The Death of Merchanting

How Runescape Will Thrive on the Varrock Grand Exchange
By Mangleman

You have all seen them, merchants, macroers, essence runners, and beggars. These are the people that make the current economy what it is today. These are the people upon which most prices are based. These are the people who will probably never understand the game and who will probably never really play the game.

When you start out on Newbie Island you have everything you need… You can smith bronze, cast a few spells, and use some low quality gear. Then you come on shore with the rest of the masses of new player peasants. Now you have a decision to make. It is here that players tend to have their first real multi-player experience in the world of Runescape. From there players tend to start immediately seeking money, by any means they can get it. So what happens? How do you go from being able to do anything you need to desperately seeking cash?

They see players with much more than them, in terms of skills and items. They see them and are blinded by Cyan or Red colored armor, decorative items, and flashy jewelry. They see an experienced player’s wealth and they get fooled into thinking that GP and items are the game, but the truth is that items and GP and wealth are side-effects of the game, not prerequisites for it.

The most obvious and least successful profession is beggar, sometimes people will give you stuff, mostly they will flame you and call you “n00b”, a moniker you will hear every single time you play Runescape. You will not make much money, you will probably not have a positive play experience, and you will get nowhere.

Some people choose to macro and get banned or not. Most macro/bot users are just there trying to get supplies for real world trades, so they don’t really count as users, but their infinite supply has a downward effect on the price of easily obtainable raw materials. Those who macro for in-game wealth are probably less likely to get caught, but they also are probably not likely to have a positive play experience either, since they are simply running a program.

Essence runners are willing slaves to a merciless upper class. The slaves walk across the map in droves, trading their reward-less effort for either a little cash or some valuable runes. These runner slaves spend countless hours “earning GP” and helping other players gain both XP and money. Since running gives you no XP, all you get is a little cash. GP is something that you could get any number of other more XP and content rich ways.

Merchants are perhaps the worst money chasers of the bunch. Like stock brokers in real life, these guys buy low and sell high. They keep the market fairly stable and they provide item distribution to an otherwise very de-centralized economy. But are they playing a game? They are playing a game, but not really Runescape. They are playing a commodity trading simulation, which I have no objection to, but they are certainly not playing the same game that I am playing. They have an endless supply of chat spam, message board posts, trades, and yes GP.

When everything is said and done, why does anyone need to chase money in Runescape? Why do we need to waste days walking across the map to get a few hundred nature runes? The answer of course is similar to the answer to why does a person need money in real life. You need to be able to buy food, clothes, shelter, etc etc. There is stuff we want, so we have to get money. But wants and needs are different. Is your life better if you drive a Yukon Denali or a Cadillac Escalade? They are the exact same car with the exact same “stats” one just looks different and is more expensive. Answer the same question about Full Zammy trimmed Rune. Ask yourself: how much more fun is Runescape when your character is wearing a party hat? The answer of course is that it is a little more fun for a while because of social status, but after a while the hat comes out of the bank only for special occasions and eventually you are so sick of getting 300 trade requests and 1000s of spam messages every time you are in a crowded place. How different would the game-play be if you could afford full rune at level 3? How many whips do you need when you are level 65 Attack? How much GP does it really cost to have fun playing Runescape? The truth for free players is a laughably small sum of money. It’s a bit more for members but it is less than you may think.

Now we come to the Varrock Grand Exchange. It should be out in November of 2007, the announcement touts being able to play while simultaneously offering items for sale across all servers. In short it removes the need for spam bots, hours of trying to be heard on world 2, and buying high and selling low. Those who complain that this is the end of the Runescape economy are sorely mistaken. In my opinion this is the beginning. The source for goods and even GP in the economy is not going to change at all; the only thing that is going to change is how it is redistributed. In economics most analysis is done in terms of supply and demand. Standard economics assumes a solid and easy to use marketplace, something Runescape has always lacked. Those willing to put playtime on hold to do the business of buying and selling for hours on end effectively changed the rules of supply and demand by adding a 3rd factor: Locating goods. While supply is a factor (the more of an item there is the easier it is to locate a buyer) the hardest part about buying is the fact that non-bulk, low ticket items (items 100k or below in value) are very difficult to buy or sell, because they are not worth the 30 minutes to 1 hour it takes to unload/procure them. Try buying a Highwayman mask, some fan sights max the price out at 100k, I spent 1 hour trying to buy one for 450k (posting on multiple and the official forums, and spamming world 2)! Try selling Heraldic Rune pieces, you will be lucky to ever find a buyer, even though once you do find a buyer he will be very excited. Try buying 1 ranarr weed. These are all illogical problems in the world of economics assuming there is a reasonable means to buy or sell. In effect Runescape has a similar economy to a black market, buyers and sellers must resort to community effort and bulk selling in order to be effective. In a normal economy with predictable prices and logical trends it should be as easier to buy 1 of something than it is to buy 10,000 of them.

A centralized marketplace is what Runescape has needed from the very beginning to make the shift from a commodity trading simulator with swords to a Medieval Fantasy role playing game with a player economy. Prices will be volatile for a while as everyone grows accustomed to constant availability, but eventually prices will become stable and gold pieces will become a side effect of playing, rather than the other way around.

Last update: 18-Nov-2007
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