'Guild Wars 2' and the making of a video game economist

Guild Wars 2 economist John Smith talks to Polygon about the differences between analyzing real-world and digital economies.

Professional economists are not interchangeable with the economists behind large-scale video game economies, according to John Smith, the man who analyzes the digital money flow of Guild Wars 2.

Last week Smith introduced an infograph detailing information about Guild Wars 2's market, based on statistics from the massively multiplayer game's beta phase. He explained in further detail to Polygon what it means for this game to be one of the largest virtual economies ever created, and why it takes a legitimate gamer to understand the differences between real-world markets and those we find in games.

"The Guild Wars 2 economy has more active distinct individuals participating than almost any other virtual economy ever created. The difference between Guild Wars 2 and other games is that our economy is not world (server) specific. All of our worlds and players all participate in the same economy, and the scale of this economy make it unique."

Smith adds that once ArenaNet introduced real-world money into the exchange, "we blurred the line between the player desire and the character desire."

'The real heart of an economy isn't money; it's people.'

However, the inherent differences between the desires of characters and human beings sets the virtual economy up to function dissimilarly to the real world market - something that a traditional economist may not understand.

"The real heart of an economy isn't money; it's people," he explains. "Demand curves are exactly what they sound like: demand. This is probably the largest difference between a real world economy and the Guild Wars 2 economy, people have different desires. The game is a fantasy, the idea is for you to be different, you're a character and characters have different desires from you and me.

"Characters don't necessarily want to maximize wealth or well-being. They don't necessarily want to be good or better themselves and they don't necessarily make informed decisions or misinformed decisions. Players play to have fun, and this changes everything. Understanding there is a difference between a character and a player is one reason it's almost impossible to find an effective economist for a game that isn't a gamer. If you don't understand the game you're working on, and if you don't understand games in general it's going to be a lot harder to understand what's happening in your economy, because again, characters are not players, and what my character demands, is not what I demand."

Guild Wars 2 releases today on PC.

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