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Sunday, April 13, 2014

EVE Online Economy versus TESO Economy

ZeniMax, the developer of The Elder Scrolls Online, had an interesting tweet just before the weekend started. I saw it, but didn't really know what to think of it. Here's the tweet.

Here we have a game developer not only supporting, but advertising a third party auction site for in-game items. This isn't really all that surprising. I know 3rd party sites have existed for a long time. Sites whose only purpose is to facilitate the sell of in-game items for game currency. In many games I've played these sites are tacitly approved so long as they don't cross the line into RMT territory. But ZeniMax has gone beyond tacit approval. They've actually sponsored the site lending spiritual capital if not hard cash. And I don't think this tweet was an afterthought either. The first TESO bot bans were handed out on Friday. Tell the players about a legitimate way to trade, then the next day ban those who facilitate cheating. That's a pointed message.

I expected this sooner or later, and I'm relieved to see it is sooner. I can't speak to the efficacy of ZeniMax's anti-botting campaign, but at least they seem to have one. That's more than can be said for a lot of new games, especially those that are free to pay. I've always been a staunch believer in, "you get what you pay for." No, none of this is surprising.

What I find surprising is this statement about the TESO economy by gameplay designer Nick Konkle in an interview with Shoddy Cast.

"You don't necessarily want to do a global auction house for a game with one giant server because that generally leads to all the best gear being available at very, very cheap prices. A lot of times that can trivialize the game. You cannot have a healthy economy when there are no restrictions on getting the best stuff in the game."

Whoa, really? The very first thing that leaped into my mine was EVE Online of course. I wasn't the only one who thought that either by some of the comments I perused. Obviously EVE Online has a giant server. It may be the most giant server of any game company. I don't know for fact. But it's certainly very large. But obviously that has not led to, "all the best gear being available at very, very cheap prices."  Quite to the contrary, the best stuff is almost prohibitively expensive to all but the richest capsuleers. And some things are really only affordable to large corporations and alliances - you know, like Titans.

So what is the difference in ZeniMax's game versus CCP's game? Why do they feel they have to handle a mega-server economy so differently? That's a very interesting question. Let's have a discussion about it. Here's what I think to get things rolling.

In EVE Online, it takes a long time and many, many resources to build a Titan. As for individual items, Officer drops are rare. Rare enough they don't flood the market. Also, items in EVE Online are destructible. The only destruction I've found in TESO is to sell things back to a merchant. Even then you can buy it back within a certain amount of time, so the item really isn't destroyed. I've checked. Things I sold days earlier were still available on the buy-back list. That certainly is NOT the way EVE Online works. That's what preventing the "no restrictions" issue (see last sentence in quote above) means in EVE Online. Not limiting who can sell the items, as TESO does with Guild owned stores allowed only in PvP keeps. In EVE Online, the item drop is restricted. In TESO, it's the player's opportunity to sell that's restricted. TBH, I prefer the EVE Online method. But I've precious little experience in the TESO method.

So, which would you prefer, and why?


  1. Having not played TESO, I didn't know the equipment handling solution, so it wasn't immediately obvious.

    With that out of the way, I think you're right: EVE is relatively unique in having equipment that, while it doesn't exactly wear out, is definitely spent. Without that kind of equipment sink, I'm pretty sure you will inevitably end up with the sort of situation he's worried about, where rare stuff is only temporarily rare. It's probably doubly the case if there is an equipment progression where people frequently end up swapping out equipment just because of levels and stuff. (I have no idea if TESO does that.)

    The thing that bugs me about all of this is that, even if you move it to an off-server site, I fail to see how this is going to change the dynamic. If the problem is that rare stuff becomes abundant, adding friction to the price discovery system is not going to prevent it from actually getting there, it's just going to make it take longer. Maybe they're hoping it will take "long enough" that they don't have to worry about it because they're adding new rare things on the end of the progression, but you'll still have rarity creep.

  2. It is hard to compare the EVE economy with other theme park style MMOs which have a server wide auction house. Right now, in EVE, if I want to buy an item I can buy from anywhere in my current region. However, the items remains where I bought it so I have to take extra steps to get it. I then need to be able to move it to where I want it.

    Now, imagine that market was actually Universe wide. Also imagine that any item bought would magically appear at your location. This is how it works in a traditional theme park MMO. Think of the effect that would have on the EVE economy. There would be no regional price differences. Producers in low/null sec wouldn't have to worry about the logistics of moving materials or ships. Hauling wouldn't exist. The list goes on.

    So it isn't realistic to compare EVEs single server economy with that of a traditional theme park MMO where the auction house is server wide and items get instantly delivered to your location. It is the mechanics of the EVE economy that make it work the way it does. I don't think it being on a single server actually matters.

  3. I don't think they're talking about EVE Online, frankly. I think they're talking about World of Warcraft.

    In EVE, there's "one" market, but it's heavily regionalized because you can't buy everything everywhere. At most, you can swallow your pride and buy the widget nearby that you know goes for 60% of the price you just paid in Jita, but Jita is 25 jumps away.

    In Warcraft, there's one Auction House per server, and the servers are huge. An item put up for auction in Darnassus can be interacted with in Orgrimmar instantaneously. That *will* flatten prices, by forcing everyone to compete with everyone equally, and essentially eliminating logistics as a concern.

    I can definitely see why ZeniMax is not interested in replicated that. Merging all the auction houses eliminated geography from the WoW economy, and I don't think it's done anything good for the game.

  4. Having played EVE and WoW, but not having watched the interview and just going off the quote, if he's thinking about WoW, he's kinda got it wrong.

    The best stuff in WoW isn't available for ultra cheap either, only certain crafted stuff. And similar to Jita station traders playing the 0.01 increase game, on servers in WoW where there is heavy competition between certain crafters, for things that are consumed.

    I would say as a price problem, inflation is the largest issue WoW has, and similar to the same cause in EVE. There are not enough costs to keep up with income, and people have amassed sizable fortunes, to the point where some things have increased in price 1000% over a few years ago. Also, the "best stuff" in WoW that would trivialize the game is not able to be traded or sold and must be personally obtained, to the point that this last expansion (the one with the pandas) people have complained about how alt-unfriendly WoW has become.

    I also wonder, just how trivial the game would be, with a server wide marketplace. Since items are limited by level, you are not going to have the best item in the game worn by a level 1, and using it to kill rats. So if you're not going to have a trivial leveling experience, is the goal just obtaining the gear, or using the gear to beat some boss? In WoW at least, the gear is just a means to the end - beating whatever the top big bad is this time around.

    To top that off, just how easy is it to get the best gear in TESO anyway? Is it all crafted, and are the crafting materials that easy to obtain? If not, similar to WoW, you still have to deal with a low chance of success in obtaining the materials to make that great thing, or the EVE bar of time gathering the materials and the time to gain the skill to do anything that valuable with them.


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