Virtual Economies – Playing Out Just Like the Real World

The economy of World of Warcraft is very similar to the real world. You have a hard working middle class and an extremely wealthy, but substantially smaller, older class. It’s an interesting parallel of digital living and real life.

When you first start out as a level one character, it is hard to make money. When you start out it cost more to buy items and get what you are after. Non-playable characters (NPCs) in the game give discounts on goods based on your faction reputation. The longer you play the game, the higher your reputation gets with all the factions. It’s exactly the same in real life. You don’t have much to start out with, and you have to make a name for yourself. Once established, your connections make it easier to get what you need to succeed. Of course it is possible to do things on your own, but most people don’t have the time or aren’t willing to make that ultimate sacrifice of dedicating every single waking hour to WoW.

In the game there is the constant struggle to get better items; a mount to get you places faster; weapons that make enemy slaying a click; even having enough gold to ride the transport system from one stop to the next. It takes a commitment to get to a well-geared level 70, a process comparable to college. This “college” of attunements, or prerequisites needed before you can get to the tougher challenges and better equipment, separates the serious gamers from the people that enjoy WoW for what it is: a game.

The richer you get, the more self-reliable you become and the easier it is to continue improving your character. Once you’ve reached the upper echelon, you need not worry any more. You have the Leer jet of mounts; it flies and increases your speed by 280 percent. Getting from place to place takes a third of the time and high paying quest options, known as daily quests, open up. Everyday you can do up to 10 of these lottery ticket quests; minimal work with a high payout. With 30 minutes of dailies, I earn more gold than I did in weeks as worked my way up the faction ranks from peon to exalted. The epic mount speed also increases your ability to gather materials that can be traded for in-game currency, giving your more time for other revenue-producing activities. It’s a case of the rich getting richer.

As in-game capitalism rages on, guilds come together to attain things not possible by a singular force. They pool resources and form friendships. Each member specializes in crafting different items – blacksmiths make weapons, enchanters increase your survivability and alchemists give you potions for all occasions. This fellowship makes the game easier and more enjoyable. These communes would make Karl Marx proud.

Why do the virtual and corporeal economies work out the same way? Does this gaming-world microcosm reflect our society’s capitalist wants, or does it show us that small communities can achieve a wonderful harmony that promotes sharing and equality? Are we just products of our environment or does a good work ethic coupled with ability give you the chance to seriously improve your life?

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