Why the mobile auction house will be good for WoW.

For all that Larisa rails against Blizzard’s hapless PR and Marketing department, they’ve been smart with their press release schedule. Have you noticed there has been at least one cool piece of news per week recently (whether it is about Cataclysm or SC2 or Blizzcon) that has made the news cycle? I’m curious as to how long they’ll be able to keep up the pace.

This week, tentative moves into RMT took a new twist when Blizzard announced the trial of a new service for Warcraft. For $2.99 per month, a WoW player will be able to access the Auction House remotely, either from the web or from an iDevice. And there will also be more mobile functionality even for non premium subscribers. In particular, lots of people will enjoy being able to see immediately when an item has sold.

Free Features

  • Browse the Auction House
  • Get real-time notifications when your auctions sell or expire
  • Get real-time notifications when you win auctions or when you are outbid
  • View your characters’ current gold
  • View the status of your auctions and search for similar auctions
  • View the items you can sell in your bags, bank, and mailbox
  • View the status of auctions you are bidding on
  • View the items you’ve sold in the Auction House
  • View your expired auctions
  • View the status of auctions you created
  • View your successful auctions

Subscription Features

  • Bid on auctions
  • Buy out auctions
  • Create auctions from items in your bags, bank, and mailbox
  • Collect gold from successful auctions
  • Collect gold from unsuccessful bids
  • Collect all outstanding gold with a single click
  • Cancel your auctions
  • Relist items for sale from your expired auctions

So who might be the customer for this new service? Up until now, we have managed just fine with logging into the game client to buy and sell as part of our regular game sessions. But I’ve thought of a few use cases, example of how people might want to use this.

1. The working raider

It can be difficult to balance a raid schedule with a work schedule. Many raids start early in the evening, early enough that the working stiffs barely have time to rush home, grab something to eat, log in and be ready to raid. And now imagine that you are at work, you can see on your guild bboard that you are in the line up for tonight’s raid, but you can’t remember whether you bought consumables or not. Do you have the right flasks, do you have spare materials for any raid crafting you might need to do?

With this feature, instead of fretting and then having to rush around like a crazy when you do get home in the evening, you could just check your character’s bags and log into the auction house and buy anything you need for the evening in advance. That will be worth $2.99 per month to a lot of people. (This will also be great news for alchemists and any other crafter or gatherer who sells consumables.)

Clearly you can avoid the need to do this if you are either very organised or have a helpful guild bank. But being able to pay for the convenience of not NEEDING to be organised is what spare income is for. For this type of player, this is a great service and I’m 100% behind it.

In fact, I’m looking forwards to being able to check Spinks’ bags for consumables remotely even without the auction house functionality.

2. The altmeister

If you have a lot of alts spread across different servers, it can be difficult to keep up with their various needs and profits. Being able to access the auction house remotely will make it very easy to check AHs across several different servers. You could buy a shiny epic for one alt, sell some cut gems from another, and never need to tediously log in and out of several different servers. Plus of course, you could do it all from your iDevice or from work (if you don’t get caught.) Intriguingly, this might also make it easier to flip items from Horde to Alliance or vice versa depending on whether it’s possible to be logged into the AH for two different alts at the same time.

Again, this service provides a way to pay for convenience. And also, messing around with alt AH shenanigans could be a good time waster during the day, filling the Farmville niche. I’ll come back to this because I think that Blizzard could take the offline minigame idea further without harming the game in any way.

3. The pro trader

This is the category where bloggers have been most outspoken. Would having constant access to the auction house provide an in game advantage to ‘pro traders’? Could people use it to manipulate the market more easily than they currently do?

I’m not yet convinced about this one. Blizzard have said that they will restrict the number of trades you can make per day via the remote interface, presumably to stop people buying out the whole AH and relisting it every 30 minutes. Similarly, repeatedly cancelling and relisting thousands of inscription glyphs is not the type of operation that this will support.

People selling high ticket items will still be more likely to set them to run out during prime time, so sniping auctions is a limited market. Arbitrage in general requires sellers to set low prices because they don’t know the market rate. There will always be some people who do this, but clearly the more people looking for bargains, the quicker the prices will be normalised.

So yes, if you make most of your income by looking for arbitrage options on the AH, then you will gain some advantage from the remote access option. But even then, most auctions will be listed during prime time (since this is when most people play) which is when most of the action will continue to happen.

The Big Unknowns

We don’t yet know how addons will interact with this remote functionality. This will have a huge effect on how much advantage there is, especially if remote addons can have more functionality than in-game ones.

If you can search the AH from a web interface, then presumably someone can write plugins to scan data, set buy orders, calculate complex up to date graphs showing which crafted items to make, and snipe auctions.

We don’t yet know what Blizzard’s plans are for cross server mail. Blues have mentioned in the past that they like the idea of being able to send heirloom (bind on account) items across servers. Clearly a BoA item cannot be sold on the AH, at least not at the moment. But if they were to implement cross server mail and relax restrictions on what can be sent, then it would be possible to arbitrage between auction houses. This is the sort of future where remote access might be a huge advantage, purely from a convenience point of view. Being able to quickly scan several different auction houses without having to physically log in and out of servers would be a definite advantage.

How many people will take up this service? If remote AH access gets very popular, then it can potentially change how people use the auction house. At the moment, most auctions are set up with fixed buyouts. Players are impatient and have preferred to pay a buyout to have their item right now rather than bid and wait. But if a lot of people prefer to bid during the day and don’t mind bidding against each other, then we may see a move to more open auctions. If that happens, then although most auctions will be set to run out during prime time (if the sellers have any brains), there will be more of an advantage to remote access for bidding on auctions that do not.

Thumbs up for RMT for services!

I have always preferred the idea of paying a subscription premium for extra services rather than buying virtual goods. This is a great example of the type of MMO service that is feasible, will be of huge interest to a segment of the player base, and still does not have a big impact on the game.

I think that in particular, working people who raid will very much enjoy the option of being able to quickly pick up some raid consumables while at work so that they can save some time in the evening.

Buyers in general will benefit from more trades taking place on the auction house. It encourages more sellers to list. More active traders/ arbitragers keep the prices normalised. I don’t see much of a downside and I’d like to see more MMO companies experimenting in future with this field.

Imagine a Farmville type of game for herbalists, for example, where instead of gathering you could choose to keep a little offline herb garden to tend during the day and harvest in the evening. The herbs produced could be capped and it might provide a neat alternative to gathering for crafters who have time during the day to do it, but not when they are at home.

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11 thoughts on “Why the mobile auction house will be good for WoW.

  1. When I was doing my glyph selling thing, I used to have several hundred auctions active each day. Having to input each auction manually would have been a grind, so I used addons – for automatic undercutting, recording historic transactions, fallback prices, posting many auctions with one click, etc.

    It will be interesting to see what functionality Blizzard add for large scale auction house users. If none, then I guess not many people will want to spend ages posting manually. If they add these functions, then there will be more of an incentive to use the AH offline than there is to actually log in to use it.

    • I don’t think it’s the largescale user who they are aiming for with this, and in fact I half expect that they’ll deliberately make it awkward to use for that sort of application.

      I think they’re much more looking for more casual players who’d make a few trades here and there, or people who have spare cash and like the idea of having this on their iPhone.

      I’m kind of intrigued to see how it goes. Because you’re right, if the offline functionality is too good/slick compared to in game, there isn’t much incentive to log on.

    • I’m sure this will usher in a new age of corporate surveillance of its employee’s habits.

      Problem is if someone uses the web page on a work computer it’s easy to detect and stop but someone messing around with their phone? Generally it’s considered bad manners to disturb someone using a phone and particularly bad manners to ask to see it.

      On the other hand I commute by bus, it’s rather dull and playing the auction house on my bus journeys is rather appealing.

  2. One thing that bugs me is that it’s layered on top of a sub. I think there would be a market for players who *only* want the economy game, but don’t care about the world. Why make them pay the $18? (OK, because they will, but still, it doesn’t sit well with me.)

    That said, I’m with Longasc. I miss the world… but then again, with the AH junkies off in their own world, it means I can explore in peace. Well, except for those idiot gankers.

  3. I’m not sure if I consider this to really be world destroying. The only thing you really lose is the ability to do a quick search to see if any of your competitors are online. Otherwise, the idea that lots of people who you can’t see can be buying and selling at the same time might actually make the economic simulation stronger, not weaker.

    You could imagine something like this for EVE, for example. And I don’t think it would necessarily be world destroying.

  4. I don’t think it’s world destroying because I think people will use it to complement their gameplay, not to replace it.

    People will do their AHing while commuting (or at work/school) then come home and log on to WoW. It will always be better to be in WoW than on your phone to WoW if you’re at home anyway.

    Of course there may be times when people do both. I suspect a lot of raid leaders are going to find people pay even less attention to tactics talks because they can be playing the AH during the lectures.

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