Books, culture, fishing, and other games

September 21, 2003

Market Leads; Theory Lags

My optimism about being able to get $5 per million isk in the EVE Online external market is looking very ill timed. While I was gone on business for a few days to the West Coast, and mostly cut off from a regular watch on market activity due to very poor telephone lines in the rural hotel in which I stayed, the average price of isk trading dropped more than 50%. When I checked on my return late Thusday night I saw average sale prices of $2 per million. Late last night a block of 88 million went for barely $1.5 per mil.

It may be a temporary softness, but I fear worse. There's clearly an oversupply of isk at present. I mentioned below how for a game its size EVE appeared to have a very active market compared to other games. I had hoped this was related to something different about the game and its players, but it may be symptomatic of something else. It's possible there is a net loss of players, or a gross imbalance in isk burn to isk earn. For some reason more players are willing to sell large amounts of isk than are available to buy that isk. It may be that too many players have more isk than they need to stay active in the roles they choose in the game for themselves.

This may be due either to a too low expense rate or a too high earn rate for most. It may be that my style of mostly-AFK mining is just too easy and too many do it. Or it may be that the game isn't gaining net players. There's always a flow through of players in these games. I know I am terribly jaded, having played online games since their inception over a decade ago (No, Virginia, online gaming did not begin with Ultima Online), and as a result I often burn out in a mere couple of months. That was my experience of EVE, in fact, but I do not expect to reflect "the norm." EVE is set up to be very player-versus-player (PvP) oriented and I am not very interested in most PvP. So I thought nothing of my personal reaction in quickly losing interest, there are few games that hold my interest and those have persisted and prospered just fine. Ultima Online remains popular, as do Everquest and Dark Ages of Camelot, but I have few twinges in their direction (DAoC aside.)

On the topic of the virtual job idea, however, this points not to its prematurity, rather to the need to be very flexible and to move rapidly from opportunity to opportunity. The internet environment is known for exactly this sort of rapidity of movement from idea to idea so this I should have expected (and to some degree did, in the abstract).

As indication, the market has already outstripped my theorizing. Last night, in my depression and desperation over the isk collapse, I was poking around PayPal and I came across a PayPal store listing for a broad range of services in many online games. The listing is for the Everquest Superstore, but, in fact, it deals with a half dozen of the MMPORPGs. The site sells web-authored powerleveling game guides, in-game vgoods, and both sells and buys currencies and game accounts. The store/site is pushing its trusted reputation. It holds a SquareTrade rating from PayPal and features it centrally on the first page. It claims "30,975 items & 245 accounts on 49 servers" (on the Everquest end, which does perdominate). It also offers a brokring service for selling accounts in which it acts as trusted party to verify the truth of claims on accounts. It does this for a flat fee.

Most interesting, though, is their pool of talent willing to level the characters of others from level 1 to level 50 so that those players can participate in the high-level content of the game. From their claims they can do this in about a week, for which they charge $550.

That fee, though undoubtedly shared between the "labor" and the store, represents $28,600 annualized, which puts it into a livable range in the U.S. economy (outside some metropolitan areas, at least), and it's well into the wealthy range in some parts of the world where it is possible to find labor with internet access.

Further probing this morning showed that indeed this store does focus almost entirely on Everquest. Where it deals with other games is in the area of game guides, mostly. It does have a fairly broad offering of powerleveling guides that, from their descriptions, appear likely to be of some value (and are perhaps even better written than the norm for those offered for auction).

Here is yet another opportunity for those who have been giving away their knowledge and writing skills in the past. Rather than write free articles, as I and others have often done, we could go a little farther and write virtual game guides that we actually publish and sell online.

The "dead tree" games guides have reached rip off status, so there is a real market for up-to-date and accurate guides. Game sites are very useful, except to those with insufficient computing horsepower, or with only a single computer, who would prefer to have hardcopy.

A print-friendly guide, perhaps done as a .pdf file, with copyright protection to keep the honest honest, might be worth the additional time in editing and production when compared to what is spent on writing for the free sites.

This area, of course, falls into the ongoing battlefield of intellectual property rights (as does the whole topic of aftermarketing vworlds). The author and publisher of such guides must expect to be pirated. On the other hand, sales of 50 units at $10, or even $5, per unit would probably exceed the potential income from the same material as an article in a gaming magazine, and it would certainly exceed the income from giving it away free (unless part of a larger marketing or business scheme).

The competition is mostly from those with few writing skills. Often the content, the actual information they present, is also trite or of little value. As with any product made with language, the success would rest on the value of the information, the clarity of the presentation, and the entertainment offered by competent use of words. I still remember fondly the first "strategy guides" I ever bought. From the peak, the first Civilization and Rail Road Tycoon guides, that not only went into detail on how the game algorhythms worked, but were actually fun to read, we have fallen today to a level where the guides come out before the game. When players have not yet actually played the game live there is little chance the most interesting strategies have been discovered. In fact, the material presented in these guides often is factually wrong due to last minute changes in the game itself. Game guides are now more often than not the actual game manual, expanding to a hundred pages or so the paltry 25 we often see as the "manual" to a very large and complicated game. But, as with the manuals in these games in the past, last-minute balancing and bug-fixing often renders them factually wrong. "Strategies" presented by the developers or beta-testers are often very high level and not terribly useful because anything more precise will be made wrong before publication.

For games that persist, as do the MMPORPGs, there is room temporally, to produce an after publication guide. However, the dynamic nature of these games, the ongoing balancing, content additions, and bug-fixing still make keeping a guide current an ongoing task. This is where the quality of the writing itself might make the difference.

If a guide is useful and fun, if slightly dated, it may still be sellable, where one that is "just the facts" or "step by step" is made worthless if too many of those facts or steps change.

As far as my market crash goes, I'm not leaping out any vwindows. I am liquidating. Since I can keep my isk income going with mining, I am going to offload my capital on the assumption the market is permanently moving. I'm not doing it in one lump, I am still hoping it's an aberration, but I'm setting up more rapid and steady sales of my existing balance. I also put my second account up for sale late last night. It's all "found money," since I didn't buy the accounts with the intent to earn money from them. It was cheap entertainment on a per hour basis.

As one who worked on Wall Street, I know better than count earnings until the last trade is closed and settled, so I have lost nothing but opportunity. Opportunity is something we lose every moment, so that's hardly new.

I am planning to move operations more into SWG, though the market there is as yet undeveloped. Perhaps that's a good thing. I did buy my first auctioned account a week ago. For $36 I got a slightly developed character, but mostly I got an account for a bit less than the market price for a new box at that instant.

For the moment I'm having fun with two accounts. They let me co-ordinate the performances of my two entertainer characters on Bloodfin (entertainers are not the way to earn creds in SWG). Due to the way SWG is set up, however, two accounts lets me set up and run income-generating businesses on many servers simultaneously. As such, it has very interesting possibilities should the external markets shape up a bit. For the moment the more interesting market appears to be in the sale (though thin, still) of developed characters. I am learning to bootstrap characters very quickly, so I might attempt a scheme where I buy cheap auctioned accounts and build single developed characters on them speficically for resale.

And now back to real work. Need to finish a report for the client I visited this past week, and start on another on medical privacy.

Posted by dan at September 21, 2003 12:18 PM | TrackBack
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