Yeah, I know. It's quite a title to live up to. Then again, it has been a year since I last wrote a proper rant about RuneScape's economics, so I figured I'd take another stab at it. Of course, I can't simply repeat what I (and others) have said already, so I thought I'd try something different. In this article I will attempt to dispel and expose some of the biggest lies that, without valid reason, keep being perpetuated to the masses.
But first, a trip down memory lane. I speak of a time when the road to many riches ran straight through Seers Village. If you needed money, chances are you were either cutting or whittling Yew Logs, picking or spinning Flax, assembling or alching the Yew Longbow, or all of the above. It was a time when Coal had only just broken free of its 100GP hold, and it was so... boring.
All was right with the world up to that point, but fortunately for me as a writer things started to change. This was the earliest I can remember that people complained about inflation, but without the Grand Exchange there was little measure of it. Bots were also starting to rear their ugly head, and even managed to lower the value of sharks by 70% (down to 300GP).
This was all before a time when top level content was available only through monster drops. The best weapon was a Dragon Scimitar, which would never rise to more than 115,000GP for even the most desperate buyer. The best armour was the Dragon Chainbody, an item so valuable at the time; it was rarely worn for its protection and more for its status. With the introduction of the Abyssal Demons and Barrows Armour, all of the above changed as these were suddenly the best money makers.
Now look at today. Until recently, the arguably best weapons and armour in the game came from the Godwars Dungeon. The best money maker involves hanging out for a while on PVP worlds and maybe killing a few other people there, and automatons do the Woodcutting and Fishing for the rest of us. This best money maker is so efficient at bringing GP into the game that it has had an effect on every item that is not bound by its alch value or shop price.
None of this is new to anyone, unless you were not around as early as I was. And yet, while everyone seems to have a basic knowledge of how the economics in RuneScape work, and is therefore able to explain much of the previous paragraphs, some misconceived ideas keep getting stuck in people's minds. Today I hope to shine a new light on these ideas, and hopefully make people a little wiser.
Lie 1: Bots are a good thing.
While they do provide ample supply of raw materials, it is not a steady one. Just as highly susceptible to Jagex's will to implement anti-bot technology as the economy is to certain updates to the game (the difference being that the latter is actually announced), the prices of your Red Chinchompas may suddenly skyrocket.
Not only do bots provide an insecure supply, but because they are operating in such large numbers, they push the ones out that do. Many skillers have moved on to greener pastures for various reasons (DnD's and SC make it much faster training, for example), but one of those reasons is the simple fact that hardcore skilling does not have the same financial benefits anymore compared to alternative methods – in particular PVP Worlds. The results are unstable prices at best, and destruction of peoples’ livelihood at worst.
Fortunately, we are not stuck to a single role in RuneScape, but that alone cannot be the justifying argument. People think that bots are able to provide a counterbalance for some massively inflated prices, but it is a fragile balance at best. And believe it or not, we all really want a stable economy. So ask yourself, do you really want to rely on rulebreakers?
Lie 2: Merchant Clans are a bad thing.
Touchy statement to be disagreeing with, I know, as it always affects people directly. But let's throw the rules and ethics out the window for a moment. What merchant clans do is take advantage of both artificial and natural price fluctuations. If the price of, for example, Saradomin Brews shoot up for whatever reason, odds are that a merchant has already bought an ample supply of it. They will sell this when they expect the price to have hit a peak, everyone knows this.
The only people that would buy it at this peak price however, are the impatient, the rich and the stupid, none of which I have any sympathy for in this instance. Jagex have said that the manipulating versions of merchant clans are against the nature of the game, and I assume will therefore feel some sort of repercussion in the future.
But if you feel personally threatened by merchants, know that we have plenty of bankspace. If you expect to use a lot of items (like those Saradomin Brews) that are sensitive to merchants, wait for the dump, and stock up. If you do not end up using them, you can always sell again at a similar or higher price. And presto! Did you just turn yourself into a merchant?
Lie 3: Dungeoneering has no impact on the economy.
Wrong again, I'm afraid. Dungeoneering draws quite a lot of people away from the rest of RuneScape. Most of these people want their Chaotic weapons (we had already established that more people move away from skilling into combat), and then another whole bunch more want a lot of the other items as well. Quite a few are also steadily marching on to level 99, or even 120.
So how does this impact the economy? Initial instinct, and of course common misconception, would say that it doesn't. They have stopped participating in the normal goings on of RuneScape, since everything you need is supplied for you in the depths of Daemonheim. And that is just the thing.
Most of the stuff we do in RuneScape generates more GP than it destroys. When you think of it, there are only a few significant money sinks left, but more on that later. When you consider that everyone that is Dungeoneering right now could also be hanging around and doing their regular thing in RuneScape, but is not, the trend becomes clear.
Looking at the Common Trade Index of RSwiki, you can clearly see that since the release of Dungeoneering, prices have plummeted drastically, only briefly bumped by the Bonus XP weekend. Dungeoneering does nothing with the economy?
Lie 4: We need new money sinks.
This brings me to my fourth point. People, including myself have always advocated that we needed money sinks to fight inflation. This is true, but to say we need more of them goes a bit far.
Dungeoneering has become an obvious catalyst in causing the current price-dropping spiral we are in. Just look at the prices of Godswords. Losing in popularity to Chaotic Weapons is one thing, but losing almost half your value is another (prices of many other items back this up).
Combine this with the other major ones such as Shops all over RuneScape, and Coinshared items, and you’ve got quite the "involuntary" drain of money. So is this enough? It kind of has to be, as most other money sinks are either voluntary or useless.
Take Zaff's Special Staff's as an example of a useless money sink. With my Varrock Armour 3 I spend 448k in that place every day, which disappears right out of the economy, yet gets replaced in my own wallet with even more money because I sell it for a good profit at the GE. Great for me, great for deflation enthusiasts, right? But the Battlestaves eventually get a Charged Orb attached to it and proceed to get alched. The net result is that everyone wins, but the economy sees yet more GP flowing in because of this.
No, I am a firm believer that you should not start cleaning the spill if you haven't fixed the leak yet. It diverts your attention from the main problem at hand, and everyone knows I am talking about the PVP drop table still. Fix that as I and many, MANY others have previously advocated, and the need for money sinks also fades away.
Lie 5: Inflation is a good thing.
I know this somewhat counters my previous point. Stopping inflation is hard to do without draining a lot of GP from the economy, which is why I advocated stopping the influx of it. Back to the point at hand, why is inflation a bad thing?
Economists would say that a little bit of inflation is not a bad thing, because it encourages people to buy stuff now, rather than wait out the deflation and buy the same stuff cheaper later on. In RuneScape this is not the case though.
Some of the things you do for money is firmly fixed. Take the battlestaff example earlier on. If you make and alch Battlestaves for a living, it's pretty much guaranteed that a year from now, your GP/hr income is almost exactly the same as it is today. This goes for pretty much everything that you eventually end up alching.
There's also the "jobs" that are uncertain of their income. If you farmed and mixed herbs into potions, your income tends to rise and fall at the whim of everyone else deciding whether or not it’s a good time to buy, for example, Prayer Potions or not. Fighting monsters for popular drops (coinshared or not) is even less certain.
Inflation rips these forms of moneymaking completely out of balance with one another. So much so that a team of coinsharing level 110's would each of them make more money an hour (on average) at General Graardor than someone with 91 Runecrafting ever could. The only truly skill-only methods of money making that can keep up with a mediocre Bandos team is hunting Grenwalls, but only because the prices of the Spikes are not fixed to their respective alch-values like Yew Longbows are, and because they are a raw material in high demand.
Jagex can try with updates such as Shattered Heart all they want to get people back to skilling, but if you combine this with the botting I mentioned earlier, we're going to end up with a HUGE portion of the game being marginalised and abandoned.
Allow me to paint a picture of how bad inflation really has been over the years. Coal has historically been the go-to item to get a read on it. It hovered between 150GP and 175GP just before the changes in the PVP drop table, and it just popped back over the 300GP mark again after the post-bonus XP weekend slump.
This doesn’t make sense. People are rapidly switching to the much cheaper and XP-efficient Gold Ore, relaxing the demand on Coal. Even with the introduction of the Living Rock Caverns, the price of Coal did not take a hit. And when you look historically, massive influx of Coal through new sources being implemented (Kingdom of Miscellania, for example) did not seem to have an effect on the price of it either.
Knowing that back in the day, Coal used to be around 100GP when I first started playing, can we assume to a degree that the total pile of GP available per player has at least tripled since then? Either way, considering it is hardly affected by updates; Coal seems to be the item to trade all your GP for if you plan on not playing for a while.
Lie 6: The economy is fine.
In my opinion, it is obviously not. I think it is a house of cards built on quicksand in an area plagued with earthquakes, ready to collapse, tank or "crater" in various areas based on the whim of Bots, Jagex's updates, and the popularity of PVP worlds. And that scares me, so much so that I have pretty much invested all my money in items such as Dragon Bones, Herbs (and their 2nds), and similar items. I doubt that certain expensive skills will lose popularity over the medium term future.
So these days we can no longer be sure of the value of one’s GP and what it will be in the future. Hypothetically speaking, people should either be buying stuff to get rid of their GP, or selling stuff to get more of it. A trend in one direction or another would give us something to go on, but if you look at all the price graphs of popular items, it's hard to say in which direction we are heading.
And that is a pretty "amazing" achievement. To have an unstable and uncertain economy in a game, which has nowhere near the complexity of a real economy, is quite a feat. But when you consider that all your coins are just a means to an end, you'll see how this will play out. GP is used to buy high level equipment as well as supplies to train your skills. So prices of those items should really be determined by supply and demand, and this is so far exactly as Jagex claims it is.
But when you also realise that your coins are just another item too, also subjected to the supply and demand of it, we're suddenly looking at a completely different picture. Your money is worthless if there is too much of it in the game, simple as that, regardless of the supply and demand of the other items. This is exactly what inflation is, and looking at the example of Coal earlier, it's obvious that it is starting to get out of control. But some people will claim that prices are coming down, and therefore your money is worth more again.
While this is true for a lot of items, we must not forget that all that money didn't just disappear overnight, or even over the past few months. Dungeoneering is a good money sink, but I do not believe it is THAT good. No, that money is still out there, sitting in people's banks, with the larger volumes found in the pockets of merchants. And this vast amount of money can cause quite a bit of damage and frustration (just look at Fury Amulets?).
Borrowing a phrase from a popular movie: Money never sleeps. Neither does it in RuneScape. The amount of money sitting there and doing nothing could easily be put to work to eventually corner, for example, the rares market. A market which has already become quite the exclusive club, as many people will not even trade with you if you do not have a different rare item to exchange for theirs (the only way in being a Sigil).
This is where street-prices come in. Another major symptom of an over-active economy, that Jagex tried to cure by giving some value to junk items needed to play Mobilizing Armies. This was again, in no way a permanent cure. Junk-trading still exists, and is seen with more and more items being traded and even with lending out those items! So Jagex, please consider; If your main tool for trading, the heart of RuneScape's economy if you will, can no longer keep up with the price changes of popular items, something definitely needs to be done.
Fortunately, no matter how much money is made, some people in this town still know what matters more. Achievement cape of skills like Fletching, Smithing or Cooking are sadly not getting much respect these days, but because of that, getting Fishing or Hunting to level 99 is that much more respectable. And whether you like it or not, this is exactly where money makes the difference in the one place we all eventually work towards; The Highscores.
So where will we go from here? It is unlikely (and partially wishful thinking), but will there, because trading is such a big part of this game, actually be an economic policy adopted by Jagex someday? And what do you fantasize it could look like?