The economy in RuneScape bears many similarities to economies in the real world. In RuneScape, items can be produced, exchanged and used by players. Players can exchange these items through trading or via the Grand Exchange (the market). Grand Exchange prices vary due to many factors, the most basic one being supply and demand. This can have a big influence on the behaviour of players.
Real world economies behave differently from RuneScape's in some respects, particularly because of the limited time many have to play the game, which renders the availability of financial organisations such as player-owned banks, shops, stocks, or insurance companies difficult. A difference between the two economies is that median prices on the Grand Exchange only update, on average, once every 24 hours, usually resulting in a change in the price of an item of no more than 5% either way, whereas in unrestricted economies, market prices may change in real time, and there is no limit to how much the price can rise or fall in a given time. On top of this, there is a fundamental computer system limit on how many of an item, in this case coins, can be in one stack. The maximum number of an item that a player can hold in a stack is 2,147,483,647, as limited by a signed (positive and negative) 32-bit Integer, i.e. 231 - 1, thus this the highest amount an item can be valued at. See Stackable items.
The RuneScape economy also lacks some key economic principles, which arguably exist in the real world, including a lack of risk-free investments and an absence of government enforcement for financial contracts. It also violates, among other concepts, the efficient market hypothesis. This means that capable merchants are able to predict the direction of prices accurately and make high profits, which is often untrue in the real world. These differences make the RuneScape economy simpler and much less diverse than the real-world economy.
There are several currencies in RuneScape; most currencies, however, are used in trading between non-player characters and players in certain areas. Therefore, coins will be treated as the exclusive currency for player-to-player trading in this guide.
In general, there are several categories of items that players may obtain. Quest items and other untradeable items are not covered here, as they have little to no impact on the player economy. Four main item categories - primary products, consumables, finished items, and discontinued items - will be discussed in detail in this guide.
This guide is for informational purposes only, and may not reflect recent changes in the economy.
Supply and demand
- Wikipedia has more in-depth information on supply and demand.
Supply and demand are the market forces that determine the price of an item, unless it is affected by price control mechanisms. Supply is, essentially, the availability of an item on the market while demand is how much a player wants (and can pay for) an item. A supply and demand graph can be created to view a general price of an item. The curves on the below graphs show the quantity of a good supplied or demanded at a given market price (if there is more profit to be made, more will be supplied, whereas if a good becomes cheaper, more will be demanded). If there is no intervention on the market, it will naturally "balance out" at the equilibrium point.
The supply curve represents aggregate supply of shrimp in the economy.
The demand curve represents aggregate demand of shrimp in the economy.
Supply and demand interact to reach an equilibrium point where the quantity and price have no tendency to change.
Changes to equilibrium
Changes in supply or demand will change the equilibrium quantity and price. This idea is best shown by the day-to-day fluctuations in the Grand Exchange market price.
An increase in supply (shift of the supply curve to the right) will cause the equilibrium quantity to increase and the price to fall. This may occur if, for example, the Fishing skill would receive an update or due to macroing, which will increase the number of fishermen, increasing output and hence supply to the market. Conversely, a decrease in supply (shift of the supply curve to the left) will cause the equilibrium quantity to decrease and the price to rise. This may occur if fishermen change from fishing for shrimp to anchovies.
An increase in demand (shift of the demand curve to the right) will cause the equilibrium quantity to increase and the price to rise. This may occur if Jagex change shrimp so that they heal more Hitpoints per bite. Conversely, a decrease in demand (shift of the demand curve to the left) will cause the equilibrium quantity to decrease and the price to fall. This may occur if the healing power of shrimp are reduced, causing shrimp to be less appealing to players.
In the case of rare or discontinued items, such as partyhats in RuneScape 3, there is no new supply entering that market, thus demand of the item is the factor which drives the price (although supply will steadily decrease due to partyhats being lost through characters quitting, deaths, etc., also gradually increasing price over time). As no new partyhats can enter the market, the supply is perfectly unresponsive to price changes and the quantity of partyhats on the market cannot increase. Thus, the movement of the supply curve can largely be ignored.
Merchants buy items from players to attempt to make a profit by selling the items to other players at a higher price. Buying items from shops and selling them to players for a higher price that was paid is also sometimes considered merchanting.
There used to be a type of merchant who would buy items in small quantities from many players for low prices, and sell in bulk for higher prices. As of the implementation of the Grand Exchange, merchanting in this manner has greatly diminished.
There are three types of merchants who use the Grand Exchange: flippers, investors, and manipulators. Individuals may engage in more than one of these types, however. See the aforementioned merchanting article for more information.
In terms of effects on the economy, flippers do not have much effect. They buy items when there is high supply on the Grand Exchange and then sell them when there is high demand, within the same day or Grand Exchange update period. Investors have a larger effect, holding onto an item for several days with the expectation that it will rise in price, and manipulators have the largest effect on the market. Manipulators will try to manipulate the prices for their own gains (by seeding panic, or by creating an artificial demand).
Players could buy items from stores at stock prices and sell them to other players for a higher price, often intentionally creating a shortage of slow-restocking items. Also, players may buy up overstocked, price-depressed items cheaply, and then sell them at another store, on another world, or at a later time where the items are no longer in stock. However, the level of overstocking needs to be quite severe to ensure that the selling price bottoms out at a level sufficiently below the normal buying price of the store that such activity is profitable.
Players may also conduct store arbitrage by modifying some items; for example, by stringing amulets, so that they become classified as an altogether different item, and immediately sell a few back to the same store.
Grand Exchange arbitrage
Some players engage in arbitrage operations directly at the Grand Exchange. A famous example is the apparent violation of the "law of one price" for set items. It is possible to buy armour items (e.g. helmet, plate body, plate legs and shield) at a considerably lower price than an armour set, which would include all of these items. As a player is always able to exchange armour items for sets at the Grand Exchange clerk's counter, buying armour items and reselling armour sets, constitutes a clear arbitrage opportunity. Among some community members, this rather time-consuming transaction is referred to as the "Solonius Transformation".
Stability of the RuneScape economy in historical sense
The RuneScape economy has had both periods of inflation and periods of deflation. In the past, the economy was in a state of deflation for at least a year and a half before June 2009. Between that time and 2011, the market was inflating. Starting in January 2011, the market moved into a state of deflation. When Wilderness and Free Trade were released on 1 February 2011, the market deflated even more. High Alching and the aforementioned conversion of PvP drops into coins became the two major sources of coins being added to the economy. Mass inflation has ensued due to the large amount of coins that PvPers have added into the economy, thus decreasing the respective value of coins compared to the value of the items that they are used to buy.
Gold sinks are features that remove coins or items from the in-game economy. The primary gold sinks are buying items (including skill-related items, such as magic rune stones or ammo from shops), losses on banned accounts, coins or items lost when they are dropped and not picked up, constructing a player-owned house, the cost of repairs to Barrows armour and the recharging of crystal bows and tridents and the use of the Sawmill to create planks. While the use of consumables such as food, potions, arrows and runes also drains value from the game, this value is added (in most cases) when players produce consumables, primary products and finished items through monster drops or through the use of skills. The consumption of consumables and loss of other items through player death helps balance the RuneScape economy; however, the level of balance thus produced is a contentious issue as, for example, the use of consumables can be seen as an investment if the loot gained from monsters killed while a player was using consumables surpassed the value of said consumables.
The Construction and Prayer skills are the largest gold sinks as they require players to spend a hefty amount of coins (many of which are directly removed from the game through Sawmill fees, building dungeon monsters, or buying bones or ensouled heads, respectively).
The economy is split-level, where the price shifts of high level items have little effect on the prices of basic items. Nonetheless, it is common for the prices of items to be linked together (they are in joint demand, meaning that a change in the price of one item will lead to a change, in the same direction, in the price of the other item), as they serve similar purposes. For example, if there were a massive decline in the price of godswords, then other high level weaponry and possibly also other equipment, such as the abyssal whips, dragon boots, Bandos items, and berserker rings might also decrease in value (however, the reverse may occur if the items in question serve similar purposes at a similar level—it is then highly likely that they will be in competitive demand). Items that are completely unrelated (coal and black dragonhide, for example) will likely not be affected by changes in the price of the other item. As in real-life economies, however, "irrational" player psychology may also influence the demand for, and thus the price of, items.
Inflation is somewhat difficult to gauge and control in RuneScape. Because of frequent updates that benefit only high level players, or a small percentage of certain players, a select amount of players can make massive amounts of money (and create new money through drops). This increases the overall money supply, thus leading to inflation. However, since most of the money is in the hands of only a small clique of players, inflated prices hurt the majority of 'RuneScape citizens that are unable to make money as fast as the players that benefit from new game additions and updates.
Certain items are commonly bought from stores or sold to stores. For these items, the store price serves as a stabilising factor; the price is not entirely based on player supply and demand; rather, the stores introduce a price floor (set above equilibrium price) or ceiling (set below equilibrium price) to the markets for those items. For items commonly bought from stores, the Grand Exchange price cannot rise much beyond what it costs to buy it from the store (ignoring the possible factor of convenience, if the store is far from hubs of player activity, as is the case with halberds), as buying from the store is often the cheapest alternative for players in such a situation. These price controls are also present as limits in the prices that players may exchange their items for on the Grand Exchange. An example of such an item is a marble block, which can only be obtained from the Stonemason in Keldagrim for 325,000 coins each. For items commonly sold to stores, the Grand Exchange price cannot fall much beyond the store price (again, due to greater profits being obtained by selling the item to a store, rather than on the free market). An example of such an item is willow logs, which may be sold to a general store for 8 coins each. This encourages inefficiency as the distorted Grand Exchange prices foster shortages (where there is limited supply relative to demand, and buyers must often wait for long periods of time before the purchase is completed—e.g. a left eye patch) or surpluses, where shop prices are low relative to exchange prices and sellers must often wait long periods of time to sell their products due to low demand at free market prices.
Store purchasing prices shift by a certain amount depending on stock levels, and where large amounts of player-made items are sold to the store, positive margins can be eroded or become negative. "Hard prices" are the prices of items commonly acquired through shops that do not usually change unless the store prices are directly changed by Jagex. One case of "hard price" inflation in RuneScape, was when Jagex raised the store price of chaos and death runes to be close to the typical player trading price, as the low prices aided auto-buying bots who camped in the stores and bought all the stock as it respawned. A case of "hard price" deflation was when the Karamja gloves came out and an onyx gem could be obtained for 260,000 Tokkul instead of 300,000.
"Soft prices" are the prices of items that are largely controlled by player supply and demand. This is often the case when the item cannot routinely be obtained from a store, as players must rely on finding a player trading the item that they want at a price that they are prepared to pay. This was the case with mysterious emblems prior to them being sold over the Grand Exchange.
Effects of inflation and deflation
An uptick or downtick in prices is both beneficial and negative for the RuneScape economy. Merchants will lose money, often millions, in the event of a crash, as their stock is devalued, while they will profit from a boom. Conversely, RS merchants often have a big cash pile, which will have more purchasing power after a crash, and less after a boom. Skillers, adventurers, and other players who need consumables, armour, etc. benefit from crashes, allowing for more affordable goods. For example, in the 2011 Free Trade Crash, swordfish went from close to 500 coins to below 200 coins, meaning that adventurers needing food could buy it at better prices. Conversely, skillers wanting to train Fishing could no longer make the same amount of money. During periods of inflation, items become harder to purchase due to their expense compared with cash piles made under a less inflated economy.
Types of item
It is logical to divide items into a few distinct classes.
Primary goods, also referred to as raw materials, have uses in processing/manufacturing skills such as Cooking and Fletching. They cannot be used or consumed in any other way. Most of the time, primary products are used to produce consumables, finished products, or other primary products. In bulk, primary products are often quite easy to sell as they are demanded by players looking to gain levels in processing skills. This is, however, not the case for items that are not considered to grant fast rates of experience when processed. In general, higher prices are offered for larger quantities, and the store prices of primary products have little effect on player valuation through market forces. Other factors, such as bans of macros, tend to play a larger role in affecting price, as they directly affect the market forces (for example, banning macros would decrease supply). The amount of competition over limited resource pools also affects the price with ore rocks, trees, item spawns and monster spawns being examples.
With the release of Skillcapes and perks, demand for primary products, especially those used in Cooking and Fletching, has increased, as the above are regarded by many players as the easiest skills to train.
- Raw fish
- Rune and Pure essence
- With the release of pure essence, normal rune essence is less useful to members (who contributed to the bulk of the demand) and has dropped in price sharply. Members with at least level 30 Mining can mine pure essence; however, anyone can buy, sell, or own pure essence regardless of Mining level or membership status. Additionally, Nightmare Zone has driven down the price for pure essence due to being able to acquire large sums of it by spending points on Old School RuneScape.
- This is a good example of supply and demand at work, as, with the advent of pure essence, normal essence prices dropped for a while and subsequently increased, while pure essence prices rose on RuneScape 3. All of these prices can, however, vary depending on the amount that is being bought and sold and whoever is buying or selling. After the introduction of the Grand Exchange, prices soared, mainly because players had, in general, more coins, and because bulk trade became a lot easier using the Exchange. However, since almost all suppliers of rune essence were non-members, there was little pure essence supplied. Due to market forces, the price of pure essence increased, making it considerably more expensive for runecrafters trying to buy it and process it into high-level runes. Current prices are 13 coins for rune essence and 4 coins for pure essence.
- Coal was not very stable in price in the past due to merchanting at Falador bank, but has since become more stabilised due in part to a reduction in the number of coal-mining macros. Coal is currently selling for 175 coins on the Grand Exchange. There is a significant influx of coal from the Managing Miscellania minigame, most of the time.
- Logs, usually used for Fletching, Firemaking, or Construction
The difference between consumables and primary products is that consumables are used up without necessarily being used to create any other items. The trade in consumables is usually a lot slower than in commodities, since the quantity demanded per transaction is often lower, as players usually only collect enough for a relatively short period of time.
- Food (e.g. cooked fish)
- Runes that are the most useful, such as water runes and death runes for Ancient Magicks and nature runes for High Level Alchemy, have the highest demand.
- Law runes, when bought singly, command prices of over 1000 coins, due to the inconvenience to the seller of selling only one rune. However, they can be bought in bulk at 209 coins due to their usefulness in training Magic. Also, the prices of law runes are decreasing due to increased supply.
- Since the Blood altar was released along with the ability to craft blood runes, the price of blood runes has dropped rapidly. They used to cost 300-400 coins each (more than death runes), and are now 267 coins each.
Since there is little demand for other finished items in bulk quantities, these are normally traded to the stores, or "alched" if the price makes it profitable to do so. A problem for higher level smiths is that although there may be players who would pay more for mithril items or above, finding them often takes a long time. As a result, trade in finished items is very slow, and players have developed strategies such as smithing "on demand" to compensate. In a departure from real-world economies, finished goods usually fetch lower prices in the Grand Exchange than the components used to make them because there is greater demand for the incomplete article due to the hidden experience point value than there is for the finished product.
- Clay items
- Leather items
- In the past, excess leather items (mainly hardleather bodies) were often sold to Al Kharid shop for 50 coins each. Since the Lumbridge & Draynor Diary was released, players tend to alchemise the leather items using the Explorer's ring, as their alchemy value is actually higher than their store value and Magic experience is granted. Nevertheless, the market for leather items is still over-saturated and they are suffering from a perennial depression in Grand Exchange price, down to the Low Alchemy price.
- Armour and weapons
The level of availability of an item also has an effect on the price that another player will offer for it.
The release of the Grand Exchange greatly increased the availability of items to players. For example, before the Grand Exchange, if players wanted to buy bulk quantities of coal, they would either login to a busy server and constantly offer to buy coal with no guarantee of finding players wishing to sell it at that time or location, or search for threads on the forums selling bulk amounts of coal, also with no guarantee of finding a seller. With the Grand Exchange, it became possible to buy large quantities of coal within seconds, as in one offer players can easily receive small amounts of coal from hundreds of players.
Some items are quite commonly available, but not necessarily at the location they are wanted.
No store (free world)
Square shields above mithril, rune two-handed swords and a few other desirable items in the free-to-play world have no regular store, so are unavailable except via player trading or high-level smiths.
Rare and pseudo-rare items
The genuinely rare items are from the early days of RuneScape and may be found among the Rares and Holiday Drops. In the members' game on RuneScape 3, rare items are limited to those that can no longer enter the economy due to discontinuation.
There are several pseudo-rare items in the free-to-play game, which are actually available to members and may be traded and used by free players.
Some useful items in this category are certain pieces of Black equipment, which are unavailable by any means in free-to-play:
All other black items can be bought from stores, or can be obtained from a monster drop in free-to-play. Since black items cannot be player-made, it is not possible to smith them. The remaining black armour and weapons are sold in free-to-play stores and are thus not considered pseudo-rare.
There are also coloured gloves that are cheap for members and can be traded to and worn by free players; however, they do not offer any advantage over plain leather. Several pseudo-rares have lost their status due to updates, however, such as the black full helm, which was a pseudo-rare item before an update caused free-to-play monsters, namely chaos dwarves, to drop them.
Controversy about the Grand Exchange
It is sometimes claimed by players that Jagex controls the prices of items via the Grand Exchange. While this is arguably true in some cases (due to price floors and ceilings set on some items by Jagex), the economy is in general controlled by market forces resulting from the players themselves. Jagex never places offers in the Grand Exchange; all offers are from players. Prices can update daily to reflect changes in supply and demand. However, many items on the Grand Exchange have a set price boundary; that is to say, player supply and demand cannot change a price beyond a certain point. This leads to some items (for example most bronze armour and weaponry) becoming almost unsellable, as there is little demand for them and players rarely wish to purchase these items even for the minimum possible price.
The Grand Exchange has altered the economy of RuneScape in many ways; some have been seen as positive, some as negative. While players have criticised it for having a deflationary effect on the economy and leading to price manipulation, it has not led to the end of merchanting, and has also been praised for helping players get items that may have previously been harder to obtain.
The Grand Exchange's biggest contribution is that it provides an efficient way to bring buyers and sellers together without either of them wasting their time. Before the Grand Exchange, a player would have to go to a merchanting world and trade his or her goods there or look on the forums for a buyer/seller. Many goods could also be sold only in large lots—such as flax, which might have been traded only by the hundred or thousand. With the advent of the Grand Exchange, players can save time (and bank space) by having the system sell their items while they leave to play the wider game.