Most large scale MMOs balance their economies around the idea that most people play with one account. Now while it isn’t unusual to see people with multiple accounts, usually there are too few to do any sort of long term economic damage. But what happens when you combine eight accounts with a savvy eye for detail? That’s exactly what Patrick Desjardins did when he played Star Wars Galaxies. You see Patrick did some research early on in the Beta, eventually asking the development team how the game’s economy would be structured. Their response, “We haven’t really planned for much of anything. I think the players will structure it organically.” Patrick was “dumbstruck” that the team wasn’t going to put any restrictions on the game’s gigantic in-game economic system, so he had an idea.
After some analysis of how the game’s economic system worked, Patrick came up with a plan on how to exploit it. On release day he bought eight copies of the game, set up all the necessary hardware and began to start crafting. Over the next few weeks his plan slowly began to take shape, he adjusted his strategy and finally started to see some growth. At first it was just credits, a few million here, a few there. After six months he realized he was so flush with cash that he needed to execute some type of plan to unload it.
Eventually he came in contact with a reseller from Thailand named Tan. Patrick’s digital corporation was becoming so effective it was getting in the way of some of the resellers (gold sellers if you will) on his server. Instead of battling each other for server supremacy, they decided to partner up. At first Patrick would just transfer the credits to Tan and get paid via a bank transfer. The people who spent real world cash on in-game credits would then go back to Patrick’s digital shops and the cycle would start all over again. At his peak he had 12 employees and controlled the economy on four different servers. The result of all this digital work was a real life salary of almost six figures.
I highly recommend you read Patrick’s complete and detailed version on his blog which I linked above. Essentially however, he saw something in Star Wars Galaxies that no one else did, not even the developers. There are a lot of lessons here, but the most obvious is that players see things that developers do not. This story not only outlines the importance of regulating large robust gameplay, but also shows the importance of different types of testing. Had they tested their economic system more thoroughly, as I’m sure they did with their gameplay, something like this may have been avoided.
There are real life implications as well. We’ve seen those take advantage of our own financial system; individuals with intimate knowledge of the system were able to navigate the complex loopholes that no one else saw. I commend Patrick and his digital Star Wars Galaxies corporation. Without him some developers may have continued to forget that the devil is always in the details.