In multiplayer games, especially MMORPGs, players can have the ability to trade items with other players. Some games feature trading as an integral system, part of communication between players. As there is often a limit on goods, supply and demand is generated, and players evolve a "standard" for the price of goods. Given time, an economy develops.
Like real-world economies, virtual economies can quickly become complicated to the point where it's difficult to understand what is going on, even for the game's developers and administrators. Extra Credits has two videos on MMO economies that help explain a few concepts.
A common system is two (or more) in-game currencies, which are allowed to float relative to each other, usually with strict limitations placed on the second. Though if that doesn't happen, multiple currency types can escalate to the point where only the most recently added currency has any value. If one of the currencies can be purchased with real-world money, then the economy serves as a mechanism for Bribing Your Way to Victory. For systems without an in-game player-driven economy, Real Money Trade may create one outside the game, often against the wishes of its creators.
While most virtual worlds only send money one direction, into the pockets of those who run it, some like Second Life actually link up with the rest of the economy by paying out money as well. Further complicating matters are crypto-currencies like Bitcoin, which can be used for purchases anywhere, depending on the country or online community.
Overlaps with Adam Smith Hates Your Guts and/or Karl Marx Hates Your Guts, depending on how the economy is run. Contrast with A.I.-Generated Economy, when the game automates some or all of the economy. See also the Allegedly Free Game, which in rare instances may have player-driven economies; and An Entrepreneur Is You, if the game itself is based on managing money.
Not to be confused with An Economy Is You.
- Team Fortress 2 is odd in that it's a first-person shooter with a Random Drops system. Hats are infamously the most popular commodity traded between people, as well as refined metal, since it's used to make weapons and hats, and keys, because they can open crates that contain strange weapons (which track kills) and hats.
- Earbuds were once used as currency as they were the first all-class hat with effects and had a limited number of 80,000. They held their value for a while and were used on backpack.tf (the trading site for the game) before they eventually started losing it. backpack.tf eventually stopped using them as a form of currency, instead using keys.
- Keys are one of the most stable forms of trading currency as they are backed by actual money ($2.49 USD) and so their value wont fluctuate as much as hats or refined metal (or "ref"). Keys on backpack.tf hold a steady value.
- Counter-Strike: Global Offensive implemented a cosmetic drop system similar to Team Fortress 2 in its "Arm's Deal" update, based on weapon skins, decals, stat-tracking weapons, and other cosmetic items, which eventually surpassed its inspiration in enormity. The amount of money in the in-game economy has risen so much that's it's brought up legal issues over regulation of virtual goods.
- RuneScape's economy developed since traders asking what they were buying and selling in banks; the game developers created the Grand Exchange that acts as a marketplace for more automated buying and selling. Item prices used to be set to a certain percent above or below the average price, with the average fluctuating depending on buying rates. Now, with the return of Free Trade, prices can be set freely, with the Grand Exchange automatically inputting the average price as "market price". RuneScape is fairly unique in being a "real life" economy with inflation and deflation having a great effect on trading; many fan sites even watch the market with charts for estimations of profit.
- It should be noted that a large number of players make their money by using the Grand Exchange like the stock market, buying items at a low price and selling them when the price is high enough.
- For a while in Diablo II, multiplayer servers were frequent to item duplication, making in-game gold worthless and duplicated rare items (especially the Stone of Jordan) forming the main unit of currency. In closed servers, item duplication is illegal, so trade is better-regulated, though open servers are not.
- Diablo III ended up letting players bribe their way to victory with the auction house, which let them trade gold or real-world money for items someone else found. Nowadays, the auction house is entirely gone, and more and more items are becoming account-bound on pick-up, going a long way to subvert this trope.
- In Ragnarok Online, there is a specific Merchant Class that can set up shops, though non-merchants also do trades and exchange goods for money. If you want any drops that an NPC doesn't sell (which is most of them) without having to kill the monsters yourself, it's a good way to go, trolling through merchant's shops to see if it's available and who has the best price. You can buy cards, armor, weapons, headgear, ingredients, rare drops and player crafted items, and usually, most goods develop a general price that most merchants stick to, though if you shop, around you can sometimes get it cheap.
- Second Life revolves around making, buying and selling objects with in-game currency that can be bought and sold with real money''.
- eRepublik. It's Serious Business.
- Kingdom of Loathing has a complex economy, involving an item that can be purchased for real money (a "Mr. Accessory") and a number of constantly-changing items that it can be traded for, as well as currency and items that randomly drop in the game itself.
- Puzzle Pirates has pieces of eight, which are generated by plundering in-game, as well as dubloons, which are purchasable for real money and required to perform certain tasks, but also can be bought in-game on an open market. Not to mention countless other commodities which are also generatable by in-game play and tradable for pieces of eight.
- Three Rings' other casual MMO, Spiral Knights, does much the same: all Crystal Energy must be purchased with real money, but can later be sold for crowns. Of course, they added the second level of turning "Energy" into their Anti Poopsocking mechanic. Accessing a dungeon, reviving yourself, crafting items, all cost some form of Energy... and you only get 100 points of "Mist Energy" naturally every day. If you need more, shell out some of that Crystal Energy...
- EVE Online is an MMORPG with an almost entirely player-run economy. Economic activities the players can participate in range from trading to manufacturing to extortion to mercenary work. There have been several examples of player run banks. A player actually owned and ran an investment scam in EVE. He successfully ran off with all of the money that people entrusted to him, which came out to approximately $170,000 real American dollars. The game in fact features a bid/ask listing◊ and a graphic view◊ not unlike those of real technical analysis tools.
- World of Warcraft is an odd case. For the most part, you can level from 1 to max level without even touching the Auction House. However at max level, unless you have an alt or friend who can make it for you, you will be scanning the AH for a lot, including glyphs, weapon and armor enchantments, the ever rare (and expensive) Bind on Equip items, materials and recipes for you own professions, and vanity pets and mounts.
- City of Heroes had an auction system that had become MONSTROUSLY inflated over the years, despite the Dev Team's best efforts.
- Star Wars: Galaxies's economy is almost entirely player-driven with only a handful of items coming from loot. Many of these loot items are components need by crafter professions to make armor and weapons.
- New Worlds Ateraan has this, as well as the 'crafter classes' - Merchants and Traders - who control much of the economy.
- A major selling point of Wurm Online.
- Animal Jam features trading as one of the main (and for some items, only) method of obtaining clothing or furniture that can't either be purchased from the in-game stores, or earned as an adventure reward.
- In mobile game Fantasica TCG, tradable brown Time Elixir and green Potion are used as currency for purchasing, trading units or auctions between players. The pricing of the units and items are purely determined by the communities and the sellers.
- The Elder Scrolls Online facilitates trading through guild traders, special kiosks that can be rented and operated by guilds and used by any of their members to post items for sale. They also have fraud-safe ways to trade face to face or by mail. It's common for players to build up stacks of materials or hunt rare items just to turn around and sell them for gold. Various items can't be traded however, including some of the best equipment and anything purchased with real money (via "crowns"). So in theory you can't pay to win, although players loose with their cash may use the crown store to save a bit of gold here and there.
- Guild Wars has a player economy that mostly takes place in chat and on websites due to the lack of an auction house. Pricing on consumable, luxury items, and end-game tokens tends to be fairly consistent. High-end trades are conducted using Ectoplasm, a high-end crafting material, with its market price reflecting its current value at the NPC material trader.
- The use of ectoplasm is necessitated by the fact that the standard gold/platinum currency has a cap of 100 platinum per character and the account-wide bank has a cap of 1000 platinum. Ectoplasm serves as an alternative liquid asset to store any cash overflow. Prices on high-end items rise due to the increased spending power of players, often leading to high-end items being worth more than the 100 platinum cap.
- Late in the game's life Zaishen Keys gained some utility as an alternate currency. Earned from daily quests and used to open a bonus chest and advance an achievement, their effective value usually runs lower than ectoplasm by a few platinum.
- A small-scale economy exists in Pre-Searing Ascalon, a tutorial area inaccessible from the main game. It's primarily a trade in luxury goods such as dyes, which are more common in this area, and miniature pets. As Ectoplasm is not available, the rare black dye is used as a substitute currency.
- Final Fantasy XIV has a situation similar to WoW in that you can charge through the entire Main Story Quest without hitting the Market Board, but should you desire something that looks better on you and you can't craft or have someone who can, you're going to be hitting the Board. The most notable items are special replica items based on items a player can pick up from certain boss fights or raids. These items are essentially for those who aren't good enough to attempt the events or even just have shitty luck going after them and are clearly there for looks rather than combat potential.
- Sins of a Solar Empire has a minor example with the metal and crystal market. The market price of metal/crystal is dependent on other players buying and selling that particular resource. For example, sell too much metal too fast, and the metal price will drop like a rock. Buy too much, and the price will skyrocket. A crafty player can use this to sabotage an opponent, who desperately needs one particular resource and depends on the market to get it.
- Neopets has a surprisingly deep market for a virtual pet site. Players set up shops, and the Shop Wizard can search what shops in the world have the lowest prices. There are also in-game shops, which house most of the items that people want most, which random events cannot provide. In addition, it has a trading system which allows people to trade one or more items for one or more items. Then there's also an auction system, which is the only place with no price limits, but at 20 Million between bidders (shops can only sell for prices below 100k neopoints, and 800k neopoints is the maximum you can attach to a trade, without adding items).
- In the nation sim Politics And War resources needed to maintain your nation can be bought or sold in the market entirely player driven. Resources ranges from steel needed to build most improvements and uranium that can be used to run nuclear power plant or build nuclear weapons. Because of this the prices in the market fluctuates overtime, especially during major wars, where prices for vital resources (steel, aluminum, gasoline, ammo) tend to rise very quickly.