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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Virtual Weimar: Hyperinflation in a Video Game World

Mises Daily: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 by
As virtual fantasy worlds go, Blizzard Entertainment’s Diablo 3 is particularly foreboding. In this multiplayer online game played by millions, witch doctors, demon hunters, and other character types duke it out in a war between angels and demons in a dark world called Sanctuary.

The world is reminiscent of Judeo-Christian notions of hell: fire and brimstone, with the added fantasy elements of supernatural combat waged with magic and divine weaponry. And within a fairly straightforward gaming framework, virtual “gold” is used as currency for purchasing weapons and repairing battle damage. Over time, virtual gold can be used to purchase ever-more resources for confronting ever-more dangerous foes.

But in the last few months, various outposts in that world — Silver City and New Tristram, to name two — have borne more in common with real world places like Harare, Zimbabwe in 2007 or Berlin in 1923 than with Dante’s Inferno. A culmination of a series of unanticipated circumstances — and, finally, a most unfortunate programming bug — has over the last few weeks produced a new and unforeseen dimension of hellishness within Diablo 3: hyperinflation.


Austrian Economics and Inflation

In casual use, the term “inflation” is used in conjunction with price increases. From the perspective of the Austrian School of economics, though, that phenomenon is a secondary effect of increases in the money supply. As Henry Hazlitt wrote,
When the supply of money increase[s], people have more money to offer for goods. … Each individual dollar becomes less valuable because there are more dollars. Therefore more of them will be offered against, say, a pair of shoes or a hundred bushels of wheat than before. A “price” is an exchange ratio between a dollar and a unit of goods. When people have more dollars … [goods] rise in price, not because [they] are scarcer than before, but because dollars are more abundant.[1]
Furthermore, inflation is not simply an increase in the supply of money within an economy; it is the increase in that portion (if any) not backed by a commensurate increase in specie: most common in history, market commodities like gold or silver. Thus fiat currencies are, unless tightly controlled as to the amounts being created versus being destroyed (with the latter typically only occurring due to wear), notably susceptible to inflation.

As virtual currencies are digitally-created and not commodity-backed — therefore, not particularly dissimilar from real world currencies in this day and age — those such as Diablo 3’s gold are de facto fiat currencies.


Sinks, Faucets, and Inflation


In virtual economies, the primary instruments used to control the money supply are “faucets” and “sinks.” Faucets are ways through which game currency is injected into the game. This generally involve players receiving currency from the game system itself, as opposed to other players. In such situations, the received currency is created anew. Sinks are ways through which game currency is removed from the game. This generally involve players paying currency into the game system itself, as opposed to other players. In such situations, the paid currency is destroyed.[2] Examples of faucets and sinks in Diablo 3 are included below: Finish reading (playing?)>> Mises Daily