Pirates of the Burning Sea lead designer Kevin Maginn a.k.a. Isildur graciously answered a few questions I had about the game economy design recently. I was going to incorporate his answers into the article I wrote on the economy but I think the interview deserves its own spotlight, so here it is.Q: The (economic) system has been in beta test for a while now – is it still pretty much the same system you envisioned when you first put it in or have there been changes to it as a result of feedback from beta testers or data gathered during testing?Kevin
It’s largely the same. We’ve made some minor changes in response to how the economy operates in practice — mostly having to do with how recipes become available — but that devlog I wrote is still mostly accurate.Except for auction houses; those have undergone a significant revision. I had this idea that a mercantile style of play would develop, where traders would move goods from local auction houses to regional auction houses, and buyers would preferentially look for goods there. This didn’t work, and it mostly didn’t work because players weren’t able to see the value of goods in distant ports. We talked about ways to solve that, and realized that any solution would get us most of the way to a ‘global’ auction house — where we could allow viewing and purchasing of auctions in other ports.
The resulting revision to the auction houses was (from my perspective) a complete success. The additional information available means that you can buy goods knowing that you’re paying a reasonable price for them — or at least that you could be paying a reasonable price for them if you weren’t so lazy. It also means that you can see where to sell your goods for the greatest profit, and where a given item is oversupplied and not priced very high. It also lets us give another benefit to freetraders, who have the option of seeing prices across the entire world.
Q: The one other feature of PotBS that people seem to be most interested in is PvP. Is the PvP in the game intertwined with the economic system or did you design them to be alternative playing styles? (in other words, if you’re not interested in PvP, become a freetrader?)Kevin:
You can be a freetrader and not participate in PvP, but they’re intentionally different facets of the same system. Something I’ve said on the beta forums is that producing oak is inherently a PvP action. You may only want to make oak and sell it, and from your perspective there’s nothing PvP about that, but to your British enemies you’re providing materials that will be used to construct warships that will be sailed against them. As a result, all ports that support production are conquerable. Your economic ports are always potentially at risk.
On a less philosophical level, you can always avoid PvP areas of the world. High-end production is probably going to take you into the Antilles, however, and they’re notoriously dangerous and PvP-filled. If you’re determined never to cross into a ‘red’ zone, you may have to wait a while before you can get to the ports you need to visit; you can also ask around for an escort, as many PvP-minded players are willing to help merchants out.
Q: PotBS uses an auction house system that’s different than most and you have mentioned in your blog that it’s based on FF XI’s auction house mechanics and works pretty well there. Based on the beta test population, would you say the system works well in PotBS too?Kevin:
The blind mechanic continues to work pretty much as I’d expected. I think there’s a learning curve for people who haven’t been exposed to it before — particularly people who are used to the World of Warcraft implementation of eBay. And the early auction house implementation’s many flaws didn’t help with that transition, of course. I’m pretty happy with the outcome, though, and I think that players are adjusting to the inherent uncertainty in purchasing goods in this system.
Q: Much has been said about the similarity of PotBS’ economy with that of Eve Online, at least in terms of complexity if nothing else. Just a few months ago, Eve Online hired a full time economist to sort of act like the ingame “Fed”. Do you have any plans of doing something similar when PotBS goes live?Kevin:
I’m the closest thing we have to an economist (note: not an economist). I don’t anticipate hiring someone to manage our economy, but I like the concept; it pleases me that Eve’s economy is complex enough, and critical enough to their gameplay, to warrant that level of attention. If economists were cheap (note: they’re not) I’d hire one in a second, just to have someone around to act as a sanity check and filter on my ideas.
Q: You have mentioned that player density (or the lack of it) is a big factor impacting the economy, specifically in creating stable prices on low traffic commodities. Now I know that there are many many fans out there who are just dying to be invited into the beta. Any plans on expanding the current beta population and if yes, when can the next round of beta testers expect to get their emails?Kevin:
We’ve got a beta expansion underway right now, as it happens; I’m hoping to do a massive beta invite in the near future, but unfortunately I don’t get to control that. We’ve also got additional stress tests planned, though those do little to exercise the economy, which is more of a long-term game.
Q: What are your thoughts on national auction houses or putting in mechanisms to make it harder to buy and sell at auction houses controlled by opposing nations?Kevin:
I’m not a fan. Economic warfare is, to my mind, a legitimate way to interact with your enemies. Snapping up rare goods out of an opponent’s auction house is perfectly reasonable — and probably not a good long-term strategy in any case, as it puts more money in the hands of your enemy’s merchants and producers. There are already faction-based restrictions on the auction house; if you’re hated enough — and the Naval Officers and Pirates all start out hated enough — you can’t use enemy auction houses.