How Path of Exile’s Unique League System Keeps the Game Fresh and Economically Viable: Ingame Economy

In my previous post, I provided a quick background on the multi-player game economy and how Path of Exile (POE) fits into that structure as a free-to-play game. Today, I will detail how POE uses its unique league system to keep the player experience fresh and to avoid the issue of devalued currency and loot.

As discussed in my previous POE post, the economies of many multiplayer games follow a simplified market progression where high-value items initially start out as very expensive–as the demand for them is high and the supply for them is low. But, over time as more players progress and gain more currency and are able to acquire these items, the demand decreases, the supply increases (as not only will players find more of these items in the game but also will be able to acquire them in trades from other players), and the price goes down. This trend is not dissimilar to the price trend of real world items, such as TVs, which started off as luxury purchase when they were introduced, but in general have steadily gotten cheaper over the past several decades.

And while this type of trend is great for modern consumers, it does not bode as well for POE’s game developers who understand that players will likely lose interest as if item prices keep falling, players will be able to easily purchase all the gear they could want and need. And although POE does keep the drop rates very low on some items (thus increasing their rarity and price), their main strategy for preventing severely devalued items is through new leagues.

Leagues are the worlds within the POE universe, and each league is independent of another. Leagues are either permanent or temporary. The primary permanent league, called Standard, is the base league in POE and as such, it has been active for the longest possible time out of any league. Standard is the perfect lens through which to show this natural market progression as due to it being around for so long, many items that were once prohibitively expensive have become much more affordable. For example, a popular premium item called Kaom’s Heart once used to cost over 5 exalted orbs (top-level currency) in Standard, but over time, its value has dropped to where you can often find it for less than 1 exalted orb.

Price of Kaom’s Heart in Standard League over last 3 years

POE’s developers understood that if Standard was the only option for players then eventually players would move away from the game as they could buy everything. So, to mitigate this issue, POE adds a new, temporary league every couple of months to keep the game fresh. In temporary leagues, you start with a completely new character that has no experience and more importantly, is unable to access any of the gear or currency a player has earned with a different character in Standard. This is important because if that character could use that gear, then the same problem arises where there is very little motivation for the player to keep playing as they already have most of the best items. Thus, a temporary league acts as a fresh slate for the in-game economy as the market is set back to the very beginning and items are once again valued at higher costs as supply is low and demand is high.

Looking again at the Kaom’s Heart example, we can see that for the latest temporary league (called Legion), the price of Kaom’s Heart peaked around 2-3 exalted orbs (this is lower than the initial 5 orbs of standard due to a negative stat change) and then gradually followed the standard market progression to its current price point or around 1 exalted orb, just like Standard.

Kaom’s Heart pricing in Legion (temporary league)

The much more rapid decline in price in Legion (as compared to Standard) is due to temporary leagues being more of a sprint to reach level 100 so the market cycles much faster compared to the “lazy river” speed of Standard. But this faster progression also emphasizes the importance of POE constantly creating these new leagues as they know that after a couple months, players want a new, temporary league where they (and the economy) can start from scratch all over again. In this way, temporary leagues function as a unique way to not only keep POE’s replayability high but also ensure the in-game economy stays at a healthy level.

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