Friday 4 May 2007

Money doesn't talk, it swears

In wandering around Paragon City and Middle Earth (when the login servers are available) for the past few days, money has been a bit of a hot topic.

In Lord of the Rings Online, it's the lack of money that's an issue, as just about everyone seems to be finding. I rolled an Elf Hunter, originally just as a crafting complement to my Captain for a few early quests (the Woodsman Hunter can boil hides and treat wood for the Armorer Captain, who in turn can smelt ingots for the Woodsman), then thought I'd have a little look around Ered Luin... and sort of wound up at level 11. I haven't spent money on any fripperies like luxury foodstuffs, musical instruments, gym memberships or even new weapons and armour, but even so training the level 10 and 11 class skills has totally wiped out my meagre savings. Just treating rowan wood (a 48 copper piece of wax being needed for each treatment) and sending large stacks of hides through the post become a serious expense when you're scrimping and saving for every silver piece.

While there are a lot of nicely done quests, some do fall into the old rut of "Kev wants you to talk to Steve; Steve wants you to find an item and take it back to Kev; Kev does something to the item and wants you to take it to Steve; Steve sends you to Geoff who sends you back to Kev (etc.)" (Substitute appropriately Elvish names there for Geoff, Kev and Steve, obviously. Geoffnir, Kevrond and Steveriel maybe.) Fortunately in one case, there was a stable near both Kevrond and Steveriel, so I thought at least that might take a bit of the drudge out of shuttling between the two by speeding up the journey, except the stablemaster wanted ten silver. "TEN SILVER??/? I only want to go up the road, I could get to Bree for one silver, and that's about fifty times further!" Maybe government regulation enforces low cross-zone prices, and the stablemasters have to recoup their costs with drastically inflated local travel prices, either way it's quite literal highway robbery which left me trudging back up the road.

I suppose it's easier to make money scarce then gradually reduce costs/increase rewards rather than the other way around; in City of Heroes, money is anything but lacking...

CoH doesn't have "money" as such, but heroes gain "influence", and villains "infamy", which is functionally equivalent (much like LotRO "morale" being functionally equivalent to "health"). For a long time, there was almost nothing to spend it on, so high level heroes had millions of influence kicking around (that's not exaggerating for effect, I think my main hero had something like 34,000,000 influence, even after sending a load to alts). With City of Villains, there was a bit of an attempt to take some influence out of the system by introducing Supergroup (the CoH equivalent of a guild) Prestige, used to fund bases; after level 35, you could toggle a mode to either gain prestige for your group or influence for yourself, but not both. Influence can be exchanged for Prestige, but as there was so much influence kicking around the exchange rate is deliberately insane; seeing as there still wasn't anything to spend influence on anyway, I traded a few million in to boost our group's prestige total.

Now, Issue 9 has brought in loot; mobs can drop recipes for enhancements to your character, and salvage which is used to make the enhancement from the appropriate recipe. There's an auction house where you can buy and sell recipes, salvage and enhancement, and I'm a sucker for auction houses (though the total lack of money has restricted my economic experimentation in LotRO). I spent a while last night browsing around, and it's... a bit weird! But fun. In the CoH auction house, a seller puts an item up with the minimum price they'll take for it; a buyer puts a bid in for an item at the maximum they'll pay for it. If an item has been listed at or below the bid price, the buyer gets it for the amount they bid. The auction house tells you how many of an item are listed for sale, how many people have placed bids on those items, and the price the last 5 sales of that item, which, in this three day old economy, is an interesting logic puzzle for trying to work out what things might be worth... (so, the last 5 sales of this item were for 2,000,000; 1,000,000; 150,000; 750,000 and 1,500,000. There are 48 people bidding for this item, and 17 for sale... how much should you bid and/or accept for a sale? Then you start to think... well, if I list an item at 10,000, someone would get it if they bid that price... but if I list it for 10,001, and they raise their bids in increments of 5,000... they'd pay 15,000 for it... but then maybe they'd think I'd think that, and bid 10,002... so maybe I should list it at 10,003, but then they'd think I'd thought that they'd think of that...) There are two main problems I'm having at the moment. Firstly, moving from fantasy games where a handful of silver/gold is a decent sum of money back to CoH and its millions of influence is like trying to work out prices in old Turkish Lira ("a cup of coffee for EIGHT HUNDRED THOUSAND LIRA??/?" "Yes, sir, that's 23 English pence"). Secondly, prices aren't displayed with commas separating the digits, so I'm spending a while just counting zeroes to double check if recent sales were for 100000, 1000000 or 10000000 influence, and I imagine there'll be ample scope for items suddenly shifting in price by factors of ten.

I've no idea how the CoH economy will work out long term, it looks a bit of a glorious, sprawling mess at the moment. I don't think it'll really hurt the game as some fear; although the new enhancements can increase the power of your character, it doesn't look like they'll make a massive difference unless you really go crazy farming/buying stuff, and being there's not much in the way of PvP/raiding where those few percent differences are all important there's not much incentive to go that mad. Equally, it's not a hugely compelling reason to stick around in and of itself, but it's a neat enough bonus while bouncing around hurling fireballs to sometimes pick up recipes and salvage, and I can always while away half an hour in an auction house... (so maybe they'd increment their bid in multiples of five... I should make the price a prime number...)

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