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Scientific American has an overview of how some MMOGs manage their economies (found via Massively).

The article discusses the approaches of EVE Online, Entropia Universe and Second Life in trying to keep their virtual economies balanced. Getting the balance of crafting, economics and other such features right can drive behavior like specialization/division of labor, guilding etc, as Eyjólfur Guðmundsson, EVE Online’s economist, notes:

The new player who isn’t able to succeed roams around space trying to make ISK[s]. He tries to be a player-versus-player pilot and loses in battle. He needs help to succeed in the community. Players themselves have found ways to deal with this by creating corporations and alliances. It’s not just economics, but also socioeconomics in general.

For new game designers, keeping virtual economies in check is a non obvious but extremely important element of game design. While most designers spend a lot of time thinking about how to add money into a system and how to price virtual goods, some do not spend enough time thinking about how to balance these two elements. If you allow users to transfer virtual currency between each other, trade in virtual items will emerge. If the economies are unbalanced, you run the risk of side effects such as inflation in pricing of virtual goods or too many “high power” items in the wild. Both of these can make it hard for a new player to join the game after it has been ongoing for a while as they are either too poor or too weak to be able to do anything fun. While these things can be managed after they become problems, it is better to have spent some time thinking through the issues before launch.