In Guild Wars as in any other online roleplaying game, we think that maintaining a robust player-driven economy is important and adds a lot of fun to the game.
It’s true that Guild Wars is a competitive game and therefore focuses much more on player skill than on item acquisition. But PvM-oriented players still look for rare items that they can use to distinguish their characters, as well as long term goals that they can work towards acquiring. In order to allow the game’s economy to be an important and fun factor in PvM-oriented play but not create unfair imbalances in PvP-oriented play, we often make rare items easier to acquire for PvP use than for PvM use, or make rare items differ from common items only by their appearance. In general we try to make it much easier in Guild Wars than in most games for average players to acquire almost-the-best of everything, and to compete on a level playing field, while still giving the more hard-core players ways to differentiate their characters.
It’s theoretically possible to create an online roleplaying game without a player-driven economy. For example, you could make every variant of every item in the game available for purchase from NPC vendors. But that would take away a lot of the feeling of accomplishment of finding a rare item. Even that might not be enough, because if certain vendors were difficult to find or travel to, then players would still trade amongst themselves at above-vendor prices. More broadly, you could simply disable the ability of players to trade items or to drop them on the ground. None of this sounds particularly fun, and given that Guild Wars uses randomly generated loot, placing every variant of every item in the game on an NPC vendor is certainly not an option for Guild Wars.
Players often wonder why we allow prices to float on the traders, and this is fundamentally the reason. Traders are not vendors; they don’t offer an unlimited supply of rare items. They’re just there to facilitate trade between buyers and sellers. If the traders quote buy and sell prices that are outside the range of what players think the true value of an item is, then players simply stop using the traders and switch back to using chat to find trading partners. Of course, for any given type of rare item, we could theoretically stop treating it as a rare item and instead put an unlimited quantity on NPC vendors for sale at a fixed price. But this tends not to be a good idea for two reasons. First, player perception of the value of items tends to change over time; if the vendor sale price can’t adapt, then there will be times when the item seems undervalued and times when it seems too expensive and no one will buy it. As specific character builds go in and out of favor, the items that support those builds can experience wide swings in their perceived value. Second, Guild Wars will always have a player-driven economy because the game uses randomly generated stats on weapons and equipment. Those items can’t effectively be sold by vendors, and the more we pull other types of items out of the player-driven economy by placing them on vendors and giving them fixed prices, the more we focus all price swings and inflationary pressures on the few remaining items that players still bid for, potentially pushing their prices far out of the reach of normal players.
Because Guild Wars does make extensive use of a player-driven economy, we at ArenaNet have a responsibility to manage the economy, and we take that responsibility seriously. You might ask: what exactly is our responsibility? Is it to keep prices within a certain range? Is it to maintain price stability? We think that, expressed in its most general terms, our responsibility is to keep the distribution of wealth as fair as possible, so that normal players can afford to bid for items in a player-driven economy. We need to avoid situations where a small subset of players can earn orders of magnitude more gold than the average player, thus driving up prices of rare items to a level where normal players could never hope to afford them.
There are three ways that certain players earn more gold than the average. The first and most obvious way is that, because everyone plays the game differently, some players are able to find unusually profitable areas to hunt in, or tricky strategies for killing a lot of monsters quickly. The search for the most effective way to play can be a fun part of the game for everyone — we all like to see how well our characters can do, and whether we can tweak our characters to be better than they were previously — and so we at ArenaNet don’t consider this a problem unless it’s extreme. Although a very knowledgeable or tricky player may be able to earn gold twice as fast as the average, this tends not to create a significant problem, because prices for items in the player-driven economy will still stay at levels where normal players can afford them. But sometimes differences in the distribution of wealth can be extreme; a group of players can find ways to earn gold ten times as fast as the average player. In this case, prices can rise to a level where normal players can’t afford to trade for items anymore. Then we have a problem, and we need to adjust the game to bring wealth distribution back into normal ranges. We constantly monitor the game, so we know when a certain place or technique is being heavily exploited. When an issue like this becomes too severe, we make tweaks as necessary to bring things back in line.
The second way that wealth distribution becomes a problem is when players use bots to farm gold around the clock. This is obviously unfair to the vast majority of players who play the game normally. We have no tolerance for bots. We constantly monitor for bots; we have tools that help us to easily identify them; and when we find people using bots, we permanently ban their accounts. This whole process is largely invisible to the average player, but behind the scenes, we’re regularly banning accounts for using bots.
The third issue, which is quickly becoming the biggest threat to the game’s economy, is companies that farm gold and items professionally and sell them for real-life cash. These companies hire large teams of people, often working in sweatshop-like conditions for very little pay, to play Guild Wars for many hours a day in order to rake in gold and items. The workers aren’t bots but they farm gold in similar ways, using very specific character builds to kill very specific monsters, running the same path and killing the same monsters hundreds of times each day, doing whatever exact sequence of actions their employer has determined is currently the most effective way to earn a lot of gold per hour. They then turn over what they’ve farmed to their employer, who sells the gold and items to other players for cash.
It creates a vicious cycle. If a player buys 1000 platinum pieces for real-life cash, and then uses that in-game wealth to make high bids for items in order to acquire all the rare items he wants, then in doing so he drives up the price of items in the game, causing other players to feel that they too need to buy gold in order to keep up.
Selling in-game items for cash is clearly against the terms of service, and engaging in any farming or storage activity that assists other people in selling in-game items for cash is also against the terms of service. If you’re farming gold or items for someone who sells them for cash, you need to stop now. We are currently gathering data, and when we take action it will be to close entire networks of accounts at once: those used for farming, those used for storage, and those used for distribution. Buying in-game items for cash is also against the terms of service, so for those of you engaging in this practice, please understand that you’re not only hurting the game in a way that makes it less fun for you and everyone else, but also risking getting your account permanently banned.
Of course, the number of players who engage in any of these activities — farming exploits, using bots, selling or buying in-game items for cash –- is very small relative to the total player base. At ArenaNet we play the game just like you do, so we know that for most of you, gold is a precious commodity that you work hard to attain. In fact, our statistics show that 50% of all active accounts have fewer than 10 platinum pieces, and 75% of all active accounts have fewer than 20 platinum pieces. So when we make small tweaks here and there to keep the economy under control, please understand that we’re not trying to make the game harder for the average player. We work hard to understand how normal players play and how extreme players play, and then find just the minimal changes necessary to keep the economy healthy and fair.
Thanks a bunch, Mike, for all the information. Guild Wars fans can look for another Fansite Friday interview in a few weeks. In the meantime, check your favorite fansites in the very near future for information on how you can submit a question to the developers.