Hi, I'm Liberation.

Gold is a strange item in MMORPGs. It is almost universally treated as a common currency. Gold allows players to quickly understand others' valuations of various commodities. But how does it earn its place as the currency of the land?

There is a moment every MMORPG player has that goes something like: "Why does this slime have gold?" The answer, as we all know, is that the game designers put the gold there so that players would have incentive to kill slimes. But.. why gold?

What gives gold value?

There is no government that instills gold with its value so it is not fiat money**. The name "Gold" implies that its value is based in its rarity however it is often one of the least rare items in the economy. It also has absolutely no use value.

If, before the server re-opened, Adam re-colored the "Gold" item to be brown and re-named it to "Dirt", would new players treat it as a currency? If not, would that be OK? What would happen to the economy? Might it just.. be fine?

Removing gold; a thought experiment

The most obvious challenge to the removal of gold is that it makes some vendor-generated resources inaccessible such as house deeds and regs. While this would seem like a challenge in implementing a gold-less world, it is in fact that the removal of gold reveals to us how synthetic these vendor-reliant systems are. Put more succinctly: All gold is doing for us in this respect is enabling us to continue to lean on NPC vendors as synthetic sources of items that could instead be produced by players. It seems like these vendor-reliant systems are in violation of one core tennent of OUO/AI; that the economy should be organic, springing forth from player interaction.

We can get big immersion and mechanical wins by spending just a few minutes thinking about solutions for each of these individual vendor-reliant systems. House deeds, as an example, could be brought in line with a player-run economy by allowing houses to be crafted. Any veteran player can readily imagine the implementation details of such a system.

The resolution for new reg items entering the world requires more care in design as it affects many more players than the housing system. Any resolution which causes regs to be produced from player labor will work since it creates a conversion from time to resources. What takes thought it to make it engaging and to produce the appropriate magnitude of resources for the labor time expended. Perhaps players could use that new "Dirt" item to grow regs rather than letting it decay on Slime corpses.

Another challenge is that Player Vendors rely on prices set in the common currency (gold). The maintanence of an automated market without a common currency is the hardest problem that we would face in removing gold. One could imagine a unified Auction House system where merchants could post a Lot of their resource for sale by assigning the Lot several different prices, each price being of a different resource type. As an example, a listing could be like:
Selling: 1000 iron ingots
For: 10000 hide
  , or 10000 cloth
  , or 1000 greater regs
  , or 1200 lesser regs

But while a unified Auction House system would solve the problem of searching through ten thousand vendors to find a particular resource, I believe it would be made even better through the use of a common currency.

It could be argued that another challenge of removing gold would be the rebalancing of loot tables for mobs which when posed the question of "Why would someone farm this mob?" the designer responded "IDK just give it a bunch of gold." This rebalancing is, however, less of a real "challenge" and more of a mundane development task.

In conclusion, this is an interesting thought experiment and I believe that it highlights one particular area where we could be hitting a bit closer to being a truly player-driven economy. While I can not advocate for the complete removal of Gold from the game due to its usefulness for player vendors, the presence of gold does seem to enable designers to make poor and sometimes lazy* decisions that affect the economy as well as how players interact. Though, I have failed to produce a reasonable solution for pricing in automated marketplaces.

As for actual prescriptions resulting from this exercise, the primary would be: Eliminate vendor resource generation.
Players can (and should) be given full control of resource generation. This server started with a great step in the right direction and it is time to continue on that path.

** If you want to argue that Lord British has declared gold as the official currency then go for it, but I'll be asking where the press is that LB is stamping out all these coins from.

* I am not implying that UO/AI designers/developers are lazy.