Is trading still a desirable feature?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 21 June 2013, 2:56 am
Once upon a time I was playing a druid in Everquest. Druids were one of the few classes that had teleports, and I had a crafting skill to turn bear pelts into bags. So I traveled to the zones where the bear pelts were found and bought them from the other players hunting there, transformed the pelts into bags, and then traveled to the tunnel in the East Commonlands. There everybody who bought and sold stuff gathered, and people traded one-on-one, shouting out their offers. Since then trading in online role-playing games has become a lot more efficient. And a lot less fun. The low point was Diablo III, where trading got so efficient that items simply weren't worth anything any more, and what you could get cheaply from the auction house was a lot better than what you could find yourself. In the end you had a game about gathering loot in which many people didn't even bother to gather loot any more.

When I describe Card Hunter I sometimes say that the game has trading card game elements. That is somewhat misleading, I should rather use collectible card game elements. In fact there is absolutely zero trading between players in Card Hunter. And I think not having trading is a great feature which very much improves the game. There are quite a lot of games which would be better off if they didn't have trading at all.

The principal problem with trading in MMORPGs and other online games is mudflation: The items you find today are better than the items you found yesterday, and make the old items obsolete. This is by design, because if the quality of the items you find would remain constant with time, it would quickly become boring. So there are systems in place like leveling up, or new expansions, which make sure that on some "gear score" scale the stuff you find is always getting better. But as people start playing these games at different times, and play for different amounts of hours, the gear that is obsolete for the veteran is valuable for the new player. So the veteran is selling his junk for cheap, and the new player picks up extremely good gear for next to nothing. Which then kills the item collection aspect of the game for the new player. The more effective trading becomes, that is the easier it is to access and the more people share access to the same auction house, the cheaper it gets for a player to buy gear he would have needed to be extremely lucky to find by himself.

Trading card games have the same issue, whether they are level-based or not. They have cards of different rarity, and at the start of the game having a bunch of common cards is a huge step up from having no cards at all. The more cards you collect, the less useful the commons become, because you quickly have more copies of them than you can use. But if you buy a complete set of commons early in the game, you miss out on the joy of finding a useful one later.

And then of course there is the problem that a game company can only control the trading that is going on inside the game. There is no way for them to control whether there is a hidden second part of the trade going on via other channels. Thus if player A trades a million gold for nothing to player B, player A might be either very generous, or he might be in a personal relationship with player B, or he might have received $20 in cash from player B. If it is possible to trade, then it is possible to have "gold farmers", that is people who play the game only to sell items for real money, in your game. With all the negative consequences that can have, because suddenly a player's account might be worth a lot of money, and hacking and robbing it might become a profitable crime.

Trading obviously has a large impact on crafting in a game, if a game has crafting. But the impact isn't all positive. On the one side of course if you are able to craft daggers it would be nice to have customers buying those daggers. But on the other side the fact that you might put a lot of daggers on the auction house forces the designers to make sure that the daggers you can craft aren't actually very useful. That is why for example in World of Warcraft the items you can craft that are any good are bind on pickup. I could very well imagine a game in which the crafting system only produces items for the player himself, with no trading possible. Instead of making hundreds of useless items, crafting would be more elaborate, produce a lot less items, but the few items produced would be useful to the player.

In Card Hunter you cannot trade with other players. But you can sell your excess cards for gold, and then buy new cards for gold from vendors whose items on offer change every day or week. That basically fulfills all the players' needs for being able to get rid of the stuff they don't need any more and exchange it for something they do need, but without opening the can of worms that is inter-player trading. I think that is a wise decision. And I do hope that in the future we get more games in which trading between players is disabled. If ever there is to be a Diablo 4, it better not have trading any more.
Tobold's Blog

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