If you’ve experienced virtual worlds, you know that economy is an integral part of the experience. It is what makes a world come alive. In fact, economic activity is the selling point of virtual worlds for some. This is why they log hundreds of hours in a month and, when not logged, they scrupulously pore over auction house and farming guides to figure out how best to earn virtual cash.
The tricky part of all this economic activity, as almost all virtual worlds scholars would agree, is that they make things a bit too real. It renders the boundaries between real world and fantasy world ever so permeable. Real money trading (RMT), in which players buy virtual gold for real cash is a booming market, and in most cases is against the EULA. In games like EVE Online, where theft and scamming have become an art form, money exchange takes on different flavors. It is impossible to pass through a system in EVE without hearing cheap come-ons like “Give me your ISK and I’ll double it,” all of which are as fake as the e-mails you received from the dethroned Nigerian prince who wishes to bequeath his estate to you out of the goodness of his heart…
Given the importance of economy in EVE, when players start talking about a relatively stagnant economy, it is clear that CCP, the Icelandic company that developed and runs the game, has a problem. In fact, CCP is the first video gaming company to ever have hired an economist Eyjólfur Guðmundsson (DrEyjoG) to manage a game’s economy (he recently left his post in pursuit of academic endeavors.
I am not an economist, but the word on the street is that the players have worked out all the efficient ways to manufacture and trade which has clearly affected the market prices and the inflation of PLEX prices, the ultimate investment good that can be traded for game time. Here is a thoughtful recap on the Great PLEX Bubble from our trusted friends at TheMittani.com.
Perhaps for this reason, DrEyjoG’s keynote was one of the first ones scheduled at the Fan Fest. He went over the trajectory of the EVE economy for the previous year, dissipating concerns, dismissing the talks of inflation with detailed charts. But it was clear (even for the untrained eye of a non-economist) that the economy had somewhat flatlined.
The upcoming expansion, Kronos, appears to be CCP’s partial solution to the issue. Hailed to be “delivering the industry New Eden deserves,” Kronos aims to initiate a much-needed industrial revolution. The overhaul introduces industrial gameplay accessible to new players, revamped interfaces, new pricing slots that give a financial incentive to manufacture in dangerous areas, changes in the mineral compression, and upgrades to the mining and hauling ships.
What was more interesting to me, however, was another strategy that permeated the entire Fest. That strategy was to appeal to a very primal instinct in all of us: desire to destroy.
For the first time (or at least that is how it was presented), DrEyjoG showcased numbers from an event in EVE: the infamous Battle of B-R5RB that sparked from an unpaid sovereignty bill and quickly developed into a full-fledged war that was to become the largest that any virtual worlds has ever witnessed. Below is an actual footage of the battle:
Fought in the Tranquility server, the battle lasted for 22 hours, raking up $330,000 in damages. 7,548 participants, 717 unique player Corporations, and 55 unique player Alliances were involved in the battle. 20 million soldiers were killed, over 400 ships were destroyed, of which 75 were Titans (the largest ship in the game that costs approximately $2500, though one of the destroyed titans was around $5500). These numbers (which were highly publicized in the media) and other relevant comparison charts which were shown for the first time at the Fan Fest were presented almost as a reward for having caused so much mayhem. CCP not only created an in-world monument commemorating the battle, but also put together a documentary about this historic event, no doubt to advertise the game:
DrEyjoG also talked about a similar battle that occurred in EVE’s Chinese-based server, Serenity, that was of equal proportions but in some cases have surpassed the Battle of B-R5RB in numbers. He presented this parallel battle almost as a challenge to the Tranquility players, inviting them to top those numbers.
Why the hype around these battles? Yes, they serve to attract advertisement dollars as well as new players. But, really, good luck convincing new players to get into a capsule and foray into the wilderness that is EVE. This is a world in which players have been known to stalk one another for years just so they can destroy expensive ships. EVE is notoriously hard to master, and because of that, its new player retention rate is fairly low.
If anything, showcasing destruction like this serves the primary purpose of encouraging consumption. It is EVE’s unique way of boosting its economy. It is the ultimate sink if you will. Destruction is the business model for EVE and thus it will be celebrated, always. Accordingly, @CCP Seagull, the senior producer of EVE, announced that their goal is to make every single build in EVE be destructible, including the stations themselves. No doubt, EVE is walking a fine line here. It is a delicate balance to maintain: encouraging destruction to the extreme while not turning off its players who might suffer extraordinary losses. Thus far, they seemed to be doing an OK job at it.
In the closing EVE party, I bumped into one of the fleet commanders of the ClusterFuck Coalition (CFC) that annihilated Pandemic Legion and N3 at the Battle of B-R5RB. After congratulating him, I asked him, “So are you guys going to take DrEyjoG’s challenge and start a battle that would top the numbers of the Serenity server?” His face all flushed with alcohol and content, he replied, “Naaa, they are a bunch of botters, no glory in that. But we’ll be kicking some ass.” I guess not much has changed since Julian Dibbell’s goldfarming days… But in all likelihood, it will take at least a year to get that kind of a fleet up and running.
I came away from EVE Fan Fest having made peace with the possibility that I, too, would be losing my ship fairly soon. And perhaps for the first time, I felt like… that was OK.