In Game Economies (Or Why The Hell Are We Spending 100's on Digital Bullshit?)

With the recent announcement and subsequent release of the WoW Tokens I started thinking about in game economies. Well, to be honest, we’re gonna have to back up a bit to Warframe, Guild Wars 2 and the myriad other F2P and B2P games I also play.


For those who aren’t familiar with the F2P and B2P models, Free to Play and Buy to Play games sink or swim off of their economies. Using a combination of free in-game currency items and exclusive real-world currency items, games can pay for server costs, staff and everything else just from people buying their items and currencies.


The thing about it is, the range of ways that games do this varies a ton. Games like Warframe offer an in-game currency called Platinum which can be purchased in bundles ranging from 75p for $5 to 4300p for $200. Platinum can be used to buy cosmetic items, weapons, warframes, boosters and pretty much anything else in the game. But, almost unique to this game (in my experience, I’m sure there are others) you can also trade Platinum between players.

The trade chat while idling in game is full of people selling rare weapon/warframe mods, parts and anything else that’s tradable. Sometimes prices can get up to the 1000+ platinum range for specific mods (or Prime Warframe parts when a new one comes out).

I’ve seen single parts of Loki Prime go for 200 platinum, parts of the new Volt Prime at 300+ (1000+ for the set) and have heard of people paying 4000 platinum for extremely rare mods.

Now remember, Platinum is a currency that you must either pay real life money for, or trade items for it. The prices aren’t influenced by Digital Extremes directly (though they can be messed with if they change something in the RNG for item drops/locations). These are prices set by players for players willing to dole out 10’s to 100’s of dollars for items in game.


As for games like Guild Wars 2 or Elder Scrolls Online, which are both Buy To Play games (meaning you buy the game for a retail price but it has no monthly subscription like World of Warcraft or Wildstar), which both have in-game currencies that are bought with real money, Gems and Crowns respectively, they operate on a system of exclusive/rare items being sold for that currency.


ESO sells items like armor and weapon motifs (allowing you to create items in that style, such as Deadric or Dwemer, ect) and mounts, along with special potions, outfits and similar items.


Guild Wars 2 does something somewhat similar, selling cosmetic outfits, skins and toys, but differently from ESO, allows you to trade your Gems for in-game gold. The conversion rate varies hour to hour, sometimes fluctuating to 50g for 800 Gems. Interestingly they also do the reverse, allowing you to trade your hard earned gold (it really is hard earned) into Gems at a reduced rate.


Both of the styles aren’t unique, but they are very good examples of game economies that operate similarly, but at the same time quite different ways of making money. GW2’s gem/gold trade helps cut down on gold selling and scams, though ESO’s model is a bit too new to see how it will affect the game going forward.


WoW recently introduced the Time Token, a one month currency that, for $20, allows you to buy one month of game time that is trade-able as an item for gold.

Now, I’ve stopped playing WoW for my own health, but from everything I’ve heard and read the gold value of the time tokens plummeted down to incredibly low levels in the first few days. As low as 20,000~ gold.

Considering you could sell some of the high tier crafted items in game for 10’s of thousands, this seems like it turned incredibly cheap, incredibly quickly. The current prices hover around the 21k mark in US servers and 40k in the EU.

This could change the in-game economy (an economy that is more lucrative than most small countries) in a fairly large way. With people possibly spending less and less over time in the Auction House on items, weapons and cosmetics and more on time tokens, there could be a massive shift in the prices in game.

WoW has one of the most interesting game economies of all, mostly because it’s completely self sustaining. In-game gold is used in a variety of ways and Blizzard adds in gold-sinks to help limit the amount of gold in game to attempt to reduce inflation (mostly unsuccessfully, prices still go up ridiculously high every new raid).


Knowing all of this, I have to ask...Why do we spend so much of our real, hard earned money on these games? Hundreds of dollars for single pieces of Warframes, $20 on a token to make easy gold, $10’s on cosmetic bits of armor or horses. There are so many things that have evolved in online games in the last decade that have changed the landscape.

We buy these things to show to our friends we make in the games, or status symbols, or to help progression or just because it’s cool looking. (Dear gods I have spent too much money on shit I’ll never use in GW2 and Warframe) We buy these things because these games are important to us, oooor we’re strongly urged by game mechanics to get them. People's love of games can be abused by devs, or respected. It all depends on the game and the people behind it.

Down below is a video of the different stores and their prices.