I had originally tried to post this as a reponse to Tobold's article, 'The Link Between Level and Gold' but my response never appeared so I decided to just make it into my own blog entry.
I have written previously about economies in MMOs, and it's a subject that comes up frequently among players... mainly because any semblance of an economy is usually quickly destroyed by incredible amounts of inflation that the devs try to crudely bandage via various gold sinks.
I think the real root of the problem starts at the beginning of the game. The main issues are:
1) Gold and items dropping like candy from a pinata every time a player kills any mob. Even if the items are 'trash', they can almost always be sold to some perverted NPC who apparently enjoys collecting Glistening Ooze and Frayed Rat Tails. Or, even worse, every NPC will be more than happy to buy this junk and will have an unlimited number of funds with which to do so!
2) Permanent items.
The way to move towards this is twofold:
1) Stop putting spendable coins on 90% of the mobs. Why on earth are demons carrying around gold!? Do they stop in the pub after a hard days work of hanging out at the local demon portal? Very few mobs should drop coins. Instead there should be various armor and trade goods that can be turned into useful things by craters. Gold and money should not just appear out of thin air.
1a) NPCs shouldnt buy anything and everything players shove in their faces. NPC vendors should have things that they are interested in, and flatout refuse to buy anything else. Move the economy towards a barter system rather than relying so much on a never-ending supply of gold that falls from the sky and fills everyone's pockets.
2) Equipment should wear out or be lost in other ways, requiring replacement. As long as 90% of the items in the world never deteriorate, you will always have mudflation issues. Until we move beyond this weird item-permanence concept, any attempt at a real economy is futile.
Players should be poor for the most part. Maybe a few gold saved up to be spent at a bar one evening, but not these ridiculous hoards of 1000s of gold. The only ones with that much gold should be powerful merchants and kings.
Trade routes develop. Perhaps there is an excess number of swords being produced in one town, so the local smiths and merchants have no interest in buying any. But another town down the road doesn't have a smithy, so they're more than willing to buy the swords. Some enterprising player could come along, set up a trade route and make some money while stimulating an actual economy.
Crafting becomes not only an important job, but it also promotes community and interaction as well.
You've taken the first steps towards creating a sustainable, closed economy that can be fun in of itself.
"But how is being poor fun", you say, "I eat Ramen every day and pawned my guitar to pay rent! I don't want to experience that in an MMO!"
Well, to put it simply, you don't have those same requirements in an MMO. You dont have to eat, you can sleep just as easily on top of a mountain as you can in the most luxurious bed, and noone is sending you bills for supplying you with water. There really are very few activities that require money, and that's where the mudflation begins.
As usual, these concepts can't exist in a vacuum. You would need a dev team that takes a long, hard look at the in-game economy at all stages of development. But given the fact that most of the popular MMOs suffer from some form of mudflation to varying degrees, I don't see that as a bad thing.