I like to think that I discovered the internet in 2007. This was the year that I had my own personal computer with an internet connection and was finally free of parental surveillance. The first thing I did was lurk across a bunch of sites, before joining BZPower under the name Phovos the Raptor. That was the start of my online life.
I browsed a lot of sites. I discovered SPUF in 2009 but didn’t join until 2010, when I started playing Team Fortress 2 properly. I discovered a lot of places back then and didn’t join until later. One of those sites was GaiaOnline, an avatar dress up site with its own MMO Flash game, zOMG!
I’ve mentioned zOMG! before, but I never really discussed the rest of the site. Even back then, GaiaOnline was a pretty old site, having been around since 2003. It advertised itself as a place to discuss everything but mainly focused on things like anime and manga. You can buy things to dress up your avatar using Gaia Gold, earned by doing various activities across the site; and you can buy Gaia Cash to buy premium items. These items can later be sold on the marketplace, generally for large amounts of gold, but most things are obtainable if you save. There was no way to directly buy Gaia Gold, so the economy was always somewhat reasonable.
You can also buy a large number of random chance items and random item generators (RIGs), all of which had a ‘story’ to them. The chance of you actually winning the top prize was Unusual-levels of rare, and really your success or failure was completely and utterly random, even with random item generators that had a proper way to open them. One RIG that I opened, I managed to get to the last part then randomly lost and got an item worth less than what I would have gotten had I lost on the first part.
I used to drift off and on the site, mostly only really visiting while zOMG! was active, and ditching the site entirely when I became more popular on SPUF in 2012 and 2013. It turns out I bailed at just the right time.
Sometime in 2013, Gaia started releasing random item generators that had extra prizes. Some of them contained ‘charms’, used in a recipe-making mini alchemy system. But some of these generators only rewarded gold. Suddenly, thousands Gaia Gold was being pumped into the system. But the Gold Generators as they became known sold really well, so GaiaOnline sold Gold Generators with larger and larger rewards. All those thousands of Gaia Gold flooding the market soon became millions and and billions of gold, causing Gaia Gold’s value compared to Gaia Cash to inflate massively.
Many premium items suddenly became out of reach to non-paying players. Everything shot up, with the majority of premium items reaching billions in Gaia Gold.
When I started playing, the most expensive items were about 10 million gold – I had bought an item called Fallen Wish that cost 1 million gold. When I returned in 2016, that same Fallen Wish item was worth 10 billion gold. Combined with constant discounts in Gaia Cash, people could buy hundreds of generators and pump more and more gold into an ever-inflating economy.
And Gaia continued to release Gold Generators until earlier this year, when an old admin reclaimed the site and started putting things straight. But the damage had already been done. The only real way to lower inflation would have been to create gold sinks on which players could spend money in exchange for things like achievements and new games, and to create more items to sell on the marketplace, with money disappearing into the void via a 5% market tax.
Of course, what should have been a slow and steady deflation never happened. Instead, so-called ‘gold kickstarters’ stopped happening, releases of new items slowed down, Gaia Cash can be used to buy items in the marketplace (bypassing the 5% tax) and there are still constant discounts on Gaia Cash and lots of Gold Generators still looming in the marketplace.
So Gaia introduced a new currency. Gaia Platinum. Platinum is an alternative to Gold, and is worth 10 million Gaia Gold. Because of this set price, everything on GaiaOnline has increased in price, now costing a minimum of 10 million Gaia Gold, even for items that were only worth 5 Gold each still (such as the default starter items). And of course, everything has been changed so actions like posting on the forums now reward 1-5 Platinum rather than 10,000-15,000 Gold.
Inflation keeps on increasing though. Even with Platinum, since the payouts for everything have increased more than expected – it’s not all just multiplied by 10 million, it’s been multiplied by more. The only thing Platinum has done is decrease the amount of zeroes we see.
While the economy is something I have rambled on mostly throughout this article, there have been other problems too. A lack of staff has meant that moderation is hit and miss. Inflation has driven away a lot of new players. Upsets with how the site is run has decreased user counts tremendously. A lack of users has caused GaiaOnline to press the remaining users heavily with constant Gaia Cash adverts. Multiple failed business plans have fucked GaiaOnline up, meaning they’re barely staying afloat. Staff cuts have also completely ruined their customer service, which now takes forever to even acknowledge problems. The only thing that has genuinely improved is the quality of items, even if the style has devolved into a billion frilly, cutesy or girly things, occasionally broken up with one or two male or gender-neutral items.
It’s not the site it used to be.
But GaiaOnline has been around for nearly 15 years. The traditional forum has been struggling and GaiaOnline’s troubles have only made its struggles worse. These days, GaiaOnline feels like nothing more than a place filled to the brim with micro-transactions, and things have only marginally gotten better. Maybe they won’t get better.
Really, I don’t really mind. It was a fun site when I was younger, but I have better places to be now. These days, I just kinda want to watch the site die, while I make suitably draconic avatars.