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EVE Online Economics – A Q&A with Dr. Gudmundsson - Page 2

Updated Wed, Mar 24, 2010 by Ethec

TTH: Why hasn't CCP gone down the path of opening banks that give out interest and so forth?

Gudmundsson: I think there's a very good reason for that, and we're seeing it in real life. You don't want to have a government-sanctioned banking system because then CCP becomes responsible if something goes wrong. For us to take your money and put interest on it, all that we are doing from an economic standpoint is putting more money into the game. This is because the interest that we would be paying would not be based on economic value within the game.

So, interest in the economy would have to be paid based on other economic activity that is actually profitable. Otherwise you're just printing money. That's basically what governments do: they print money and pay interest by printing money, which is not a good idea. Any economist will tell you that the current stimulus packages [in America] are not a long-term viable solution. It can help in the short term, but not as a long term solution.

TTH: So creating a bank would necessitate having a lending arm and all the complexity associated with that. I take it that if CCP started making those kinds of decisions for corporations it would be way too involved with gameplay.

Gudmundsson: Absolutely. That's one of the core design features of EVE, that it's a player-driven economy. We are just the janitors for the game world. We create the tool chest, clean it up, and try to make it as fun as possible. In terms of content and having an immersive experience, we put that into the hands of the players. Of course, we provide the content like missions, but that is mostly so that players can earn money. That's how money comes into the game. It's activity from the players that we pay for, basically.

TTH: We recently talked with CCP Senior Designer Torfi Frans Olafsson about the upcoming Tyrannis expansion (click here for the interview), and he confirmed the speculation that players would be taking over creating products that right now are being automatically sold by NPCs. How do you view that?

Gudmundsson: When I joined the company in 2007, one of the first things I did was recommend was that we take the shackles off the NPC market. We would much rather have that supply be player driven because it's the core of the economy. The NPC trade goods were always put in there to help low level players understand arbitrage. That they can buy low in one place, go to another place, and sell high. And you actually have to search for the information needed to do that. It's basically a training tool. Without commenting on the design of Tyrannis, as a general comment I'll say that anything that makes EVE more player driven is something that I really like.

TTH: We know you can't talk about the design of Tyrannis in these early stages, but how do you facilitate that change from NPC-seeded products to player-seeded products? You need to always have a certain inventory of skill training books and items like that, so players won't run out.

Gudmundsson: If players really need it, there should be somebody willing to fulfill that demand. When you take an economy of 300,000 people, I am not worried about shortages of production. As soon as somebody offers higher prices for something, somebody else will jump in and start producing. We saw that happening when we abandoned the NPC-seeded shuttles. A lot of people worried that shuttles wouldn't be available. What has happened is that they are available in all the major places. In all the medium-sized places they are still available, but for a little bit higher price.

In some of the less condensed spaces they might or might not be available, and are usually more expensive. That is exactly as it should be. Where there's a less robust marketplace, it's less efficient, and it's expected to have higher prices. But it is generally available when you want it. If it isn't available, you can always buy a cheap blueprint, and build it yourself.

TTH: I guess Jita is the clearest example of an efficient market. But you still get players flying a couple jumps out to buy things like skillbooks, since they cost more, there.

Gudmundsson: That's how markets work. If they're being sold for a higher price in Jita, that means that there are a lot of people coming into Jita and buying them up.

TTH: And players will pay for the convenience of not having to go somewhere else.

Gudmundsson: Exactly. A price signals many things. It signals distance, quality, your preference. At any given time, with 300,000 people, they will all have different reasons for buying stuff. Some will be willing to pay a higher price. Others will be willing to travel to pay a lower price.

TTH: You delivered a talk at GDC based heavily on CCP's "Unholy Rage" campaign against the real money traders in EVE Online. What are CCP's primary motivations for getting rid of these illicit players?

Gudmundsson: If farmers are using a lot of bots, it sends a lot more information to the servers from the clients, meaning a higher CPU load. We saw a 30% drop in the average CPU used by each user, even though we banned less than 2% of the players. If you're using 30% of your computing power to support only 2% of the players, right there it's telling you that you're will save money by stopping the bots, which the system is not designed to handle.

Also, bots are not humans, and MMOs are about human interaction. If there are a lot of people that are farming in your system, it means that you are not experiencing an MMO, you're experiencing something else. Taking these elements out from the game enhances the player experience. Farmers can also have a significant impact on the economy. They are especially good at finding exploits, and of course instead of reporting them they used them to the fullest extent. That can change the relative scarcity of something, overnight which can basically destroy your game.

So whether you have an economist on your developer team or not, be sure that you always monitor the relative scarcity of resources, so that you know what is going into the game. By removing the real money trade elements from the game, you are actually able to minimize the risk of people using these exploits.

The last reason to get rid of farmers is probably the most important: it's very unfortunate, but in our experience and the experience of other companies that we've been talking to, real money traders use illegal methods such as hacking, credit card fraud, and social engineering, in order to get access to peoples' accounts. They break into the accounts, they take the stuff, and they sell it. So there's this illegal activity that is not only damaging your game experience, but is also having a real life impact on customers. You have to keep them at arms' length if you want to have good customer service.

Now, even though we know that they are there, and that we can fight them, we also know that it's going to be difficult to get completely rid of them. You have to constantly assume that they're there in order to minimize the impact that they have on the game.

TTH: The EVE universe is famously unregulated. Some players might ask how you can toss these players out, and where you start to define their actions as exploitive?

Gudmundsson: That is a difficult point. When we're searching for this, we set our criteria high enough so that you are obviously using bots and obviously selling the ISK for real currency. We see how the transactions go back and forth. In many cases we hear from our own players. Things like "We bought ISK from this guy and he didn't deliver." We know what is going on in that regard, and are very careful to have as few false positives as possible. Luckily, we have had very few during this entire campaign.

With regard to the regulations, it's true that within EVE there are only very limited rules. But it's very clear that as soon as you take it into real life -like if you threaten to go to somebody's house- you are banned from the game. Then, of course, there's the simple fact that by having this PLEX system, we get away from the RMT. It allows EVE to become a more enjoyable system. People that aren't as hardcore because they don't have the time can enjoy EVE much more, and in so doing help people that don't have the real life means, such as credit cards, to also play. So both of them enjoy the game more. The entire playerbase also has a better experience because there are more people in the game that are not bots.
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