I've always wondered why player shops aren't in more MMOs. I've played games with them in the past where I found them lots of fun, and not that complicated, so I wonder why I don't see them more often. After mentioning it in the SWTOR thread and thinking about how they might work the last few days I came up with a system that I think is simple and useful and provides the opportunity to add to most MMOs about at the moment. I thought I'd mention it and see what people think.
I’m going to use the example of WoW in this thread because it’s the MMO I believe most people have at least had a look at, and because I think it’s a good way to show how a simple workable system could fit into even existing MMO design, but that doesn’t mean I’m just thinking about WoW. I’m trying to give a general outline of what I think could work for most MMOs. I look forward to any comments of criticism people might have.
Everyone knows how the auction house system works in WoW. Many people probably know of the NPC shot to the left of the AH in Org too, and how people often use it to sell trash whenever they come to town. Let us imagine another use of this space. Inside the shop there are 5 different NPCs that are linked together, like the AH NPCs are linked, and when talking to one of them you bring up a ‘shop’ screen. The shop screen is divided in to 5 different ‘sub-shops’ and the one it opens on depends on the NPC you click to access it, but you can change by clicking if needed (think browser tabs).
Within each individual shop you have three areas that you can choose between:
1. Buy Items:
This section has a list of x items (I’m thinking 20) that are for sale at the shop, as decided by the owner, and lists the cost of each of them and the number in stock. A player wishing to purchase would buy them just like any other item. The difference being that whenever a sale is made the gold goes to the player that owns and runs the shop.
2. Sell Items:
This section has a list of x items that the shop is willing to purchase, as decided by the owner, and lists the amount they will pay per item and the current and maximum number in stock. A player would be able to sell any of the listed items to the shop for the set price as per usual, but the money is taken from the shop owner, not the game.
There might also be a ‘haggle’ option the shopkeeper can use for items they sell and buy. This option would only become available to the shopper when the person they are shopping for it online, and clicking it would bring up a little trade and chat window where the two players can work out a price for the item being traded.
The shops, of which you could probably have 50+ if grouped into 5s or 10s (which would require 5-10 access NPCs or ‘shops’), would be able ot be accessed from all cities in a “market area” which would work like the Bank, Arena, AH, and the like, being clearly fixed within an easily understandable and shared system that can be accessed from a number of different points.
One thought I had for how that might be demonstrated would be a NPC standing in front of 5 other character models. The NPC is the interaction point, and the character models behind them are actually models of the players who own and run the shops when that player is offline, and a ‘store assistant’ model when they are online. Though this might require too many characters if you have 50 shops, and might just have to be the NPC front person.)
The shops themselves would be leased by the players from the game in blocks of time, say 3 7-14 day periods in a row. The leases for each individual shop would be auctioned off with the highest bidder taking the right to run that shop for the next 3 fortnights. If the shop is already occupied the existing owner would have the final right of refusal. The shopkeeper would pay the money in advance for each of the 3 periods and any failure to pay the price for the upcoming period would see them lose the shop and it go back on the market.
What kind of shops could people set up using such a system?
You might have one player running a trade shop. They might set the shop up to buys and sells cloth, so other players would have a place to go to sell or purchase cloth quickly and simply at a fair price, without having to go through the hassle of the AH.
Given that AHs take time and charge a % of the sale price you might have a situation where the shop would buy cloth at 1g and sell at 1g10s. The shopkeeper thus makes 10s per cloth traded, while anyone who would normally use the AH to sell cloth at 1g10s can sell it to the shop and get the same price post fee in a shorter time period. Anyone who would normally buy from the AH would still be able to get cloth at the same price, but easier. In exchange for the ease of use their shop would provide (while still offering the same prices) the shop owner would make an income from the items they get through.
A suggestion would be to make the AH fee for normal trades 5%, but make it 10-15% for AH trades that sell via ‘buyout’.
A guild might also choose to run a shop. Instead of using the shop to buy and sell the same goods they might use it as a place to accumulate items of a certain type that they are looking for, and to sell off rare and expensive items that they pick up.
In a WoW example they might offer to buy items like health potions or specific raid reagents they’re collecting, while selling the rarer BoE items they pick up but don’t have a use for. Using a shop would allow them to have a stable location to do such trade instead of having to constantly trawl the AH or spam chat channels. If you could specify guild ownership of shops you would also be able to link it to the guild bank or whatever if needed.
A gatherer or crafter might also use a shop as an outlet for all the goods and services they can provide, not purchasing anything but just selling items. If you had a system where all the items in the game where able to be made by players you could also set up a situation where it becomes worthwhile for players to craft and sell even common or cheap items.
A WoW example might be something like Priest or Paladin reagents, which are mostly cheap and only available in NPC shops. If you had player shops working and players able to make such items cheaper you could have players making and selling them in bulk, bypassing the hassle involved with trades currently involved in AH and personal exchanges and actually making it worth their while.
Another tab might also be possible in the shops, a ‘services’ tab, that allows people who have services like enchanters to list what they can do and the costs for such and provide an easy interface for that exchange, rather than having to chase them down all over the world. (Would also work when the player is offline).
What is the gain for such a system, then?
Ease of use:
All players would benefit from simple trades being available without having to trawl through the AH and wait on trades or spam Trade channels. Selling and buying things like cloth, enchanting reagents, and resources would be faster and fairer if there was a shop system alongside the AH system.
Shopkeeping as a game:
There are always some players who enjoy ‘playing the AH’ in MMOs. Shops add to the options for players who like to make a game out of trading goods for profit and add other things to mess about with when working out what items to buy and sell, managing stock number and changing prices, working out what you should be paying for shop leases, and to build a reputation for your shop so you build up a customer base and get rich, and so on and so forth. Flashing out a game element that players enjoy into a more diverse and fun system can only add to the game, and can become another avenue that players can invloves themselves in apart from socaliasing, raiding, and so forth.
I’m a firm believer in player interaction as a key element in developing the sense that a MMO game has its own ‘world’, and player shops are one thing that adds to that sense of community. Being able to buy and sell items through a simple and straightforward system is one thing, but when that system is actually run by other players that you know and see in the game, when you are able to see prices and inventories change before your eyes, when you know that you can step to the other side and run a shop yourself if you want, it is another thing entirely.
Even if it is only a minor note for most people, the sense it creates actually permeates through the game and gives a feeling to the game that you cannot get in other ways.
What is the loss for such a system?
Here is where I’m still thinking and not so sure. As far as I’ve got so far all I’m thinking is that there isn’t a whole lot of downside to this idea. At worst the system would be underutilised, not actually game breaking in any way. It could draw activity away from the AH, but I think that this would be a good thing in general. An AH would still have its place as the location where people sell unique, expensive, random or less commonly traded items that are not covered by shops, giving it a more exotic sense rather than a free-for-all. I think that this would probably be a good thing, but others might disagree.
I am hoping that others might pick up on problems that they see with what I've mentioned and point them out, so the idea can be developed more.