As EVE Online continues its new promotional push, and prepares a free expansion and a debut boxed release, we spoke with the gameâ??s in-game economist Dr. EyjÃ³lfur GuÃ°mundsson.Develop: You’ve got a very unusual job. For our readers that don’t know about your role, what are you responsible for in the EVE Online Universe?
Dr. Eyjólfur Guðmundsson: There is nothing unusual about my job. What I do with EVE is to look at what players are producing, how they are producing it, where they are selling it, price trends, and social interactions among people. This is the same stuff that any economist would do analysing a real life economy. So the job is unusual? Not at all. Unusual setting? Definitely. I consider myself the luckiest economist in the world because I have a world of my own to research. So it is not an unusual job per se, but I’m just a very lucky guy.
Develop: How do players benefit from your work?
Guðmundsson: A lot of EVE is about the markets and the economy in the sense that they are trying to produce stuff that is needed to wage war in EVE. EVE is a completely player driven economy, so a spaceship is only flying in space because that player or another player has decided to build that ship. They have to take into account availability of resources when producing that ship. So the players benefit from the work that the research and statistics team does in a sense that it helps them to determine trends, gives them information about the economy and it’s just fun. Economic manipulation is fascinating gameplay and people are really starting to realize that now.
In summation, it helps players in their planning and it makes the game more fun.
Develop: What attracted you to in-game economics as opposed to real-word economics?
Guðmundsson: It was the experimental element of in-game economics. Within our world, even though it is a completely player-driven, there are still outside changes coming from the developers when we are adding new features into the game or tweaking game mechanics. So, even though we are not doing direct experiments in EVE, we know the upcoming changes and we can then watch what those changes do to the market. When a new patch or expansion is coming out, we have very closely documented the starting point and what we will change. Then we make a hypothesis about how it will affect the market and follow the results to understand if the market reacted the way we thought. This helps us better understand the effects of the changes we’ve made. So, as such, it is like a very large experiment that we can watch and see what how economics applies to social interactions online. So far I can say that I’m really intrigued by how the markets are in line with classic economic theory.
Develop: How do the challenges in real world economics compare to your experience with EVE Online?
Guðmundsson: There are some distinct parallel challenges existing in EVE Online and the ‘real world’ economy. In EVE, it is quite obvious that if you want to become a ‘big name’, you have to establish your own trust network. You have to be able to get people to work with you on a very well defined objective. You have to have a plan in place and you must make sure that your trust is not broken.
This is exactly what happened in real life in the sense that the banking system more or less failed through a lack of trust. In the same way, that happens in EVE once someone breaks the trust as we have seen in several cases in the past few months.
The big difference is that in EVE it is part of the game and it is what makes the game interesting – while consequences are a little bit more direct in real life. But that’s why I think monitoring EVE is very important, because we learn how to react to these trust breaches and failing institutions. I strongly encourage anyone who is interested in studying the current financial crisis to look at EVE Online as well.
Develop: Have you seen any sign that the real-world economic crisis currently so talked about is effecting EVE Online’s economy?
Guðmundsson: It is only affecting us in a positive way in the sense that we are seeing our subscriptions rise and a concurrent increase in activity. Increased activity always leads to interesting events in EVE because it is all about the players. EVE would be nothing if it didn’t have such an awesome subscriber base of very smart people trying to outsmart each other. It is an awesome, awesome thing to observe. So I would say that the connection between the current crisis and EVE Online is positive for EVE.
Develop: As a virtual business model, how does EVE Online rival other MMOs in terms of what it offers players?
Guðmundsson: Number one, two, and three I would say “depth”. You can play EVE for years and years and you are still discovering new possibilities of playing the game and new methods of participating in different social structures. There is no other game out there that offers you this depth and that would not be possible if we did not have the single shard approach. Having that approach gave us the opportunity to create a really vibrant environment that requires its own economy and its own social institutions.
Develop: Tell me about how you can counter the problem of uneven player distribution with an open economy like EVE Online’s. Has it been much of a problem?
Guðmundsson: My answer would simply be no, it hasn’t been a problem at all. Once we reached the critical mass of 50,000 subscribers, we were able to withdraw the sell and buy orders that CCP had in the markets. Today the only buy and sell orders on the market are the ones we use as currency sinks. We do not have to worry at all about player distribution in respect to the economy because the players will find each other and trade when needed.
The original design of EVE makes it such that resources are distributed unevenly in the universe. There is an asymmetric distribution of resources in a big universe of more than 5,000 systems broken up into 66 regions. You only see the market in that particular region. In order to build a spaceship you need to interact with people all over the EVE map. The initial design of the game is in my opinion so solid that this has never been a problem in the operation of the game once it reached a critical population mass.
Develop: Has EVE Online suffered at the hands of gold farmers and those looking to make real-world profits to the extent that famous examples like WoW has?
Guðmundsson: EVE Online has not suffered at the hands of ISK farmers, but we have seen through their gameplay that they are often trying to bend rules or exploit bugs in order to enhance their profits and thus have the potential to disrupt the market. However recent events have shown that the markets have become so big that it is difficult for any one person, or a handful of people, to disturb the markets to any great extent. This is the case even when they are exploiting at an industrial level. So the robustness of the EVE economy hasn’t been hurt in general.
We can see this in any black market sector in any other real life economy, it is there but it is not the main factor or significantly hurting the market (that of course might depend on where in the world you are). There is a black market in EVE, but it is not having any significant impact on the economy or gameplay. Of course there is always the nuisance from farmers who spam and use macros to chase available resources. We try to monitor them as best we can and are constantly working on new plans to catch them even sooner than we do today.
To read our interview with EVE Online’s executive producer Nathan Richardsson, click here.