I shall be using the term “Gold” in this post for two reasons. First off, it’s a catch-all, generic phrase that encompasses the primary currency used in most MMOs (irrespective of whether it really is called gold or not). Secondly, it means I can gratuitously crow bar Spandau Ballet references into the proceedings if I see fit. Moving on, I currently have four traditional MMOs installed on my PC, all of which have a main currency that is earned through completing quests and the vendoring of loot. Some of these games make the acquisition of gold relatively easy and others do not. Furthermore, like real life, there are rich and poor players in any MMO and usually for the same reasons. IE Investment of time, at which point you enter the economy, fiscal prudence and the old adage of money going to money. Once you’ve accumulated wealth in an MMO it’s a lot easier to maintain the flow of revenue.
Back in 2008 when I started playing LOTRO, earning gold was a relatively slow but balanced process. Progressing through the game, collecting quest rewards and selling your loot brought in a slow but steady stream of revenue. Occasionally obtaining a rare drop would help increase your personal wealth, once it was sold via the auction house. Furthermore, crafting gear and selling it on could prove lucrative. Then there was playing the in-game economy. One such example would involve buying health potions cheap during the middle of the week only to sell them late on Friday or Saturday evening, when players were busy raiding and demand was high. I’m sure broadly similar scenarios are applicable to other MMOs. However, these processes are not always sustainable because game economies evolve, and dedicated players end up accumulating immense in-game wealth. All of which have a knock-on effect.
In STO, the ability to earn energy credits, the games equivalent of gold, has diminished over time. Vendoring the content of your bags after running several Red Alerts (group instances), does not yield much these days. Yet because the game has a core player base that have maintained multiple alts over the last eight years, there is a lot of concentrated wealth among high achievement players. Many lockbox items are not bound and so desirable items such as ships, weapons and traits are sold at massively inflated prices on the exchange (auction house). If a new player wants a rare Tier 6 vessel they will be looking at a price of 200 to 300 million energy credits. To raise such capital would take a strategy of logging in daily on multiple alts, to run specific events. It may possibly take a year to earn such a sum. Again, you’ll find similar situations in other MMOs. It’s also the reason why gold sellers are still a thing. One year versus a few hours waiting for “Tommy” to drop off your cash.
Interestingly, I did not have any issues earning gold in ESO. I recently created a new character and spent about a month progressing to level cap. During that time, I was able to generate over 150,000 gold which is a tidy sum. It will not kit a player out in legendary quality gear, but it will cover the cost of buying equipment from the next tier down and make them ready to start grinding better gear from the endgame. Although I haven’t played Guild Wars 2 for a while, gold was not in short supply in that game, mainly due to the fact that you could buy a specific in-game currency, gems, with real world money and then convert it back into gold. Obviously, such a system does discriminate against players who don’t wish to or can’t afford to spend real money, but the exchange rate is not especially egregious. Other MMOs have a similar system that let’s player effectively buy gold legitimately. Although some would argue it cures one problem and creates another.
My last point is based more upon a hunch and a feeling, rather than something I can tangibly measure; therefore, I won’t frame it as a fact. When I started playing MMOs a decade or more ago, having a lot of gold was a demonstrable benefit. It was often (not always) a key to getting something that you needed to improve your build or something that aided your gameplay. Nowadays, the in-game store seems to be of more importance and in-game gold is not the currency you need to worry about. The role of gold seems to have diminished because its function cannot easily be monetised in an ageing game economy. Hence the focus on convenience items that can be bought for real money via purchasable currencies. Turns out that maybe gold isn’t necessarily “indestructible” and we shouldn’t “always believe in” it, now we have “the power to know”. Cue Steve Norman saxophone break and accompanying bongos.