Tobold's Blog
Friday, June 21, 2013
Is trading still a desirable feature?

Once upon a time I was playing a druid in Everquest. Druids were one of the few classes that had teleports, and I had a crafting skill to turn bear pelts into bags. So I traveled to the zones where the bear pelts were found and bought them from the other players hunting there, transformed the pelts into bags, and then traveled to the tunnel in the East Commonlands. There everybody who bought and sold stuff gathered, and people traded one-on-one, shouting out their offers. Since then trading in online role-playing games has become a lot more efficient. And a lot less fun. The low point was Diablo III, where trading got so efficient that items simply weren't worth anything any more, and what you could get cheaply from the auction house was a lot better than what you could find yourself. In the end you had a game about gathering loot in which many people didn't even bother to gather loot any more.

When I describe Card Hunter I sometimes say that the game has trading card game elements. That is somewhat misleading, I should rather use collectible card game elements. In fact there is absolutely zero trading between players in Card Hunter. And I think not having trading is a great feature which very much improves the game. There are quite a lot of games which would be better off if they didn't have trading at all.

The principal problem with trading in MMORPGs and other online games is mudflation: The items you find today are better than the items you found yesterday, and make the old items obsolete. This is by design, because if the quality of the items you find would remain constant with time, it would quickly become boring. So there are systems in place like leveling up, or new expansions, which make sure that on some "gear score" scale the stuff you find is always getting better. But as people start playing these games at different times, and play for different amounts of hours, the gear that is obsolete for the veteran is valuable for the new player. So the veteran is selling his junk for cheap, and the new player picks up extremely good gear for next to nothing. Which then kills the item collection aspect of the game for the new player. The more effective trading becomes, that is the easier it is to access and the more people share access to the same auction house, the cheaper it gets for a player to buy gear he would have needed to be extremely lucky to find by himself.

Trading card games have the same issue, whether they are level-based or not. They have cards of different rarity, and at the start of the game having a bunch of common cards is a huge step up from having no cards at all. The more cards you collect, the less useful the commons become, because you quickly have more copies of them than you can use. But if you buy a complete set of commons early in the game, you miss out on the joy of finding a useful one later.

And then of course there is the problem that a game company can only control the trading that is going on inside the game. There is no way for them to control whether there is a hidden second part of the trade going on via other channels. Thus if player A trades a million gold for nothing to player B, player A might be either very generous, or he might be in a personal relationship with player B, or he might have received $20 in cash from player B. If it is possible to trade, then it is possible to have "gold farmers", that is people who play the game only to sell items for real money, in your game. With all the negative consequences that can have, because suddenly a player's account might be worth a lot of money, and hacking and robbing it might become a profitable crime.

Trading obviously has a large impact on crafting in a game, if a game has crafting. But the impact isn't all positive. On the one side of course if you are able to craft daggers it would be nice to have customers buying those daggers. But on the other side the fact that you might put a lot of daggers on the auction house forces the designers to make sure that the daggers you can craft aren't actually very useful. That is why for example in World of Warcraft the items you can craft that are any good are bind on pickup. I could very well imagine a game in which the crafting system only produces items for the player himself, with no trading possible. Instead of making hundreds of useless items, crafting would be more elaborate, produce a lot less items, but the few items produced would be useful to the player.

In Card Hunter you cannot trade with other players. But you can sell your excess cards for gold, and then buy new cards for gold from vendors whose items on offer change every day or week. That basically fulfills all the players' needs for being able to get rid of the stuff they don't need any more and exchange it for something they do need, but without opening the can of worms that is inter-player trading. I think that is a wise decision. And I do hope that in the future we get more games in which trading between players is disabled. If ever there is to be a Diablo 4, it better not have trading any more.

Instead of making hundreds of useless items, crafting would be more elaborate, produce a lot less items, but the few items produced would be useful to the player.

In all games I saw the crafting of hundreds of useless items does not result from trading, but from the fact that it's the only way to raise your craft skill.
BTW your approach would force everyone into crafting (if the items are useful) or make it a completely ignored part of the game (if the items are not useful).
Trading is very handy to help out friends, it always annoys me when it is not in the game.
Yours is probably the majority opinion; I just see things differently.

I really enjoyed the D3 AH at least after they upgraded it. I am indifferent whether my item drops, currency I can use to buy my item drops or another item drops that I can sell and buy my item. Ofc for me the ultimate is the sandbox way - no items ever drop just crafting materials.

If you eliminate trade, you probably eliminate the crafting sub-game. Which would make me sad.

My theory is that you can have little competition producing and few customers, or many customers and competitors. Modern entitlees want high volume markets with few competitors.

I find there are more "interesting choices" to be made in the AH than in most PvE content. There are a number of interesting decisions to be made to determine what is over and under priced. Whereas "should I move from the fire underfoot" is not an interesting decision.

It points up the difference between games and reality. In reality, efficient trading is perhaps not an entirely unalloyed good [and that's the limit of any concession the commies will get from me!] but by and large it does make everyone a lot better off.

But efficient trading in games can easily take away the game, albeit sometimes replacing it with another game, less interesting for most.

@2: It's possible to have trading between friends without having efficient trading: just get rid of the AH.

As an aside, it occurs to me that as economic scarcity reduces, economic life will take on more characteristics of a game, and the benefits of efficient trading will be reduced and perhaps become negative. Conclusion: another reason there will never be a post-scarcity society. Even the poorest suffer from economic efficiency when scarcity drops below a certain point.
Trouble I had with the D3 AH was that the game was designed such that below max level you never get same level drops, you always get drops 5-10 levels lower than you. Which means that it's impossible to self-gear to your current level.

I would greatly prefer a game where most crafting was BoP. I like the whole idea of bootstrapping your way up.
@Gerry - no AH means having to use trade chat. I would greatly prefer no economy than having to read and deal with trade chat. One of the great things about automated trade is that is multiplayer without realtime.

@Michael - you could not self-gear your main. But altoholics could build up sets for upcoming siblings.


Perhaps many games just compromise too much. All drops, all BoP is a logical game design albeit one I am unlikely to play non-mobile. "Real" crafting and economy (interaction and interdependence of crafters) is a logical game design.

I am increasingly thinking games have the wrong amount of economy. It's a "we're an MMO so we need crafting" but "we can't have crafted gear be good or the 1337 raiders/arena and the d3 haters will complain." Perhaps there should be more or less economy in the games.


We have another six weeks of speculation about EQN. Being a sandbox and having been redesigned gives them considerable flexibility. I wonder how bold and/or how retro Sony will be about their economy.
I definitely agree with both of Helistar's points. You can see even with WoW where the items themselves are all BoE, just that minor bonus from each crafting trade is enough to make it required in raiding guilds.

And I would definitely like to see a new crafting leveling system. I am so tired of seeing that same system of "skilling up" roughly 300 points by making 10-20 of the same item, where you "craft orange level for guaranteed point, craft yellow for a probable point, craft green for an unlikely point, grey gives you nothing." They don't even bother switching up the colors. And every 75 points, you are required to go to a "trainer" to buy the ability to go up another 75 points. Why? Because that's what every other game does. It serves no purpose.

Also, the availability of materials at each level level will ensure you can basically never craft anything especially useful for yourself. These items can be very useful for lower level players though, so you wind up selling what you craft and using items someone else crafted. So an armor smith will basically never wear armor he crafted himself, until hitting level cap.

It is just another way MMORPGs are so stagnant now. And when the ability to "salvage" is considered some kind of innovation, I know developers think so far inside the box that I don't expect it to change anytime soon.
That is why for example in World of Warcraft the items you can craft that are any good are bind on pickup. I could very well imagine a game in which the crafting system only produces items for the player himself, with no trading possible. Instead of making hundreds of useless items, crafting would be more elaborate, produce a lot less items, but the few items produced would be useful to the player.

Tobold, if you haven't yet, you /really/ need to play FireFall. this is precisely the crafting system they've designed (though items are/will be tradeable - there's not much incentive!) and... well.. it works! Very well.
I think for crafting to be viable as a real game mechanic instead of fluff there has to be real limitations to being a crafter. SWG did a rather good job in that aspect. SWG also partially handled the issue of crafting junk no one needs to level up by making a lot of that stuff useful in some way. There was still a lot of waste but less than many other games I've played. And Eve has done a very good job in that pretty much everything that you can make someone else needs, although there is no skill gain associated with making widgets either in Eve.
Hagu, I was really speaking to Caldazar's point when I suggested having trading with no AH. Obviously if trading per se is to be a big part of the game you probably need an AH, but for helping out friends it's much less necessary. [Indeed, the more you restrict trade and safety measures, the more you push it towards trading between friends or at least trusted partners. Though obviously the idea of characters having persistent interactions is a bit passé in this brave new era of MOR~PGs.]
Hey, that was cool: it put an accent on passé! I wasn't even going to try...
All the auction house type systems that are becoming prevalent now have ruined trading for me. Fortunately I still have mabinogi where actually shopping around, physically checking player shops on various channels can yield some awesome stuff, and new friends to boot. :)
One way to fix the trading system would be to make all items perishable.

Like the bear pelt can only be turned into a bag within 6 hours of being caught. For a really great potion, make the key ingredient survive for 30 seconds after being harvested. That purple epic is simply garbage after a certain amount of wear and tear. One of the main reason trading gets stupid in MMO worlds is that typically any permanent item last forever. The market for consumables and the materials to make consumables is fairly stable and doesn't suffer from the value spiral. In D3 you wore an item, repaired it when you were done, and resold it like it hadn't been stabbed by 100000 monsters.
Part of the problem with most MMO is that the skill-up process for tradeskilling produces vast quantities of playermade items (this was something you noticed in Everquest). This drastically reduces the value of everything player made, and plugged vendors up with infinite amounts of cloth gear (and quivers) for those skilling up tailoring.

I think you want to check out Vanguard for a different tradeskilling scheme. Yes, you could skill up making gear for players. The main skill up path is making quest items for an NPC. These items weren't usable and thus did not plug up the trade system. Except for a few quest results, the best gear for each level was made by players.

This idea got partially brought back to EQ with some lower cost tradeskill items that are only worth selling back to vendors. When there are a number of important quest series that involve tradeskilling, there are vast numbers of players who have to spend huge amounts to skill up. In EQ, that would be the coldain shawl, shawl 2.0 and the Aid Grimel earring (still valuable on the mac server, but rendered obsolete on the PC servers).

I agree with Helistar's remarks. If all tradeskill items were no-drop, then every ranger in EQ would be compelled to get tailoring to 200ish in order to make their fleeting quiver and fletching to 300 to make the bows from newer expansions.

Some quests are still worth doing, even though the result has been surpassed by later expansions. Every SK I roll up on EQ does Greenmist, even though it isn't really useful past level 65ish for post-Luclin content. It has a great story, some miserable camps, but it really is a sign of a hardcore oldschool player.
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