Earning Your Keep in an MMO Economy (Part 2)

In contrast to the rigid, rewards-oriented gameplay that themepark MMO economies rely on, most sandboxes make their economy the driving force behind player interaction. Crafting often plays a large part in the daily routine, requiring players to craft, trade, and loot monsters and other players for the gear they need. Items are often impermanent and subject to being lost, stolen, or traded away. On top of this, sandboxes require their players to invest a lot of time and effort into taking part in the economy.

The more punishing the game, the more essential mercantile gameplay becomes. Let’s say that the penalty for death is dropping all equipped items for others to pick up; as a result, players are encouraged to continually craft or buy weapons and armor in case of emergencies. On the flip side, this makes it immensely rewarding to defeat other players in battle and take their goods for yourself, facilitating unique gameplay roles like the highwayman I described in a previous blog post.

Gathering and harvesting materials are another key ingredient. Where most people might prefer to pay for essential crafting materials, others opt to do the busywork themselves. For example, when I played RuneScape in the mid-2000s, I made most of my money through gathering profitable materials. I used to spend an hour every day mining ore in a “rune essence” mine—a common but valuable material used to create magical tools and spells. After mining a full inventory of rune essence, I would then spend another half hour in the nearest market advertising my stock in the local chat channel until someone bought it.

The Rune Essence mine where I made my RuneScape profits.

Rune_essence_mine.png

Taken from: http://runescape.wikia.com/wiki/Rune_Essence_mine

The depth of mercantile gameplay means that sandbox MMOs naturally lean towards time-consuming gameplay sessions. Many people find this to be a negative aspect of sandboxes, and is—in my opinion—the main reason why the convenience of themepark MMOs attracts a wider audience. Most people simply don’t have the time to spend hours a day doing menial tasks in a video game. Even so, there is a niche audience craving games requiring this kind of dedication. Busywork means that there is a real investment in crafting; someone put their time and effort into making that sword you’re wielding, or the chair you bought for your virtual house.

Such an emphasis on repetition and time-consuming tasks means that players who are dedicated to the economic game can earn real recognition. While themepark MMOs focus on combat with a far secondary focus on crafting, many sandboxes allow players to avoid combat altogether and earn their living solely through playing the economy. A player with enough time on his hands can become well-known in his social circle for creating quality weapons and armor, or as the guy to go to for cost-effective furniture. The wealthiest players can take the role of tycoons, making smart trades and investments in other players’ goods to expand their own fortune.

Games like ArcheAge (pictured) allow for players to specialize in particular crafting disciplines to make their mark on the economy.

ArcheAge-Crafting-Skills

Taken from: http://archeagelevelingguide.com/crafting/

Sandbox MMOs ultimately rely on players to dictate their economy. Supply and demand fluctuates just as it does in the real world, and there are typically very few restrictions as to what players are allowed to buy and sell. This freedom offers an entirely unique form of gameplay that no other genre can replicate, and is the reason why we are seeing a resurgence of sandbox MMOs slated for release in 2016 and 2017. Players don’t just want to go into dungeons to slay monsters—they want to have some real influence on the world around them, and economic gameplay offers this influence that mainstream MMORPGs have been missing over the last decade.

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