Do We Need Military Surplus?
by: Tony "RadarX" Jones
Tabula Rasa implemented their version of a player auction system called the Military Surplus just a few short months ago to much excitement and hoorah. While not available at launch, the dev team was quick to realize it was on a number of players minds and something many considered integral to the core mechanics. So where do we stand now? How is the Military Surplus working out?
There is still considerable grumbling regarding a change in the recent patch removing the rare equipment from mission rewards. With it now only available in instances and in extreme circumstances, rare loot has put the economy back into the chaos we saw when it first launched. With players clueless for the most part on what to auction their items for, items are frequently either ridiculously expensive or under priced.
A more important question has yet to be raised by the players, do we need the Military Surplus? What is it providing us? There are a number of pros and cons with the current system so let's take a look at them.
Does Surplus Sell Rope?
First, the good news! Military Surplus provides us with an actual economy and while that might seem trivial it's something for which most veteran MMO game players have expectations. We want to have a thriving system that will allow us to spend our money as we see fit. While it may not be the main focus of the game, having it there provides players with the comfort and familiarity of other game products.
By the same token, for some people the economy actually is a mini-game (I refuse to say meta-game) providing a sense of satisfaction and entertainment. Watching market fluctuations, buying low/selling high, and controlling supply and demand bring them unspeakable joy and lots of spreadsheets. While this may sound as C-Span to you as it does me, this is such an integral portion of the experience that some games hire economists to do in depth studies like EVE Online.
One of the most important aspects the Military Surplus provides is a place to buy and sell gear. Tabula Rasa's equipment system is based entirely on the chance of drops from certain creatures and missions rewards. While the reward gear is usually more than adequate, there are times you need something a little better and more versatile. It's easy to head to the surplus store, check out what is available, and upgrade your gear not to mention dump off anything you can't use.
While there are plenty of reasons to have this system, there are also a few good reasons not to at this point. These are a few of the reasons I see a breakdown in the system. First, money needs a more defined purpose in the game. Currently there aren't any of the traditional money sinks other than ammunition, and that has just been lowered to make it almost a non-issue. While it appears to be more of a post level 30 problem, if players are bringing in more money for killing than they are spending on ammunition, what reason is there to build up wealth? Personal Armor Units may fix this to a point, but beyond the simple repair costs we see for doing something silly, we're all just stockpiling credits.
It also has to be a worthwhile experience for the players to use the system. Correcting the need for money is probably the best motivator for this, because as it stands there is little benefit from standing around scratching my head in an effort to figure out what to charge for a piece of armor. And if my mission gear is good enough I don't need to bother buying new gear so why am I going there? There should be excitement every time I level to see if I can obtain something new and improved.
Flashlights! Can we Buy Those?
Finally, and I know there could Tabula Rasa's developers that disagree, but the economy feels a little too open. What do I mean by that? If you go and kill a Bane and it drops a piece of rare armor, that piece of equipment is going to be in Tabula Rasa forever unless it's sold to a vendor. This means as time goes on, more and more equipment starts jamming up the Military Surplus and tinkers with supply and demand. Unless you plan on regularly introducing more and more gear, this could become a problem
Now they have certainly limited our storage space, but honestly creating a few mules is pretty easily accomplished. Other games close this loop by using a "binding" system which limits those items from passing between hands. In a Forum Q&A last month, the dev team assured us they weren't interested in using such a system so hopefully they have something else up their sleeve.
Am I saying Tabula Rasa's economy is doomed? By no means! Do I personally think we need an auction system? Absolutely! We still have a young and untested system that is experiencing turbulence and as time goes on it will likely balance out. There are a few things mentioned above that the dev team might want to considered down the road but I'm sure this isn't news to any them. While the system does have a couple flaws I'm hoping that a few fixes will not only shore up these issues but correct them entirely.
What do you think about Tabula Rasa's economy and what can the dev team do to make it better? Email me or stop by our forums to let us know what you think!