The Elder Scrolls Online was one of the most anticipated MMO releases of our time but with so many epic features supporting 2 decades of games, certain MMO elements seemed to disappear from discussion boards in favor for hotter topics such as Vampires & Werewolves, and housing. One such element was the in-game economy. Although it’s an important part of many of today’s top RPG games, the level of detail and planning required to make a successful MMO economy dwarf that of any offline title. The very nature of the gaming industry, with players expecting more innovative ideas in every new release, makes it unavoidable that certain titles will attempt to reinvent the norm. The Elder Scrolls Online is one such title but is it wise to trifle with such a vital part of the MMO foundations?
If you’re not familiar with past MMO titles or the system Zenimax Online Studios have chosen to deploy, I’ll take a brief moment to explain. In general MMO terms the economy centers around typical supply and demand with an auction house acting as the central hub of trade. This allows players to discover and harvest items from around the game world, and either craft using those materials or sell items on the auction house to others. Auction houses are usually automatic. A player simply places the item up for sale, selects the price and waits. Another player than purchases said item and the funds are automatically sent, with a small percentage usually used as a gold sink. In terms of a working economy, it does the job. An auction house can easily be manipulated by a large trading guild or groups of players and it also makes the lives of gold farmers much easier.
The Elder Scrolls Online however is taking an entirely different approach. There is no server-wide auction house and players wishing to trade with strangers have to do so through in-game chat and proximity trade or mail. There is a guild store system that allows members of guilds to sell and purchase items from other players but communities usually embrace that kind of approach without an actual programed mechanic.
So why the change? Well, Zenimax Online Studios are creating more than just an economy with their approach to the system, they’re planting the seeds for much more. Forcing players to find alternative means of trade encourages communication within the economy and also sees traders and consumers forming long partnerships. For example. You encounter someone selling Iron Ore in a town. They have no interest in crafting but they gather it for additional cash, agreements can quite often be made to see the two trading again in the future. Regardless of the game, a multiplayer experience is always more enjoyable when both parties benefit and communication is easy.
So it’s all good then right? Well, not really. On the surface it seems great that the developers are trying to create a new approach to an MMO economy but there are other features in the game which could quite easily undo their hard work. The guild stores that I mentioned previously can hold hundreds of items but the real deal breaker? Players are able to join up to 5 guilds at a time. We’re already seeing guilds specially created as a trading chat and auction house and I’m sure it won’t be long before craft-specific guild stores make an appearance.
There is a lot of discussion in game and on the official forums regarding the current state of the economy. Many players like the current system while others want the traditional auction house but the reality of it is, it’s not all that different once the community starts to grow.