I sometimes wonder if the Auction House was such a great idea …

Stabs posted yesterday about the idea of liquidity in MMOs: that is, if you get a drop you don’t like, you can sell it for gold which you can then spend on something you like better. Auction Houses in game make this relatively simple. They also introduce the notion of a large, impersonal market into the game.

I have several friends who shy away  strongly from this concept of liquidity, they prefer to use or hoard items rather than trade. For example, one of my kinship friends in LOTRO started a new alt just so that he could assign it a tradeskill that would ‘use up’ his unwanted mining byproducts. I said, “You could just sell the metal, you know?” (Metal sells well in LOTRO.) But even though there are plenty of crafters in the kinship who would happily make any item anyone wanted (and I know because they’re very nice about making stuff for me), he wanted to feel that he could use that spare metal to somehow progress an alt of his own. I felt that by suggesting he sell it, I was spoiling his hunter-gatherer fun of making the best use of all the items he’d acquired and wasting none of it.

So for some players, interacting with the market isn’t as fun as thinking of a way to use the spare stuff yourself (or hoarding it in case you think of a way to use it later.) And if you don’t /need/ the gold, it’s hard to argue that one way is objectively better. Stockpiling gold might make the game more flexible in some ways (it’s a currency, you can buy a lot of different things with it), but if you don’t care about the flexibility then it’s not necessary.

But the more important gold becomes in the game, not selling unwanted items gets to be a worse and worse choice. I think games with high liquidity – where just about everything can be bought or sold for gold – encourage players to figure out one good way to make gold and then just trade for everything else. Sim Capitalism, if you like. If you could trade every piece of gear, every reputation, every token in the game for gold, then actually playing the game (other than to find a good gold making strategy and then sticking to it religiously) would be a mug’s game.

I do have concerns that cash shop games will end up this way. It’s no skin off my nose if impatient gamers with money to burn pay their way through every grind in the game, but when the answer to “How can I get item X?” is always, “Just buy it in the cash shop/ buy it from the cash AH stupid” then you could end up with a fairly odd game. After all, they have to buy it from someone so you’d end up with farmers and capitalists.

You could argue that really that just means that the grinds should go. But as seen in comments last week, there are players who enjoy that type of play as long as it’s not forced onto them.

Or maybe a game of farmers and capitalists is what people want. It could replace the old tank/heals/dps role trinity. I’m just not sure that’s especially fun for anyone (although I predict D3 may end up this way.) But I think it’s truer to the nature of the genre to get back to the hunter/ gatherer mindset, encouraging players to find interesting ways to use items that they find in the world and keep industrialisation down to the cottage industry level.

And perhaps, in order to do that, the easy access world auction house would have to go. I always found it interesting in games like EVE or Pirates of the Burning Coast that as a seller, you’d be weighing up the costs and benefits of travelling to different markets. I think it made trading more interesting and less automated than the typical one market AH model.

16 thoughts on “I sometimes wonder if the Auction House was such a great idea …

  1. More than five years ago now I abandoned my characters on EQ2’s Oasis server and made the Test server my main home in that game. There were several reasons for doing so, but right at the top of the list was the fact that Test does not have a functioning economy.

    The way EQ2 worked then was that most average and above quality spell and combat art upgrades were dropped by mobs. So were the crafting books that crafters required to make the trade-skilled versions. Reasonable armor could be quested but again the better stuff was dropped or crafted. With 24 classes and almost half as many crafts, the chances of getting the drops you needed as you needed them was extremely slim.

    It had become a routine to visit the Broker after each ding and buy the upgrades my character needed. Most things I needed were there most of the time. The only issue was raising the money to buy them. It dawned on me after a while that I was no longer adventuring. My characters had jobs. They went out hunting or questing, came back and sold what they had found and then used the money they earned to buy what they needed to go out the next day and do it all again.

    This was not what I thought I’d signed up for. I decamped to Test, where the extremely small population meant that you could pretty much guarantee the Broker would not have much that you wanted, ever. My characters had to make do with what they found on monsters or earned from quests or they had to take up a craft and make things for themselves. I, as a player, had to network with other players at swap-meets or through the in-game mail, and do deals for the difficult-to-find stuff. If the broker ever did have something I wanted, it was a surprise and a pleasure, like finding a bargain in a thrift shop.

    After five years on Test I’m now able to take that approach with me and use it in all MMOs regardless of the economy I find there. It’s much, much more fun than having an imaginary job.

  2. I’m probably odd in this, but I’ve never made much use of the AH in the MMOs I’ve played. I’m no hoarder, I’d sell everything I can (mostly to vendors), but during 6 years of WoW I’ve never made any interesting ‘deals’ there nor did I look for them. I never made my gold this way, I didn’t have to. frankly, WoW may not have featured an AH at all for all I’ve used it. as you said yourself Spinks, gold(-making) only gets much meaning if it’s hard to come by or important in the game (if there are actually ways to invest wealth).

    Considering a customer like me who was also not into professions much, the AH could easily have been an item shop – consumables and maybe a few vanity items were what I bought the mostly.
    I’m against item shops that will just allow the player to acquire everything though: if they can relieve some folk of the “basic grind”, okay. but the more powerful items, gear (*status symbols” if you want to call them that) should remain grind/raid/drop-centric. as far as item shops are concerned, it’s again about balance?

  3. I believe AH was good idea because it gives people another thing to ‘play’ if they are interested in it. In Diablo 3 ‘playing’ AH can be main interest for a lot of people but in the end it is a question about what is the right way to play the game.

    My opinion is that above question about ‘right way’ is actually non-relevant. We like to believe that there is right way to do things and you can see it in every aspect of life. There are ‘right’ foods to eat, there are ‘correct’ ways to study etc. After considering these things a lot I have come to conclusion that you can define the answer only for yourself. For some the right way in Diablo 3 is to play AH and for some it is to play the game and hoard items for alts or for friends. Others will find different ways to play and enjoy the game and some will not play the game at all and it is right way for them.

    So when I see discussions and writings about ‘right way’ of doing things, I try always to think what I would do in situation like that and would that be something that express myself best way. And then I would try to forget the label ‘right way’ and do things my own way… 🙂

  4. Thanks for picking this up.

    First let me query the point about the auction house being impersonal. What your friend is doing, the hunter-gatherer, thing isn’t any more social. And face-to-face trading is generally horrible in these games. I’ve been an enchanter in WoW, a Master Doctor in SWG, and the “I need you to come now” and the scams and haggling are very unpleasant if you trade face-to-face a lot. I’m done with wasting 5 minutes traveling to someone who then abuses the fact that you’ve spent time to try to bargain you down from a price you agreed 5 minutes ago.

    I think what we may see is games that don’t have trading in them. World of Tanks is a good example, perfectly fun game, no trading, and it’s not missed. There’s no intrinisic need in a diku or arpg to trade. One could point to the Badge systems and Bind On Pickup in WoW as mechanics that move away from trading.

    Does trading spoil a game? I think it can do. In Diablo 2 my guild played in the hunter-gatherer style since public trading was so dominated by dupes. You couldn’t trade without feeling like you were cheating. This has led to a strange disconnect between people like us and the mainstream player base. I read people say things like “D2 is unplayable without Teleport” when Teleport was only available to non-Sorceresses if they lucked out and found incredibly rare runes or if they used dupes (as most did).

    Then again in that case it was more the cheating that spoiled the game than the trading.

    I do think that a lot of people very successfully insulate themselves from the commercial activity. My D2 guild is still going after 11 years. Your hunter-gatherer friend never needs to worry about the auction house in Lotro (except perhaps when insensitive guildies suggest he’s playing the game wrong). I wouldn’t be surprised if many D3 players never use the AH except to turn lucky and unwanted drops into Blizzbucks they can use in the store.

    i think a particularly interesting game is going to be Prime BFD. It’s a DAOC 3 faction RvR game with no bind on pickup and a player economy. Trading will be a vital part of succeeding. Selling excess materials will not just be better for you personally, it will be downright patriotic.

    • I meant that the AH was a large and impersonal way of trading, obv not trading at all doesn’t require interactions. I mostly compare with either direct trades or with the way DaoC did things which was that if you had housing you could assign a player vendor to it, which was an NPC that you could stock up with goods for sale. There was a search function that could search through all the player vendors if you knew what you were looking for, but then to buy it you had to go out to the player’s house.

      So it’s the difference between trading between players in the equivalent of a small town where you know a bit about the vendor, and where they live, and if you want to haggle the price you contact them directly, and a big automated auction house where you really don’t care about any of those things. Maybe you don’t find the AH impersonal? I don’t know.

      I also really strongly think the mainstream of D2 players never played online, never mind traded. It’s interesting that because you were active online, you and your guild got the idea that the mainstream were the more hardcore bunch.

      • Yeah I accept it’s impersonal. There are occasional exceptions. In Eve sometimes people will identify a competitor and open a dialog with them (or add them to friends so they can undercut them when they log off).

        What I was really questioning was the value of face-to-face trading. Street corner trading which I’ve done a lot of in my MMOs is generally pretty horrible. I would spam chat with my offerings, have to read a very spammy trade channel to see if people are responding to me and then meet people many of whom were trying it on. I never made a friend off it.

        Trading from my home I did a lot of in SWG and I did make a lot of friends. However there were fairly exceptional circumstances – I was the second best Armoursmith on the server, people were utterly dependent on player crafters, Mastery was a very time intensive and hardcore grind.

        As for D2 you’re right but I never saw the silent 95%. My opinion is based on Us (small tight-knit group of gamer purists) and Them (the people who spam chat channels and post about uber builds in D2 forums).

  5. I find the AH slightly impersonal, but I also think Amazon is slightly impersonal. Seems to me that commerce naturally swings that way in a large enough system. I’m OK with that because it also tends to get more efficient that way.

    …but I’ll still go to local fruit stands. There’s something… satisfying about local purchases. I’m not a fan of the Eastern MMO “players as shops” and the spam that creates, though. Still, I’ll take that over a no trade economy. Trade is a way to smooth out the idiocy of RNG drops.

    Of course, take out RNG drops and make loot based purely on crafting (with known variables and non-RNG ingredients) and vendors, and that changes things, too.

  6. I don’t know which came first, the Auction House or having skills (fast flying comes to mind) that are sufficiently expensive that one has to put effort into having the money for them, but I will say that – as someone who doesn’t want to be forced to interact with other people – if the game requires me to make money in some way, I’d like for it also to have a way to do it without interacting with people.

    That said, would I miss the Auction House in WoW if it vanished? Well, provided they did away with the few quests that required it (which they may have done in the revamp) and dropped the prices of things like fast flying, no, no I wouldn’t.

    However, since I play WoW solo or with friends, as it stands the AH is kind of necessary. If I had to hawk things in trade, I wouldn’t. The AH is one way of making extremely shy players less of a problem for the game.

  7. To be honest, this discussion to me is both bizarre and fascinating. As ArMo mentioned, playing the AH became the game to me for probably the last five months of my time playing WoW (and another 6-7 months at the end of Wrath). Without it, Blizzard would have lost $165 in subscriptions from me. It was not the gold I was after per se, though: it was the successful deal or bargain – I was loathe to actually spend any of the gold, especially if I could make it myself. I had another friend that was semi-successful (~100k) too but he refused to buy ore or herbs unless they were ridiculously cheap; he opted to farm his own materials when possible because he found the action of it relaxing.

    What I find bizarre about the discussion though is the sense that high liquidity would somehow displace the “fun” of grinds, etc. I don’t think it does, or would. If I could pay the daily quest NPCs to auto-complete them, I would happily do so and spend the time I saved doing what I actually enjoy doing (AH, BGs, etc). But if those daily quests were themselves fun enough, I would opt to do them myself regardless of how easy it would be to pay my way past them.

    I guess I don’t see people going the Sim Capitalism route and doing something they enjoy less simply because of liquidity. If you have to design paternalism in your game to “save players from themselves,” I have to wonder about whether you should save your players by not making the game at all.

    • High liquidity does change the balance of a game and makes AH playing relatively more important. That’s probably cool if you enjoyed doing it anyway, but I think in a game like WoW (or most MMOs other than EVE) where the economy really wasn’t well designed (which is why inscription broke it so hard frex), it’s better to keep liquidity controlled otherwise your game gets optimised into a minimal set of optimal gold getting activities.

      • Better in the sense of being a better simulation of a perfect capitalist market, or better in the sense of being more thematic, or better in the sense of better/ more balanced gameplay?

        It makes a difference which one you choose because one of them (the EVE option) leans your game further towards Sim Capitalism. Is that where you want the emphasis on your virtual world?

      • I think the issue with WoW was that when they introduced a system (glyphs) into an economy where the systems functioned differently because they wanted to shake things up. It allowed entrepreneurs to make vast amounts of money playing a sub-game that most players didn’t even know existed which was exciting and emergent for the players who did get it.

        The Occam’s Razor of WoW is that all design choices are clever. Thinking the devs did a “dumb move” that “screwed up” the game is almost always wrong. WoW may be declining but that’s just entropy, it’s just time. There are very few things in WoW that are designer mistakes even if there are a lot of things that seem so.

      • My theory is that inscription was basically the industrial revolution of WoW. I’m sure there must have been people making gold in industrial quantities before that, but it seems to really have become a thing afterwards.

        Yes, some people did well out of it, and it’s exciting to discover new and awesome strategies to do anything. But I don’t think the actual process of making and selling thousands of glyphs is particularly fun and I’d rather they switch up crafting and trading in more interesting ways (eg. buy options, etc) rather than making a couple of new tradeskills which happen to be ‘overpowered’ for making gold.

  8. I’ve spent the last few months playing Guild Wars pretty heavily, after literally years of exclusively playing MMOs with functioning auction house systems.

    And I have to say, going from some form of trade interface to old-school spamming of chat with “WTB!” and “WTS!” isn’t much fun.

    I like the idea of trading in Guild Wars.. but frankly, I don’t do it. I unload stuff to vendors for a fraction of what it might potentially be worth to another player, simply because when I’m playing a game, I want to PLAY the GAME, not stand around in town spamming and hoping someone will respond.

  9. “If you could trade every piece of gear, every reputation, every token in the game for gold, then actually playing the game (other than to find a good gold making strategy and then sticking to it religiously) would be a mug’s game.”

    FW has something like this in place. The only BoP gear is arena gear – all else is BoE.

    The only BoP items are for crafting and for getting rewards, but the rewards themselves (arena gear aside) are BoE.

    This means you can buy anything on the AH (with the exception of arena rewards).

    And it’s WONDERFUL.

    It’s wonderful because you can have your pick of the gear you want (people do sell anything eventually, it’s just a question of patience), before you ever set foot in an instance, and before you hit that level. It’s something to look forward to.

    It’s wonderful because you can do instances for fun, if you shop in the AH, instead of constantly praying your gear will drop.

    It’s wonderful because gear is diabloesque randomised, even for ‘set’ pieces (only the set bonuses are um. set), making set gear no better than random gear at any given time. Certainly generally no worse (unless you choose poorly), but never FAR AND AWAY superior.

    It’s wonderful because with FW, PWE has solved the gold faucet problem that has plagued this genre since MU* days. I’ve written at length on how they’ve done that, so I won’t go into it here, save to say that 6+ months from the launch of open beta (heh their games never leave beta..), the economy and currency is stable and there has been no inflation. It’s the same as it was on day 1.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “a mug’s game”. I just want to point out that with the right systems in place, built from ground up, a game where everything is tradeable for gold can work, and work beautifully.

    (On a side note, I think PWE devs spend far longer looking at and tuning their currency and economies than they do on their PvE encounters lol.)

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