Moo Tang Clan: October 2008

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Economy chains and item drains

Inflation usually occurs because more gold is coming into the player economy than which is leaving. Gold enters the economy by drops from mobs and from quest rewards. It leaves the economy through payments to NPCs - gear repairs, griffon taxis, basic consumables, training expenses, auction house deposits and fees, and obvious gold drains like Epic Flying skill and Cenarion War Hippogryphs. Players paying money to other players doesn't remove it from the economy, it simply shuffles it around.

So here I am, working my way to Exalted with the Cenarion Circle. Amongst other things, I'm buying various items off the AH and handing them in for Cenarion Logistic Badges .. and it got me thinking that this is also making inflation worse.

I'm removing items from the economy, but the gold I pay out simply gets shuffled to another player. Consequently, while the amount of gold available in the economy has remained the same (ie. not increased), my actions are contributing to making things to spend that gold on more scarce. Which of course means higher prices for those things (ie. inflation).

So, while gold drains should be designed into the game to combat inflation, any item drains should also be carefully and cautiously planned given their effect on the economy. This is particularly important if your game includes item breakage for purposes of stimulating an active crafting ecosystem (not a problem in WoW, but often considered theoretically).

This has also set me thinking that perhaps NPCs could be set up to sell many more items, things which are normally farmed by players and sold on the auction house, things which players need as quest hand ins. A really smart system would have NPCs selling items at a dynamic price competitively undercutting the auction house, but in relatively limited supply. It would have to be a limited supply, otherwise no one would ever buy off the auction house, not ever. Say maybe a max of 2-5 units available, spawning every hour or so.

Now, what will likely happen is that the limited supply would be bought and immediately flipped on to market for a modest margin – the players that actually needs the item for crafting/questing purposes would probably not get the chance to buy it from the NPC. Since there are so many items that would need to be supplied by NPCs like this there would need to be multiple NPCs, each selling (limited supplies of) different items. I would fully expect some players would simply ride around from NPC to NPC, buying up stocks as they spawn, keeping themselves busy that way, flipping the lot onto the market.

While some players will grumble at the NPC farming, they are actually performing a service – they are doing all the tedious running about and gathering and consolidating all the stock into one convenient market place. Only fair then that they extract a modest fee from this process.

The neat thing about this process is that while it is actually a gold drain, the players buying from the NPC would actually be making a profit, and everyone else is benefiting from suppressed inflation and increased supply. Much nicer than slugging all players with a repair tax, or 5,000 gold flying lessons, and so on – all sources of player angst and whines.

Also, if the quantity of the limited stocks that spawn is randomised, as well as the respawn timer, then it's easy to gently fudge the random number generator and thus adjust the supply as the economy demands. During times of peak demand for specific items an increase in supply will keep prices reasonable as well as drain more gold faster. Later, as the server population moves on to other activities, the supply of those items can be scaled back to reduce the surplus from the market. It should be a simple matter of tracking how many of the items are churned through the market and how many are being handed in for quests.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Innkeeper Norman has a secret

No, not that secret.

He's currently selling Honey-Spiced Lichen and Pungent Seal Whey, two WotLK common foods with very impressive health/mana restorations. I've checked with a few other innkeepers but it seems they don't have the same connections as good old Norman.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The price of Achievements in WoW

Anyone else notice how much gold is being drained from the economy as players buy 10 tabards, 25 companion pets, 50 mounts, etc etc. I didn't mind paying 80g here and there picking up one of each colour mount, and I was even considering getting the Cenarion War Hippogryph until I saw the price. Which made me stop and think about how much I've already spent bit by bit. Ouch.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Achievements for Hunters?

With WotLK there will come achievements. There are no class based achievements though, which is a sad omission.

I'd like to see class based achievements - it might actually be a mechanism to teach players about their class some more. How many hunters know how to double-trap, for example?

Apart from that, there could be some fun class-based achievements. While I see an achievement for killing various rare spawns, for hunters I'd want to see an achievement for taming rare spawns - Humar etc.

Another hunter achievement I'd go for would be kiting some mob half way across the world. What class based acheivements would you go for?

Monday, October 6, 2008

zones in contention?

Just a thought .. imagine if every zone in WoW that is "in contention" would only make PVE quests available if your faction controlled that zone at that time? No zone control, no PVE.

I predict huge raging world PVP battles, TM vs SS being the least of it, as it would be nigh impossible to level if you're locked out of the zone.

The mechanics would need to be carefully worked out of course, to compensate for realm population imbalances. The way I would do it would be by having a domination capture mechanic (like the Spirit Towers and Halaa) which would then result in a locked period. The locked period would run for X hours from the time of the capture, and after that it's available for recapture. This fixes the related population advantage problems with the Spirit Towers and Halaa - the former are on a scheduled timer so the population knows when to go there and dominate, and the latter has no lock out and thus will quickly be recaptured.

There are 30+ zones up for contention, so it would be difficult for a faction to dominate and control all of them at once. Nonetheless, it would be advisable to design in some bonus/advantage for the underdog factions - perhaps special new quests encouraging adventurers to go off to battle. Ideally, these should provide PVP oriented rewards - if one side is constantly the underdog, they will obtain advantages not available to the other faction, and the tables will turn. I think this PvP vs PvE teeter-totter balance would be key - dominating zones via PvP unlocks PvE content, being underdogs unlocks PvP content, and no vicious feedback loops of the dominant faction gaining ever more advantages.

Integrating this design into the current game would be messy of course – this is only a thought experiment after all. Perhaps only the quests in the major hubs would be locked out, and since these zones have a hub for each faction it's thus possible for three states to occur: alliance controls both hubs, horde controls both hubs, and each control one hub each. Controlling the enemy faction hub could also unlock additional quests. Ideally, those quests would be completely new content, and not simply re-skinned versions of the enemy faction quests.

Leveling an alt would be different each time, as which hubs are controlled as you level up could be different each time. At the least, you'd have additional PvP quests available. If your side controls the enemy faction base but not your own, that would make a very different journey.

Logging out in your local Inn wouldn't be safe though. Not sure what could be done there.

Update - some related posts:

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Dread Pirate Roberts

Humble Hobo describes continual content and the comment replies point out the “extinction problem”. This is where if quests get consumed by players, then you will rapidly run out of content for the players, and faster than you can replace that content too. A single quest might take 10-15 minutes to play through, but it would likely take much more than that to set up in the first place.

There’s a related problem too – what happens if the quest you picked up in town gets completed by someone else before you even get to where the villain is hiding? Does the quest get marked as “complete” because the villain has been brought to justice (just not by you), does the quest get disabled in your quest log, or does it remain there, active, but impossible to complete unbeknown to you. Maybe WAR’s public quest system has something to enlighten us here.

Consider this variation on the continuous content idea though: a nasty villain has a bounty placed on his head – you kill him, unmask him, and find he’s just some pretender .. not the real villain. Later, rumours of the villain re-surface in the next borough over and the story continues. The same quest can be used and re-used over and over, with only slight variations in the quest details each time.

This is similar in ways to randomising the spawn location of a quest objective — if the villain is knocked off on a regular basis by adventurers then it will seem to be random. It’s different though, in that the NPCs will give differing reports, and the starting quest text will be different each time. So, while there is some chance of players breaking immersion because they think the content is buggy, it will also add character and depth to the game since the world would now be more dynamic.

You’d still have problems arising from other players completing your quest though.

Maybe WoW’s new “phasing” design mechanic could come into play - this is where the world you see is dependent on what you’ve done, and the world I see is dependent on what I’ve done. Thus your villain and quest remain active and located where you were told and the NPCs you talk to point you in the appropriate direction, but the next player to come along would be given an entirely new version of the quest, with different clues and a different location. Well, that could work but it would really break the game world in horrible ways, changing the MMORPG into an MSORPG. Bleh.

No, the trick would be in pacing the re-spawns. If this particular quest is so easy that it gets knocked over on an hourly basis then it would all seem very unrealistic - first the villain is to the north, and then 30 mins later he’s reported to be to the south, then an hour later he’s apparently been terrorising the prospectors and shepherds in the Red Hills ... how the heck does he travel about so damn quick, and how does he even find the time to carry out his villianry with all that rushing about?

One way to pace this some more is to make it a chain of intermediate steps - the usual plot tricks of “report for duty”, “scout for intel”, “fedex the report up the chain of command”, “search the woods/hills/ruins”, “take out some minions”, “gather some tools”, and finally “kill the boss”. Whew ... that should slow most players down for a bit. Add to that a significant delay (eg. a day or two or more) to the respawn, including the re-appearance of the quest givers, and the illusion of a dynamic world would be complete.

This could only work in a world which is acknowledged by players to have dynamic content though – if you slipped this quest design into WoW as it exists today you’d immediately see reports of the quest being bugged because player’s can’t find it in the same place, and many complaints about the slow re-spawn cycle.