Mudflation: inflation in virtual worlds

Master game designer Raph Koster has posted a great rumination on "Mudflation" — runaway inflation in virtual worlds. This is an old phenomenon that each game discovers anew as it nears senescence. I think that this has profound implications for in-game democracy — democracy requires that you play together for a long time, in order to establish civil society. But inflation is such a fixture in virtual worlds that they are necessarily short-lived — only by beating inflation can games sustain themselves. Ironically, most of the techniques Raph sets out for containing "mudflation" involve autocratic control of the world's economy.

The classic means of controlling mudflation are

* reducing the amount of value in the economy via means such as: item decay, item deletion (either via challenges where you can lose items, or manually; yes, some games literally just go in and delete items), character purges, etc. Many games used to simply wipe the player database every few months because mudflation had gotten so bad.
* Refusing to up the level limit, and instead introducing orthogonal advancement paths. This single mechanism is probably the single biggest slowdown you can effect. Many long-running successful muds got that way by simply never upping the level cap, and instead investing their expansion in enriching the content and encouraging repeat play.
* Obsessive attention to economic stats and adjusting all economic drains to account for all the influx. This often means punishingly high costs for players, btw.


(via Wonderland)

(Disclosure: I am a proud member of the advisory board for Areae, the company Raph founded)

See also:
Koster's keynote from Game Developers Conference
Koster's amazing "What are the lessons of MMORPGs today?">
Areae: online world startup from "Theory of Fun" Koster
Destiny of Games: what will become of fun?
Lifecycle of a gamer
What would an MMORPG about healing be like?
Civil liberties in gamespace
Theory of Fun: Understanding Comics for games
Star Wars Galaxies economy laid bare