EVE Online has the most vibrant and active economy of any mainstream MMO. What makes EVE's economy so full of life? Read this EVE guide and find out!
The EVE economy is gigantic, with huge amounts of currency and commodities exchanging hands, as well as myriad paid services, distinct markets, and financial projects up to and including IPOs.
If there is one single thing about EVE Online that makes it uniquely special in the MMO industry, it is the economy. EVE Online's markets are constantly active, with huge volumes of items and currency exchanging hands every minute. Players comb through huge lists of commodities, often using spreadsheets or homemade programs to sift through the data for the little golden nuggets that will make them rich. It's such a rich, vibrant part of the game that it might slip by new players just how much attention and effort is being given to it by others.
EVE Online's Single Server Shard
More than any other one factor, the fact that EVE Online has only a single server is what makes the EVE economy such a success. If you want to get really technical, there is a test server for goofing around on, and a Chinese server because (reputedly) their government takes issue with some of the main server's democracy-related lore.
Having only a single server for EVE means that accomplishments have a great deal more meaning, whether economic or otherwise. A celebrity in EVE will be known to all EVE players rather than to a small subset that happens to be on his or her particular server. It also means that the accumulation of wealth has a great deal more meaning: since the single server will never be reset, wealth gained in EVE Online will retain use and value over time, and without issues involving starting over on a different server.
EVE Online Areas Of Industry
Crafting in EVE Online is more properly called industry, because many of the activities more resemble factory lines or multiple steps in a supply chain than the recipe-driven artifice of Warcraft. There are, for example, some players that set up ongoing chemical reactions more fitting of a proper chemist, and others that make thousands of an item at once. Thematically, this makes sense, though if you ask me some of the reactions aren't much fun. I suppose their profit and low human maintenance effort required compensates for this to those players that prefer these activities, however.
EVE Online production can range along an entire spectrum from simple to complex, often with intermediate stages of production or specialized skills required. If one delves deep into industrial activities in EVE, there many other areas of specialized industry, including chemical reactions simple and painfully complex, blueprint research and invention, mining asteroids, mineral refining, mineral compression, and planet-based harvesting and production. It's an industrial smorgasbord.
The Player-Driven Economy
Another way that EVE Online has surely gotten it right is that, aside from some very elementary exceptions, every item on the market was put there by the players. This is quite the talking point for people that like or work on EVE Online. The only items of consequence that are "seeded" on the market are certain skill books and some un-researched blueprint originals. Even these are frequently modified by players, as the former are often found at impractical locations and need to be relocated by players, while the latter requires significant player effort in the form of research to become usable.
The player-driven nature of EVE's economy allows for a very realistic fluctuation of prices based on supply and demand, rather than arbitrary price limitations set in stone by a game designer. Sometimes, even very essential items run into shortages, and surge in price. It's an excellent system, and one that ought to be the standard in the MMO industry, at least for games that can reasonably support it. Note, however, that EVE Online's economy is not completely sandbox-driven, in that some things can be found by players in their final form, and not every item is necessarily built by players. That's all right, though, not every game can or should be A Tale In The Desert.
EVE Online And The Laissez-Faire Market
Another way that EVE Online has gotten it right is in their hands off approach toward player deals. Rather than attempt the sisyphean task of maintaining honesty and good faith in players' deals with one another, CCP takes an almost entirely hands-off approach toward it. If a player tricks another player, that's fine. If a player steals from another player, that's also fine. One exception is player accounts (and therefore, credit cards), which CCP aggressively protects from scamming and other shenanigans. The other is very, very new players, whom other players are discouraged from harassing. In practice, this just means that malicious players are prohibited from screwing around in "newbie" solar systems where new players begin their EVE careers, or in CCP-endorsed help channels. Both are perfectly reasonable checks on an otherwise unlimited capacity of players to bamboozle each other.
The general hands-off nature of the EVE Online economy allows real market forces to shape the monetary landscape. If a player wants to buy out a commodity and raise the price to unthinkable levels, he can. If a player wants to corner a monopoly on an essential commodity via a cartel, he can. If a player wants to crash the price on something for a while so that he can stock up, he can. It's a good system, and well-suited to EVE Online's themes of corporate activity and cutthroat competition.
Influence Of ISK Sellers In EVE
My last point about the EVE Online economy will probably be a contentious one. As in all MMO games, the real money trade is a distorting factor on the game economy, and one that has real ramifications for players. However, CCP has several exceptional factors that prevent RMT from ruining things.
The first is that they take a goodly chunk of RMT off the black market via their PLEX sales, which allow players from countries without strong currencies to play EVE and also permit successful EVE entrepreneurs to play EVE for free. PLEX are in-game items that are purchased with real money, with each PLEX card allowing one to stay subscribed to EVE for thirty days. Some players feel that PLEX break the purity of EVE's economy since it is a way for players to leverage real life money for in-game advantage. I can't really disagree with this point, but it isn't a deal-breaker for me in an industry that is becoming more and more dominated by micro-transactions. On the other hand, there are a huge number of stories of players buying fancy schmancy ships and gear via PLEX and then getting blown up because, hey, it turns out you can't buy player skill.
The end result here is that, with the possible exception of the price of some basic minerals, much of the EVE Online market is determined by the players rather than by RMT shops. There are definitely market effects caused by macros and ISK sellers, but they are not the last word on the market, and that is perhaps the best that we can hope for.
EVE Online Markets: Bringing It All Together
The overall effect is something miraculous: a true to life economy with accurate facsimiles of real market forces. There are bear and bull markets, slumps, recessions, recoveries, and all manner of market phenomena. There are player-made IPOs, investment plans, and financial companies that specialize in avoiding risk. All of this makes for an incredibly intricate backdrop for players to get involved with. Your only limitations are your imagination and tolerance for risk!