Too big to fail: Using MMOs to study economics

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We all know that real world officials have used games like World of Warcraft to monitor the spread of infectious diseases, like trout flu. But what’s new to my eyes, broken pieces of junk that they are (I wouldn’t be able see Jupiter even if I were five feet away from it), is that researchers are using them to study economics. It’s simultaneously a bad and good idea.

It’s good in that you’ve got a lot of people to study, all of whom are buying and selling goods on the Auction House (or your preferred game’s equivalent). But the thing is that not everyone is motivated by pure profit, which seems to be the case in the Real World. Someone could be trying to level up a skill (like, say, Leatherworking) just for the sake of leveling it up, and not trying to make any money on the transaction. So they’ll make a piece of armor, and sell it for next to nothing just because. Then you’ve got people who like to disrupt, selling items for way below the “real” value just to ruin the economy. My brother actually did that back in the early days of Star Wars Galaxies.

One thing that researchers have already observed: when a new server opens up, or when it allows transfers to it, the flood of new players, with their new items in their knapsacks, be on the lookout for inflation. If, prior to the server opening up to new players, there was only 10 of Item X on sale, and now all of a sudden 100 items are on sale, say goodbye to your profit margins.

So, yeah… happy Jocktober, everyone.

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