Toldain Talks

Because reading me sure beats working!


Toldain started as an Everquest character. I've played him in EQ2, WoW, Vanguard, LOTRO, and Zork Online. And then EVE Online, where I'm 3 million years old, rather than my usual 3000. Currently I'm mostly playing DDO. But I still have fabulous red hair. In RL, I am a software developer who has worked on networked games, but not MMORPGS.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Pondering Pricing

I'm browsing the broker this morning, and noticing some stuff I'd like to share with you. The only Rough Coral for sale is listed for 1p. That's right, one platinum piece, about the same as a horse costs. The other tier two mining rare, Siver Cluster is priced a little more reasonably at 25g. Of course, Silver Clusters and Rough Coral are the raw materials that are necessary to make Adept III upgrades to skills and spells. As such, they are highly sought after.

However, the other thing that Rough Coral and Silver Clusters are good for is making jewelry. As a jeweler, I would like the opportunity to make some of these items, for the experience. However, the items, while better than the common versions, don't support the pricing that is implied by the raw materials.

To support this claim, we have to look at tier 3 stuff, rather than tier 2. Palladium Clusters are selling for about 45g; Rough Jasper for about the same. Also for sale is a pristine fashioned jasper necklace for 29g. This is not evidence for a rational market.

Let's compare the stats for the jasper necklace and its common equivalent, the pristine fashioned agate necklace, which I happen to be wearing at the moment. (It really sets off the highlights in my hair, you see.)

Pristine Fashioned Jasper Necklace: +3 int, +3 sta, +4 str, +23 health, +13 power, +48 vs cold, +48 vs heat, +80 vs poison, AC 33 at level 30.

Pristine Fashioned Agate Necklace: +3 int, +2 sta, +1 str, +10 health, +10 power, +32 vs cold, +64 vs heat, +32 vs poison, AC 28 at level 30.

Does the jasper version look worth a 20x price differential to you? It doesn't to me. The increase to str means nothing to me. Consider the increase in power, from +10 to +13. That's only a 33 percent increase, not a 2000 percent increase. And, my overall power at this level, equipped but with no buffs, is 863. So an increase of 3 power represents a boost of not quite half a percent. I suspect that I will never notice it. By the way, putting up my own buffs (the long-term ones that require concentration) increases my pow by close to 20 percent. I don't have data on what upgrading these spells does.

Other stat increases are similar. Probably the most significant is the extra +13 health on the jasper necklace. Of course, my unbuffed health is 874. (I'm writing this as a level 26 Illusionist, by the way, and I have some very nice clothing.) So +13 is about a percent and a half of my unbuffed hit points. Just to rub it in, the last few times I've died, the killing blow was probably for about 150 points, more than ten times the extra health provided.

To me, it isn't worth it at 25g, much less for 50g, which is more in line with the raw materials price. For that, you could get an entire set of crafted clothing and jewelry, and be much better off, statwise. And you can see that happening.

With Adept III upgrades, it's much harder to make such judgements. We don't really know how much a given spell will improve when upgraded to Adept III versus, say, Adept I. The beauty of an Apprentice III or IV upgrade is that they are readily available, and they really do seem to work better. Adept 1's better still. But we don't have enough data to quantify how much better. I would expect the improvement that an Adept III has over an Adept I to be similar to the improvement of the jasper necklace over the agate necklace. Nice, but not critical to success.

Furthermore, some spells go obsolete. They have updates and replacements. The hallmark of enchanters is their level 10 spell Fascinate. Illusionists get an upgrade to this spell called Entrance at level 22, which is uninterruptible. Fascinate stops working on mobs in the high 20's. So it isn't necessarily a good choice for an Adept 3 upgrade. On the other hand Breeze never goes obsolete, and it's also a hallmark spell for enchanters, making it a better choice.

Interestingly, the pricing for the rare fibers seems much more in line; the cheapest available right now is 8g. Which supports the the thesis that it is spell upgrades driving the prices of rare gems and ores.

While we're discussing odd pricing, there's something odd going on with the market for tier 1 gathers. Mainly, there aren't any. Unlike back in November and December, when the tier 1 zones were enormously crowded, they are empty now. And the spawn rate seems to have been cut back from what it was. Last night on our server, some high level characters auctioned for and obtained basil for gold pieces. Yes, basil, a tier 1 gather. And yes, that's the basil that recently stopped appearing in tradeskill instances.

A guildie of mine reports that in 11 hours of harvesting in tier 1 zones, he only managed to gather 23 basil. This is mostly because of the lack of Natural Garden nodes. A month or two ago, I had no trouble finding these nodes, so I think something has been tinkered with.

Of course, at the time I had the impression that I was benefitting from someone else's strip-mining. They would go into the zone and harvest only a few node types, say ore and rocks. When these nodes respawned the server would randomly choose the node type. This means fewer of the rock and ore nodes, and more of everything else, including the natural gardens I was looking for. Perhaps this has changed, or perhaps people have stopped strip-mining the tier 1 zones.

It might even be that there is far less mining of tier 2 zones. After all, SOE claimed to have increased the drop rate of rares in tiers 1 through 3. And still, the only coral for sale is priced at 1 platinum piece.

I think we're seeing a market failure, a liquidity problem. Most people don't use the broker to get rares, but perhaps auction or trade with friends. The prices on the broker are like the notorious "spot market" for oil. Inflated, and subject to rapid swings.

At least some part of the liquidity problem is due to the way that commodities can be traded. In order to sell through the broker, you must be online, in your room, doing only those things that can be done there, which is not much. The game is targeted toward casual players, they will want to spend their time playing rather than selling. The typical system reboots at 7am PST also make it difficult for many players to put up a trader in the morning and leave it up all day.

All of which reduces the number of players selling at any given time. For the more common items, it isn't really a problem, there are enough folks online to make a market. But not for the items that have smaller quantities, like the rare harvests, or which have fewer players interested in them, like the tier 1 harvests.

The EQ2 design team seems to have designed the game this way on purpose. I'm not sure why. An illiquid market helps the hard-core mercantile types, not the more casual player who is the avowed target audience. But the crafting players don't like it either, since they can't craft and sell at the same time. Until they are in a guild that is high enough level to buy the crafting tables for home placement, anyway. Maybe that's the point, to give guilds some real meaning to a crafter. Or maybe its meant to give a niche to the "mercantile" type player who likes the buying and selling, not the making of stuff.

Whatever the reasons, it still remains that rare harvests, particular the metal and gem drops, are priced as luxury, status items, completely out of line with their value in terms of your adventuring success and progress. As such, I'm a seller, not a buyer.


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