We have tackled the subject of mudflation tangentially a few times of late. It seems to have suddenly become the economic buzzword of MMOs. We have all experienced it. We have come to expect, if not accept, it as part of the games we love to play. And though Wikipedia, in its infinite wisdom, has dubbed it an in-game only phenomenon, I posit a different approach to looking at this occurrence.
Mudflation is an immediate devaluation of previously owned items due to the gain or release of newly available items. This is not unlike technological advance in that the release of the latest new toy makes all others somewhat obsolete. The differences here are the perceived need for the item, the amount of devaluation, and the time frame in which this occurs.In MMOs the best items are seen as necessary. Once a character reaches endgame, the focus usually becomes gearing to spec in order to join other adventurers in larger quest efforts (or teams for PvP, if that's your sort of thing). Either way, you need to have the top of the line weapons and armor in order to be of the most use in your travels. Your comrades expect nothing less. So when new items become available it is vital to work towards obtaining them as soon as possible.
Expansions that increase the level cap are a slightly different story. In these, the maximum power of items must increase to keep pace with more difficult challenges, rather than tweaking builds to fight the same foes. What was top-of-the-line is now suddenly an inferior good - something to be pawned off on alts if not bound to the character or sold at the auction house.
Either way, having bleeding edge technology in the game is vital to success whereas in the real world it is generally not necessary. And the penalties for not accepting this new technology can be severe. Not being able to raid with your guild, or not adequately fulfilling your duties within the raid are just two of them. If you're on your own, taking on similarly leveled PvE foes, it makes the going that much easier. And for PvP, being prepared for others with similarly leveled gear is crucial to survival. So unless you're willing to spend just as much on repairs as you would on that new item, you might as well dive in to the new content.
The opportunity costs of adopting new technology can also be much higher in real life, meaning you give up more in order to stay ahead of the curve. For instance, a top-notch gaming system can run you several thousand US dollars. What else could be done with that? How many working hours does it take to make enough to save that to start with? And even beyond that, what happens when you sink all that money and the technology takes a turn for the worse? The consequences of spending that sort of time and money might be much more dire than just a bit of corpse running.
When new items are released in a game the devaluation is often drastic. Between the demand for the new content and the supply of older ones available in the rush to reach the next endgame, what used to be the most expensive items might suddenly lose half or more of their value. This is much more dramatic than what is usually seen IRL. Since, for the most part, items are quested for rather than sold by NPCs, the laws of supply and demand reign supreme in determining price. This allows for a quick shift in price as there is no friction coming from
Outside of game, advance also takes time. OK - technically it takes time for the developers to create the games or expansions that we know and love too. The difference here is that rather than introducing the new, featured items one at a time, as is usually the case in real life, they drop them in one larger group. The cost of production of in game items is zero, so it makes sense that a production change can be immediate. Still, it means that there is a desperate clamor for new, shinies when they're dropped.
Between the real life demand for new content, the need for new items in moving through the content, and the associated immediate devaluation of our older items, mudflation seems to be inevitable. As long as there are players waiting for the next patch or expansion, there will be a decrease in the perceived value of anything already experienced.
Opinion time! If a new content patch was released and it did not introduce new items, only new quests and enemies, would you still jump into it with the same zeal? For those casual players out there, does mudflation negatively impact your game? Or do you forgo the immediate rush to get new items and utilize what others are readily giving up? When it all comes down to it, would you rather deal with mudflation and the desire to attain the newest and shiniest items or keep the same items but be given different challenges?
Alexis Kassan is a numbers nerd. She spends her days with statistical programs and her nights with spreadsheets and textbooks. She's also a MMORPG addict, having gotten sucked into Ultima Online at a formative age. In her time away from work, books and games, she can usually be found drowning in pools of sprinkles. If you have a question about in-game economics or how crafting fits in with them, hit her up at alexis DOT kassan at weblogsinc DOT com.