material). A mismatch indicates that the system fails, or did not intend to recreate a certain aspect of its real-life counterpart. Which aspect, though?
- Lack of users: A price change only occurs when transactions are happening, and a transaction would only happen when there are users using the system. For RuneScape, its active online user count have been constantly around 80k ~ 130k, which is not a small number.
- No concept of commodities: Sometimes it’s not only about the active users, but the quantity of each transaction. To achieve a transaction involving high quantity of a certain item, that item must be very needed, like flour, oil or cotton. While this is technically achievable in games, very few would actually take the time to do so.
- Too much information: In reality, the value of a certain item is sometimes determined through “guessing”: the seller doesn’t know how much customers will like it, so he/she has to guess its value, and from that deduct a reasonable and profitable price. Items in every game, except Path of Exile, all come with full information about them. (Path of Exile requires you to apply a scroll of knowledge first to reveal the stats.) Since these items explicitly state out how it would modify a certain character’s skills, there really is no space for people to guess and compare.
Although these are only a few of the many and countless reasons, I’m specifically interested in 3.
Golden Axe? Or the Silver Axe?
In the fable The Honest Woodcutter, the greedy lumberjack was inspired by the honest lumberjack, and planned to take the golden axe by recreating the encounter, throwing his axe deliberately into the river. If we analyze his actions, we know that the greedy lumberjack aimed for the golden axe because he knew that the golden axe worth more. In other words, it is valuable because he knew it was valuable.
What if Mercury presented the lumberjack with two axes that looked identical?
We know that the greedy lumberjack is always aiming for the best axe, so now he has to find another way to know which one to pick; in other words, he needs to compare, and moreover, guess between the “same” item — items that look the same.
The essence in this modified fable is that Mercury “hid” all the visible stats of the two axes, making it completely impossible for anyone to pick the better one; surprisingly in real life we’d act similar in many scenarios, in which the details of each option is not enough for you to form an immediate decision. Remember the last time you went to Whole Foods for apples and you try to pick the ones that looked better, but because you think that’s an indicator of sweetness or freshness. Or that time when you only had the information from a trailer to decide whether to get No Man’s Sky or not?
If we apply this idea — hiding all information of items from the players — to modern games, what will happen?
So, I’ve decided to come up with a little game.
(It’s not implemented, just an idea)
You’re a baker, and your sole goal is to earn the most money from the bread you make.
In this world, everyone starts with an equal amount of money,
and an unlimited supply of all the essentials to make a bread: flour, water and yeast (and sugar, spice, and everything nice)
You can only make one single type of bread. No Brioche, Baguette, Sourdough…. just bread. And no matter how well the bread is baked, they all look the same, like the story above.
Making bread earns you an undisclosed amount of experience, meaning that you would never know how much experience you’ve earned in one session, and how much experience you have already.
Secondly, making bread makes you tired. The only way to replenish energy is to eat bread. For the sake of this discussion, players can only eat bread made by other players. This means that players must use their earned money to buy bread from other players.
So now players are presented with breads that look exactly the same, each accompanied with its creator and a short description from the creator. They will have to decide which to pick, and how much money to spend on it.
Oh, one last thing……
Since the breads have internally different stats, it will effect differently on players. Some good breads will replenish more energy than the others, while some bread will be so bad that it’ll take away your energy.
Problems Of This Design
- Skill difference will impact sales: If the world is already filled with high-level bakers (of course, the bakers themselves wouldn’t know), then newcomers can hardly survive in the game. When people taste their bread they would immediately note the difference, making them to never return, and thus impact sales. Although I think that the solution comes from the players, that the players need to work harder on their speech and advertisement, this is hardly a responsible solution from the developers.
- P2W: Since this game is a game that emphasizes heavily on in-game trading, real-world currency in the game is an extremely tricky problem to tackle with. Currently the solution is to not allow any forms of purchase using real money, but how will this game profit?
- Exploding database: If every item can come with a fully-customizable description, then theoretically there could be infinite distinct items in the game. Since it’s more of a technical question, it’s not in the scope of our discussion.
Benefits of this game
- If this game works, in a sense it recreates the authenticity of real-world trading scenarios.
- It would create a sense of randomness without the use of RNG. The RNG comes from the players themselves, from the guesses and assumptions.
- If this system is implemented into an MMORPG, then the PVP elements of the game will no longer only exist in mount and blade (pun intended); it will introduce a new kind of competition between the players. Isn’t this what MMORPGs are aiming for these days? To do whatever you want?
This is just a little concept design aimed to solve a larger question. Although I can see that my design needs a lot of improvements in order to solve my initial question, I do hope that through the implementation of this idea, we can make market systems in games much more fun to play.