PvM isn't my forte, and I do not plan to pretend otherwise. However, you may be familiar with the adage about something being so obvious that a blind man could see the issue. That is precisely my point here regarding shards.
Shard what? Let me explain briefly the concept of shards, for readers unfamiliar with the term and its history. You are probably aware of RuneScape's wide range of 'boss' monsters, monsters requiring special technique and skill to take down, and often (especially in the past) a team of players cooperating, as opposed to a single person, in order to have any hope of success. Of course, despite the challenges at some point players DO kill them, and it's time to split the loot. Suppose a boss monster drops a full Torva helm, one of the best melee helms in the entire game. How would you split it up among three teammates?
The original idea consisted of "turning" the item into coins and just give everyone an equal sized coin drop. This entails a problem that has plagued nearly every government: where do you "get" the money; where do the coins come from? You need to "borrow" the coins and dump the item on the Grand Exchange. So "Jagex Ltd" lists the item on the Grand Exchange at the market price and takes the coins before they come in, and when a player does buy that particular item, the balance is restored. It sounds like a fine and dandy way to resolve the problem, except for one thing: what if the item is never bought? If players' bids never reach said price due to excess supply of ones currently in circulation, it will never be sold and Jagex has just thrown millions of coins into the game from thin air. Whoops.
I'm not a JMod and I don't have magic access to the numbers, but the general consensus seemed to be that this happened way too often and boosted inflation too much. Eventually, they needed a new solution to divvying up the loot. But you can't just slice a drop up into three pieces - that would be absurd, right? Actually, you can, thanks to the wondrous invention of shards! When one of these items is obtained as a boss drop, it is split into 120 shards, and the game then partitions these amongst the teams. Why the number 120? Simple: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, and 10 all divide cleanly into it.Thus, for teams of 2, 3, etc., everyone gets a drop of equal value. As an added plus, a three digit number around 100 seems visually appealing.
The problem is 'solved' in a sense, but this mechanic raises other questions. Where do the shards go, and what do you do with them? Jagex did implement the natural solution: 120 shards can be re-combined to form the original item again, and the shards are tradable. The equation for the price of these shards should be straightforward. You don't have to be a math genius to work out that the price of a shard should be the price of the item divided by 120, and maybe slightly off to reflect a lag time due to changing prices. Furthermore, with so many people doing bossing and trading around shards, the market should be fairly liquid. Just for the hell of it, I tried buying and selling a Virtus book shard. A Virtus book is a level 80 magic weapon equipped in the main-hand slot. I tried buying and selling one shard instantly:
You can look at that image again - your eyes do not deceive you. That's a difference of triple! It gets worse, though. The market price is about 625K as of writing this. If you work out the arithmetic (or you are lazy like me and have the GE calculate it for you), you get the following price tag for assembling the book out of shards.
Now, would you like to take a guess what the price of the actual item is? If I told you that it started with an 8, you probably wouldn't be too up in arms about it. Well, here it is...
That's right, the price of the item knocks a whole order of magnitude off the price! No, there isn't some secret or special use to the shards that pushes them up. It's more of a failure of the GE to adjust to prices, an issue which I discussed in an earlier article. If you calculate numbers for the virtus wand, you will get a quite similar result. Some items have even more outrageous discrepancies. An Archers' ring costs roughly 39K (as of writing this), while its shards are priced at 6,377 gp each. Buying the shards racks a bill of over 750K - almost twenty times the price of the item!
So far I've argued these items are low-volume and have a ridiculous GE price. Another consequence of this is that these items are used as something I will term scambait. If someone is trying to sell stuff and they see another item offered, I think it's fair that the guide price of the item put up should be reasonably close to the real price. Sure, they may have crashed 10% or 20%, but not 90%. As it stands now, an unwary player can end up with a bunch of worthless shards that they may have a difficult time selling for even the true value. That isn't fair. If Jagex can make doubling money against the rules, they should be able to fix this.
Further, what about for people who get shards fresh off a bossing trip? How are they supposed to sell them? The problem is shards have no inherent value, unless they are in a sufficiently large group. Now, I have respect for PvM'ers and PvM teams and I'm sure many/all of them are legitimate, but the only method to get around it is to either not split the drop in the first place, or let someone have all the shards, combine it, sell it, and get your share. Either way it relies on trust trading, which in general is something that Jagex seeks to discourage. Players may not have the resources to go and buy the other 100 shards to make an item, even if they wanted to.
I do, however, propose a solution. The first thing I would so is solidify the natural formula for the price of shards. From now on, the price of Virtus book shard = price of Virtus book / 120, end of story. This is similar to the mechanic they used for item sets on the GE for a short time, which was later removed for other reasons. Pegging the GE price isn't enough, though, so I suggest something else: let us alch the shards.
I know what the knee-jerk reaction is going to be: this will cause massive inflation into the game by throwing out millions of coins for items that otherwise cannot be converted into cash. It is here that I would like to invoke Benjamin Franklin's saying of only two certainties in life: death and taxes. I propose the latter. Shards will alch, not for the exact value, but for say -15% of their true value. This ensures that anyone who tries to mass-alch shards takes a massive loss; however, it supports prices and keeps them from drifting too far under market. People who have shards can sell them slightly under market if they wait, or they can sell for lower/alch instantly if they're super-impatient. A third thing that could be done is add a smash option to the fully charged weapon to turn it into shards, just to make sure the price didn't go too high above their natural value.
Of course this system still injects some cash into the game, so I will plead my last point: is a little inflation really such a horrible thing? Practically every piece of metal armor equipped at or below level 50 is at alch price, including some trimmed versions. A full set of the mighty Dragon armor costs only a couple million. Even onyx (the gem) touched alch price briefly earlier in the year. What is the significance of this? Raw materials scarcely touch their alch prices because they are intentionally set low. Recall the nature rune alch price fiasco.
My point is not to promote elitism - I'm simply saying that it doesn't seem healthy when items rest on alch prices (see my upcoming article on alching next year). Look at the graph of any piece of high level armor and you see the initial hysteria followed by a slow, steady drop. I don't think something to push prices back up a little is the end of the world. If PvM'ers get rich, they have more money to buy skillcapes, and with more money guess what they'll buy - your skilling supplies!
Regardless though, something needs to be done. Even just forcing the GE prices to adjust properly would be a start. The challenge in PvM should be killing the bosses, not selling the loot. What do you think?