Thursday, November 29, 2007

Runescape and inflation - the Grand Exchange

I have just started playing Runescape a little. No, you're right, I don't have time ....

A couple of remarks. Firstly, it would be nice if some of the players could get over the desire to announce "Noob" whenever they see a new player. Presumably they were one once. Does this happen in every MMORPG, I wonder?!

Secondly, the powers that be have just opened what they call the "Grand Exchange". One of the problems in MMORPG's is inflation, I understand. People can mine ores, or cut down trees, and these things are infinitely replaced, and the drive to continue to do this is to increase your level in mining, smithing, woodcutting or whatever. So the universe is increasingly awash with material and wealth in general.

Hitherto, in Runescape, if you sold stuff to a shop, it would only get a fraction of its value. So one block of silver ore, for example, if you bought it in a shop, would cost (say) 280 "gold pieces". But if you sold it to a shopkeeper, you might only get 30 gold pieces for it. And this is quite sensitive to demand - if a shopkeeper has a lot of something in, the price they pay seems to fall quite quickly. The effect of this is to limit the rate of growth of an individual's wealth.

All this has changed with the arrival of the Grand Exchange. Now, you can cut out the middle man, and offer anything direct to potential buyers. The turnover of shops must have plummeted - but since they aren't players, and the land of Runescape as a whole accrues no benefit from taking this money out of the system, this doesn't really affect them (though I wonder whether some will end up closing down - ah, the harsh economic truths of a virtual world!). The finances of "rich" player characters will only marginally change - they continue to buy things as they require, to do what they want with. What changes most drastically is the finances for "new, poor" players. All of a sudden, it's possible to get an income of 260 gp for a piece of silver ore, rather than 40 or so. Higher income leads to access to better equipment (although its use will still require work to achieve suitable levels), and so the Grand Exchange should lead to a significant redistribution of virtual wealth. We shall see.