Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

17 June, 2009

Business in games
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 3:57 PM

I want to talk about running a business in a game. Note that this isn’t running a business about games; there’s a handy book about that topic if you want to read about that boring subject. ;)

No, instead, I want to cover the topic of how to make money in games beyond murdering monsters and running packages for NPCs. What does it take to run a business within an MMO world?

Doin’ your business

Most games are set up so that you can make subsistence “wages” by going through content. Getting money and drops from monsters and rewards from quests nets you enough for the basics. A good game always makes you strive, however, so in order to get all the goodies you want you’ll have to push a bit harder. And, some activity in the game (raiding, PvP, etc.) often requires an influx of capital to keep a character in ready shape, so you need to find some income.

The simplest way to earn cash is to just grind it out. Go murder some more monsters and take their stuff, then use your surplus cash to get your epic mount or whatever other nifty thing you want. This is the game equivalent of picking up a few more shifts at McDonalds to afford that sweet moped that mommy and daddy wouldn’t buy you.

For people who want to do more than just subsist, there are more options that require a bit more thinking. In most games, this means finding items or services people are willing to pay for and selling it to them. In other words, you get other people to do the grinding while you sell them something they’re willing to grind for.

Do you seriously expect me to take advice from a goblin?

One of the more… interesting… writers about making money in MMOs is Gevlon the Greedy Goblin. He focuses on World of Warcraft, but in theory you could use his techniques in any game. Gevlon focuses on making money on the auction hall (AH) without having to grind. (I found Gevlon thanks to Tobold’s commentary on his writing.)

The basics of his technique are similar to running a business in the offline world. As I said above, you find something people are willing to pay for and sell it to them for the price that the market will bear above the amount you spent to acquire the item. This could be drops (which are heavily based on luck), items produced through tradeskills, or services provided in the game (like runs through lower-level instances for alts). Gevlon focuses primarily on tradeskills to make his cash.

Game life is not real life

Gevlon’s commentary is interesting, but comes with a few caveats that I think are important to cover. The first is that he tries to draw too many parallels between games and offline life. For example, he believes anyone can be rich in the offline world and he has proven that by the fact that he can reach the gold cap on WoW. He’s also not a social person, he often refers to “social players” in a highly derogatory way and calls offline socialization an “ape subroutine”. Offline business requires a heavy dose of socialization, unfortunately, so take his non-game ramblings with a bit of salt.

He tends to go on diatribes about what he calls “M&S”, or morons and slackers who are the constant target of his ire. Conveniently, he often ignores the fact that games are designed with the intent of entertainment in mind, and that concepts like truly limited resources do not exist in a game. And, as with a lot of people who have experienced success, luck is downplayed if it is even considered as a factor. The only reason you are not rich is simply because you’re stupid, lazy, or both. Being at the right place at the right time has a small effect, if any, to Gevlon’s way of thinking.

Differences between two worlds

The core problem is that in business, larger risk often means larger returns. When all you’re risking is a number on a fantasy character’s database record, it’s easier to throw caution to the wind on a high-risk, high-reward scenario. When that number in a database is your life’s savings or children’s college accounts, it becomes a lot harder to put your money on the table and hope things go as well as they could. Games also provide a safety net that allow players who do get wiped out to get back into the game easier (daily quests in WoW), otherwise players would leave the game. In the offline world, that safety net often takes the form of vile “socialism”, something else Gevlon hates with a passion.

Games also operate under a very simplified economic system. Instead of having to worry about mundane issues like warehouse space for inventory, you can just roll a few alts and your problems are solved. An inventory full of glyphs don’t decay, break, or otherwise become unsalable as goods in the offline world are wont to do. Finding employees is as simple as spamming the trade channel and getting whatever value you can out of the person who can perform the work for you; as opposed to having to deal with issues like employment taxes, minimum wages, and benefits as you do in the offline world. Some people use these reasons to argue for laissez faire capitalism, but again, what works well in the online realm doesn’t always translate into a good thing in the offline world.

From personal experience, I believe you can learn important lessons in games, but it’s dangerous to think that you can take the lessons learned and apply them immediately offline. I’ve mentioned before that I learned how to extrovert well in games before I became better at talking to people in person, but in games I can log out when I started to feel overwhelmed. Face-to-face socialization requires a bit more finesse than claiming your internet connection dropped. Not that Gevlon thinks face-to-face socialization is important.

Skills required to succeed

So, what skills are required to succeed at business in a game?

The first, and most important, is knowledge, just as you need in the offline world. You need to know what goods and services are in demand. You need to know what items will sell, and which items are eclipsed by better quest rewards. You need to know what stats a specific class or type of character will want in order to know if the stats on an item are worthwhile or not. If you find a caster weapon with physical stats, that might be better to sell to a vendor rather wasting auction fees hoping someone will buy it.

Another bit of knowledge you’ll want is to know what price the market is willing to pay for an item. Some of the first AH businesses in WoW dealt with buying up underpriced items and selling them closer to the going price. Enchanting materials were especially popular, since they cost nothing to list on the AH in WoW. The person willing to take a longer term perspective on selling the item (instead of the adventurer who just wanted to get an item out of his or her inventory) can make a fair amount of money. Learning what the going price is, and how that price can change over time, is important to knowing what will make money.

With this knowledge, it’s time to choose your business. Following Gevlon’s lead, you might choose inscription as your tradeskill in WoW. Find something that is in demand and that you don’t mind doing. Find out what other people are selling, and try to avoid getting into too much direct competition. Be ready to adjust your strategies if someone else tries to move in on your territory.

It’s also important to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. During the festivals in LotRO, I spent a fair amount of time collecting gift boxes in the game which had random items. Some of the items were rare recipes for cosmetic items that people will buy for quite a bit of money. I was able to make most of my money for my character’s horses by selling extras of these recipes on the AH. (This is part of where luck comes in. I wouldn’t have nearly as much money if I had not been able to get a few of these prized recipes.) Of course, keeping these recipes meant that I had to have inventory space to store the items if I got them while the market was glutted with the rare item.

All is not rosy

Of course, it’s easy to focus on the positive aspects, just as it was easy to think housing prices could rise forever when people bid up house prices. Where there is risk there is the chance for failure. Buying up the supply of an item only to have it nerfed in the next announced test realm patch notes can hurt your bottom line. Following bad advice and speculating on items that are rumored to become better can be harmful.

Once your business becomes too large to do by yourself, you introduce the risks of social elements. While alts and automated tools can make sure misanthropic goblins don’t have to deal with other people, some businesses just can’t work with a single person. EVE Online has a lot of corporations set up to make money, and has had a few high-profile issues with trusted individuals running off with shared assets. A recent NYTimes article (registration required) talks about one “bank” in EVE having some troubles when the executive in charge decided to walk away with a chunk of funds. The article draws parallels between the in-game bank and the bank problems we’ve come to know and love over the past year.

The other bit of warning here is that if you can do it, so can others. Direct competition from someone willing to settle for a lower profit margin can spell trouble if you’ve invested a lot of money in setting up a specific system for producing goods. And, think about this: a smart gold seller could read Gevlon’s site and easily make tons of money without having to resort to hacked accounts or automated bots. It would suck for a gold seller to copy your technique then get the company to nerf that way of making money in order to hinder gold sellers.

You can do it!

Really, making money isn’t too hard in games, despite all the problems, as long as you have access to the knowledge required. As I said above, most games are designed to make it easy for you to make enough money to get by. The “broken” economies in games make it more fun than trying to eek out a middle class living on a middle manager’s salary. After all, if the game starts to feel like real work, then most people agree that it won’t be fun. Knowledge and a bit of luck can help you on your way to some virtual wealth; that, plus four bucks, will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

What do you think? Do you make gold by selling things in games? Or is that a level of gameplay that just isn’t interesting to you? Are the lessons learned in games easily transferable offline as some goblins might suggest?







21 Comments »

  1. Four Skills You Absolutely Need to Make Gold in WoW

    [...] Increasingly people who play MMOs are finding that notion of making money from within the game a game unto itself. Professional game designer Brian Pysch0child Green makes some great points about business in MMOs like WoW in an article entitled Business in Games. [...]

    Pingback by Jane's Gold Academy — 17 June, 2009 @ 11:07 PM

  2. No, the lessons of ingame “economies” or being a good raid leader = good manager just do not work in reality.

    Frankly, it is popular BS. Comparing EVE corporations to real world corporations is probably the worst hype ever. CCP also likes to turn scams and drama into examples how great EVE is. E.g. one bored leader resigned and dissolved the whole alliance. Boooring… but they really made a story of it and the fuss that ensued because one bored guy changed sides.

    Coming back to my first paragraph, game theory often suggests such things, but it is actually a wrong application. “Game theory” in fact never said good gamers are good managers and vice versa. It is interested in mechanics and these can be applied to the market, but it never was meant as a measurement for leader/businessman qualities and skills. The reality is much more complex than the model, and we should ask Gevlon if he hit the gold cap in his real life, too. For sure not. Supreme poker players not necessarily make clever entrepreneurs either.

    Money/Gold in MMOs is for me only a means to acquire fancy gear, making gold is not my prime interest. And I always wonder why people need a “gold guide” or “level guide”, and even pay money to get them. Just playing and understanding the game mechanics is enough to make profit. I could buy a Tundra Travellers Mammoth and a Snowy White Griffon plus a Titanium Spellshock Ring right away in WOTLK, I saved up that money from TBC.

    If people have trouble with money, especially in WoW, they just need to focus on two gathering professions and they will have pure income and no expenses. They need no fancy strategies to make money.

    Most games allow players to get lots of money, the more the more time they invest. Occasionally you will get a lucky drop that adds even more money to your account. The economy is fun to play with indeed, but what people interpret into game economies and game businesses is ridiculous.

    Regarding Gevlon, he is role-playing the Greedy Goblin and probably has a lot of fun with the supposed Goblin philosophy. He is in deep trouble if he takes his own Goblin lessons too serious, and I fear he is fully aware of that, but I am not so sure about some of his readers. Or the New York Times and other papers making game economy / reality connections.

    Comment by Longasc — 18 June, 2009 @ 4:35 AM

  3. Very interesting article!

    I think Gevlon is either an incredibly shrewd blogger who’s managed to create a highly provactive and interesting persona or he’s just a hugely withdrawn individual who leds a very sheltered life :)

    His information about making money in WoW is undoubtably very useful but I wouldn’t give his real world parallels any heed because his arguments are generally poorly thought out, antagonistic and lack evidence. He’s also very manipulative with his comments and will delete anything that challenges him. Again, his articles are great for a laugh (which is what I’m pretty sure he means them to be) but don’t take them too seriously.

    Regarding money motivation in MMOs, I have none. You really don’t need much cash in these games once you hit a certain level as all of the decent equipment becomes bind on pickup. I spend most of money twinking out low level alts.

    In terms of transferable skills. Well, that’s debatable but personally I think MMORPGs give you a very limited skill set beyond the basic and obvious supply and demand model.

    Comment by We Fly Spitfires — 18 June, 2009 @ 4:49 AM

  4. @Longsac Excellent comments and I agree completely. As I said, I think Gevlon is very good at acting his persona and very good at eliciting emotion from readers, a suprisingly very hard thing to do. Of course, maybe he’s just a genuine nutcase :D

    Comment by We Fly Spitfires — 18 June, 2009 @ 4:53 AM

  5. Daily Blogroll 6/18 — Fun with your new Brad edition

    [...] Green of Psychochild’s Blog writes a little about the differences between making money in the real world and making money in World of Warcraft, as promoted by Gevlon the Greedy Goblin, who is apparently a sociopath. The way to success in real [...]

    Pingback by West Karana — 18 June, 2009 @ 5:49 AM

  6. @Longasc you never really come around to make a point. You say that it’s not at all applicable to real life but then just explain it away with some small examples. There’s a lot of basic principals that MMOs teach that apply to real life. Everything from Patience and some basic ‘people skills’ to a rough understanding of supply and demand. Just because it’s not completely true to life doesn’t mean there’s no possible comparison of application of knowledge.

    I’ve never been a gold hoarder in any MMO but I have decided (a while ago, not because of this article) to try my hand on it next time I play an MMO with a functioning economy. Gaming an economy like WoW seems rather bland in comparison to games with local economies and a clamp on inflation.

    Comment by Logo — 18 June, 2009 @ 10:30 AM

  7. Longasc wrote:
    No, the lessons of ingame “economies” or being a good raid leader = good manager just do not work in reality.

    To build a bit on what Logo posted, I think that you can think of MMOs more like simulators. They can teach valuable skills, but you can’t expect everything in “real life” to work like it does in the simulator. The simulator can also be a good chance to experiment and try out new things. But, if you crash and burn in the simulator, you just hit a button and everything is reset to a good state; crash and burn in the real thing and there could be dire consequences.

    So, I think you can learn management skills by leading raids in an MMO. But, you have to keep in mind that the motivations of raiders are quite different than the motivations of people in other situations where you lead. It can be tough to apply these lessons because you have to be smart enough to know there are differences and realize what they are.

    We Fly Spitfires wrote:
    I think Gevlon is either an incredibly shrewd blogger who’s managed to create a highly provactive and interesting persona or he’s just a hugely withdrawn individual who leds a very sheltered life :)

    I suppose he could be a troll of epic proportions. Giving gold-making tips on one hand then shit-stirring political commentary on the other is one way to generate traffic, I guess. It seems a bit far to carry a persona, though. I’ve definitely “role-played” being an aggressive asshole a lot in the past when I was working on and promoting Meridian 59, but I don’t make my posts on here aggressive and insulting.

    More thoughts,

    Comment by Psychochild — 18 June, 2009 @ 2:00 PM

  8. Can we have functioning (you know what I mean) economies in worlds with essentially infinite resources?

    Comment by Julian — 19 June, 2009 @ 7:42 AM

  9. Most of the money I’ve made in EQ2 has been from selling items I have made as a jeweler. And the skills you mention are definitely in the forefront. I try to look at what’s selling, and how much competition there is, as well.

    This means that I usually stay away from the highest priced items, and sell in lower tiers. There’s a lot of competition for the best stuff, and the crafted gear can take a backseat to drops. At lower tiers, folks will usually just buy something quickly that will enhance their ability to level quickly, and not worry about whether its “the best”.

    Like you said, knowledge. Also patience.

    Comment by Toldain — 19 June, 2009 @ 10:34 AM

  10. The biggest difference between real life and game players making money is usually motivation. If you have patience and motivation in Real Life you will usually succeed if not prosper. Games often cloak the “labor” that people think of work as in a fun game. This makes motivation much simpler.

    Comment by Silvermink — 19 June, 2009 @ 12:28 PM

  11. “Can we have functioning (you know what I mean) economies in worlds with essentially infinite resources?”

    I hear this tossed around quite frequently and I think the answer is a yes with a but.

    I am not an Economist but in the short term don’t goods act like they are infinite? The supply of raw aluminum* over a 3 to 5 year span acts as if it was infinite. The amount of aluminum being brought in short and mid-term isn’t determined by the supply in the earth as much as the amount of area it’s available to be extracted from and the supply/demand for aluminum. The price of aluminum has much more to do with its desirability, the amount of land that can be used to extract it, and the time and money it costs to do so rather than the earth’s total amount of aluminum.

    This is represented well in MMOs. Certain items have a larger availability because they are dropped from more monsters or gathered in more places than other resources. Resources that are only available from a small # of locations and/or with a low drop rate enter the world at a much slower rate.

    The part that many MMOs don’t do well, and why they don’t have a functioning economy is two reasons. One, they are designed for progression so they tend to allow everyone to get a larger and larger bankroll for the most expensive items. The second is that many MMOs don’t have enough ‘drain’ of resources. If you are an established character in WoW your daily loss of wealth (items that actually get consumed not just purchased) compared to ‘wages’ (assuming you are doing a mix of in game activities) is probably equivalent to having your only expense in life be buying lunch every day. The real world has mortgage, health care, taxes, gas, etc. and most MMOs just don’t translate that drain into their game.

    Now where does that ‘but’ come in? MMOs probably won’t ever simulate long term economics where the finite nature of goods comes into play. MMOs act as a simulation of an economy over a few years but it won’t ever be a long term simulation unless finite goods enter the game world.

    *Maybe we’re slated to run out of aluminum soon, I don’t know. If we are assumed I said this 20 years ago.

    Comment by Logo — 19 June, 2009 @ 1:06 PM

  12. “Everything from Patience and some basic ‘people skills’ to a rough understanding of supply and demand.”

    Are these basics not taught in more detail already in basic education? Just by living and getting older? Do we not come already with some basic idea that sell high, buy low is going to make profit to MMOs? What exactly taught you MMOs?

    Did you develop or refine soft skills like being friendly and not outright an asshole in MMOs? I am quite sure a lot of people learned if anything just the opposite, especially in WoW.
    What kind of raid leaders had you in your MMO career, and which were more successful. I would have to come to the interesting insight that uncompromising leaders who just told people to shut up and do what they are told are the best (!).

    Unfortunately I no longer have the address of Muckbeast’s old blog, but he re-posted this article in his re-launched blog: http://www.frogdice.com/muckbeast/gaming_industry/the-ongoing-pr-scam-about-raid-leaders.html

    The discussion unfortunately got lost, but I share his point that people somehow feel the need to apply some extra value to their gaming.

    Such articles often ultimately culminate in telling a STORY about EVE, economy, drama, espionage, love, war… and if you have been part of the happenings the articles are based on (I have been playing EVE for quite some time), I cannot help but think that some great marketing people or novelists or politicians (SCNR) have written this, as it deviates a lot from what actually happened. A “blob” of all players that were online that “zerged” enemy positions is just not so entertaining as talking about a well coordinated fleet operation and making a big fuss about it.

    WoW raids are often compared with recruiting the right person for the job, improving working climate and finding ad-hoc solutions if one player does not show up, how to succesfully lead a guild and how to motivate people, how to make bunch of individualists a team. Most articles actually do not bother to focus on the economy part, as the simplified economy systems just do not offer that much. Except for Gevlon maybe. I stopped reading his blog after he proved that new players without zero gold can make enough money to buy a level 60 mount and a level 70 flying mount easily. He started on another server and so on. The problem is, who actually doubted that this is possible? Especially if one has already a solid knowledge of the game.

    The soft leader qualities that are often propagated to be revealed in being a MMO leader on the other hand are more believable. The question is how much of this you actually learn from playing a MMO.

    I also played WoW, and I just wonder what I have learned from leading guild raids and random raids. I ask the employers among the bloggers who read this here, what did you learn from telling a bad player that he is not good enough and has no place anymore in the raid. Does this experience make me better at telling people in real life for whatever reasons that they suck and get fired… no, it does not.

    Comment by Longasc — 19 June, 2009 @ 6:28 PM

  13. Well, let’s turn the question around a bit then: How would an MMO based on and powered by finite resources would look like? What instruments and mechanics would have to be created to deal with that, and what instruments and mechanics could be abandoned? How do we balance the necessary minutia (drains) with the necessary fun?

    Comment by Julian — 20 June, 2009 @ 8:48 AM

  14. The classic example of an economy without infinite resources was the original UO resource system. The system tried to emulate a closed economy where items had be consumed or destroyed and then went to the “great tally in the sky”. The problem is that players unexpectedly (at least back then) hoarded items and prevented the resources from being re-tallied. Without resources, new objects (like monsters to fight) couldn’t be spawned. Uh oh. The early dev team tried to put in temporary fixes by adding more resources to the tally, but the problem persisted and eventually the system was scrapped. A bit of a shame, because there was a lot more than that system than just counting how much fur and meat a rabbit needed to spawn.

    I think that’s a common problem you’re going to face with most economies that try to limit resources somehow. People will be selfish and abuse limited resources. You could argue the same thing happens in the offline world, but when we’re talking about a game world we’re talking about it not being all that much fun if the resource is necessary for gameplay. If the resource isn’t necessary for gameplay, then it’s not really a meaningful resource to limit.

    So, I’m not sure we can create meaningful limits on in-game resources and retain a fun game. I’m open to new thoughts, but I think the faucet/drain economy has evolved that way for a pretty good reason in this case.

    Other thoughts?

    Comment by Psychochild — 21 June, 2009 @ 4:17 AM

  15. Maybe one of the factors is the problem of scale between online worlds and the way things evolved in reality.

    Example, a virtual world in which you seed, at creation, a finite amount of minerals to be mined. You could make some more evident than others, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are, say, 1000 tons of iron in the world, and there will always be. Now, offline, we deal with finite non-renewable resources all the time, and it is a problem, but it’s a problem largely softened by the fact that not everyone in the world would be consuming or is even in easy direct contact with those raw resources (out of 6+ billion people, I’m gonna say 0.000001% of the population extracts iron, and this is not an exotic material). So we have a large, but finite, pool of a resource which is very slowly chipped away by very few.

    In a virtual world this is a game breaker because it is orders of magnitude easier for anyone to grab a pick and go at it. It’s trivial to acquire the “knowledge” of extracting a resource, it’s trivial to find the resource (all it takes is time and movement), it’s trivial to extract it. No matter how large we seed the initial stockpile of the world, we know that unless we determine its use to be ultra-specific, it’s going to exhausted fast because it’s easy to do so and it’s trivially easy for anyone to do it.

    Under those conditions you can’t expect a functioning economy to spring up around that resource because for one the stockpile is depleted way too fast and on a timeline long enough you will have new people that won’t even get to -see- the raw resource in existence. And two, because it’s very easy for anyone to “short” the whole circuit, skip the middlemen and do it themselves. In the real world there are markets centered on resources with an economy around them because that resource naturally powers a small army of people; surveyors and prospectors, miners, engineers to design the machines to extract it, transportists, warehouses, sales companies and so on.

    Nice, but the problem is, do we really want to go to all the trouble of recreating that chain in the virtual world, and if so, how do we execute it in a way that is fun and people would want to take active part in it. Another important thing to keep in mind is that offline economies are sustainable (the recent brouhaha notwithstanding) because they are largely protected from disruption. That is, societies at large find them necessary and benefitial, so they create legal protections, contractual protections, regulation protections, political protections and so on. Every link in the chain operates because it knows their efforts will be protected and the next link is not going to stop working just because it wants to, or to sour a deal for no reason. So again, do we really want to go to the trouble of protecting these virtual economies and recreate these protections? Sure in the end it’s another virtual game rule to enforce, we’re enforcing thousands already, but do we want to? And if so, would they be ‘fun’ for players? Would they be something they’d want?

    Comment by Julian — 22 June, 2009 @ 7:14 AM

  16. Julian wrote:
    …contractual protections….

    This is perhaps one of the more interesting bits to discuss here. In the offline world, contract law is huge and complicated, but it’s the basis of business. A contract is a way for two parties to formalize what they’re doing for each other. The problem comes in the interpretation of what exactly is required.

    That’s one of the big problems with in-game businesses, because there’s no way to establish formal contracts in most cases. The best we have is a stand-in in the case of the Auction Hall, with occasional petitions to customer service if someone rips someone else off. In the case of the EVE bank scandal, how do you enforce a contract about paying interest? That’s something that the developer would have to code directly, and how many people are likely to use that sort of thing in a game?

    Tesh wrote:
    [...]even allowing players to build brands [...] based on their play skill[...].

    The problem is that goes against most of the rest of your typical MMOs where player skill is minimized in favor of character skills. Not to say that it’s impossible to add, but it has to be designed carefully. You also have to worry about copycats in a game. In the offline world we have the wild and wonderful world of copyrights to offer me and my creative work some protection. As we know, digital objects are infinitely able to be copied, so how do you keep your own designs unique? Is a name really going to mean that much, especially for goods that are otherwise identical?

    Comment by Psychochild — 23 June, 2009 @ 5:30 AM

  17. Brian: In the end, if you want to code a contractual protection, I imagine (not an expert) that it would end up as a game rule or a mechanic with player interaction. Imagine your standard “trade” interface between two players, but instead of slots to trade items we give them the contract parameters through pull-down menus and numeric fields if necessary. Both can modify it until they both agree. Once agreed, two inventory items (or any other mechanic) are made, one given to each. When activated they summon the same window, this time non-editable, to review the parameters.

    If one player destroys the item, the other one still has it. If both destroy it, the contract is nullified. Upon successful completion of the contract (which can use checks like we use checks for quest completion, check for existence in inventory, what have you), both contract copies disappear.

    There’s room to play and I think we’ve had the tools for a while.

    Comment by Julian — 23 June, 2009 @ 6:37 PM

  18. Julian wrote:
    In the end, if you want to code a contractual protection[...]

    Sure, but the main problem here is what if part of the agreement isn’t an in-game object? What if we follow Tesh’s example above and have player-designed items. So, you agree to pay Tesh 1000 gold for a week for design services. Two problems: 1) How does the game know when the contract is fulfilled (besides just measuring 1 week)? 2) What happens if you’re not happy with his services?

    In the offline world, we have overworked courts of law. In online worlds, we have overworked developers. Not exactly the same thing, really. ;) But, I see how that sort of arrangement could be used for interest on loans. Still, you have the case where someone who skips out on a loan payment in a game may be well and truly out of reach, leading to a bit more incentive for fraud.

    My concerns a bit clearer?

    Comment by Psychochild — 24 June, 2009 @ 12:29 AM

  19. “Sure, but the main problem here is what if part of the agreement isn’t an in-game object?”

    Well, that’s why you spend some time in the drawing board before coding anything and make sure all you can do with the system revolves around in-game objects. :)

    In other words, maybe we don’t need to replicate all possible instances and variations of what could be comprehended under contract law but simply just the ones that could be easily enforced as a game rule, with the game itself as (possibly the best) impartial arbiter.

    True, no game is ever going to know if someone is happy with the services of another, there’s no way of measuring that. So you stick to what -can- be measured and only offer contracts in that vein.

    A player contracting another to mine and deliver (x) tons of ore, by (y) date to point (z)? Easy for the game to check if those conditions have been met.
    A player contracting another to retrieve items (x), (y) and (z), then deliver them? Easy to check if those items exist at the point of delivery on or before the deadline.
    A player contracting another to create a weapon with (x-y) damage range and a rarity of (z)? As easy to check as the game inspecting the item and looking for those values.
    Even a player contracting another to provide security at point (x) on time (y)? The game can easily check for location and time.

    Of course things will not be ideal. Maybe sometimes the ore won’t be delivered on time, or the amount would be less than indicated. Maybe not all items could be retrieved. Maybe the weapon is not exactly what was wanted even if the values match. Maybe the player hired as security stays only long enough at the location to trigger a contract completion and leaves. But as long as you have a mechanism that allows partial contract completions, and a minimum of trust in the self-interest of people in the sense that they will not rehire someone who did not complete a contract to full satisfaction, things will be fine.

    Players always have the option to enter or not enter in a contract. If we add a history of completed contracts, publicly viewable on all players, that’s a visible reputation that works in human terms and not a rep system that has to be coded. Players will naturally gravitate to those other players who have a demonstrable history of completing contracts, instead of those who don’t. Contract mishaps are minimized in that way just by human nature and self-interest alone.

    Comment by Julian — 24 June, 2009 @ 7:37 AM

  20. Julian wrote:
    So you stick to what -can- be measured and only offer contracts in that vein.

    I’m not sure your examples are worth having a contract system, though. Most of these events could be handled through an auction house type setup just as easily.

    On the other hand, doing contracts like this would give the game more of a personal feel. Especially if you have the completed contract history (although people could game that easily enough with friends and alts….) If someone wanted to set up a recurring contract (I want 10 chunks of ore every week), a contract might be a better way to handle it, though. But, I fear some people looking for the absolute best price would rather go to the AH and get the cheapest stuff, and if they wanted to lock in a lower price they’d buy a bunch and stick it in the bank.

    Interesting thing to consider. Thanks for the nice discussion. :)

    Comment by Psychochild — 24 June, 2009 @ 11:48 PM

  21. The virtual and the “real” sides of life

    [...] obviously, not every lesson translates from online to offline, but the idea of a person living in two worlds shouldn’t seem so alien. Many of our heroic stories [...]

    Pingback by Psychochild’s Blog — 2 July, 2009 @ 12:31 AM

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