Have you ever had your hopes and dreams crushed by a worthless purchase of virtual candy? And before you ask, this isn't about the 3 hours I spent on level 132 last week only to end up with a cracked screen on my iPhone. No, it concerns another game you might just have an interest in, called RuneScape.
Anyone who plays regularly will easily recognize the bouncing chest that pops up on the screen to advertise the daily minigame known as Treasure Hunter. Every other week, or a bit more frequently, Jagex will run some sort of promotion to entice people to spend money on keys. The types of promotions vary, but for some specific holidays, a stock of a tradeable item is released. This item can then be spent on various themed objects, pets, cosmetic overrides, etc., based on the theme of that holiday.
For example, during Valentine's Day, there were hearts or related items for several years, and for this Halloween we had candy corn. Upon release, the Grand Exchange priced them at 10K each. Nominally, that all sounds fine, except for one slight problem. As everyone gets more and more candy corn from (bought) Treasure Hunter keys, skilling, or killing, the supply far outstrips the demand and the price drops. As I've written about before, the GE has its shortfalls in terms of pricing, and this is one of them.
The Grand Exchange has a number of behind-the-scenes mechanics that are well documented. One of them stipulates that the price of an item cannot change by more than 5% of its current value in one day. It is also limited to precisely one update per day, defined by the game time's time zone. With these restrictions, it is simply a matter of arithmetic to conclude that prices cannot adjust fast enough to reflect the true changes in value in a dynamic situation like this.
You might ask why this matters. Surely the cost of any item on the Grand Exchange fluctuates, and is not always accurate. But the issue here is that prices fall so dramatically that it is off by a large factor. In fact, as of Saturday morning, it can be bought for 1/7th the price that the Grand Exchange indicates. Yet in a trade, it shows up as that full value. It's a bit like buying a pizza to open the box and discover one slice inside. I don't know about you, but I would feel quite ripped off!
Unfortunately, it does happen. Just the other day I saw someone attempting to buy a bond for what they called 16M. Of course, what they actually meant were 16M "worth" of candy, according to the artificially inflated Grand Exchange price. A bond is worth roughly 11M. This means that if someone were to go through with that trade, not thinking much of it, they would be gifting away a bond for 75% off, if selling the candy at the true market price. If you have ever been shopping (which I assume you have), you can realize what a great deal it is for the seller.
In fact, a PMod did tell him to stop advertising it as 16M if it was not cash. While I'm not sure that this is technically even against the rules, it was a nice gesture. Spare the occasional white knight PMod in shining armor though, there is little in place to protect anyone from being scammed. And if we're going to mute or ban anyone offering up items and advertising them as their cash value in GE, we might as well just retroactively ban half the players who have ever visited worlds 2 or 3. It's a tactic that has been going on for years, just usually not exploited to such an extreme. There are a few notable cases in the past and I'm aware of them, but I won't discuss them here.
Now, there is a lot of cynicism in the world these days, and in case you are thinking of heaping yours on the pile by thinking "But Jagex makes more profit selling keys for higher priced items, even if they aren't real!" allow me a brief moment to explain why it may not be in their best interest after all. And even that is assuming that the JMods are even aware of this whole issue, which is a leap on its own.
For one thing, ignorance may be bliss, but it's going to hit rather hard when players find out that candy they have won will not sell. And it will sit...sit...and not sell at 9K or whatever the price is. Then they'll try lowering it a few times, be met with the same result, and start to wonder what is going on. Eventually, they'll mosey on over to World 2/3 and check, to find out what the real street price is. And then they'll have the pizza box moment I mentioned earlier.
You could argue that Jagex had won that round. They have their money, the deal is done, and the player has no way to get it refunded. However, RuneScape is a game of (soon to be) 15 years, not 15 minutes. It doesn't make sense to make people feel ripped off and alienate them when you are trying to sell a similar promotion in two weeks.
It also accelerates the crash and hence inflames the problem further for future such promotions. If you are left with a vivid memory of items crashing this hard from the candy promotion, you would probably dump the items from the next one even faster to maximize profit. In fact from memory (historical street prices are not exactly easy to look up) I believe this has been the steepest initial decline thus far.
Unfortunately there are not too many solutions to easily fix this. Updating the Grand Exchange price hourly would be an obvious fix, but that would require rewriting the whole engine and probably isn't feasible. They could be started off at a value that is far lower, for example 1K instead of 10K in this case. This is not that desirable either, since richer players would prey on every lower level player with candy and buy it for pennies, selling it off for more and profiting. It would seem to be the lesser of the two evils, though. Alternatively, they could be taken off the GE entirely and prescribed some arbitrary value, and allow players to decide a price for their own transactions. This was in fact the model used before, but at some point it was discontinued and promotions started to use this current style.
Jagex should be concerned not only for their players but for their future sales. With inaccurate prices, players are getting scammed and left with mountains of worthless candy that they may have thought to be worth more. Some will adapt and learn for next time, but if too many become annoyed or irritated and avoid the promotions altogether, the players will not be the only party left with a bitter taste in their mouth.