Hoard It or Spend It?
This posts stems from a recent experience I had in Star Trek Online but it is not a matter that is exclusive to that MMO. This is a subject that is pertinent to any multiplayer game that has an in-game currency and an economy driven by player activity. I’m not referring to single player games where you can use a console command to give you infinite wealth, such as Skyrim. This is about currencies that are earned in-game through grinding missions, selling gear and other assets to NPCs and trading via the auction house. It’s about how we as player perceive that virtual money and our relationship with it.
I’ve been playing STO regularly since 2015 when a recruitment event enticed me to return to this MMO. I have a primary character, a Tactical Federation Fleet Admiral and five other alts from various other factions. I play through all new content on my main “Captain” (as the developers like to refer to them) and harvest resources with the alts. Therefore over time I have built up a fair stock of the games two main currencies; Energy Credits and Dilithium. The former is quite hard to acquire unless you proactively follow an established course of action. Grind out Dilithium, refine it, sell it for Zen (the in-game store currency), buy lockbox keys and then sell them via the Exchange (auction house). Raising capital any other way is a long and laborious process. Generating Dilithium is not so difficult, but players are limited to refining 8,000 ore per 20 hours. Hence farming via alts is a necessity if you want to speed this process up. However, if you log in regularly and follow a daily routine, you can keep your account solvent with both currencies.
And so onto the crux of this post. There I was logged into my main alt a few days ago, toying with the idea of tinkering with my ship build on my main character, because that is a major part of the “endgame” (yes, I rolled my eyes as I said it) in STO. To cut a long story short I bought 6 Pulse Phaser Beam Arrays from the Exchange. I chose to buy “rare” quality to keep the costs down although this may have been a false economy as I then had to use a lot of resources to upgrade the weapons to “epic” quality and Mark XV level. I won’t bore you with all the details but I ended up using 100 Phoenix Universal Tech Upgrades, several hundred Superior Beam Weapons Tech Upgrades, about 250,000 Dilithium and spending 60,000,000 Energy Credits. Furthermore, the above process described was not undertaken casually. I spent hours perusing what was available for sale, trying to work out the potential upgrade costs and agonising over whether to make such major inroads into accumulated in-game wealth.
And there you have it in a nutshell. The curious paradox that arises from accruing resources that exist to be spent yet hesitating to do so, because you don’t like the idea of using it and being left with significantly less. I’m no psychiatrist but I suspect this reticence may stem from the investment of time it takes to gain in-game currencies and the fact that once spent, the clock is reset. Yet considering the fact that so much other progression is time gated in these sorts of game, why should this be any less palatable than say spending skills points or grinding reputation XP? Probably because its money. It may only be virtual cash but players tend to treat it in a similar fashion to the real thing. If gaining wealth comes easy to you in real life, you may well take a cavalier approach to spending it because there’ll always be more rolling in. If, however, you only earn a moderate wage and saving is an uphill struggle, then spending is subject to more scrutiny and certainly not done on a whim. Perhaps people bring these mindsets into the games they play?
I really procrastinated over this recent “investment of funds” in STO. I eventually got quite cross with myself for worrying so much about something that exists purely to facilitate a leisure activity and that getting vexed to such an extent was actually contradicting the entire point of playing this game. However, it certainly gave me food for thought. And again, this is not something that is unique to me or to this specific MMO. I’m sure similar dilemmas happen to those playing LOTRO, ESO, Guild Wars and the like. It’s an odd phenomenon and I’m not sure how it can be addressed because it stems from us rather than the game. Developers could use all sorts of inventive methods to disguise a currency in a game but as soon as players determine its function, they’ll approach it like money. Then they’ll either hoard it, spend it or dither over what they should do.