Shut Down The Black Lion Trading Post

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!

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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.

Very old school Runescape World 1
Very old school Runescape World 1

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?

Down in the Runescape mines earning a living
Down in the Runescape mines earning a living

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.

Should a certain Charr be out of a job?
Should a certain Charr be out of a job?

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

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15 thoughts on “Shut Down The Black Lion Trading Post

    • Digital Salad January 17, 2014 / 10:33 am

      Great article, thanks for sharing. I missed that when I was researching for any other pieces on the topic.

      The strange thing that I’ve really found is that its not just Guild Wars changing like that article highlights, its all MMOs. They’re all trending towards the distilled seller experience of a Trading Post.

      Its soulless, as the article says, but its also not fun or particularly healthy for the economy on the whole. Its time to bring back being a real merchant to MMOs! Needless to say, I know its practically impossible to make that shift once the game’s released. Hopefully some new releases will begin getting back to those golden basic values.

  1. lothirieth January 17, 2014 / 12:26 pm

    Whilst I can agree with the positives you put forward, I think a trading post/auction house is better for the population as a whole. I just started playing GW1 a couple months ago and it has no TP. You have to advertise in chat (which gets listed in party chat) and work out a deal “face to face” with a person through the trade fuction. This means you need to be on top of prices and actually have a clue of what an item’s value is so you don’t get ripped off. I find the prospect of trying to buy or sell there to be a bit scary if I’m honest. πŸ˜›

    As a new player, I’m absolutely clueless and actually sort of don’t care. I don’t like the economic aspect in games to be honest. I also remember when I popped back into LotRO for a bit and went to sell something at the auction house, I realised there I don’t have a clue on value unless I go searching through it. So whilst I loathe the importance the TP has in GW2 (I long for more items to be earned through playing the game, not grinding money), for me it’s been helpful. I can automatically see the value of anything I’m selling at that moment, can post from anywhere in the world, and can save money through buy orders. It’s not a perfect system but I think it’s much better for those of us who have no desire to get heavily into game economics.

    • Digital Salad January 17, 2014 / 4:21 pm

      Thanks for the comment πŸ™‚

      I can definitely see that the TP is helpful to a lot of players, I benefit from it in loads of ways as well as a player, so I certainly understand what you mean.

      It can be really quite scary learning the ropes of buying and selling, but I always kind of feel that when I put in a sell order for an item and then it never shifts. Did I misunderstand how that particular item’s market works or is it just a slow day? I think it is pretty scary trying to get to grips with any Digital Economy :).

      Sorry if you’ve not been enjoying my economics posts recently in that case! I’ll be throwing in as many other types as I can soon, I’ve just missed writing academic style stuff recently so it’s been good fun for me to write and debate this stuff.

      I think something that might be really helpful, because although the TP is really handy I kind of hate it at the same time as well, is if merchants gave a serious offer for the random items that you get in loot. If you could sell anything that wasn’t exotic to a merchant for a serious price it might make the experience a bit better I reckon. Then you don’t really need to know what its worth if the merchant is almost always the best deal.

  2. Xileer Torias January 17, 2014 / 1:34 pm

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    ^ – Imagine that every 30 seconds in your map chat, and tell me how quickly you’d get annoyed?

    • Digital Salad January 17, 2014 / 2:13 pm

      Thanks for the comment!

      I remember MMOs with open player trading markets, with players calling out offers and prices like you’re saying.

      Usually, at least in every MMO I’ve come across, there was a defined area where the sellers went, literally a market. Only if you were standing near the market would you get the spam, and the markets were always away from main centres of players – the market doesn’t want general players near them and players don’t want to be near them; so win/win.

      It can definitely be really intense when you’re in that area, but you get to choose whether you’re there or not.

      The thing that I always found interesting was that the biggest spammers weren’t usually the fastest sellers. Customer relations came in to it quite a bit, and spamming did not help get on the right side of a buyer.

  3. j3w3l January 18, 2014 / 2:16 am

    I do wish to see some sort of more personal system wherein people can sell. It’s gotten way to impersonal and as you said, it only really benefits the people with the acumen and time to play the market

    • Knivesmith January 18, 2014 / 6:25 am

      Technically, the system described in the post also required acumen and time.

      • j3w3l January 18, 2014 / 8:33 am

        it’s a different kind of skill though. It isn’t creating some sort of spreadsheet of orders and price comparisons but more about creating social connections.

      • Digital Salad January 18, 2014 / 2:05 pm

        That’s exactly what I was trying to get at. It’s a totally different ball game trying to make a sale in a player to player negotiation.

        I remember back on Runescape I actually made friends with one of my regular buyers. We got on well, he liked my service, and we both got the deal we wanted. That’s fantastic business as well as a great social interaction – its also good experience for the real world. Trading Posts just don’t do that, its too impersonal and it’s not good for the game I don’t think.

  4. Ettesiun January 22, 2014 / 12:49 pm

    As a GW1 player, I never sold neither bought any thing with other players, and was really waiting for any sort of auction house.
    The direct ^player to player market is great for time-rich player. For casual one, it is too heavy, and to expensive.

    To take your exemple : in the game you make 40G or money. But that mean that with an auction house, your buyer would be able to buy it for 80G ! Or for 100G if the miner want to make a little bit more money – they discount you because they knew this was the only way to sell quickly.

    In fact auction house VS player2player market is a conflict between time-rich and time-poor player ! Why ? beacause the Auction house will make the price goes down. Thus favoring the buyer, who are the time-poor. Whereas the player2player will favor those who have the time to find the best offer or the best price.

    For me, GW2 target the time-poor population (quick leveling, teletransportation, no forced grouping, etc…). Thus it is normal that it uses a Auction House. Whereas older game target the time-rich player – and thus player2player allow more gameplay opportunities.

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