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MMORPGs and stable economies

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Hey,

I was wondering if any one had any advice on how to plan and test money inflation and how to keep the economy of online worlds stable so that people don't have too much money or too little without constantly tweaking as you go along (which just makes players get annoyed half the time).

How do you approach your design to avoid such issues - and is there ways to put the idea to test without needing lots of players to test the economy to see how inflation occurs?

I often find if players get money too easily the game gets boring and if the players find everything too expensive - its off putting.. finding that balance is important I find! Which is why some one can share some tips on how to plan ahead.

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One of the biggest things developers have done is money sinks.
Repair costs, Health regen food / water, all of these items can be used to artificially remove gold from the economy.

I think you need to take out at least as much money as you are artificially putting in from monster drops, once your money level has gotten to a certain amount per player on average.

But just like the real economy this is extremely hard to balance, and just like the real economy people get pissed off if you start making changes that effect them =p

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In a game you have two main parts of the economy. The faucet and the sink. The faucet is any money entering the economy. From mob drops, to quest rewards, to selling items to stores. The sink is any money leaving the economy. From repair costs, to NPC shops, to other various fees. The goal is generally to balance the two ammounts of gold. You can try and find a way to largely limit the amount entering the game, and just keep it circulating. Maybe don't have money at all, allow players to simply trade items. Or don't allow npc shops to create money, only allow them to circulate what they have from trading with PCs.

I'm not sure how you would test such a system without a mass amount of palyers. Maybe by creating a program that can have several random charecters doing different actions(harvesting, mob killing, selling, buying, etc), and try and estimate what might come up.

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Guild Wars for PC literally kept me playing it because of their economy system...I just farmed, sold and bought stuff because I was..cough..semi-obsessedwithearningmoneyinavirtualworld cough cough... >.>

One of the most notable money-sink implementations in GW was their crafting system. It was all balanced on the players' thought track of "I want to pay 500x as much money for that armor so I can look better!" because no one really cared about the combat anyway...because it was horrible. I'm not joking, the only thing you'd want to do in GW would be farming dungeons/areas for money so you can buy armor to look better..because fighting regularly in a party with 'whatever skill build you want' is just not fun. They designed the combat horribly and made it extremely unpleasing.

So the crafting system would have about ...5 sets of normal armor and 5 more of prestige versions of that normal armor called Elite armor. The elite armor cost a whole lot of money and crafting materials, but hey..it looked better.
I think the main money faucet was other players for me, though, because all I did was farm items to sell to others. Mobs only generated about a hundred gold if you were lucky and not very often. Gold weapons, which are worth money to players if it dropped with the right stats, would be sold to NPC merchants if they weren't dropped with the right stats (in other words, if no one wanted them). This would be 200-300 gold, whereas it could go from 1,000-...well, let's just not think about how much people would be willing to pay for certain items...

Hopefully my insight on Guild Wars' system will help.. Edited by GHMP

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A fast-paced server where players obtain in-game currency with relative ease and level up just as quick. The server wipes once every 3 months. Maybe something like a league-ish sort of game, where 3 months = 1 game play season. Carry over some benefits (no gold and equips) from previous playthrough to keep players playing so that they don't feel that their previous effort is wasted (maybe a nice mount that is faster than normal mounts;) ). Thats how you achieve a perfectly balanced economy, where botters/goldfarmers/hoarders are thwarted once every 3 months.

I even think htt you can even monitor those who leveled extremely quickly and tag them as suspicious. Normally those who level so damn fast are either playing 24/7, or they are botting. More likely than not you will find (and catch) more of the latter.

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The driving force in MMO economies is players playing the game and demanding rewards. The key to controlling the economy is having enough rewards available in the game for them to work towards. Money is just there to ease the trade of rewards so there must be a demand for money in the game outside of player to player transactions.

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Test the game with unlimited money on your character.
Track how much money is *required* (via purchasing healing potions, spells, etc.) to maintain a steady progression.
Adjust your mobs or other game currency producing elements so that they produce currency at that rate - more difficult encounter can provide more currency reward than less difficult encounters.

Players can choose to "farm" coin by sticking to easy encounters and grinding away at the cost of a slower rate of character progression, or they can go with higher-risk content that, if successful, provides greater rewards in both coin and faster progression.

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To get a stable economy you need to look at the extremes.

For every way of earning money in the game, you need to calculate how much money that method can earn per hour.

Once you have this stable, you can price things accordingly. (or you can do this the opposite way, by pricing things first and then adjusting the hourly earn rate accordingly)

As for the extremes, you need to consider gold farmers or dedicated players. Sure, the average player is only going to earn x amount of money per hour. But the dedicated grinder can earn a whole lot more than that during the span of a day.

Most people don't expect a player to just farm money nonstop for 10+ hours straight, but it happens, and you need to take that into consideration. When designing an MMORPG, you always need to look at the worst case scenario. You always have to design your game with the idea that the players are going to do everything they can to break it and ruin experiences for other people.

The faucet/sink comparison is a good one. I think your sink should be trying to drain more money than the faucet gives. This way you're assured that the sink will never overflow. It's always better to start off with a slow drip than a full stream. You can always increase the flow of money if it's too stagnant. But turning down the faucet is a lot harder, and will annoy the playerbase. Increasing the flow doesn't have a huge downside as long as it's controlled. Players won't get mad that they are now earning more money per hour. :P

As I stated earlier, don't ever give items or money to players without them earning it through time investment that is equal to that of other money earning methods. Don't give a player 1000 gold when they create a new character. They didn't invest any time to earn that gold so they could just make 500 accounts and be rich. At least make them go through a tutorial or something first, which then you can determine how much time they "worked" and pay them accordingly.

I've found that a good way to start your economy is to have your in game currency represent some real world currency. For example, since I'm from the US, I like to use the dollar as a good starting point. So for a game, I might make 10 coins = 1 real US dollar. What this does is it lets me find out how much I should price items and also how much money per hour a player should be earning. So maybe an apple in the game would cost 2 coins (20 cents) and working as a delivery person might earn you 100 coins an hour ($10)

This lets you set initial prices so that they aren't just random numbers that you decide on. I know of too many games that just price things based off of the first thing they priced... Like "oh this loaf of bread is 50g, so that means I guess that a shirt would cost like... I dunno... 500g?" and it's totally random and has no math behind it. Items just get priced whatever sounds good at the time, and it is not a good method to use. Of course, in the end, your prices might get adjusted a lot, but the point is that its good to have a nice base to work from when first setting your prices.

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Another approach, instead of trying to calibrate the amount of money entering and leaving by estimating how much money a player needs to progress, would be to estimate the 'velocity' of money circulating. If there's total M amount of money in the economy, and each day T money is spent purchasing items, then T / M is a sort of estimate of the average number of times a dollar changes hands in a day. If you have a low velocity of money that's an indication that there's too much money in the economy and you should throttle it back, a high velocity of money maybe indicates that you have too little money circulating.

The advantage to this method is that you don't have to keep re-estimating the amount of money a player 'needs' to have when you decide to change game mechanics such as possible jobs, etc.

As for what 'high' and 'low' mean, you could use real world values as first approximations of a 'good' velocity and then adjust it as the game continues.

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I'd suggest giving this a read, it explains economics in UO:
[url="http://www.mine-control.com/zack/uoecon/uoecon.html"]http://www.mine-control.com/zack/uoecon/uoecon.html[/url]

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This is an interesting problem, and something I've seen go from bad to worse in at least one game (Everquest). Everquest went from being notoriously hard to get money to virtually handing it out to players. In the early days, NPCs would give at most a few platinum pieces (this being the high level and dangerous stuff, weaker enemies generally only gave out silver or a piece of gold occasionally). Getting a single piece of fine steel plate could cost close to 1,000 pieces of platinum, so it took a very long time to gather the money you needed to get a full set. I never saw one.

These days in Everquest, platinum is massively devalued because people have been saving it up for over a decade and many players have literally millions of pieces of platinum in the bank. To compensate, many NPCs now drop gems worth hundreds of pieces of platinum, so players who don't have millions can still get by.

The solution that Sony came up with was to require players to buy very expensive molds to forge armor in current content, if you didn't farm every thing from four separate tiers of zones. So a player could literally spend hundreds of thousands of pieces of platinum gearing up if they wanted to do it the quick way. I'm not rich, so I did it the long way.

It removes money from the game, but ticks off players who rightly recognize that it's a money sink and serves no realistic purpose. You'll generally want to avoid doing this if at all possible.

I think perhaps taking a look at real life could shed some light on how to deal with this. In real life, you can't go outside and chop a few rat tails off and sell them at Radioshack for a couple bucks. Removing that idea from the game would help slow the influx of money into the game. Even back in Medieval Europe, people did go scrounging after battles were over to take pieces of equipment and pawn them off, but since there wasn't exactly much demand for a battle axe among civilians they didn't make much money this way, but buying an axe would be very expensive because weaponsmiths were rare and their labor didn't come cheap. If NPCs pay very little or nothing for junk or scavenged gear but charge a realistic amount, you can curtail inflation a lot there. It might also frustrate players though.

In real life there's also something called [i]bills[/i] that keeps most normal people form amassing huge quantities of money. WoW and presumably other games use repair costs and charging for food and rent to simulate this, but you can play around with it in a lot of ways. If players can buy houses, then making a prestigious manor with suitable rent will take money out of the game from those that have more than they know what to do with, and cheaper houses are available for those with less money.

In real life, we balance our job's income with bills, but that's tough to do with MMOs. No MMO I've ever played had any concept of jobs that all characters were expected to get if they wanted money. This will always have issues of balance between players who play a lot and / or have more patience than others.

Well, that's a lot of rambling that didn't really provide any solution, but it's food for thought at least. :)

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"How do you approach your design to avoid such issues - and is there ways to put the idea to test without needing lots of players to test the economy to see how inflation occurs?"

Learn some basic psychology and economics to understand how the incentives will work, monte carlo the rest of it. Then fail to make the only basic error of economics... which is to fail to account for ALL the effects of something. Also known as the broken window fallacy.

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People in the real world don't have kilos and kilos of platinum not because they have bills to pay but because platinum is hard to get.

In that context "platinum" no longer represents the coinage of a medieval economy. It's a *fiat* currency. Fiat currencies experience inflation; that's just how it is. If you want a currency which doesn't experience inflation, don't conflate currency and score. Then you don't have to give people currency all the time, so you don't have to keep printing it all the time.

Then you can give each new player a currency budget when they arrive. It should be a decent amount, larger than they need to start with, but which will constrain them later.

The amount of money they get from a task is related to the level of it times their budget minus what they currently have. If you keep killing level one monsters, eventually none of them have any money left behind when they die.

No matter how much you kill of anything, your money can't exceed your budget.

If they buy something like armour, it counts against their budget. As the armour is damaged and degraded, the cost amortises down, re-increasing their available budget.

Players can go "overdrawn", but if they do, they'll start finding quests unrewarding for a bit until things come back into balance.


So how do you get kings? Simple. Players get to pledge allegiance to another player. When they do that, score flows both ways -- the lord prospers by the repute of his men, the men prosper by repute of their lord. So the next time you kill something, your lord also scores 10% of your score reward. Your lord also (behind the scenes) gets the loan of some of your remaining budget; 10% of your budget is now available to him as well. But if he uses it, you can't.

That relationship is recursive. So Kings need rich (and also high budget) Barons, they need the pledge of Lords who need the pledge of Men-at-Arms who need the pledge of other players...

So now when the king kills a dragon, he's got tons of budget so the dragon can drop a hoard of 10,000 gold coins. Which the king will be expected to share out, or he'll lose the very pledges which lead to those windfalls. But when he gives the gold to other players, it comes off their budget.

Now the neat thing about this is that even if you buy gold outside the game, or create loads of characters and give money to your main... all that loading up your character with gold does is make it harder to find any more until damage to goods has worn some off.

The supply of gold is now no longer infinite - and is balanced no only across the game, but to the individuals. The social groupings still allow local monopolisation, but not a global one.

A player who is poor and ejected from a social network will find it easier to get gold from quests (because his budget:gold ratio is larger), whereas those who ejected him will find it harder (because they now have less spare budget in the group to be awarded gold from).

Put a little noise in there, and it will all just happen in the background. Quietly, without needing to be explicit, groups which trust and cooperate will be more successful. The more money the king gives away from his dragon kill, the more money he can win in the next quest...


If someone is overdrawn for too long, they just start getting issued quests which could lose them money -- if they're the king, then the treasury gets raided by goblins!

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Make currency creation dependent on player efforts?

The player could collect the raw form of gold, silver, copper, platinum, whatever, in order to create coins. They could be minted by the governing system and a large portion could go towards the minting process. You get a small chunk as a finders fee. This money IS created, but it is actually harvested by the players through collecting natural resources. The rarity of the resources and the overall usefulness of them could help determine if there is too much money in the economy or not enough. So there are two developer controlled ways to meddle; This resource is too common or not common enough and lets find something else cool to have require this material. Is it worth more to use these metals as is or turn them into coins and only get a cut of the final product from the minters? The fee could then be put towards your taxing party's funds and help further develop them in the process. Something that could work well in an RVR type setting I think.

This puts a heavy demand on people to mine, but well... gold rushes weren't lonely places to be.

Resources scarcity throughout the lands would also be an option to promote player exploration.

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One of the risks with making the currency dependent on player effort like this is that it's still subject to surplus money effects.

It sort works in the real world because gold is bonkersly difficult to find; all the gold ever mined by humans makes a cube only ~20 yards on a side. When there are "gold rushes" the gold sources are exhausted relatively quickly even though the effort required for the mining is huge. What actually happens in the real world tends to be **deflation**. Gold gets more and more valuable as time goes by -- because there's less gold per person, not more. It's easier to make people than gold.

The risk in multi-player game of a world constrained resource like this is that you get "determined player resource monopolisation". This is where "determined players" (ones who will distort the world with their actions) can monopolise a resource.

In an MMO with gold mining as the currency source, what eventually happens is that all the gold ends up in the hands of gold farmers (the ultimate "determined players"); because they are the players who will mine it to the exclusion of playing the game. The result is that the "gaming" PCs wander a desolate mined-out world unless they go to ebay and fork over real dollars to get in-game resources.

Or, you have to figure out some way in which each player will get to mine some gold... if you let the mines be indefinite supplies for the gold you get rampant inflation. So you end up needing to let *each player* strike it lucky.

The money is still subject to (temporary) surplus money effects because every time you open up a new supply of the metal it floods onto the market (as the "determined players" go and mine it 24x7) -- European economies had similar issues when silver from the new world started to arrive in the 15 and 1600s. There was this vast increase in the currency base without a corresponding increase in the rest of the economy; too much money chasing too few goods => inflation.

The chaos that ensues as currency first inflates and the deflates isn't fun to live through and your players won't enjoy it, particularly if they're the ones who buy at the wrong points in the market and (say) overpay by 1000% for a sword.

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[quote name='Katie' timestamp='1312412194' post='4844248']
So how do you get kings? Simple. Players get to pledge allegiance to another player. When they do that, score flows both ways -- the lord prospers by the repute of his men, the men prosper by repute of their lord. So the next time you kill something, your lord also scores 10% of your score reward. Your lord also (behind the scenes) gets the loan of some of your remaining budget; 10% of your budget is now available to him as well. But if he uses it, you can't.

That relationship is recursive. So Kings need rich (and also high budget) Barons, they need the pledge of Lords who need the pledge of Men-at-Arms who need the pledge of other players...

So now when the king kills a dragon, he's got tons of budget so the dragon can drop a hoard of 10,000 gold coins. Which the king will be expected to share out, or he'll lose the very pledges which lead to those windfalls. But when he gives the gold to other players, it comes off their budget.
[/quote]

Why would I want to rely on a king to give me what was mine to begin with? The king gets lots of gold that came from my budget and then gives it back to me. In the end, it's the same than a lone wolf except you rely on the king to give you back your money.

There's also a loophole with this system. Give your gold to some mule. This frees your budget and you can start farming at peak efficiency again. When you reach the limit again, drop it on the mule. The mule will be overbudget, but that doesn't matter since he's not farming.

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[quote name='Katie' timestamp='1312444272' post='4844382']
One of the risks with making the currency dependent on player effort like this is that it's still subject to surplus money effects.

It sort works in the real world because gold is bonkersly difficult to find; all the gold ever mined by humans makes a cube only ~20 yards on a side. When there are "gold rushes" the gold sources are exhausted relatively quickly even though the effort required for the mining is huge. What actually happens in the real world tends to be **deflation**. Gold gets more and more valuable as time goes by -- because there's less gold per person, not more. It's easier to make people than gold.

The risk in multi-player game of a world constrained resource like this is that you get "determined player resource monopolisation". This is where "determined players" (ones who will distort the world with their actions) can monopolise a resource.

In an MMO with gold mining as the currency source, what eventually happens is that all the gold ends up in the hands of gold farmers (the ultimate "determined players"); because they are the players who will mine it to the exclusion of playing the game. The result is that the "gaming" PCs wander a desolate mined-out world unless they go to ebay and fork over real dollars to get in-game resources.

Or, you have to figure out some way in which each player will get to mine some gold... if you let the mines be indefinite supplies for the gold you get rampant inflation. So you end up needing to let *each player* strike it lucky.

The money is still subject to (temporary) surplus money effects because every time you open up a new supply of the metal it floods onto the market (as the "determined players" go and mine it 24x7) -- European economies had similar issues when silver from the new world started to arrive in the 15 and 1600s. There was this vast increase in the currency base without a corresponding increase in the rest of the economy; too much money chasing too few goods => inflation.

The chaos that ensues as currency first inflates and the deflates isn't fun to live through and your players won't enjoy it, particularly if they're the ones who buy at the wrong points in the market and (say) overpay by 1000% for a sword.
[/quote]

Well, one way to assist in this would be to allow multiple currency types to be created. You could then exchange, for a fee, lesser currency for greater currency, or greater for lesser. Another is to have the rates at which a minter exchange fluctuate depending on market factors. These are just numbers that can be altered as the game goes on. The great fear would be the over harvesting of raw materials as you are pointing out, but there are going to be resources other than ore that is of value. If ore, or it's coin form, becomes too common, go collect less common goods instead. If the crafting system and harvesting system is configured properly it may be a non-issue. It isn't an easy task, but inflation is always bound to happen to an extent. Making money less of a requirement to play is the goal. The market would start off as a barter system and coin would very very slowly trickle into the economy. Coin =/= everything as items will have their own value.

Ideally the gear system would be one of which that promotes the constant drain of raw materials on the market. Gear would need to deteriorate and break through use. Gear would have to have a lesser power curve than current MMORPGs and go back towards the UO/early DAoC gear system. You could compete fine enough with basic gear, but you gain a slight advantage for having top end, rare materials, gear for the big super important fights. Thus, you could spend the extra for a very slight advantage, or you could use lesser and save a pretty penny. Have a "good" set of gear and then have your every day set of gear as well.

If we want to prevent the hoarding of currency we need to find something to make letting the money go appear more valuable than holding on to it. For an RVR type game, you could find a way to make the investment of currency by players to promote the stability and safety of their realm. Help government so it can help you.

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Another alternative altogether is a closed economy (no faucets, no sinks). Provided you keep currency circulating (which is harder than you would initially think) and you account for fluctuations in the total number of players (and the age of those players, which determines their expected net worth) you can use such a philosophy to create a stable economy that wont suffer from inflation. The only problem is, you really have to think things through and the smallest mistake will cripple your efforts for quite some time. Item permanency must be closely tied to availability: if items never "expire" then they will become less scarce, becoming less valuable in general, leading to hyper [i]de[/i]flation which can be just as bad as inflation. Similarly, if you can acquire 10 short swords in the time it takes 1 to degrade, then you will never run out and flood the market with them, leading to ultimately the same result as them never expiring.

You also have to be careful about handling money. You can't spawn NPC's that drop currency, and quest givers cannot give out currency as quest rewards (unless it comes from somewhere, which usually is never the case). Even new players cannot start with a pocket of gold, as all of these are money faucets. Money needs a means of circulating between hoarders and normal players (tax?), between NPC's, and between players (ie, there has to be a motivation for exchange, meaning it must be convenient and rewarding).

There are actually more considerations than I could ever possibly hope to list... and you'll need to be ready to compensate for all of them. So far as I'm aware, every single sufficiently old closed economy in MMO's has failed to date, but then, every single sufficiently old open economy has failed as well. I say this because no matter what, your system can't be perfect but at least you have other alternatives to consider.

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[quote name='Zouflain' timestamp='1312572274' post='4845165']
Another alternative altogether is a closed economy (no faucets, no sinks). Provided you keep currency circulating (which is harder than you would initially think) and you account for fluctuations in the total number of players (and the age of those players, which determines their expected net worth) you can use such a philosophy to create a stable economy that wont suffer from inflation. The only problem is, you really have to think things through and the smallest mistake will cripple your efforts for quite some time. Item permanency must be closely tied to availability: if items never "expire" then they will become less scarce, becoming less valuable in general, leading to hyper [i]de[/i]flation which can be just as bad as inflation. Similarly, if you can acquire 10 short swords in the time it takes 1 to degrade, then you will never run out and flood the market with them, leading to ultimately the same result as them never expiring.

You also have to be careful about handling money. You can't spawn NPC's that drop currency, and quest givers cannot give out currency as quest rewards (unless it comes from somewhere, which usually is never the case). Even new players cannot start with a pocket of gold, as all of these are money faucets. Money needs a means of circulating between hoarders and normal players (tax?), between NPC's, and between players (ie, there has to be a motivation for exchange, meaning it must be convenient and rewarding).

There are actually more considerations than I could ever possibly hope to list... and you'll need to be ready to compensate for all of them. So far as I'm aware, every single sufficiently old closed economy in MMO's has failed to date, but then, every single sufficiently old open economy has failed as well. I say this because no matter what, your system can't be perfect but at least you have other alternatives to consider.
[/quote]

On the New Player being given currency to start I had an idea around that for the genre I was aiming to design. You are part of a greater population, an empire/kingdom/realm/etc, a member of their army in that you fight opposing factions on behalf of your fellow peoples. Now, when you start, you are given chips, or tokens, that when brought to the proper government(NPC) location you could trade them in for a starting weapon, a new hatchet, a hammer for smithing, just basic starting goods. This would allow players to get a few things to help get them started, these items would not be able to be traded or sold.

On economies in general I was trying to think of a way to prevent markets from flooding. The first thought that came to mind would depend on the size of the player population. If you have 1000 players they can gather much more than 100 players, so you slow down the rate at which items can be acquired the larger the population becomes. This isn't something that would make off hour farming more lucrative, that is not the goal. With mining I had the thought of what if the #1 thing you gathered was stone? Great, you can make stone weapons, or you can put the stone to a greater use and build a structure with it. This eliminates the buildup of stone as you would need to constantly use it to repair stone structures and build new ones. Make the ore that comes from the same harvesting node a rare thing. Scale the percentage of finding it based on your player population size and the rarity you wish to make the material.

I guess I just mean to say is find a way to have bulk basic resources be in constant demand so the "cheap" stuff is never useless while keeping the rarer stuff more in demand and less easy to acquire. The rare stuff can NEVER be a requirement to compete, just a luxury. In this game though you could compete with stone weapons, but anything better than that and you would get slight upgrades, not insanely powerful weapons that make stone obsolete, but slight upgrades for various materials used.

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Balance time instead. In simplest terms the only real resource in an MMO is time. Even something like an RvR game a war isn't won by winning the "war"(intentional) it's won by making your opponents no longer see something worth their time.

You also need to remove "leveling" and similar goals from crafting(technically leveling by spamming items). This pretty much adds a broken level of unreasonableness to the economy(materials worth more than finished products) because it's worth the player's time to make stupid economic decisions to level(driving resource demand up, finished product supply up, while not changing item demand). The first fix I would do for this is to go lesson based(see EvE Online leveling, earn lessons spend however you want even if you never used the skill) which would flat out stop most of the unreasonable drive. The next thing I would do would make making 2nd tier resources the the best leveling items for a trade the most efficient way to level(IE making bars, molds, and similar) for this to truly work this needs to be true at all levels even "past max". I would also add the ability to "sacrifice" final tier items to achieve some nice effect or another.

For fixing money supply I would add floating drains that don't directly involve other players. For instance house "leasing" would be on a per auction basis, essentially if cash supply goes up the amount of money people have more money to spend therefore spend more. Meaning you have a floating drain that adjusts with your economy and without developer input. Things like an auction tax also achieve this same effect.

You also need to add "no tier" level abilities that encourage trade. One loose design I've had is that travel tends to take a long time, but major areas(cities) tended to have "world stones" where you could freely grab a piece to travel back to the stone, this item of course tradable(when auction houses based on a per city basis).

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