Ultimately, the Flea Market makes Escape from Tarkov boring

Ultimately, the Flea Market makes Escape from Tarkov boring
Images via Battlestate Games

Written by 

Harry Boulton


15th May 2024 09:59

The Flea Market in Escape from Tarkov has always been central to the game's core balancing philosophy. Those first few days and weeks of a new wipe are indomitably defined by the player's distinct lack of access, and it's a sheer race to reach the Flea and earn your freedom.

However, in light of recent spiralling discourse that has seen map loot buffed and the 'Found in Raid' status become negligible when selling on the Flea Market, I've begun to wonder whether or not the world Tarkov would frankly be a better place without it altogether.

All about the loot

When playing other games within the extraction shooter subgenre, what I've often longed for most is the sheer importance of loot and the process of finding it in-raid. Sure, it's exhilarating to take down other PMCs, and most of my memories from the game are when I've survived against the odds in gunfights, but realistically it's in boxes, crates, and shelves that I spend most of my time.

Image of Marked Room in Escape from Tarkov
Click to enlarge

Arguably what drew me most to Tarkov at the beginning was the notion that combat wasn't necessarily the aim, but simply a byproduct of everything else that you're doing in-game. I remember being in awe that you could regularly go through games without seeing another player, as this seemed so counterintuitive to the nature of the battle royale genre it's seemingly born from.

Outside of the late-wipe stages where people just fight because they have money to lose, most of the average player's combat scenarios will be in high-traffic areas that hold great loot or are associated with quests - if they even encounter them at all.

Loot is, then, at the heart of everything we do in Escape from Tarkov - so why does the process itself suddenly lose all weight once we reach level 15 and unlock the Flea? After that point, the barrier to progression is nearly always money instead of specific items, as you can simply just hop onto the Market and buy whatever you need providing you have the Roubles.

Sure, it's fun to have access to (almost) every gun in the game, but it really doesn't compare to the satisfaction of using what you have. Finding a great gun by chance and getting to take advantage of it in those early stages makes you feel like you've earned it, as opposed to simply buying it off the Market and feeling little sense of genuine loss when you die.

It's often why quests remain still so central to the tension as you play. Finding that one item that you've been hunting for days and desperately escorting it back to your stash is endlessly more appealing than jumping on the Flea and dumping thousands of roubles into a quick fix.

Returning to the start

You'll often find that, anecdotally, it's the early stages of a new wipe that people find the most enjoyable. Of course, there's the pure excitement of a reset and all of the fresh content that comes with it, but the restrictions and the notion that everybody's on a level playing field are really what drive the enthusiasm.

Having such a stark progression difference after reaching level 15 makes it challenging for new players to catch up - although past adjustments to the availability of specific items on the Flea Market have tempered this over time.

Image of sniping on Customs in Escape from Tarkov
Click to enlarge

One of the reasons why I argued that 2024 is the best time to start playing Escape from Tarkov was the slower, more gradual progression that you'll now see at the start of the wipe thanks to the armour hitbox changes and the ammo progression pushbacks. Not only do you earn the 'viable' and 'meta' gear much later on now, but it stops so much of the content in the game from becoming redundant within a few days.

I remember the times when you could buy 7.62x39 PP from Prapor out of the gate and pick up Class 4 armour from every other Scav you killed, and while it was great to be this powerful early on - it felt so counterintuitive that you were functionally locked out of using so much of the early gear as it was rendered useless by these two items.

While there is certainly an argument that the Flea Market grants player freedom, allowing players to choose how they want to approach pretty much everything in the game, I'd argue that it flattens so much of why we play the game into a loop that will quickly become fatiguing.

In defence of the Flea

It would be remiss to ignore the benefits of the Flea Market though, and it isn't all bad. First and foremost, as much as I love the hunt for specific items, Tarkov does have a knack for keeping things hidden from you, so having the ability to end your misery and just buy what you need if you can't find it is certainly a relief.

The cost is apparent and clear after all, and in the early to mid-wipe stages, it's definitely something that you'll feel the effects of if you're constantly dipping into the market.

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The same is very much true for weapon attachments, as it would be near-impossible to consistently build functioning weapons from loot alone - and while you can rely on the Traders, they don't supply everything.

There would also likely have to be a complete rebalancing of the Traders post-removal if it did go ahead, and there's the worry that things become even more unbalanced as the most dedicated players rush to max level and full quest completion.

Image of .300 Blackout CBJ on the Flea Market in Escape from Tarkov
Click to enlarge

What's more, while access is at the core of many issues with the mechanic, it does still grant the freedom of choice that you do crave in the game. With so many excellent weapons to choose from, it's often frustrating not being able to pick what you want to use in your raids - so having the means to craft your loadout down to the minute details ensures that you're never going into a raid at a disadvantage.

But without that disadvantage, the crafting of stories and narratives becomes far more of an effort. What use in the grand scheme of things is that maxed-out M4 you've just picked up from a dead PMC if you could simply go to the Flea Market and buy the parts yourself with the funds from a few Scav raids? Limitation breeds excitement, and the risk of losing gear that you can't easily get back makes those successes feel so much more satisfying.

There's a reason why hardcore runs are so popular after all - especially as the wipe goes on - and it's largely because players ultimately crave restraints and the challenges that come with it.

I'm not entirely sure what Escape from Tarkov would look like in the long run without a Flea Market, but with the willingness Battlestate Games is showing to experimentation, I'd love for them to try scrapping it altogether and see how different, and perhaps how much more enjoyable the overall experience ends up being.

It seems like Game Director, Nikita Buyanov, must have heard me writing this too, as he posted a poll on X (formerly Twitter) on May 14, 2024, asking users to respond to whether Tarkov should have no Flea Market for the next in-game wipe. The 'no' answer is currently winning at the time of writing, and while Buyanov mentions that "Its just a poll!", there's certainly enough of a response on the positive side for its removal so far.

There was, after all, a time when the Flea Market didn't exist in Tarkov, so who knows whether Battlestate Games will consider returning to the basics once again.

Harry Boulton
About the author
Harry Boulton
Harry is a Guides Writer at GGRecon, having completed a Masters of Research degree in Film Studies. Previously a freelance writer for PCGamesN, The Loadout, and Red Bull Gaming, he loves playing a wide variety of games from the Souls series to JRPGs, Counter-Strike, and EA FC. When not playing or writing about games and hardware, you're likely to find him watching football or listening to Madonna and Kate Bush.
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