If you're accustomed to buying items on a regular basis, you've probably noticed that a lot of the commodity prices are dropping. Cooked sharks, for example, had been stable at around 1,000 GP each for the last three years or so. In the last six months they've dropped to around 750 GP. Yew logs have dropped from 350 GP to about 330 GP, and magic logs, dragon hides and dragon bones have all seen similar price drops. Even Amulets of Glory have dropped in price from around 100K to 65 – 70K. I could go on: whips, Barrows sets, armour, prayer book pages, potions, the list of declining prices is pretty substantial.
The only things that are not going down in price are rares. In a free market, and RuneScape is a pretty free market, the price of an item is governed by what it costs to obtain or manufacture it, and by how many people are interested in buying it. You might have the only left-handed whompus grinder in the universe, but if no one other than you wants it, it's only worth what it'll bring as scrap metal. However, if left-handed whompus grinders are a highly sought after item, you can more or less name your price. Popular items will always command a premium over similar unpopular items. Plentiful items will usually be cheaper than similar but scarce items.
Rare items, on the other hand, are declining in numbers. There are no more being made, and a small number get taken out of the game – players quitting and leaving stuff in their banks, accidental deaths where no one gets the death pile, high alching accidents (yes – it has happened!). At the same time, as the player population increases, more people want those items. Admittedly, not everyone wants rares, but those who do are willing to pay an awful lot of money for them.
With more players getting more random events and doing more treasure trails, you are going to see more prayer book pages, dragonstones (and thus amulets of glory), and more of the other uncommon treasure trail rewards. When the new rewards were first announced, the number of people actively hunting for clue scrolls went up dramatically. Prayer book pages have seen some substantial price drops because each player needs only one set of each type of page. If you lose the book, you can get it back intact for free. Thus, there isn't much of a market for the pages. Glorys, on the other hand, have become both more plentiful and more desirable. Abyss runecrafting really requires you to have several glorys unless you want to keep making trips to recharge them. Abyss Pkers do a good job of re-distributing glorys throughout the populace and that, together with the increased number in the game, has contributed to the decline in prices.
So why are commodity prices declining? The pat answer is autoers and gold farmers. However there's another group of people contributing to the overall downward price trend: Skill cape hunters. The skill capes were released in the Fall of 2006. Initially they were pretty uncommon. I think it was several weeks at least between the time they came out and the time I'd seen all of them. These days, wherever you go, you're almost certain to see at least one person wearing a skill cape. Places that attract high level players are usually swarming with people in skill capes. And there are several players with more than one kind of cape. The rise in the number of skill capes has matched the decline in commodity prices – coincidence?
If an item becomes plentiful enough, then there will be a glut on the market. In some cases this could mean that the sale price is less than the cost to manufacture. When this happens in the real world, people stop making the item – because no one's in business to lose money (well except maybe for the three major televion networks in the US, but that's another story altogether). The supply diminishes, and the price goes back up. I'm not sure that would happen in RuneScape, because if you want to get to level 99 cooking, sharks are the only cost-effective way to go.
The way levelling works in RuneScape, when you reach level 92 you're only halfway to level 99 in terms of actual XP. That means whatever skill you're working on, you need a huge amount of resources to level up. It takes about 31,000 sharks to go from level 92 to level 99. A woodcutter would need to cut 37K yews or 26K magic logs, and while a firemaker could take either 32K yews or 21K magics off his hands, that still leaves a few thousand to clutter up his bank. To level prayer to 99 from 92, you'd need to grind 22K dragon bones and feed them to the ectofunctus. That's an awful lot of leftover dragonhides – but that wouldn't go far if you were crafting. You'd need 105K green dragonhides, 93K blue ones, 83K red or 75K black (all numbers are approximate, and courtesy of Tip.It skill Calculators.)
In some respects, autoers and skill cape hunters form a nice closed circle. Autoers can supply the raw materials cheaply so the skill cape hunters can buy them to raise their skills. After all, if you want to raise prayer, are you really going to kill 22,000 green dragons just so you can grind their bones? Or would you rather buy the bones and save yourself a substantial amount of time? If you're powering through Runecrafting, are you really going to mine all the essence you need, when it can be bought reasonably cheaply? Do cooks fish their sharks, or buy them?
True, there are players who do collect their own raw materials. For some it's a matter of personal pride that they never buy raw materials. Others, limited by the amount of gold they have, buy some and collect the rest. Autoers are obviously gaining by autoing, otherwise they wouldn't do it. Although eBay has clamped down on people selling gold or player accounts, there are plenty of game sites that do offer RuneScape gold for real money – despite all of Jagex's rules to the contrary. You can almost see the cycle of skillers real world trading with autoers, then spending their ill-gotten gains buying more raw materials from the very same autoers they just bought gold from in the real world. Ironic, but at least there is symmetry.
Jagex has so far been unable to do more than briefly slow down the macroers and autoers. They've been almost completely ineffective against the gold farmers who pay people to play the game, rather than running bots. It's almost impossible to stamp out a black market once it's been established – the US found that out during Prohibition. Far from reducing the incidence of drunkenness, Prohibition actually caused more of it because people substituted hard liquor (which was easier to transport) for beer. It also created conditions in which the rise of organised crime was inevitable. The black market for liquor almost completely vanished with the repeal of Prohibition.
In theory Jagex could, if not entirely eliminate, at least reduce substantially, the black market in GP by introducing a legal “white market” for GP. There are lots of ways they could do it, but the simplest would be to enable members to buy a limited amount of gold each month, the cost of which would be added to their membership. This could be linked to some sort of in-game event, similar to the Tears of Guthix mini-game. A member would sign up for the program and each month, do the mini-game and get a code. Entry of this code into a form on the main RuneScape site would trigger the addition of an extra $1 or so to their membership and the deposit of GP into the player's bank account.
Would that entirely solve the autoer problem? Probably not. But if the Jagex prices were sufficiently low, and enough people who would otherwise have bought black market gold decided to take up their offer, it could make a substantial dent in the incidence of autoing.
Unfortunately, this sort of solution goes against Jagex's core philosophy of members levelling their skills by working for the levels rather than buying them, so it's unlikely to ever be implemented. It would also encourage people who don't use the black market to purchase gold, thus adding more money to the already overheated economy and further forcing prices of rares up (because the people who want them have more money available to buy them). It might also force some of the commodity prices back up – as the collectors of raw materials realise that the people buying from them could have access to much more money than previously, so we'd have inflation again. And if there was sufficient inflation, the prices of raw materials might get high enough for autoers to get back into the game and re-start the black market.
So it looks like we're stuck at the moment. I suspect that prices of commodities will continue to decline however, until either the skill cape rush slows down a little or the prices get so low that it's not worth selling raw materials. Stay tuned – the RuneScape economy still has a few tricks up its sleeve.
Did You Know...
...that you can buy Plant Cure from the farmers at the allotments for 25gp, as opposed to 40gp at the farming stores right next to the allotments?
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