Originally Posted by Ereiid:Indeed -- a fully player-run economy is a double-edged sword.
... particularly if they collapse below a particular threshold point. I'm thinking of SWG's economy -- once widely touted as the most sophisticated and detailed crafting systems in any MMO (and possibly still is) -- the Auction House in SWG is arguably one of the hardest hit sectors of that games' mass-exodus. The troubled relationship of that failed economy to its already beleaguered playerbase only compounds the problems of SWG.
As long as you've got a critical mass of players on every server and a crafting system that's actually fun to play, you're good; there'll always be enough crafters making enough items for supply and demand to control prices. You don't have to stick a thumb on the balance scales with NPC vendors who magically create goods out of thin air in order to "stabilize" prices at some "fair" point -- if your crafting system is effective, your players will do that for you.
But when you lose too many players (or just crafters), a fully player-run economy can no longer support itself. Prices start bouncing because there aren't enough crafters consistently filling demand. So, to insure a constant supply of what your players are (loudly) demanding, you add high-value items as loot drops and quest rewards. (Which is precisely what SOE/LA started doing around the time of the Combat Upgrade, despite having told players several times in the Elder Days of SWG that crafted items would always be better than anything that could be looted.)
Result: crafters left the game. Why would players want to do a bunch of little things to make money to pay a crafter for an item when it's easier to do a quest or kill a few mobs and score something even better? Why would commerce-oriented crafters stick around in such an environment?
But of course now that you have fewer crafters, you need more loot drops, which further drives off crafters, etc., etc.
I won't say this means that every game might as well start off with NPC vendors, or that fully player-run economies can't work. They can work; SWG's economy worked just fine before combat was allowed to utterly dominate the game (leading to high-end loot and quest rewards).
Instead, I think I would say the lesson is that if you're going to have a fully player-run economy in your game, you'd better make a point of always treating your crafters as first-class citizens and not mere support systems for combat gameplay. And don't drive off so many customers that your servers turn into ghost towns -- that's bad for business, both real and virtual.