A few of weeks ago, there was another double XP weekend in City of Heroes and City of Villains. In fact, not only was it double experience from each "arrest," but it also provided twice the Influence (or Infamy for you villainous folks out there) such that you got double of most everything you might want in the game. And so it was that, after stocking up on caffeinated beverages and microwaveable snacks, we in my house hunkered down in front of our computers for a three day marathon of leveling.
I must say that, while I do flit about from game to game, there is something about the additional reward incentive that draws me in for these events. Yet, in all the bustle of leveling, I got to thinking about the economic dynamic in these games and the ways in which they are different from our now-classic MMORPG systems.
The economic components of CoH and CoV were added late in the game - Issue 9, to be exact. Prior to that, most transactions were completely entirely through the in-game stores. Since arguably the "best" enhancements available, single-origins, could be purchased at an origin store in one of a variety of zones, there was no reason to buy, sell, or trade with other players unless the end goal was to transfer Influence or Infamy.
The two key economic components released with Issue 9 were the consignment house and the invention system, complete with additional types of loot. These new Invention Salvage items are used for crafting enhancements. Some of the invented enhancements, or IOs, can boost multiple stats on a power, rather than only one stat, in a single slot. Additionally, the non-origin crafted enhancements are generally better than comparably-leveled purchasable enhancements.
Since the IOs are better at lower levels that training origin enhancements, TOs, there is an incentive for players to purchase the salvage required to make and use (or sell) them rather than dump them at the store. There is also usually a demand for them due to their superior nature. As the level increases, the benefit to IOs increases, making them more attractive than dual-origin enhancements and eventually single origin enhancements as well.
In order to make the enhancements, you must use a recipe until you have made a sufficient quantity to memorize the recipe. This generates demand not only for the salvage but also for the recipes themselves. Players who are not interested in memorizing recipes or who have already done so, can sell them at Wentworth's for other players to use.
The interview with Positron (a.k.a. Matt Miller) at the time of the release of Issue 9 highlights that the design of the new economy was meant to aid casual players just as much as those who spend a lot of their time in end-game group events. To that end, it is not necessarily much harder to get a rare salvage drop at higher levels as it is at lower levels. And, as a rare salvage item, it may not necessarily cost much more at consignment than a common item.
It is also not always necessary to buy the most expensive salvage item at the consignment house to make the highest level enhancements, as is usually the case in other games. In fact, during the double XP weekend, it was a level 13 enhancement that pulled in the most influence - over 8 million - of all the items sold by those in my house. Meanwhile, the level 35 and 40 IO enhancements I was selling only brought in about 400,000 Influence each.
There are several reasons why this sort of price vs. level misalignment might occur. For instance, the specific enhancement in question was part of a set, which may explain how it managed to be worth so much to a buyer. Also, since lower level set pieces are not easy to come by, the relative lack of supply may have outweighed the demand of my higher level IO enhancements.
However, the double XP weekend itself may be to blame. Double Influence means that the game introduces periods of anticipated economic instability. Remember that in this game the "debt" you receive is not monetary, so there would be no reason to use extra money to pay it down. Instead, the only things to do would be spend or save. Given that players are leveling faster, chances are good that they will out-level enhancements and want new ones, increasing demand. As this happens, the price levels will go up creating an inflated market.
In the consignment house window you can only see the last few transaction prices, some of which end up being tremendously off-base. For instance, listing an item for 1 Inf. will generally get you a sale immediately if there are buyers bidding. But the sale you get is for whatever the oldest bid in the queue is. So for items where there were some very low bids you may end up with a lower than usual price. In fact, if that bid is for 5 Inf. you will end up losing money because of the consignment house's minimum fee. If enough of these bids go through, it may alter the sale prices as sellers see the average price as lower. The same is true of higher prices, causing some wild fluctuations.
The design of crafted items in CoH and CoV makes it easier to find buyers for items you want to sell and gives players additional incentive to actually use the invention system. There are a lot of gains to be made from crafting the recipes you collect or purchase, adding another level of involvement to these established games. But double XP, as enticing as it is, debases the currency in the games making it more difficult to keep purchasing enhancements beyond that weekend. And the lack of historical data transparent to buyer and seller on the consignment house makes it easier for prices to swing.
How important is economic stability in a game? Do you have any tales of receiving admirable sums from selling low-level items? Memorized all of the recipes available to you and now want more? Share with us.
Alexis Kassan is a numbers nerd. She spends her days with statistical programs and her nights with spreadsheets and textbooks. She's also a MMORPG addict, having gotten sucked into Ultima Online at a formative age. In her time away from work, books and games, she can usually be found drowning in pools of sprinkles. If you have a question about in-game economics or how crafting fits in with them, hit her up at alexis DOT kassan at weblogsinc DOT com.