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The Guild Counsel: Why broken economies hurt guilds

Karen Bryan

I have to admit, I read the recent article by Ramin Shokrizade on the pre-endgame economy of Guild Wars 2 and shrugged. He made a lot of great points, but the problems with GW2's economy are really not that unique. One of the biggest dilemmas is the fact that dropped items, like weapons and armor, really don't have any value prior to the endgame. As in many MMOs, the broker or auction house is flooded with pre-endgame armor and weapons and there's just no demand for it.

There are several design flaws that play a role in why dropped items, and virtual economies in general, feel stagnant. Let's look at a few common problems in MMOs today and see why broken economies actually hurt guilds as well.

Twinking is dead

If you wanted to earn the most intense hatred of your peers in good old EverQuest, the best way would be to place dragon loot on your level 1 character. But as controversial as it seemed, twinking was actually a great practice and gave real value to dropped gear. It was fun to be able to equip a new character with higher-level items and depopulate entire areas. It also helped build a sense of community and made it easier to immerse yourself in game. I still remember when one player gave me a valuable weapon out of the blue as we slipped and slided on the icy ramps in Velk's Lab. He instantly became a hero to me and even inspired me to do the same to others. Being able to pass along high-level items to low-level characters helped us get new players to stick around longer because they wanted to stay and play with their overpowered equipment.

If it's valuable, you can't trade it

Another common problem is that valuable items are usually not tradeable. So the dropped gear that's put up for sale is almost always worthless, and we can thank the gold farmers for that, since the buying and selling of rare equipment led to the rise of the gold farming industry. Now, everything that's valuable is either no-trade or is purchased with non-tradable tokens. Unfortunately, there are too many examples of games that require you to grind dailies and uninteresting content to accumulate those tokens, and it becomes more of an endurance challenge than anything else.

Tiered items ruin the fun

When you look at gear itemization in games today, many of them use nice, consistent, tiered systems of stats. As you jump from level 10 to level 20, the dropped gear you can wear increases in sync with your level, and all the stats look very pretty when they're all mapped out on a spreadsheet. But that consistency is also boring. Let's go back to EverQuest for an example: There were low-level dropped items that held real value even at the highest levels. The downside, of course, is that high-level players would often intrude to farm them, but the variety in dropped items created some real enjoyment of knowing that you could hit it big even in the lowest-level areas. It was also fun to try to interpret some of the stats and procs on the items, and the air of mystery over what exactly a certain weapon or shield would do made the game even more fun.

Leveling is too fast

One thing Shokrizade pointed out in Guild Wars 2 is that leveling was too fast. He worked through all of the low-level areas, which were aimed at players up to level 15, and by the time he was done he was level 37. Every game with a level cap has the same problem because players generally don't want to play an MMO that takes years to reach the highest level. In addition, many MMOs have become soloable up until the endgame, so not only do you not need friends in order to level up, but you don't even need great gear to do so. Shokrizade's level 37 character could easily still be in level 15 gear (and could probably take on level 37 content in that gear in many MMOs). It is almost not worth it to spend time with the broker when you're leveling up because you outgrow the gear too quickly, and gear doesn't really speed up what's already pretty quickly as it is.

The Guild Counsel Why broken economies hurt guilds
So what does this all mean for guilds? One of the best part about being in a guild is opportunity to pool player talents and resources so that everyone benefits in the end. A new player in the guild can get a little boost from a hand-me-down from a longtime member. A member who's having trouble finding a suitable weapon can get a little help from the guild bank and can return the favor to someone who might need something he has in surplus. Guilds can even pay it forward and host in-game events to hand out items as prizes. I always enjoyed Vanguard because there were many guilds doing these things; they usually handed out boats, coin, or materials to construct a home rather than weapons and armor. While there are still items that are have value and deserve to be put in the guild bank, it's often gear that helps players out when they're leveling. Instead, pre-endgame dropped gear is essentially vendor fodder.

In an effort to stamp out gold farmers, scammers, and griefers, many studios have minimized the value of tradeable goods. Many virtual economies are now just about the exchange of harvested resources; even gear itself, thanks to "transmuting," has become a commodity rather than a unique product. If you're buying pre-endgame gear at all, it's probably to break it down in the hopes of getting a valuable component. While that's all well and good, it's a lot more memorable (and fun) to hand a valuable piece of equipment to someone and see it make a difference.

Do you have a guild problem that you just can't seem to resolve? Have a guild issue that you'd like to discuss? Every week, Karen Bryan takes on reader questions about guild management right here in The Guild Counsel column. She'll offer advice, give practical tips, and even provide a shoulder to lean on for those who are taking up the challenging task of running a guild.

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