Valve has hired Greek economics professor Yaris Varoufakis to study virtual currency in games. He was personally approached by Valve boss Gabe Newell, who was a fan of Varoufakis' blog where the professor discussed the state of Greece's economy and the European debt crisis.
The house of Steam is doing this to gain a better understanding on how in-game currency works, and to gain a firm grasp seeing as the company is moving in the free-to-play (F2P) sector in a big way with Team Fotress 2 and Dota 2.
Varoufakis detailed how he was approached and hired in his first-ever blog post for Valve titled "It All Began With A Strange Email;" which is housed in his own subsection of Valve's website called "Valve Economics."
In his first post, Varoufakis talks about how he's an "ignoramus" when it comes to gaming and the various tasks he set out to do now that he's with the publisher.
Aside from data-mining, experimentation and the sort, Varoufakis listed that they're aiming to go one step beyond to forge narratives and empirical knowledge that "(a) transcend the border separating the ‘real’ from the digital economies, and (b) bring together lessons from the political economy of our gamers’ economies and from studying Valve’s very special (and fascinating) internal management structure."
In his second post for the blog, Varoufakis goes in-depth on how Team Fortress 2's economy works, He talks about the equilibirum in the game's monetary structure, as well as the arbitrage potential the game has.
Needless to say, there's a ton of reading here. But a fair bit of warning though, it's quite technical (he even breaks out the graphs!) and unless you've taken up some sort of economics course, some of it might fly by you.
Lastly, his next post talks about barter, exchanges and how we, as humans barter and trade due to our nature. It doesn't necessarily have to be about monetary values, it can be a pure or unpure (contested) exchange. It's a slightly shorter read and one I found fascinating since it talks about how humans are somehow ingrained to trade in the social convention (money)
Varoufakis will update his own section of the blog every week. So if you're interested, be sure to keep an eye out for the Valve Economics page.
While this is no doubt quite impressive, keep in mind that this isn't the first time a game company hired an economist. CCP Games has Eyjólfur Guðmundsson as their in-game economist for EVE Online and we all know how healthy that MMO's economy is.
What do you think of all this? Do you see a lot of publishers hiring their own in-game economists if they see this going well for Valve?