Blasters, Beggars & Credits: I Love Ilum – Observations from the Summit
Some players do it for glory. Some do it for infamy. Some like to accumulate the most points, or explore the far reaches of the worlds they inhabit. This, however, is not a column for those people. This is a column for those people who, quietly or not, enjoy making money so that their digital avatar can sleep on large piles of cash.
A lot of details have been making their way out of the Fansite Summit, but perhaps most tantalizing of the recent items is the sudden openness about Ilum, the hostile and frozen planet of open-world PVP.
Of course, it’s the duty of this columnist to attempt to find some manner of profit in it all, so a quick run-down on the features and how we might make find some opportunities.
First, the most obvious one: the highest-level nodes of resources spawn here. As with other games that had high-level zones that encouraged world player-versus-player, players will be fighting over the best grounds for farming materials. However, unlike other games, the zone does not have a reset or timer. Instead, while farming, you will constantly be under threat, and it will be far more likely that you will encounter a hostile intent on preventing you from harvesting that sweet, sweet cheddar. Full-contact gathering certainly has its place as a sport, but it also cuts into profits. In general, if you yourself are not a PVP (at least in combat) enthusiast, I would recommend going at off-peak hours, unless it turns into the only place to acquire some rare material – in which case, fight on!
Second, consider the persistent nature of the venue. The fighting doesn’t stop. Ever. This is both a good and bad thing. It’s bad in that it takes away potential customers – there will probably be a class of player who rarely leaves Ilum except to do other warzones. This person will only seek out an auction house when he has to (consumables, new tiers of crafted gear upon hitting 50 and/or expansion time, if the equivalent of the gear enhancement exists then they’ll come for that), and will otherwise focus on his/her PVP experience.
However, a much larger group will probably PVP at regular times, with a regular group. This less hardcore person will probably need to supplement their gear with better items, which can be bought; they will need to eat consumables, which can be bought; they will need materials to supplement what they are doing on their crafting side, should there be incentive, which they will have to buy.
Related to this last point is the time crunch that people will experience. Someone who wants a well-rounded MMO experience will probably PVP some, PVE some, craft some, and social some. Each of these activities takes time, and more than likely they cannibalize from others. Especially at the start of MMOs, people view farming with disdain. Thus, the markets for raw materials themselves (and I know that, up above, I said not to farm Ilum itself too much for a different reason) will be relatively high. The better the PVP and PVE experiences are, and if a wider range of people wish to experience both as a result, the higher potential profit for the farmed raw materials. If less people engage in gathering, than there should, in theory, be less on the market, and prices will be higher (high demand, low supply).
Before anyone gets out of hand, yes, I’m perfectly aware that people can send their crewmates out on gathering missions. For many reasons, this is not a good plan to do with raw material gathering, as these people will be credit starved from the mission costs. The market is going to force materials to come in at somewhere below the mission skill cost; how far below, and at which point it becomes unsustainable, is for the market and individual sellers to decide. But I will venture a prediction that the auction house will offer more value for raw materials than mission skills would.
My overall verdict would be that we actually have a stake in Ilum (and PVE components of the game as well) in being good (again, a subjective judgement), because they will create time sinks for players. If the majority of players are out doing things, then the economy community is smaller but (probably) wealthier and in a better position to serve the market. I don’t want a monopoly, I just don’t like it when JoeSchmoe the Jedi Sentinel comes back and sells his lightsaber crystals for half of what the market says they should cost.
I do have two other separate items from the trip completely unrelated to Ilum. In the course of asking Principal Lead Combat Designer Georg Zoeller about his metrics presentation, the question came up about credit sellers. Now, most of the auction community has a relationship that is conflicted at the best of times. Frequently, we, the credit-rich, get accused of accumulating our fortunes through the shady back-alleys of the internet, which is of course not true (in most cases), and we generally revile those who would take the short and easy way out by buying currency. We also know that the vast sum of that money has come from them hacking in and plundering someone else’s characters, and that we are equally at risk, if not more so, for the extra gain they would get. We have to spend real money to beef up our security, get an authenticator, and so on.
However, credit sellers make a small slice from farming raw materials and selling them for ridiculously cheap prices, usually half of what the market would normally bear. This makes them a cheap supply base, as its usually many stacks of the item in question.
In his presentation about metrics, Georg specifically mentioned how those metrics enable him to spot people abusing the game to attempt to make currency. In the midst of heat maps and death maps and chat maps, he’s able to drill down and see people who might be playing the game with ulterior motives. How, you might ask? Because when you’re playing the game that way, you’re doing things differently. The game is built around story and progress that someone, under his example, logged in for 23 straight hours and doing few to no quests is going to stand out like a sore thumb under the microscope. Someone who runs around hitting the same 3 nodes for farming will be obvious, because few players are going to actually do that. The metrics will let them drill down, find people who might be abusing the game, and then investigate those players.
Like I said, it’s an issue we are probably somewhat in conflict over. In the elder game, we may lose a relatively cheap source of materials we can buy in bulk – but we also have the most pressing worry, represented in account security, minimized to an annoyance rather than an ever-present danger. Assuming that Georg and company can minimize the credit sellers impact on the game as they seem to think they can. My own personal verdict is, sounds great! I hope they can pull it off.
The other item was Senior Creative Director James Ohlen commenting on modifications for items. I think the most important piece to take away from his answer (about 33.5 minutes into his Q&A audio) is that the mod system still isn’t done – it’s still being worked on. That means, even if you’re in beta, it’s not the finished product. There are still a few ways for them to go, and I, for one, will withhold speculation and comment on it until we see something that is the final product. Even small tweaks will have big repercussions for crafters, but what he did confirm was the intent of mods adding longevity to mod-able items. So, for now, my column on role-players and being able to sell them mods continuously remains intact.
Beggar’s Tip: I imagine some of my readers possibly scratching their heads at some of my seemingly contradictory statements above, namely in regards to farming material. “Momus,” you might be saying, “why are you advocating farming by us to make money, but also lamenting (in small) the potential loss of cheap credit farmer materials?” It’s math, silly. The market itself is very complex, but there are trends, and namely, the nascent state of the game creates a much different market at its inception then it will have in a few short weeks. Individual players have a much larger effect on the economy than they know. The vibrancy of an economy derives from the total money pool – the more money, the more transactions. The more transactions, the greater the variety of purchased things would be.
At the start of the game, the total money supply will be very, very low. On day one, if there are 30,000 players on a server (these are hypothetical numbers picked for mathematical convenience, fyi), and they average 1000 credits on the end of day one, the total money supply is 30,000,000. If, on the end of day two, the average is 3000 credits, then the total money supply is 90,000,000. That’s a huge increase of money, which means a huge increase in the total amount of possible transactions. There are lots of other factors, but consider that, perhaps 2 weeks into the game, the money supply will be 100 times what it was on day one – which means you have to worry about being varied in your offerings then.
Early on, the biggest money-makers will be raw materials – everyone will be trying to level their crafting and get ahead, and make those fancy blue pants of doom. A crafty auctioneer would sell most of his stock (keeping only what he needs to level, and possibly forgoing even that) early on, and buy it much cheaper later. If you want to make some extra credits, sell your stuff! On day one! Raw materials will rarely fetch that much. Also, split into smaller stacks (1 unit preferably) – I’ll cover why next time!