Yesterday, we got some more details on the wares that will be available on the Black Market Auction House (BMAH). In particular, it’s been mentioned in several blue posts that heroic tier 14-level gear will be listed. For those who aren’t familiar with the posts I’m referencing, here are two of the important ones made by Zarhym:
Zarhym: No one should count on this even being close to a viable option for gearing up a character. If you can raise that kind of gold in the game, you’re going to have much better success paying your way into raids for gear than hoping the right items appear for you in the black market AH (which doesn’t include set pieces), hoping you can afford to outbid everyone else on your realm, and hoping you’re the last one to bid before the auction ends.
Sure, it’ll have some of the best rewards for sale. But that doesn’t mean it’ll be remotely reliable for one person to gear up quickly. It’s the black market, after all.
Ultimately the system is going to benefit the extremely wealthy and the extremely lucky. But in all likelihood the benefits won’t at all be consistent, even for those who can pony up the gold.
Zarhym: For those speculating about the rate of gear gains from the black market auction house, here’s how things currently work. Keep in mind it’s still beta and this is all subject to change.
The chances that a tier-14 raid or PvP item of any given armor type will be listed each day is roughly 10%. Logistically, this means there will be plenty of days where no new armor is available to anyone. Some days, if the black market vendors are extra fortunate in their scavenging for goods, you might see a piece of gear for each armor type. The items under each armor type include belts, boots and bracers, and there will be a separate vendor offering jewelry.
As you can imagine, there’s been a lot of backlash from raiders. Much of it is subjective – namely, criticisms like “non-raiders shouldn’t have access to best-in-slot (BiS) raiding gear.” I’m not going to address any of those complaints, because frankly they don’t interest me. I don’t care at all about who has what pretty shiny purples, or whether another player has the same shiny purples that I’m sporting. I’m not trying to be dismissive of those concerns, because to the people that care about those things, they’re very real concerns. They just don’t happen to matter to me.
However, I do care about the objective, or observable effects of this sort of change. Because despite the information provided, I think there are some subtleties that have been entirely overlooked. In Zarhym’s defense, he’s just the messenger, so it’s not entirely fair to lay the blame at his feet. But his statements definitely indicate an oversight, namely in how the change affects hard-mode raiding guilds. Having BiS raiding gear available on the BMAH will have measurable (and in my opinion, negative) effects on how raiding guilds approach the game. To illustrate that, I want to cover two misconceptions that seem to have crept into Zarhym’s post (and again – this may not be his fault, he’s just the messenger).
1) Rarity, reliability, and RNG do not make an effect small
The statements about reliability and consistency indicate that the developers feel that as long as a mechanic isn’t reliable, it won’t have a strong effect. That’s only true in aggregate statistics, insofar as everybody won’t be buying that gear. But that’s not how players see or experience the game. Players see their own small and limited sample of the overall game environment – their personal experiences and the experiences of players and guilds they interact with on one server. And in that small microcosm, the effect can still be huge.
As an analogy, consider the lottery. If you give out a million-dollar prize to a single person out of one billion participants, the aggregate effect is not very large. That’s less than a cent per person, after all, and the average person’s daily life is pretty much unaffected. But to that one very lucky winner, it’s a huge effect – it completely changes their life, and the lives of people around them. A rare or unreliable effect can still have severe ramifications.
In this case, the ramification is twofold. First, the availability of BiS gear through the BMAH gives guilds an incentive to camp the BMAH during the first few weeks of a tier, in order to purchase all of the “extra” loot they can to speed up their own progression. Remember that raiding guilds can easily build up bankrolls in the millions, so dropping 2-3 million per tier isn’t unreasonable at all if it gives them a significant advantage. And make no mistake, one piece of gear can be a huge upgrade. The stamina alone can save a player’s life, and turn a wipe into a kill. And the combined DPS increase of several of those upgrades can easily be 1-2% of a raid’s DPS. Guilds in the world top 100 can and will go to extreme lengths for a 1-2% raid DPS increase, and that has an effect on world-first and server-first races. Do not be at all surprised if hardcore guilds station a player at the AH at all hours of the day just to make sure they can be the first to put in that 1-million-gold bid.
Second, those same guilds are going to be given an incentive to sell more loot and/or farm more gold during the lulls between progression. After progression ends, they’ll have a few months to build up another few million gold so that they can camp the AH for the next progression tier. This could have negative effects in various forms, including mandatory farming (thus making resources less available for other players) or more more AH shenanigans (imagine how much of a market you can control if you threw the entire capital of a guild bank at the AH). In other words, it gives guilds an incentive to seriously compromise and control the economy of a server.
And all of this happens because of one or two items becoming available on the BMAH during the first few weeks of raiding. Such a minor change, and yet it has a drastic effect on a guild’s day-to-day activities.
2) Availability through another channel is not always a fair comparison
Zarhym pointed out that gearing up through the BMAH will not be efficient, and that it would be much cheaper and faster to gear up by paying a raiding guild to take you through the content and give you gear. There’s nothing factually wrong with either of those statements. However, the implication is that as a result, the BMAH isn’t going to have a significant effect. And that is factually wrong, because the two channels for obtaining gear aren’t at all equivalent.
There’s not a serious raiding guild in the world that will sell you loot during the first few weeks of progression. That gear is sacrosanct, in a sense, because it helps speed up progression and get the boss kills sooner. It’s not until all of a tier’s content is on farm that a guild will consider selling off excess loot, and often not until every raider has the bulk of the items they want. That process usually takes a month or two for top-500 guilds.
But BMAH gear will presumably be available from day one. That makes it an asset to a guild’s progression instead of being “leftovers” that would otherwise be sharded. And that’s an important difference. BMAH-provided gear has the potential to increase a hard-mode guild’s progression rate in ways that “leftover” loot cannot. That alone causes the two channels of gear acquisition to have very different effects. From the point-of-view of a casual raider that’s purchasing the gear three months after a tier was released, it’s not a big difference. But it’s a huge difference for everyone involved when the gear becomes available within that one- to two-month progression window.
For raiders, it modifies behavior patterns in the ways I described above – BMAH camping, gold hoarding to bankroll early upgrades, and so on. For non-raiders, it has the opposite effect – the guilds camping the BMAH make that gear essentially unavailable to anyone who’s not heavily invested in progression. So the average wealthy non-raider who was the target audience for this gear in the first place will have little-to-no chance of actually purchasing it during that first month or two anyway, simply because they’re not going to be willing to camp the AH as carefully as a progression raiding guild.
From that non-raider’s point of view, the gear may as well not even exist for the first month or two, because they’re not going to get their hands on it amidst the BMAH campers from raiding guilds. And once the progression race is over, there will only be a very small window before it becomes much cheaper to simply buy those same items directly from a raiding guild. So it seems that there’s very little incentive for a non-raider to bother with BMAH gear at all, since it’s rarely going to be simultaneously available and economical.
At which point, we have to ask, “what’s the point?” Adding current-tier heroic gear to the BMAH doesn’t have a significant effect on non-raiders, but has a significant and negative effect on hard-mode raiding guilds. Nobody seems to benefit from this change. Maybe I’m missing something, but it doesn’t seem to serve much of a purpose except to make people angry.
A potential solution
Given all that, you might assume I’m going to propose that they just don’t make the gear available at all. In fact, I’m not – there’s a much more elegant solution:
Simply don’t make current-tier epics available via the BMAH for the first two months of a content patch.
This seems to solve all of the objective problems. Raiders won’t feel the need to accumulate huge bankrolls just to be able to jump on epics the during the first few weeks. That eliminates the BMAH camping and wealth-amassing issues for raiders, which is good for everyone (before anyone tries to claim otherwise, I’ll remind you that a guild with deep pockets can definitely screw over an entire server’s economy for their own gain if they do so carefully and deliberately). It still makes that gear available to non-raiders though, after a reasonable embargo period. Which is good for non-raiders, I guess, if you assume there’s nobody for them to buy the gear from (which might be the case on some low-population servers). It doesn’t seem to cause undue hardship for anyone involved.
I’m still not sure that the availability has a significantly positive effect on anybody overall, compared to the current model. But at least in this implementation it doesn’t massively inconvenience anybody.