Some thoughts on the Black Market Auction House and the economy in Mists of Pandaria

One of the hottest topics in the WoW universe this week – not named Diablo 3, anyway – is the Black Market Auction House.  If you haven’t heard about it, click the link (as well as this one) and check out what MMO-Champion has to tell us about it thus far.

Black Market Auction House (BMAH)

The items in the BMAH haven’t been finalized by Blizzard yet.  To take that idea further, I think there’s a chance that the pool of items that can go up for auction will be a living one; that is, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is an announcement that “[Item Such-and-such] will be added to the BMAH pool for Patch 5.2.” (Etc.)  This will, of course, elicit a variety of responses from players, from those who are upset that a rare mount is able to be bid on, to those who are delighted that they can now bid on something that is very difficult to get (due to RNG, having been removed from the game, etc.) and different points and issues in between.

Let me say how I feel about it.

I think it’s a fun new thing that they’re bringing to WoW.  It may give certain people a reason to continue playing or to come back: some people love mounts, or old rare gear, or old unobtainable recipes.  It is a fresh feature in a veteran game that is fighting to maintain subscribers.

This is what Blizzard does, and while they are far from perfect, it’s evident that they’re constantly trying to improve the game.  The BMAH is like pet battles, account-wide achievements / mounts / pets, Lorewalkers, a new playable race or class, new zones, better graphics, transmogrification, 64-bit, Raid Finder, Dungeon Guides and maps, improvements to “Report Spam” in your chat window, revamped and improved armory, and so many other features like these.  What do they have in common?  They’re all attempts to improve the game, to make the game more fun, and/or to keep people interested in what’s going on in the World of Warcraft.

I’m glad they’re doing it.  I have no qualms about it.  Will I bid on anything?  At this point, I’m inclined to think that I probably won’t.  I love my transmog, and I enjoy certain races and mounts* and gear more than others, but I’m not interested enough in what looks to be a source consisting largely of vanity items to pay tens or hundreds of thousands of gold for those items.  But I still think it’s a good thing.

*Ground mounts, mainly.  When I’m not flying around as a stormcrow on my druid, I’m using either a gryphon or hippogryph on every single one of my other toons.  Big flying mounts annoy the crap out of me.

This isn’t to say that I’m one of those who considers himself “rich” with 50K gold, nor am I anywhere near gold-capped.  However, I have plenty. of. gold.  Early in Patch 4.2, when the Ranseur of Hatred was selling for a ton of gold, and I wasn’t raiding yet, and I had about half the gold I have now, I dropped around 40K on two of them (druid and hunter) and considered myself to have gotten a major steal.  And those items got heavy use – particularly on my hunter.

That’s the sort of thing I generally spend my gold on: items that will help me perform better, like reasonably priced weapons or other gear, enchants, things like that.

However, the BMAH will be a big hit, I’m sure of it.  I think it’s a good thing.  I don’t think it’s part of some conspiracy, or horrible because it takes away from whatever gear or mounts people earned back in the day, or whatever.

Anyway…

Gold sinks and the economy in MoP

One of the prevalent topics regarding the BMAH is that part of Blizzard’s motivation for it is to introduce another gold sink for MoP.

I think that’s a correct assumption.  Blizzard already has one potential gold sink in the works, the “Something Expensive” –  currently named Golden Sink according to Wowhead – which is an ingredient in the new MoP Jewelcrafting mounts.  The Golden Sink currently costs 25,000 gold, and while it may have a different name and price come MoP, the reasons for its cost – mainly, for the purposes of rarity and to pull money out of the economy – are fairly obvious.

However, the question is not whether the BMAH and the Golden Sink are gold sinks, but rather whether they will be enough to stave off the massive rate of inflation that we’ve experienced over the past several years.

My opinion?  No, they’re not.  They’re steps in the right direction, but not enough.  I don’t actually know what would be enough, other than maybe making a few pieces of epic BiS gear, for each spec, that are only purchasable from a vendor for 100K gold apiece (not won, not BoE, not dropped from bosses).  And I can’t see Blizzard doing that, because it makes gold too large of a factor in end-game raiding.

No, there are two reasons why I don’t think inflation will change much.

1.  First of all – for example – have you seen how much quests are rewarding?  I’ve only seen one quest screenshot so far where I’ve actually looked at the gold reward.  It was 60 gold (give or take some silver).

Now, when I leveled Anacrusa during the first week of Cataclysm, I netted well over 5K gold just from questing and vendoring trash, after reforging and paying repairs at each level change.  Level 84 quests in Cata averaged – judging by many of the dailies I do nowadays – 16-17g per.  If the 60g per level 89 quest is anywhere close to an accurate comparative in MoP, we could be looking at anywhere between a 100%-300% increase in the amount of gold we gross just from leveling.  This doesn’t include any AH activity, just quests minus expenses.

Right there, you’re looking at the following: for those who level primarily through questing, 10K is probably the lowest amount of gold each character will make.

There are, of course, variables.  Do you level your crafting profession as quickly as possible?  That’s going to cost you.  Do you only pick up gold and usable items from mobs, and leave grays on the corpses?  That’s not generally a wise choice (gold-wise).  But for the most part, I expect that leveling alone will bring you a nice chunk of change – and a much larger chunk than leveling in Cataclysm brought.

So gold will not be harder to get, and therefore AH prices will not necessarily go down much, if at all, relative to players’ incomes.

2.  Secondly, the number of people who play the AH game to the gold cap, as compared to those who will bid on such items as will likely be available on the BMAH, is not a one-to-one ratio.

One of the more prominent WoW gold-making writers out there, Euripides of WoW Insider’s Gold Capped column, has said on a couple of occasions on the Hunting Party Podcast that, while he’s not interested in transmog or other vanity aspects of the game, one of the reasons he likes making so much gold is so that he can purchase BoEs and other performance-necessary items without worrying about cost.  He is someone who I can’t really see bidding for vanity items on the BMAH, and I would be willing to bet that a significant portion – not necessarily the majority, but a prominent number – of the AH mavens around WoW will not make as much use of it as some people think.

I play on a relatively high-population server, which means that the AH is fairly competitive and prices aren’t that bad (but also aren’t rock bottom), but there are a significant number of people who play the AH fairly heavily, and I know some of them.  Most of them are people who prioritize the ability to buy gear without worry – and the AH meta game – to be way more important than bidding on vanity items.  This doesn’t mean that someone like Euripides would never spend money on something like that, but it’s not like every single “rich” player will be in the active bidding pool for each of the items – if they’re BoP – thereby excluding the have-nots from a chance at something fun.

The point that I’m trying to make is this: the amount of gold leaving the economy via gold sinks will not be enough to offset the amount of gold that will continue to be generated via the usual means – which is akin to printing money out of little more than time, really.  Therefore, I don’t expect inflation to be affected much.

Anyway, to summarize all of this into something short and simple, I don’t think the economy will change all that much.  Everyone should have a relatively easy time making some start-up cash from leveling, at the very least.  Unless Blizzard changes the gold cap again – and it looks like they won’t for the time being – people won’t be able to make an astronomical amount of gold.  However, people who know how to make gold quickly will still be able to do so, and they will.  Since there will still be more gold coming into the economy, in spite of the BMAH and the JC mounts, prices won’t be drastically lower than they are now, so comparative (Cata-for-MoP, blue-for-blue, purple-for-purple, etc.) mats / enchants / gems / gear / vanity items will sell for similar or proportionally higher prices.

Final thoughts… for now

I love that Blizz is adding these gold sinks in the next expansion, although I don’t think it’s the most important reason they’re adding them.  Ultimately, the BMAH and JC mounts are, first and foremost, about making the game fun.  The gold sink idea is good, and necessary, but buyers looking forward to a near future of low-cost mats and BoEs as a result of gold sinks are likely to be disappointed, as far as I can tell.

I could be wrong, though.  We’ll see.

– – –

Thanks for reading this post by Mushan at Mushan, Etc.  Comments are welcome!

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