Thursday, April 2, 2009

Bristlebane and the Cost of Do-It-Yourself

EQ2's live events have consistently impressed me with both their quality and their incentive design. The Bristlebane Day (named for a trickster god in the EQ pantheon) festivities are no exception. Lyriana now owns possibly the single most amusing April Fools' item in an MMO, after a quest that, appropriately, had her killing rats.

If that cloak looks like someone made it up by tacking every beneficial stat in the game onto one item using a web-based item generator, well, there's a minor catch. It can only be equipped in the cosmetic slot. The one that doesn't give stats. Well played, SOE, well played.

This is now my third cosmetic cloak, and I'm happy to swap in the latest version as each event rolls around. That said, the quests are worth doing in any case because they also award experience and alternate advancement points. Perhaps most importantly, time limited live event quests are not designed to require a massive amount of time in an extremely narrow window (unlike a certain other event).

During the time it would have taken....
One thing that struck me as odd in the proceedings was a discussion of whether one of the collection items is rare/ultrarare. Collection items are looted from sparkling spots on the ground, and the April's Fool versions are marked by especially prominent blue smoking sparkles that will be available for the rest of the week. The devs claim that all of the items in the holiday collection are random (in normal collections, one of the items is often rare and expensive), but both anecdotal accounts and market conditions seem to argue otherwise, as multiple people (myself included) have had difficulty obtaining one particular item.

Anyway, I didn't have the possibly rare item after concluding my other business in the zones that could drop it. What can a level 41 character with no rich, long-established level 80 main, do in this situation? In my case, the answer was to buy the item off the broker for 60 gold and then go harvesting. In under an hour, I obtained multiple rare harvests - I used one for a spell upgrade for myself and the rest collectively sold for well above what I paid for that last collectable.

Most likely, the person I bought the item off of would have earned much more money for their time harvesting, and I suppose I should be grateful that they never figured this out. More to the point, most of the people who are not happy with the rarity of the item should have been at least as able as the guy who's been playing the game for two months to buy their way out of the problem.

The value of self-sufficiency?
Us MMORPG players are not always that far up to par on the whole concept of opportunity cost. I'm certainly not immune - I spent a while leveling an alt as a provisioner to cook food for Lyriana, thinking that I was getting tradeskill experience on an alt AND getting products to eat for my trouble. It took until the mid-20's before I really stopped and evaluated what it would cost to buy the food I wanted from other players in the context of the amount of time I was spending attempting to cook it (along with the money for training and ingredients).

In hindsight, I'm very glad I elected to level Lyriana as a Jeweler, the profession which also makes her spell upgrades. Spell upgrades are a sufficiently specialized market that there isn't a lot of competition in the market for a specific upgrade to a specific spell (in a game with 24 classes, each of which gets 1-3 spells per level for 80 levels). I can buy the recipe book and the rare ingredient needed to make whatever spell upgrade I want for half of what the finished product costs. This is definitely worth my time and trainer costs to level the profession.

Food clearly isn't. Neither are potions. I'd considered leveling an alt as a carpenter, as they can make strongboxes - containers that go as high as 36 slots intended primarily for use in peoples' banks. Then I discovered that I can buy the 36-slot box for a mere 12 gold. Why level the crafter to level 80 when a single level 30-40 rare harvest can buy me four of the finished product? The same goes for gear to some extent - gear can get expensive, but a character who is leveling only needs to replace it every 10 levels. Perhaps rangers might actually burn enough arrows to make Woodworking worthwhile, but otherwise I'm not sure that my next crafter won't be another scholar-class, if I even decide to level another one.

This odd dichotomy where finished goods are strangely less profitable than the raw materials they were made out of is pretty universal to MMO's. I don't know how you fix this - WoW went the opposite direction with crafting in TBC, where professions existed primarily for self-only perks rather than making stuff for other people, and the results were dicey from a balance perspective (raiders became leatherworkers en masse). Maybe you just give up, and figure that the crafting market will be what it ends up being.

It's just unfortunate if, as EQ2 has, you've spent a fair amount of time making a good crafting system. It can be grindy at times, but I'm glad I'm doing it, and there is a fair chunk of content I would have missed out on had I decided to go harvest-and-buy from the getgo.


  1. There is not an easy answer to this issue.

    There are several different vectors needed to define the solution space.

    1) Does the game have a Buy and Sell market. I.E. can players list what they want to buy and what players have to sell?

    If the answer is no to 1 then there will always be an imbalance on one of the sides. If people don't know what people are willing to buy the good at then they don't know what to sell it for. Leading to 1 or 2 lucky sells followed by mass deflation of the item.

    2) Are the crafted items sufficiently useful that they are worth as much or more than the random drops?

    The less of an edge or bonus the crafted item provides the less valuable it is in comparison to the other random junk people acquire while doing anything in an MMO.

    The rest of the parameters would deal with availability of the raw resources and the availability of the crafting patterns.

    I plan to write up a full inventory of the vectors and analysis of them at some point on my blog. But since I am still setting it up and figuring out how I want to structure stuff, I don't know how soon that will be.

  2. The strange thing of the MMORPG economies is that crafting skill is an end in itself rather than a means to an end, such as profits. This is why the economies seem so strange. The world ends up looking much different when people don't care much about profit.

    For me the benefit of doing things myself is not having to wait for someone else to get on, never having to spam in trade for an enchanter or LW. I just take the half-minute to get on an alt.

    Overall though, I think the real cause is that ironically, only in a virtual world do we finally realize the true value of money: nothing except when we as a collective assign value to it. On its own it is worthless and pure pursuit of currency is stupid.

  3. I think there are two side to this argument, as an former economist myself. The first is supply and the second is demand; and then there is the opportunity cost between the two.

    Let me give two examples. I need to get Lower City rep so I was grinding feathers in the forest. It took me 75 minutes to get 60 feathers with a drop rate of 52% (time included waiting for monsters to respawn). When you tade in the feathers for the reputation you get a goodie bag that has a green or blue item in it.

    I then went and looked at the AH on my server. I was able to buy 120 feathers (give me 1000 Lower City rep) for 51g. I then turned them in, got the goodie bags, and resold the green items on the AH for 7g each. This brought me 42g. Total cost to me 9g; RL time savings, about 2 1/2 hours. I call this "farming the Auction House."

    Example two: I have an alt that is 50 level with enchanting at 300. What a waste of time. Here's the dirty little truth. I have never, on either my main or my alt, ever enchanted an item for personal in-game use. The game is easy enough as it is with out the enchants. For the life of me, I can't figure out why anyone would buy one. I kept telling myself that I would use enchanting at the higher level. Nope. It's the same way I have these blues in them and have never put a gem in one of them; not necessary.

    Persoannly, I think that WoW has a shittier economic system than even the US government and that's saying something. It simply makes no sense whatsoever. The design professions without ever creating anything in the game to produce a demand. And things there are demand for (like feathers for rep) are really hard to supply. So people can make more money farming feathers than they can in the actual in-game professions. Bizarre.

  4. I think the crafting system in WoW has gotten pretty good as far as this goes. I've been making money pretty solidly from buying mats off the AH, crafting them into things, and then reselling them.

    My level 55 warlock tailor can make hundreds of gold easily in a single night just buy buying tons of cloth off the AH and making it into bags. Nobody can use Netherweave for anything these days, so it's far cheaper than the bags that everyone wants for their alts.

    Same with the other professions. My main is a scribe and can get the materials for glyphs for a mere fraction of the selling price. Same with my blacksmith making belt buckles, my engineer who crafts ammo... Heck, even my jewelcrafter who's stuck at level 70 with barely any WotLK recipes that aren't trainer-taught can make money from prospecting saronite and selling cut gems.

    Materials most certainly are not worth more than crafted goods. The 10k in my bank after buying my 5th alt an epic flying mount is a testament to that.

  5. Sometimes materials are, sometimes they aren't. My miner can take ore as a raw material and create bars as a finished good. There are about 15 or 20 types of metal. Out of all of them only one consistently returns more value as bars then as ore on the AH.

    My alchemist can convert herbs (plus a few other bits) into flasks/potions. The AH price of these on my server is almost exactly the price of what went into them. Like to the silver. My theory there is nobody is willing to sell them for lest then "mats cost", but *everyone* makes stuff that lets their mastery proc some extras. So I can't make a profit on producing flasks or potions, but I CAN on elixirs.

    Too bad I end up using flasks far far more :-)

  6. There are some types of character that players value way more highly than the game really justifies, I think.

    Being self sufficient is one of them. It isn't just that people are happy to spend hours and hours and loads of in game gold/ resources levelling a trade skill JUST so that they never have to rely on another player (eg. my husband levelled an alt with inscription purely so that he could send enchants to his alts - that is all he uses both his inscription and enchanting for.) Yes, I think he's nuts.

    It's also why healing is so way overvalued in some games. Yes, it's useful, but a bit of emergency healing ability is in no way so useful that everything else the character does needs to be gimped. /However/ some players value self sufficiency so highly that they think that's a reasonable payoff.

    Versatility is another attribute. MMOs generally reward specialisation over versatility. No one takes a sub par healer or tank or dps if they have a choice. But players value versatility much more highly than that, and will spend many hours/ resources levelling alts to have more choices in game.

  7. @Kiryn.

    This post has convinced me of something that I long suspected and that is that economics are vary a great deal by server. It is extremely difficult to make money off crafted goods, and tailoring is one exception. I know one of the chief tailors on our sever, everyone knows her name. And yet even she has only made about 12K gold (and that's not profit) in three years. It is simply impossible to make money on enchanting because people are willing to sell to level. I'll be honest that I envy you a little because it is simply not possible to make that kind of money on my server. I know; I've tried.


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