Trade Manifesto

Today's news post describes some minor changes to the trade online API we have made and mentions the beta launch of an official trade site (which has a similar featureset to community trade sites but also supports our non-English-speaking users). If you have been linked directly to this manifesto post, then please read the news post first.

This manifesto post is for players who are interested in hearing more about our philosophy and reasoning behind trade and the direction of these changes.

Items Matter. Trade is Important.

When we started developing Path of Exile in 2006, we identified several key design pillars. These are fundamental philosophies chosen to guide our design decisions throughout development. One of these was that "items matter". Items are a player's reward for playing Path of Exile. They're the primary way of measuring progress in a league. A person with vastly more in-game wealth has often played longer than someone with a higher level character. They also matter because if a player had better items, then they'd be able to build more powerful characters, play harder content, and be viewed as richer and more successful within the game. The acquisition of items is why people play Action RPGs. Chances are, if you're reading this, you understand why it's important that items matter because your Path of Exile items mean a lot to you as well.

For items to matter, it's important that they can be traded to other players. It's important that you could give the item to the other player, if they were able to convince you into it. For this reason, almost nothing in Path of Exile is bound to your account. Even in Solo Self-Found mode, which doesn't allow trading, items can be moved at will into the regular trading leagues so that you can benefit from their value if desired.

The ability to trade any item is a fundamental part of why people enjoy playing Path of Exile - if you're lucky, you can find amazing stuff that you can trade for all the items needed to create an entire new character build.

Consequences of Easy Trade

So given that we love trade and feel it is critical to Path of Exile's formula, why is there so much debate around trade in this game? Most of it stems around whether trade should be easy or not. While easy trade sounds great on paper, there are some important considerations!

Easy trade reduces the number of times a character improves their items.
People who are heavily engaged in trade perform fewer item upgrades to achieve their final build. They get there in fewer steps, because they can easily buy items that are close to what they need. Simply put, their character progression is more about trading than it is about getting items from monsters. We believe that it is more fun to slowly and iteratively upgrade a character over time and to have a longer journey to gear a character up. Knowing that a monster could drop something that improves your character is a great motivator for playing one more level!

Easy trade means reducing drop rates
Compare two hypothetical games. In the first game, trade is very difficult. The majority of items that can't be used by your character are not traded to other people. In the second game, trade is very easy. Many of the items that you can't use are traded to other people for items that you can. In the second game, because of trade, you have a much higher acquisition rate of useful items. While that sounds great if you want instant gratification, in reality it means that the second game either receives reduced drop rates relative to the first, or ends up being a whole lot easier and less challenging to achieve goals in.

Easy trade would make the disparity between different players too great
Both of the above points are even worse when you consider that the level of engagement with trade varies substantially from player to player. Most players who play Path of Exile never trade. Out of the players who do trade, most only complete a few trades in a league. The subset of players who regularly trade strongly overlaps with our core reddit and forum communities. Chances are, if you're reading this, then you're one of the top 10% of players in terms of engagement with advanced systems. The difference in magnitude of trading (and hence item acquisition and progress) between non/low-traders and heavy traders is gigantic. While a regular player would be lucky to accumulate a small handful of Exalted Orbs in a league, a trader might reach hundreds in the same timeframe. This enables them to fully-gear Shaper-capable characters while the non-trader is still in mid-tier maps or lower.

The significant differences in character power and player progression caused by trade has already created a situation where Path of Exile is very hard for some players and quite easy for others. Some people never stand a chance of seeing some of the Atlas of Worlds content, while others can rather quickly defeat it and are looking for new challenges. We're tentatively okay with the degree to which this occurs currently, but it would be much worse if trading were made substantially easier.

Easy trade allows for greater abuse by automation
Another topic is automation. While we work hard to stamp out bots and abusive behaviour, it would be hard to completely eliminate the damage caused by a few trade bots with access to a fast trade system. If they have the ability to search out and buy items without having to talk to another player, then there would be some very large-scale economic consequences that would not be good for regular players.

Trade in Path of Exile

From the start, we knew that Path of Exile needed the ability to trade items and that we had to be careful not to make it too easy. We had seen what happened in other Action RPGs when characters could be upgraded trivially. We added trade chat and a secure player-to-player trade screen so that people could negotiate transactions and complete them without counterparty risk.

With insufficient foresight into how it'd eventually affect trade, we also added the ability to link items on the official forums. Linking items is a way of showing other players that you actually own an item, because the system automatically checks that you still have the item in that form and marks it as verified. This system was intended so that players could show off their awesome finds to other players, in a similar way to the in-game item linking system. Because items matter so much in Path of Exile, it was important that we provided many ways to prove ownership of items. We even intended to allow people to Tweet their items from within the game, though never got around to implementing this feature.

Before long, people used item linking to set up shops within the trade forums. This was expected, because the goal of item linking was to prove ownership of items (so that people could know that you still have the item before they make you an offer). These shops became complicated and people made tools that let users manage their shops and post to them efficiently. So far, so good.

Then came the forum-scraping bots. Smart community members worked out that they could automatically crawl the forum and insert all of the items into a database, creating an instantly- and accurately-searchable index of all items for trade in Path of Exile. There was nothing we could do about this, because it's almost impossible to stop people gathering information from a public website.

A trade ecosystem evolved where players would search for items on trade websites to quickly find what they need, but would have to manually contact the user in-game to perform the trade. While this was a lot quicker than before, we grew to accept it but were worried about one aspect in particular: To create trade forum threads easily, users would download third-party programs and enter their account details (or at least web session IDs). While these tools and their authors never took advantage of this in an illegal way, it was a potentially dangerous situation for our users and we really needed an official solution. We made it so that Premium Stash Tabs can expose their contents to trade sites on a public API.

So that's where we are today. It's easy to list items for trade, easy to search for items, and is often quite frustrating to complete a trade. This remaining frustration is the only thing standing in the way of trades being basically instant. While we understand that this sounds like a positive thing, we are very concerned regarding what will happen if that does eventuate. We have to prioritise the long-term health of Path of Exile.

The Trade Market

The version of Path of Exile published by Tencent in Mainland China uses the "Trade Market" rather than a system of exposing items via public stash tabs and forum posts for searching on web pages. This system is also in use on the Xbox One version of Path of Exile - as you can imagine, web page searches and textual trade conversations aren't well suited to the controller input of a console.

On the trade market, we're experimenting with the opposite end of the trade spectrum, where it's very easy to complete trades but more difficult to find the exact item you're looking for. You can search broadly by a specific item class or type, but have to look through a lot of search results to find the one you want to make an offer on. This system intentionally makes the search process harder and the trade process easier, for quite a different trade experience. We're not planning to bring it to the international PC version of Path of Exile.

The Role of Solo Self-Found Mode

Players who don't engage in trade are at a significant progression disadvantage in Path of Exile. However, some people are happy for the game to take longer to complete and enjoy the challenge that comes from living off the land. Historically, these players could choose to play alone, but would receive no recognition and had no way of proving that they had done so. Anyone could accuse them of having traded, invalidating their accomplishments.

We officially added support for a Solo, Self-Found mode in Content Update 2.6.0 (Breach League). This optional mode allows players to create characters that can't trade or party up. They have separate ladders to show how long they lasted in this mode before opting to convert back to regular characters. It's important to note that even in this mode, items can be easily moved back to the regular game to be traded (albeit not for any advantage in SSF).

While this mode eases the situation for people who purposefully never engage in trade, it was not intended as a precursor to us making trade massively easier in the regular game.

Today's Changes

As mentioned in today's news post, we are changing the "Online API" to expose the AFK status of players. This API is currently consumed by community trade sites, so it's easy for them to add functionality to allow users to filter searches to just online players who are currently available to trade. In addition, players in DND mode are no longer shown as online, because it would be impossible for them to receive any messages sent to them.

We have also launched an experimental version of our own trade site: Please try it out and give us feedback!

The goal of our trade site isn't to fundamentally change how trade works, it's just to provide an alternative to other community sites for players who want to have options (or use a language other than English!)
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Last edited by Chris on Nov 2, 2017, 6:52:35 PM
Last bumped on Jan 14, 2024, 5:23:19 AM
Thank you so much for exposing players' AFK statuses!

And for the website, which strangely feels less important by comparison. :P
“Please understand that imposing strong negative views regarding our team on to other players when you are representing our most helpful forum posters is not appropriate.” — GGG 2022


I'm not 'Sarno' on Discord. I don't know who that is.
Massive manifesto as always, Chris!
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Last edited by Dethox420 on Nov 2, 2017, 7:00:28 PM
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I came
very interesting to read, thx for that.
Chris wrote:
As mentioned in today's news post, we are changing the "Online API" to expose the AFK status of players. This API is currently consumed by community trade sites, so it's easy for them to add functionality to allow users to filter searches to just online players who are currently available to trade. In addition, players in DND mode are no longer shown as online, because it would be impossible for them to receive any messages sent to them.

Any plans in future to also expose the League they're currently playing in?

Messaging people who are in Standard / on an alt in SSF is a bit of a pain. :/
“Please understand that imposing strong negative views regarding our team on to other players when you are representing our most helpful forum posters is not appropriate.” — GGG 2022


I'm not 'Sarno' on Discord. I don't know who that is.
Wow, didn't see that coming... :)
Crit happens.
That afk statuses, goodbye price fixers?
Thank you for sharing your more in-depth thoughts about the current systems and situation with us. It may receive backlash from some people, but it's always a good thing for players and developers to understand each other.

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