Online Economies

Within months of Ultima Online's launch, in 1997, the game spiralled into a currency crisis. The developers woke up one morning to discover that the value of their gold currency was plummeting. Why? A handful of sneaky players had discovered a bug in the code that allowed them to artificially duplicate gold pieces (called "duping"). The economy had been hit by a counterfeiting ring. Inflation soared, and for weeks, players would log in each day to find their assets worth less and less.

Ultima programmers soon fixed the bug. But then they had a new problem: How do you drain all the excess gold out of the economy and bring prices back to normal? They hit upon the idea of creating a rare type of red hair dye and offering it for sale in small quantities. It had no real use, but, because it was rare, it became instantly popular and commanded an enormous price — which leached so much gold out of the system that inflation subsided.

Check it out.

You know, a couple of weeks ago I played Runescape for the first and (so far) only time. A young friend of mine in the real world offered to give me some iron or steel armor when we met online, as I was still at a level where chickens could harm me (but I could kill goblins!?!?), and was still trying to master bronzework. I gratefully accepted, but was unable to play again for a while, and the goods were eventually sold off. I mean, a man's got to make a living.

Interesting, funny, educational in many sands, but I just have to wonder in my ignorant humanities-dude way, when does the real-world arbitrary-value system collapse?

Maybe dad can tell me.

I found the above article at Walrus Magazine (actually, I admit that I found Walrus through A & L Daily). Y'all need to check the site out. Just on the front page is the article quoted from above on "online economies," a bit on Jean Cocteau (froo-tay!), and a fantastic piece on "non-profit mercenaries" that had me thinking that the sci-fi novels of my youth are coming true around me.