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So big bear butt’s latest post about the recent node spawn rate has…err…spawned a lively discussion about how exactly changes to collection affect the game at large. From my experience in MUDs, changes like these are actually far more wide-reaching than a simple rise in ore costs; they can have (or be a result of) much larger ripple effects in the economy.

Let me share a few examples from MUDs, and then I’ll address these changes in WoW.

- In the very first mud I played, Avalon, the rogue-class equivalent (Thieves) and hunter-class (Rangers) each had the ability to harvest their own poisons for use in combat. Other classes, like warriors, could also use their poisons on their weapons, and other players could sell/distribute these poisons to others, but every single poison use was a direct 1:1 ratio of player harvested to use. I picked one resik, I got to disarm someone once, and then that poison was used up.

Each poison grew in its own environment type and grew at a modest rate. You could have 60 poisons max growing in each node at a time, and it took about 1.5 seconds to harvest a single poison. So, there was a time factor (several minutes for one fight’s worth of poisons) plus a rarity factor (some locations would only have a few poisons available to pick, and locations were limited by the game’s world size. The hardcap on possible growth also put a ceiling on the total amount of poisons possible in the game).

My solution to this was to begin building a vast network of cottages, squirrelled away behind the walls of my guildhall. These private gardens basically gave me infinite poisons for certain environment types. Now the first result was a good one: I was able to spread the wealth and give newbies tons of nice stuff to use in combat. However, as the idea became popular, other players began to do it as well, and we saw a permeation of poisons, to the point of ALL classes eventually using them.

Coupled with this player-based proliferation, the admin also decided to change the environment types of one of the very rare poisons. I was the class liaison at the time and, admittedly, naive. I pushed for this, not having the full view that I have in retrospect. The result was that we suddenly began to see a much larger influx of certain poisons being used, again by all classes.

These small changes reshaped combat, from the player level. The game wasn’t balanced to have heavy-hitters like warriors able to afflict like thieves. Affliction-based users began to get more sloppy, throwing expensive affliction after expensive affliction at their foes. Classes had to go through rebalancing. Thieves and rangers had to be given more buffs to balance out the fact that everyone had access to their affliction potential. In addition to this, the economy was completely tweaked. Poisons dropped in value, while the potion and herb market shot up, as people began to need to chew through TONS more curatives each fight.

In short, huge changes happened because of spawn rate changes. Some, like having more new players able to dive into combat, were great for the game. Some, such as the class unbalances, were severely problematic.

This is what happens when everyone can harvest herbs. :(

This is what happens when everyone can harvest herbs. :(

- In another MUD I played, Aetolia, there was a similar herb harvesting system. Each room could potentially contain a specific number of herbs, and players had to visit each room, picking a few here and there. Only two classes in the game, Druids and Sentinels (similar to hunters) could pick plants.

As the factions split into various city alignments, it became clear that the “evil” side of the game was facing a much harder struggle to get herbs, as both Druids and Sentinels were members of the “good” faction. Herbalism/Alchemy was turned into a general skill that all players had access to. The only limit? You couldn’t be a blacksmith (had to pick one or the other). And blacksmithing really wasn’t that fun or profitable. Once you had a weapon, you kept it for real life MONTHS, so barely anyone had interest in that profession.

In conjunction with this change, harvesting turned to PERSONAL limits, with each player limited to a certain number of herbs picked per day, instead of the prior overall world limits on plant spawns. The result was expectedly catatrosphic: with no upper ceiling on the total number of plants in the WORLD, every player went out each day and harvested their max. There was no competition for specific plants, no rarity for plant spawns, and so EVERYONE had the same amount of plants available for sale each day.

Within a month, plants bottomed out at one gold each (the lowest possible price, about the equivalent of one copper in WoW), whereas before they had cost dozens of gold. They pretty much never recovered from plummet, and harvesting plants became basically a profession where you were paid for your time/you did it for the convenience.

Some of us keep it big pimpin' no matter what, though.

Some of us keep it big pimpin’ no matter what, though.

The moral of these examples is that what may seem like small changes can have potentially large ripple effects. WoW is obviously a bit different (we don’t consume multiple stacks of plants each fight!), but there are some similarities here. At its very core, the gathering side of an economy has a chunk of its value based in TIME. How much money are you getting for your efforts? Consider, also, that the rewards for all those freaking dailies had gone up in Mists, so there’s a fairly direct comparison for gatherers in the amount of money they could snag with a basic time investment.

At the start of MoP, the value side of the gathering economy became very low due to the high node spawn rates. On larger servers, this might not have been as noticable, as there are ALWAYS players who will gather, even if they are getting only pennies for their efforts. Players may have only seen a relatively low cost for crafted goods, since mats were cheap. However, on smaller population servers, this contingent of die-hard gatherers is smaller, so the result has actually been a weird one: prices got stupid. And not just stupid high or stupid low, but stupid all over the place. The initial influx from the high amount of nodes drove the prices down super low…and those low prices discouraged many people from gathering. Materials became harder to get, so prices would shoot back up…and then the market would get flooded again, and prices would plummet.

Imma get ALL THE ORES

Imma get ALL THE ORES

Crafters, however, would be purchasing mats at a fairly regular rate, and (the smart ones, at least) would base their prices off how much they were spending and/or the market value of the commodities. Crafted items also, on the whole, take longer to sell…or rather, they sell at a smoother rate – raw mats are purchased in bulk, crafters turn them into a bunch of items, and the items are bought as needed. The end result of this is that the cost for raw materials was fluctuating wildly from day to day, but the market for crafted items wanted to stay stable. Players themselves were a big factor in this, as crafters had prices they wanted to sell at, and buyers had ideas of how much things were worth (and neither of these may actually be the market value!). We ended up seeing tons of items selling at less than cost. For example, some alchemists were only profiting based on spec procs.

Was the nerf needed? Maybe. I view it as an attempt by Blizzard to rectify the too-high gathering rates from early in the expansion. They wanted to avoid the huge price inflations that we saw at the start of Cata, but they went too far in the other direction. This could potentially normalize it and make gathering attractive again…except there is the tricky aspect of us players ourselves. The market had already settled down (albeit into a slightly lower level than many would like). We have all picked up an internal “cost” calculation. This change was ABSOLUTELY needed several weeks ago. Now? It might very well throw a big wrench into things and require the market to readjust, again. Then again, it might be a very useful one that encourages more gatherers to get back out there grabbing items, which can ripple profit upwards along the crafting chain. Or it could just make things even less profitable to craft. I, personally, am going to be keeping my eye on things for a bit before I craft/post large amounts of items created from herbs/ore, unless I see a huge profit from it.

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