Raiding’s Black (Market) Eye

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.

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17 Responses to Raiding’s Black (Market) Eye

  1. Xsinthis says:

    I don’t know, blizzard seems to be overlooking a lot of different aspects of this BMAH. A lot of people assume it’s going to combat inflation but it really won’t; The people buying these items are going to be using gold that basically wasn’t in circulation anyways. I have a little over 700k liquid right now and could probably afford a few items on the BMAH, but that loss of gold isn’t going to have an effect on the economy since it wasn’t being used or circulated anyways it was just sitting in my pockets. So it begs the question why Blizzard is putting this in and if they really thought of everything.

    • Theck says:

      Disclaimer: I am not an economist, so any or all of this may be wrong, but…
      I think that it’s not entirely fair to say that because the gold wasn’t in circulation, it doesn’t have an effect on the economy. For example, if you spend 500k of those liquid assets, you’re now less free to spend money on other things (either more BMAH items, or transmog gear, or whatever). You may very well change your buying habits accordingly – I know that while sitting on well over a million gold, I’m much more likely to drop 5k-10k on an impulse buy than I was when I only had 20-30k to my name (which, admittedly, was back in BC when gold was more valuable, but still). If I see an item on the AH for 50k that I know I’ll want and use (example: vendor mount, sandstone drake, etc.), I can just buy it without worrying. I’m less inclined to do that if I’m only sitting on 500k, or 200k, or 100k. So the pile of gold you’re sitting on does impact the economy even though it’s not in circulation because it has an effect on your buying habits. Or at least, that’s how it seems to me.

      I suppose if you’re still as stingy with your money now as you were when you were poorer, then it might not make much difference. But in that case, the BMAH does no harm – it takes money that wasn’t in circulation anyway, and permanently removes it from circulation. No serious effect on the economy apart from more vanity pets/mounts/gear/etc. floating around. It’s only when you get into providing raiding gear that it starts to cause problems, in my mind.

  2. Pai says:

    There’s also the elephant in the room of RMT and how this will give gold farmers more demand for their services. The gold-selling market in WoW is very large, and I think this in-game ‘Black Market’ (which is really nothing of the kind, seeing as how the devs choose what to put there) is just going to fuel that industry even more.

    • Omega says:

      It might also be a great opportunity to catch buyers though. They can code the BMAH to literally be a red flagger, anyone who wins a bid on it with a value > x amount will automatically get scanned for suspicious gold activity. it wouldn’t be too taxing really. It’d be easy to determine some suspicious activity on a winning bid by seeing “hmm, 1million bid on item, they were sitting on 10k gold 3 days ago”. They can’t redflag everyone who trades gold so it’s easy to miss a lot of buyers of gold cause they aren’t just going to micro watch every trade that happens. Especially since they typically won’t spend it all in one place. But if they put a big money trap like BMAH in, it’s a trap waiting to happen. It’s win win there. they ban the gold buyer who clearly didn’t legitly come up with 1 million, AND take the 1 million gold they know game from farmers out of circulation.

  3. You’ve laid out politely and kindly here with TheckLogic ™ precisely why I responded so very unhappily to both this idea and the current blue response. Thank you.

    I see absolutely ZERO fun in it, and a ton of “makes the game less fun” in it. It just sounds awful. It’s almost less important that it harms HM raiders and more important that there is no benefit, really none at all, to putting this into practice. There is no crowd of people super excited about this specific set of stuff on the AH to offset the immense unhappiness of the raiding crowd. As Zarhym said, if someone wants that gear and they have that kind of money, it’s a lot more effective and easy just to pay their way through the content. So who is this aimed at?

    And honestly it might be true that the greater WOW community as a whole agrees …. I rarely expect the greater wow community to agree with raiders especially when it looks like we’re being elitist jerks hoarding the toys for ourselves, but I’m pleasantly surprised at the huge range of people who are nodding their heads along with us and totally sympathizing with how unhappy we are even if they don’t quite get why it really bothers us. I hope it’s not just my echo chamber or the usual constant level of pushback. There seems to really be an abnormally high negative reaction to this. I hope. I hope.

    Well like I said on email… I’m calming down, a beta is a beta for exactly this reason, they can test the waters with crazy ideas. I am very much hoping that they tested the waters and found that in this case, the waters were not luke warm, they were boiling hot, and they need to shelve this idea with the couple hundred other “beta ideas” that simply didn’t work in practice. It’s beta. Stuff doesn’t work. OK. This is one of them.

  4. Coreus says:

    It’s nice to read a blog post about the Black Market that isn’t just a knee-jerk reaction of being opposed to other people getting things and assuming that if I don’t enjoy something then nobody does. I pretty much agree with everything you’ve said here– cosmetic and convenience items are one thing, raid gear is quite another– and I think your solution is a very good one.

    I find a good deal of fun in playing the Auction House to make gold, and am really looking forward to seeing what this ends up looking like the in live game. I have no doubt that it will have a huge reductive effect on inflation overall, just by giving the people who currently have so much gold that it’s practically worthless to them the opportunity to spend enough of theirs that they actually need to treat it as a finite resource again.

    Oh and what Omega said makes a hell of a lot of sense to me. Back in late Wrath I borrowed 20k from my partner so I could afford to buy a Sylvanas’ Music Box for 30k on the AH, which apparently set off some kind of red flag as I was smacked with a 3-day suspension within a few hours for “suspicious activity”. Pretty clear evidence to me that this kind of thing is being monitored.

    • ro-tex says:

      “I have no doubt that it will have a huge reductive effect on inflation overall, just by giving the people who currently have so much gold that it’s practically worthless to them the opportunity to spend enough of theirs that they actually need to treat it as a finite resource again.”

      This is a sentiment I tend to disagree with. Right now I’m sitting at about 100k and I’m not actively trying to make any more of it. The main reason for that is that I don’t have much use for all that gold past buying the JP/VP BoE in the beginning of a tier and possibly one craftable. And I’m just plain lazy and don’t want to farm. But if I could get all those shiny things (HC gear for a normal mode raider, aspiring to do HCs is a big deal) at any moment, maybe that would tip the scales and would make me overcome my laziness and actually start farming gold. Which would trigger the reflex which Theck touched on – once I have a lot of gold, I tend to be less stingy. Which, in turn, will result in more money circulating in the economy, which in turn will raise the prices, i.e. create more inflation. And, of course, it will also result in more people sitting on large stockpiles of gold.

      In terms of money sinks I very much prefer what they did with reforging and transmogrification – people spend tons of gold there. It’s a constant, slow and steady drain of gold. Also, we are now balanced about optimal reforges, so it doesn’t give you an unexpected edge.

      On the other hand I like the BMAH as a money sink, apart from the current tier gear.

      • Coreus says:

        “The main reason for that is that I don’t have much use for all that gold”

        You said it right there. That is exactly what the Black Market aims to correct.

        Somewhat relevant: last night I paid 250k for a run through Heroic Deathwing including the mount and my choice of weapon drops. There are things to spend your money on. =)

      • Coreus says:

        Sorry, I’m guilty of jumping on the reply button before I fully understood what you were saying.

        You seem to be saying that having more luxury items to spend gold on would make “necessities” more expensive. I’m not an economist but that seems wrong to me.

  5. Rob says:

    I think a further potential effect that the BMAH might have is raiding guilds looking at moving servers; less competitive servers will by extension have less competition for any BMAH loot. Not having been in anything like a top raiding guild I can’t be sure if the potential inducement for uncompetitive BMAH gear would be worth the surrender of an active server population, but it does seem to me it could potentially have an impact somewhere in the equation.

  6. Zaephod says:

    Theck, right on the money with this one (unintended accidental pun there). Being a current victim of a single player ruining the economy of my server (alliance side only, he leaves the horde side alone), I could easily see our few high end raiding guilds camping the BMAH to get that advantage. Luckily mine is a PVP realm, so they’ll have to camp it with the PVPers. I do, even if I’m being silly, wonder if these BMAH items will at least be BOP so at least the player intending to use an item will have to make the bid.

    The idea that this will take money out of the economy, I like. The game needs some more gold sinks so that us broke people can still buy stuff occasionally with the gold we get from dailies and whatnot. Sure, we could play the auction house, but that just isn’t fun to many people. I would equate that to camping E-trade all day. For some, it’s their cup of tea, but it’s not mine. I prefer something a little less like economics class and a little more like a video game for my play time.

    I love how much attention this subject is getting from the community though. Lore did his Weekly Marmot on it, lots of forum posts going, and of course this blog post is just the icing to the cake. Yours was a rather unique take on and I like it.

    Thank you, as always, for all the work you do for both the tankadin and wow communities.

    • I’m almost entirely sure that somewhere, the blues have confirmed that it’s BOP. I have to remember reading it somewhere in Zarhym’s string of replies. So no worries about it (or anything else on the BMAH) later showing up on the AH or about Person 1 buying for Person 2.

  7. ElBne says:

    Now that I think about it, I could see the world first guilds (on pvp servers anyway) creating cross-faction guilds in order to camp the opposition and just ourtight murder everyone that tries to use the BMAH in order to guarantee that they not only get the items, but that they don’t have to pay too much for them. I remember back in vanilla when gold farmers would barracade Maradon in order to restrict access and control the market. There would routinely be max level hunters from both factions killing everyone who came near.

  8. Pingback: How the RMAH will affect the race for server and world firsts « Goldadin

  9. Tin says:

    A gold sink only works if people want to buy the item. A significant amount of WoW gold is held by these top end guilds. They are not going to buy mounts or companions. At present, this gold causes massive inflation in raid related items while they are current.

    I don’t see how the availability of these items changes behaviour for these guilds. I play on 2 servers both of which have a top notch progression guild. Both start selling runs a couple weeks after their progression is finished. This is long standing. The only change is potentially how they allocate. If they shell out for some of these items, maybe they can’t pay just any price for other stuff (gems, DM Cards, etc..).

    I’m inclined to believe Zarhym w/r to effect size. Blizzard controls supply. There may only be 1-2 of these items per week. The number of items a guild can purchase b/f the progression race is over is minimal.

    Further, the effect of wearing say a belt with a small ilvl improvement is quite small compared to other factors – ie., stacking feral druids on Nef, or DW wielding arcane mages on Spine, or farming a Sorrowsong for Rag.

    So I see this as beneficial. Net-sum zero for the top end guilds, and potentially reducing inflation for the rest of us.

  10. Branah says:

    Watch to see the BMAH morph into the RMAH in the not too distant future. When they have ironed the bugs out of the D3 RMAH then BMAH items will be available for RM. Blizzard are addicted to money, players are addicted to gear. The BMAH to RMAH is far too tempting to resist.

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