Over the course of many years, Team Fortress 2 has grown to be, and stay, one of the biggest first person shooters the world has ever known. How has it done that? Was it the amazing cartoon-ish style with which Valve Corporation would change the face of shooters to come? Or was it perhaps the fact that you could not only be in such a world while wearing the weirdest of hats, beards, or even remove your stock helmets? All of these things have contributed amazingly to the popularity of this game, but one thing certainly stood out above the rest of them; The introduction of the Mannconomy.
Now, what exactly IS the Mannconomy? The Mannconomy, short for Mann Co. Economy, is the economical system around which Team Fortress 2 is based. The ways to pay in this game are declared into several different currencies; Bill's Hats, Refined Metal, Buds, and so forth. But one currency stands out above the rest, and defined the Mannconomy like no other; It is the Mann Co Key.
The Mann Co.Key, which we refer to as a Key from now on, is the most barebones currency you can get in Team Fortress 2. The built-in store sells these for 2 euros each, or $2.50 . Of course, the Key is not actually worth that much. After a few people got to taste the trading system back when it was introduced in 2011. The 9th of august, to be precise, they realized that one of the most traded items was the Key. Many people wanted one to have a random chance to loot stuff that is even worth more (or less)!
So, after a few words under the community, they decided to build it up a bit further, and created sites where people could trade this currency for items in an online marketplace. The key would be given a value by the players; it fluctuated just slightly, while keeping in balance with the other currencies. We are going to use Refined Metal in this post, and we will refer to it as Ref. Ref and Keys have been in balance for quite a while, the Key gradually growing over the Ref, as more and more Ref entered the market and no one could give a second care about Refs. Refs couldn't bring you a chance on that item that is worth $1500,- (Yes, there are items out there worth this much)!
So, with everyone selling the Ref and everyone buying Keys with Ref, it inflated rather badly. But, since people also trade Ref for real-life money over Paypal, these people refused to sell their Ref for less than around $0.50 . But, if the value of the Ref doesn't change in comparison to real-life money, and the Key is still worth itself, the Key should be worth more Ref. It is so no fake prices can be made, and all prices of these items balance out with the real world. A key, then valued valued at ~2.33 Refs, was $1.40. This all fell into place. There were no forged prices, and everything balanced out nicely.
Although these prices are now set, there was nowhere players could refer to for a static price of the Key. They were scared that they were going to be underpaid for their Keys/Refs/Money, so some people of the community made several different index sites. These sites are known as Price Databases; They contain up-to-date price information about the Key and the Ref, and they have features to let the players vote on new prices and priceranges. So if the community ever decided to change the price around for one currency, it would not have to depend on the administrator to change that price (and the administrator had even less of a chance to change values around for is own good). Pretty nifty, right?
However, there are certain players who want to make profit of the inflating prices. These players buy their Keys for slightly less than the market price (1/9th of a Ref) and sell their Keys for above the price (again, 1/9th of a Ref). Now, this was okay when it was just about 10-20 people doing so. But when these people got rich with the Mannconomy, many new players, mainly youngsters, realized its potential. They could earn money by playing a game. So what did everybody do? Exactly the same as these other people. The market, once again, got overflown by Refs, dropping their price to an absolute minimum, $0.30 . This was a HUGE inflation. You could think, "It's only, what, 20 cents lower? Big deal." It is indeed a big deal. That was an inflation of 40%. However, the Key kept its value, so the Ref had to balance out to keep the Key the same value. One Key was now $1.80 (which is acceptable over a course of 2 years, considering how hard this economy shifted and the price at which the internal store sells the Keys to players), and a Key costed 6 Ref! This was mad. The Ref price stabilized, but it kept low, now lingering around $0.32 .
What does this mean for the sites which give the Mannconomy its prices? They just changed them along. However, everyone involved in trading got their prices from that site, so if that site changed the value of something, the traders pushed it up again, saying that their merchandise is worth more than what the site implies, and that you can either " buy it or lose it ". As everyone just followed the horde, everyone selling keys for this price said the same thing, and everyone buying keys bit the dust. Half of them give up, and the other half stinks in and buys a Key for 6.11 ref. So, after a few succesful sales, the traders go to this site, and say "Hey, I sold my keys for a price higher than the one listed here. It should be changed. Here is proof." and they provide a link to the trade they had completed. People believe it, since it was actually traded, and the price gets raised. Ref keeps inflating, and eventually is worth close to nothing. People with Ref, who sold all their Keys, are stuck with nothing, so they cash out and go. People with Keys are stuck because the Ref is gone, so they sell their Keys for other items and do whatever with it. The economy freezes, and nothing can be done about it.
Hold on a moment, Nick, "Nothing" can be done about it? Are you sure?
There actually can be done something against it. What is this, you might ask? Well, leave the prices of keys alone. Turn down any suggestions that say "Hey, this should be higher". People will eventually keep steady at that price, and lower back down since there is a lower amount of requests for Keys (they are not rising, anyway), or people will try to get it higher and will be shot down by the rest of the community, as no one is buying for that price "And besides, the price site says it's 6.11, so you can't sell it for 6.44".
That's it, my 10 minute master thesis as of how the Mannconomy is working itself into a ditch and how we can stop that from happening. This has been discussed many times, but it was never worked out in an article, only discussed briefly and never mentioned again. I hope that you, the reader, are one with a mindset that says "The Mannconomy can stabilize if we try", and will find some way to help it stabilize, because the way we are drifting now is out of control.
P.S. Might you be one with the mindset of profit, remember that if the economy falls, you're stuck with virtual goods, and you can sell them, but for a way lower price than what you bought them for.