The sky is not falling. The world is not coming to a crashing halt. Life as we know it will continue to tumble forward in its normal drunken stagger. People will still play Runescape, and there will always be complaints about the next update.
That being said, although Runescape is not in dire need of salvation, can we not turn our eyes to some issues which are of pressing concern? There are several dead horses that lie at the feet of these discussions, and, to their credit, Jagex has addressed several of the issues which have been taxing players for some time. Despite my early-season assault on their inactivity, it’s hard to argue now that this hasn’t been a productive year for the game: playing has become streamlined, more intuitive, and more fun.
The straw which stirs the drink today is price fixing. Since the advent of the Grand Exchange, merchants have been replaced with merchanting clans, which coordinate (often in surreptitious chat rooms) to power-purchase large quantities of items and use an algorithm designed to steer active GE prices to corrupt item prices. They purchase at maximum prices, which drives the medium price higher and higher. Once the market price swells sufficiently, the clan dumps the item en masse, sending values tumbling.
Let’s look at watermelon seeds, for example. It was recently brought to my attention that watermelon seeds are now the target of this price fixing. I’ve enclosed a screen capture of the recent price trend.
The large spike at the end shows where merchanting clans took over this item. Soon enough, they will walk away from watermelon seeds, and the prices will fall back into the 3k GP range. At a glance, it seems a relatively victimless crime. The price spike is temporary, and an extra 3k per seed isn’t going to bankrupt anyone buying less than loads of them. Besides, anyone buying large numbers would be either
A) Rich enough to afford them, or
B) Educated in seed prices
No problem, right?
(Insert cricket-chirping sound)
In fact, there are a string of major problems that can arise as a result of this price manipulation.
Falsely driven wealth and unfairly redistributed cash, as items sell for artificial values only to those doing the fixing. This is often limited to people fixing prices. For items which are needed for in game activity (coal, essence, etc.), anyone not in the fix are on the outside, getting killed on prices.
Redistribution of wealth is unevenly given to those steering prices, which only increases their purchasing and price-driving power. Increasing coordination of these clans further drives their power, and some non-gatherables (rares, treasure trail items, etc.) become targets, which leave the market at the mercy of merchanting clans.
This is a concern that Jagex has tried to address, and has had some success in at least mitigating. The speed of these transactions has been lowered with fluctuation caps and single-item profit limits. Still today, this is obviously a prevalent practice that has not been stopped.
On Wall Street, price fixing, signaling, and forecasting are all federal, criminal offenses. Similarly, Jagex has stated for the record that actions made to intentionally skew prices are against the rules. How does this practice still exist? Is it a bone thrown to clever merchants with figures the long-term impact is minimal? Does the existence signal the inability of the game writers to properly audit their pricing tool?
What is the future of this manipulation, and what will it’s impact be?