With the launch of Burning Crusade, people are already commenting on how much the value of older items has dropped. I’ve seen folks who are new to the whole expansion thing wondering about past games, and whether the same was true, and how much the buying power of past currencies fell in the wake of expansions. They even asked for links to studies.
No links, but this is a well-studied and understood phenomenon called mudflation in the biz, and which partakes of characteristics of real-world inflation as well as some unqie game-only characteristics. Every level-based game hits it when they raise the level cap (actually, they hit it continuously, but boosts to the level cap make it worse). In WoW’s case, it’ll be ameliorated to some degree by the incredibly heavy use of binding items. Typical symptoms you can certainly expect:
- An overall rise in the “power” of users of a given level, as measured before-and-after on the expansion, generally because of increased access to abilities or items.
- Increased success manifested via mobs that used to take groups being soloed, and so on.
- Time to level to continue to decrease, and perhaps accelerate (it has almost certainly been decreasing anyway because of repeat play across intro levels, plus just overall increased competence and knowledge among the players).
- Comments like “the game doesn’t start til level ‘x’” increasing, with X moving up — one form of “hollow world syndrome.”
- A decreased worth of currency, expressed in terms of buying power overall (though the cost of many formerly desirable items will fall precipitously).
- Decreased worth of formerly high-end items, particularly within “bands” of content where hand-me-downs are practical.
- “Hollow world” syndrome, where formerly populated zones become less so, as the bulk of the users shift locales to fit the new mean level.
The classic means of controlling mudflation are
- reducing the amount of value in the economy via means such as: item decay, item deletion (either via challenges where you can lose items, or manually; yes, some games literally just go in and delete items), character purges, etc. Many games used to simply wipe the player database every few months because mudflation had gotten so bad.
- Refusing to up the level limit, and instead introducing orthogonal advancement paths. This single mechanism is probably the single biggest slowdown you can effect. Many long-running successful muds got that way by simply never upping the level cap, and instead investing their expansion in enriching the content and encouraging repeat play.
- Obsessive attention to economic stats and adjusting all economic drains to account for all the influx. This often means punishingly high costs for players, btw.
- Never introducing higher DPS mechanisms; in other words, the levels become cosmetic, because the actual power of players does not increase. This is how the systems with “infinite levels” tend to work — they asymptotically approach zero player power growth.
- Shifting player attention from power gains to cosmetic gains (e.g., instead of a new badass sword, gain the ability to redesign your sword and personalize it).
- Radically altered elder games (politics, economics, PvP, etc). This runs the risk of alienating players who liked the game they were already playing.
- Remort systems and other such mechanisms to encourage repeat play of lower levels.
- Restrictions on trade, such as soulbinding items, so they cannot be handed down and thus increase the ‘standard of living” for all users.
- Level limits on equipment use, so that you are forced to abandon equipment (which in a soulbinding game, effectively means item deletion).
Fundamentally, though, it’s endemic because it’s implicit in the core assumptions a level-and-hp-increase based system with infinite inflows.