WoW! Thoughts! — On the Black Market Auction House
May 18, 2012
So as those of you who listen to the Mashcast may know, I play WoW, and I play it enough that I’m not allowed to talk about it. These are my thoughts for this week in WoW…
This week Blizzard unveiled the Black Market Auction House, and already the community has divided over it. (A surprising response from fans of a game focused on two opposing factions, right???)
The Black Market Auction House is accessible through a vendor nestled away in the Tavern of the Mists in the Veiled Stair on Pandaria. Talking to Madam Goya will (eventually) open an auction house window with valuable items selling at extremely high prices from recognizable NPC’s. For example, Mei Francis might list some rare mounts at prices of 10,000 or greater. There doesn’t appear to be a buyout price, so potential buyers will be at the mercy of the economic competition from their server.
Blizzard is still deciding just what types of items to make available through this service, though current reports indicate it will specialize in items that require lengthy grinds due to high reputation costs or low drop rates as well as some content that is no longer available (Tier 3 armor that was removed with the Naxxramas relocation, for example.) Items will have varying refresh rates for appearing on the auction house, so when an item appears for sale, you won’t know how long it will be before it is available again.
Those against the black market claim that by allowing mounts and pets that required a ton of work or grinding, they are trivializing the grind and the effort that those who currently have the items devoted to their accomplishment. Obtaining these rare items was intended to be tough, and allowing someone to waltz in and arbitrarily drop some gold to get the same end result makes a mockery of the process. When one person who bought gold is able to mount the Ashes of Al’ar in a capital city, then all the time and effort spend grinding Tempest Keep will have been for naught. Instead of these items being marks of prestige, as a sign of who are both dedicated and skilled at the game, these items will reduce everyone to auction house-camping gold hoarders.
Supporters of the idea cite the fact that the items will cost a TON of money. As our stats have inflated with each expansion, so too has the amount of gold most players possess. Blizzard has always tried to add gold sinks with each expansion such as Vial of the Sands or the Mechano-hog; both of which still fetch a high price. We have seen the addition of Jewelcrafted cat mounts requiring highly priced materials in the beta, as a continuation of that process.
Additionally, giving people who don’t necessarily have the time to run and rerun old dungeons over and over again (while still keeping up with current content in the game) an alternate route to get some of the more interesting items in the game is not a bad thing in their opinion. Why should some of those mounts and pets be restricted to those who have the schedule to tolerate low drop rates and raid-lockouts? As mentioned, it’s not like everything will always be available on the auction house. If the rarer mounts only appear once a year, does that make using the auction house easier than rerunning a given raid?
Fundamentally, the problem stems from the fact that these items have no intrinsic value. Players are disheartened by this concept because it takes their effort, which can be quantified as the amount of time it takes to earn a given item, and puts a price on it. If it took you 30 Tempest Keep runs to get the Ashes to drop over 6 months, you can figure out just how much time you spent; and if you know that Ashes will sell for 100,000 gold, and you know how much Guardian Cubs are selling for on your server, then you can estimate just how much your time was worth. The end result is that people are forced to think about the value of what we are doing, and for something like a game where the end result is always (or at least, should always be) fun, it’s difficult to quantify and process that.
Furthermore, this gives Blizzard an opportunity to deliberately control the economy on any given server. Under the guise of randomization, they could easily find which vanity items the richest people tend to be lacking, and then deliberately list those items with astronomical prices for the sole intent of baiting those at the gold cap into depleting their resources. So once Blizzard finds an item that the richest players keep outbidding each other for, Blizzard can conveniently relist the item, until the richest aren’t so rich anymore.
There’s still more for Blizzard to detail about the auction house, and since it isn’t even quite live on Beta, a lot could and will change before MoP is released. That said, I think this is a welcome change. Anything that can remove large sums of money from the game in this fashion can only help the overall economy; and so the upper bound prices for items on the regular auction house should drop, helping everyone to better gear, enchants, and gems. The end result of this is a better playing experience for everyone.