Online Text-Based Games and Inflation: Gold Versus Dollar
Like many Americans who remember gas prices under $2, online gamers can recall when gold coins simply bought more in their favourite MMORPG. The gold value can mimic the real world in many ways. Known as a "virtual economy", in-game items become priced by players according to supply-and-demand. You can begin to figure out the perceived real-world value of a game item like a rare sword or statistic-altering armour if you figure out what backs the value of the golden sovereign. Iron Realms text games feature a second currency known as 'credits' that can be purchased and traded with either cash or gold, and while the price of credits on the website has remained the same, the in-game value has fluctuated dramatically over the years.
A common package that players purchase is 300 credits for $105, or .35 cents per credit. In 1999, $105 had the same buying power as $138.34 in 2010, which means that you could get almost 100 credits more for your money. In 1999, you could purchase 1 credit for 2500 gold in-game. Today, 1 credit sells for an average of 5000 gold, which makes 50,000 gold the equivelant of $10. So a character that forges an exceptionally rare sword could auction it for over 300 credits, making the text-weapon worth a hundred dollars.
However, some argue that gold inflation is more relevant than the dollar. As developers add new areas to a game, gold value decreases a little bit. Hunting or questing in some areas can produce high amounts of gold, which means characters can raise fortunes in little amounts of time. In 1999, Achaea had less than 5 designated 'bashing' areas. Today, the game has grown to epic proportions, with multiple continents and islands your character can sail to.
The amount of available resources also effects an online text game economy. For instance, if too many people are harvesting a specific herb, that herb will shoot up in price. Players who have hoarded that herb can rake in gold, hand over fist. A prime example of this happening would be when bloodroot went from 20 gold per to 150 gold due to overpopulation and a shortage of harvestable areas. Since the plant only grew in caves and some players were 'overharvesting', there wasn't enough to go around. And since the plant cured a common affliction, many players began dying in battle due to simply running out herbs. Many players were purchasing credits from the website to trade with other players for the precious plant. It wasn't until the administrators stepped in and added more cavernous areas to the game that the prices finally stabilized.
Finally, one interesting thing to note is the impact of credit sales and special promotions. It's not uncommon to see 20% bonus sales on the website, and with a special Iron Realms Elite membership netting you a 10% bonus on all purchases, this combines for a whopping 30% bonus to your purchases around holidays. As these cheap, discount credits suddenly flood the in-game market, players scramble to buy low so they can sell high when the promotions are over.
Bring out your inner text economist in some of the most immersive MUDs out there!
Tony Celentano is a text game enthusiast and currently plays games from http://www.IronRealms.com.