A few weeks back on The Meta Show The Mittani characterized CCP’s attempts to fix the EVE Online economy as an attempt to roll back mudflation. And that seems to fit the bill as to what they have been attempting over the last few years really.
Mudflation goes back to… well, as the name implies, MUDs and their economies.
Much has been written about the economies of online games, but my early experience with mudflation was around TorilMUD, which was big enough to have a player economy, but not big enough to absorb the faucets over time.
Mudflation generally refers to the growth of both power in online games and the effects of the uninterrupted flow of cash from drops, quests, and what not into the player economy.
In TorilMUD both aspects hit the game. Power creep was generally part of the introduction of new raid zones. If somebody made a fancy new zone for players to attack, they would seed it with some desirable gear, a bit better than you could get in some of the older zones. That made people run the new zone to get the drops that they wanted, but also made older raid zones a bit easier to run.
For example, way back in time, the City of Brass in the Astral Plane was a tough zone for a raid group. It had some nifty stuff, but groups primarily went there because it had drops for a couple of epic spell quests, including one of the druid spells… creeping doom or moonwell, I forget which this far down the line. You needed a fire protection item, you needed to have fly cast on you, several of the fights needed very specific group compositions.
As new raid zones came in and gear got better overall, City of Brass became a bit of a cakewalk. Part of that was the raid leaders learned all the tricks over time, what you could skip and how best to approach various bosses, but a lot of it was that we were all just now over-geared for the zone, so that save for one boss fight a run was rarely in question. (Unless Mori was running the raid, in which case we might all wipe just traveling through the Astral Plane and spend the next three hours recovering from that.)
The TorilMUD solution to this over time was to redo gear, generally by hitting it vigorously with a nerf bat until zones were, if not hard, but at least not a walk over. Often the devs came for specific things. There was the great war on haste items. I remember Meclin lent me a pair of grey suede boots, which were haste items when he took a break and I traded them for some gear that was a big upgrade for me and then, two weeks later the devs nerfed them into oblivion. I offered to go buy a pair of grey suedes for him when he returned to the game. They were cheap because nobody wanted them anymore.
Part of the issue for TorilMUD is that it has had a level cap of 50 since 1993, so adjusting gear was the go-to solution.
Then there was the economy. For some time after a pwipe, and I went through four of those, a player economy would grow and flourish. I wrote a post about how we used to handle sales by yelling about our wares back in the old days.
TorilMUD was a game of many faucets and few sinks. As usual, life was hard when you were level 1 and could barely afford the copper needed to buy a ration to eat. But as you went on and looted every coin and sold every bit of junk to a vendor… we used to race off to the Faerie Forest with every crash/reboot because there were things we could sell available at such a reset… you eventually could cover your needs, then buy a few luxuries, then had excess.
When everybody was hungry, the economy thrived. When people got fat, when the streets were running with gold, then the economy would die. Basically, gear had value and coin did not, and who trades something of value for no return? And when somebody did want to buy/sell something, it was for an obscene pile of coin.
That problem was never solved, save through the community itself. People were generous in donating gear and when there was no demand, people stopped farming low level gear to resell. But if you wanted to buy gear, pay money for an item, you were likely out of luck. (Except maybe for that tinker’s bag in the Faerie Forest.)
Both of those aspects of mudflation have carried on into modern MMORPGs.
In fact the experience of early EverQuest was very much a replay writ large, right down to people shouting to advertise their wares in the tunnel in The Commonlands.
The EQ developers had a different way out… a route that actually ran with gear inflation… which was expansions. If you pile on some levels or some AAs to earn, a bit of story, and a pile of new gear to grind for, then you kick the gear inflation can down the road. As long as you keep making expansions… and the EQ team was doing two expansions a year at one point… and don’t go crazy, you can sustain this for quite a while.
The economy was still a bit nutty in Norrath. They had to turn off gravity in the Bazaar, the official player economy center, because you needed to haul huge amounts of platinum coin around to buy things, and woe to anybody who forgot to bank their coins before stepping out of the Bazaar, because you would find yourself weighed down, unable to move. I’ve done that.
World of Warcraft had adopted pretty much the same point of view, at least up through the Battle for Azeroth expansion. They did a gear squish at one point, just to reign in numbers, but gear progression through expansions was still pretty much the same; new expansion green gear was likely better than your old expansion purples.
And the team at Blizz made old raid tourism a thing for pets and transmog gear, so your inflated power could be used to go back and collect stuff you missed in past expansions.
It wasn’t until Battle for Azeroth that they started to feel that the “more levels with every expansion” model might be reaching the point of absurdity, so we got the great level squish before Shadowlands hit. For me the jury is still out as to whether that was worth the effort, though it is hard to judge due to Shadowlands growing stale in the first six months and then the hostile workplace lawsuit hitting the company.
Regardless, I suspect that a level squish like that is a luxury that few titles can afford. I am sure the EQ team feels the pain of having a level cap at 115 and 27 expansions to sort through. I am not sure how Neverwinter managed it, though I suspect their plan was not as ambitious.
On the economy front Blizzard has just run with the inflation model, even expanding the gold cap over time. Each expansion hands out more gold, but they add in a few fancy gold sinks… mounts and bags and what not… to try and offset that. I am sure that WoW Tokens helped at least redistribute some of the hoarded gold in the game.
But the player economy isn’t critical to the game. There are servers where the economy is totally screwed up, where the auction house is bad, but you can mostly ignore it. You do quests, get gear, earn faction, get enough gold to buy from NPC vendors, and go on with your life and adventures.
It has actually been a bit amusing to watch the economy change in WoW Classic with the unlock of Burning Crusade Classic. We would go out of our way to finish a quest with a one gold reward in vanilla. In Outland the quest rewards are throwing gold compared to what we’ve been used to, and the market reacted. People got rich, prices went up, and things moved along.
Still, the auction house it options.
Which brings me back to EVE Online, where started about a thousand words back. CCP has been doing something that I have not seen before in an online game. CCP has been trying to stuff the economy side of the mudflation genie back in the bottle.
After introducing all the changes that led to the current situation, epitomized at one point by the Delve Time Unit, CCP had a change of heart/staff and started down a path to reduce the wealth being accumulated in New Eden. Rorqual mining was repeatedly nerfed as was supercap ratting. Taxes on commerce were raised. Anomalies were nerfed some more, then the whole ESS nerf was put in place to put income at risk.
CCP then got serious and went after mining and minerals, the core of the manufacturing economy, reducing ore yields, limiting where some minerals could be found, reducing the number of asteroids, and generally trying to starve the New Eden economy.
Most recently CCP redid industry. Ship prices were already on the rise due to mineral prices, but CCP made certain ships, battleships and above, much more expensive to produce which saw a large downturn in production back in April.
A lot of effort has gone into throttling the economy, though after all that CCP threw some ISK at people for an event when they unlocked the ESS reserve bank keys.
While the money supply is down a bit from the June 2019 high, that last injection seems to have undone much of what they were attempting to achieve.
And CCP has promised that the starvation economy will be ending with changes slated for Q4 of 2021. We do not know what those are yet, but I am very curious to see if there will be any tangible change resulting from these months and years of squeezing the economy.
For example, CCP loves when null sec goes to war. Big battles with expansive ships set records and make headlines that help promote the game. But this big economic squeeze has clearly impacted the war.
Yes, PAPI is claiming that the tax changes killed off their Tranquility Trading Tower revenues, which meant they could no longer finance the war, but that feels more like an excuse than major factor.
That said, making capitals and supercapitals more expensive to produce means that both sides in the war were much more careful about putting hard to replace assets on the line. The tax change may not have ended the war, but the production change loomed large over how it was being fought and made those big battles CCP loves less likely. Nobody wants to risk their big toys if they can’t be sure they can replace them.
CCP is in a tough corner, I will admit that. If they think the economy is getting out of hand they cannot just add some more sinks in with the next expansion, a spiffy new mount or some such. And the economy is vital to EVE Online in a way that few other games have ever managed. Life goes on in New Eden because you can go to Jita and buy a new ship to replace the one you lost. ISK has value in the economy. Screw that up and the game breaks hard.
But I am still wondering if this effort will end up being an object lesson to other developers about how to, or how not to, deal with mudflation.