Economic Shortages and Black Markets in Monster Hunter World Part Four: Black Market Solutions

Today is the last installment in a four-part series highlighting how the endgame of Monster Hunter World (MHW), when examined in terms of the context of its virtual economy has its own version of shortage. Parts 1, 2, and 3 provided background on the game, its economy, and its problem. And today in Part 4, I plan to show how the player (or consumer) response to these forced economic shortages is remarkably similar to its real-world counterpart.

As we discussed in Part 3, the crux of the endgame issue stems from the extremely time-consuming grind to get Hero Streamstones, an essential item for high-level endgame crafting. The demand for these items is substantially higher than the artificially limited in-game supply and no alternative in-game outlets exist to acquire them so players are stuck facing the daunting task of hoping they get lucky after hundreds of hour of repeated gameplay.

So when legal options are exhausted, the consumer, or in this case the player, can choose to pursue an “illegal” avenue. Fortunately, in video games, black markets can’t get you arrested, but like their real-world counterparts, black markets can only be found by going outside of the existing system. In the case of MHW, this black market is the modding community. Mods are updates to the game made by other players, rather than the developers, and they can range from something small, like different-colored outfits, to something game-breaking, like unlimited character health. For Monster Hunter World, the most relevant mods to our discussion are the ones that allow the player to purchase every single in-game item through the shop by spending the in-game currency, zenny. These mods offer the player a different and much easier path to acquiring Hero Streamstones. They are also among the most popular mods as the shop mods have been downloaded around 300,000 times, hinting that some players have also noticed the shortage of certain materials in the game. It is, in effect, cheating, as a player is doing something outside the set rules of the game, but these mods could also be reframed as helpful tools removing artificial barriers in the game (which sounds much less pernicious). And while it is up to each individual player to decide if this transgression will leave them morally bankrupt, the mods themselves further elucidate the inconsistency regarding Hero Streamstones in the endgame.

The price of all the items, including Hero Streamstones, in these modded shops is the value that the developers assigned to them. The price is 200,000 zenny, which although steep, is a much more manageable price to pay as opposed to spending hundreds of potentially fruitless hours hunting. And if we look at this price in terms of missions completed/hours invested, it lines up much more closely with the pre-endgame. Since you earn zenny for missions, a conservative estimate would be that a player could earn 200,000 zenny in ten missions (about 2 hours of game time), although in reality, it could likely be half that. This much more reasonable time investment (even accounting for the fact that a player still might have to search for the individual Hero Streamstone he or she wants) shows that there is a disconnect in the game between its currency and the time invested. And while maybe the developers didn’t take this into account when making the game, it nevertheless became a supply and demand gap that the modding community moved quickly to fill.

The “Black Market” of MHW

While the most famous example of black markets, at least from an American perspective, is the clandestine criminal organizations that operated during Prohibition, the following example of skirting rent control in the U.K. will prove to be a more apt comparison for what we just discussed in MHW. Public housing, or council houses, are affordable homes that were intended for low-income families. However, Thatcher-era policies made these homes much easier to buy for the current owner, and this coupled with a sharp decline in new council housing construction has led to a point where there are only a few homes available and the only legal way to get them is by joining a massive waitlist (with wait times of multiple years). And so, according to this BBC article, black markets in housing have sprung up as “In the smart boroughs of London, social housing properties can fetch five times more rent on the open market than the council tenants pay for them.” And so while not a perfect analogy for what we will see in MHW, the idea of turning to a black market to deal with a shortage problem instead of investing a significant amount of time in the sole, frustrating legal avenue is a common thread between the real world and the virtual one.

Prohibition black markets (Credit: Art Edger/NY Daily News/Getty Images)

MHW is a fantastic game and really has only one major flaw from my perspective. The artificially low drop rates of a key, necessary endgame item create a gap between supply and demand, which the player can then choose to fill through the use of mods that provide an alternate method to get this important item. And while it is certainly irritating that the player has to go to such lengths in order to fix this shortage issue, at least the entire situation offers an interesting look into how the virtual world can mirror the real one in certain economic aspects.

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