That title sure got your attention! What has the Black Lion ever done to me you’re probably wondering. Nothing at all, and I am a fan of the “down for maintenance” Quaggan just like anybody else. This post is really part 3 to my series on video game Digital Economics; looking into whether in-game trading posts are good or bad. Lets make a start!
In-game trading posts are certainly all the rage in modern MMOs.
Diablo 3, Eve Online, Guild Wars 2, League Of Legends, Runescape, Dragon Nest EU, etc, etc
They’ve all got one! At least as far as I know, as I don’t have anywhere near the time or the money to play every single MMO out there. You’d need to be a millionaire with a 10 day week free of any work to manage that! That’s a whole different blog post though. Needless to say, all the MMOs I play have trading posts and even ones that I used to play that didn’t have one, now do.
Why are trading posts all the rage?
Commodification. That’s the first big word I’m going to throw in to this piece, maybe not the last. Commodification has been sweeping through MMOs like a bad rash. WoW’s economic model relies on subscriptions, and that’s stood the test of time through their loyal fan base. For the new boys on the MMO block in the 2010s they had to have something different to make a ripple in the market. The answer came down from the heavens in the form of Free To Play with in-game cash shops where players can put real money into the game to get in game rewards.
Cash shops aren’t quite trading posts though, but they originated together and have been closely linked since. Apart from Commodification, the model of Free To Play brought in the importance of Engagement. That’s the second important term to explain the trading post fandom. Without a subscription, what is there to keep the player playing forever? Engagement was the answer and it was tied closely to Commodification. Player markets drew the player right in to the inner workings of the game’s economy, made the world more dynamic than any gameplay ever could rival. Players could be Engaged in a player-driven trading post, and engaged players are the key to a successful Free To Play business model.
Why am I bothering to look at trading posts at all? They certainly sound like a good business model and a good way of getting players engaged with the game, which is good for the players as well as the developers. An engaged and active community is the foundation of a good MMO.
Well, for those of you who played Runescape in the past I have one thing to say to you “World 1”. You’ll immediately know what I mean if you played Runescape pre-Grand Exchange (the Runescape version of the GW2 Black Lion).
World 1 was insanely difficult to get into, always full no matter what time of the day, because it was the place you went to buy and sell in the days before a world wide trading post. You can see world 1 in the printscreen above. Every major city would have a big market outside its bank, just like the one above in the city of Falador.
World 1 was a perfect player market. At one stage I set up a company with a group of friends buying and selling Iron Ore. Back then Iron Ore was 100gp per ore on average (now it’s going for a staggering 370gp per ore on the Grand Exchange according to the website!). The thing was, without a global instant stock market there was a perfect player created player market.
We bought Iron Ore from miners at, quite literally the coal face, for roughly 80gp a time. They were happy to get a quick sale without having to run back to the bank to deposit their ores, we were happy to get a deal. The thing was you couldn’t just sell 25 Iron Ores to a buyer in World 1 for a quick mark up. World 1 wanted bulk, that’s why they were there. So we’d spend hours buying up Iron Ore off miners before putting it together and swapping over to World 1, where we could net 120gp per ore if sold in enough bulk. No transaction fees, 40gp pure profit, happy supplier, happy middle man, happy consumer.
That sounds like a pretty good market, a pretty healthy market. Even when there were large changes in supply, such as the summer holidays meaning much more Ore came into the market, our profit market stayed resolutely the same.
Can you imagine our little company in Runescape’s Grand Exchange dominated world now? Can you imagine a player made company in the Guild Wars Black Lion world?
It’s unbelievable, it couldn’t happen. Yet, the most fun I’ve ever had was playing with my friends in that company. It was also the healthiest MMO economy I’ve ever played in, where anybody could make it as a millionaire eventually – not just those able to play the market.
Although most of this post has been anecdotal I don’t think there’s any better way of explaining the point than with the story of my past as a Runescape ore merchant. Developer regulated, player-driven trading posts like the ones that have caught on like a bad rash across MMOs new and old make for a worse economy and a worse experience.
Imagine if the Black Lion was closed down tomorrow (sorry Captain Gnashblade, its not personal!). There would initially be a lot of confusion for sure, but what about once it had settled. People would flock to Lion’s Arch to trade, to buy and sell in bulk. The city would be alive with the shouts of a Living World (Arena Net’s holy aim). There would be far more ways to get involved in the market as a player, and it would just be a more fun experience.
Of course, if you closed down the Black Lion tomorrow then Arena Net’s business model would be broken. The players would be having fun, but the cash shop would be gone. Yet, there’s no reason why a cash shop can’t be isolated away from a player market. In a Free To Play game you don’t need a player-driven trading post; and yet most developers believe so.
Maybe its not so shocking to stand up and say “Shut Down The Black Lion Trading Post”. You might well be pleasantly surprised with how the game changes because of it.
Digital Salad – https://lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com