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What WoW Economy?

It has been about 20 days since I’ve been mainlining WoW again, and I have yet to get a handle on economy. Not that I anticipated being some AH genius within a week or two, but I don’t even seen the contours of this beast. And I am beginning to doubt they exist.

Way back in the glory days of Wrath, there was the Saronite Shuffle. This was when you could take a stack of Saronite Ore and – through brilliant AH scheming and a stable full of max-profession alts – turn those 20 pieces of ore into damn near anything. The Shuffle was a cornerstone of my gold gains through Wrath, Cataclysm, and even when I came back to Mists.

In looking back at posts like this, I damn near had to wipe a tear for the nostalgia:

Right now, for example, I buy Ghost Iron Ore at 4g apiece (and below). This ore ends up being:

  • Smelted into Ghost Iron Bars –> Transmuted into Trillium Bars –> Transmuted into Living Steel
  • Prospected –> Rare gems cut for >60g minimum
  • Prospected –> Uncommon gems turned into necks/rings –> Rare necks/rings procs sold for 300g, uncommon necks/rings Disenchanted for Dust
  • Disenchanted Dust –> Enchanting scrolls and/or sold for mats

Near as I can tell, the Shuffle is dead in Warlords. At least, if it once existed, prices have warped so much since then as to make it unprofitable.

What’s worse, Blizzard made a number of changes in Warlords that, in retrospect, were probably rooted in heading off PR problems with the eventual WoW Token rollout. For example, players are limited to wearing three (3) crafted pieces of Warlords gear. You know, despite there being enough patterns to completely outfit someone. Why do that? So that someone couldn’t drop $400 in WoW Tokens and be decked out in ilevel 675+ gear at level 91. Unfortunately, that makes the likelihood of someone buying your crafted bracers or whatever pretty remote, unless said person already has better gear in other slots. The sanest path would be to upgrade the most impactful slots such as weapons and the like.

Compounding this issue is the way Blizzard is handling professions in general this expansion. Profession bonuses are gone, which is… understandable in a way. When raiders are willing to spend hours farming mats for a +20 stat boost, having professions grant many orders of magnitude better buffs forced people to make unfortunate decisions in which professions to pick. This also meant opening up profession-specific toys to the general public as well, a direct nerf to Engineering. Then the Stat Squish (and a desire to have raid drops be useful immediately) turned gem slots into extra-rare occurrences, a direct nerf to Jewelcrafting. I don’t even want to get into the problem with opening profession buildings up in Garrisons did to everything else.

The bottom line is I have no idea what’s going on in the WoW economy anymore. I was looking to see if there was a point in doing my Alchemy daily cooldown on Azuriel, and saw this today:

Does not compute.

Does not compute.

Let me save you the math: the higher-level Strength flask sells not only less than the mats (18g vs 33g), it’s selling for less than the lower-level flask. I had already long-since dropped my Alchemy Shack for a Salvage Yard, but this is making me want to drop Alchemy altogether. Remember those Alchemy bonuses that have been in-game since Burning Crusade? Don’t work for Draenor goods. This is just a class-A market failure. Why is the Alchemy cooldown item tradable whereas nearly all the others are BoP? Because fuck you, that’s why.

Near as I can tell, we are living in the age of The Drop Economy. In other words, you don’t make gold from crafting or shuffling, you make gold from farming drops and selling that to people who don’t want to farm. I have little doubt there are some arbitrage opportunities – the Garrison AH robot parts seem to be going for insane prices considering you can just AH on an alt – but most gold seems generated from one’s Garrison. Which… isn’t unworkable, it’s just unfathomably less interesting to me.

The Shuffle was engaging. It rewarded outside game research, learning in-game mechanics, leveling multiple profession toons, and kept the gears of the economy moving. What we have now? Farming raids and vendoring all the things? I would almost rather farm ore. If, you know, there was actually any gold in doing that. And to an extent, the problem no longer exists under the WoW Token paradigm. Spending $20 on 23,000g is a bad deal IMO. At the same time, I’d prefer not spending hours soloing old raids each week.

I have made around 15,000g so far this expansion. Want to know how? Selling Living Steel and Arcanite Bars. I shit you not. And I will continue doing so until I run out of old-world supplies, grow bored with the current AH nonsense, and “unsubscribe.” I love what Blizzard has done with the Garrison generally, but everything outside of it? I’m missing goddamn Cataclysm over here.

If I have missed anything big out of the above picture, let me know. Otherwise this is just depressing.

Need-Based Socialization

Keen has a rather curious post asking “Should Everyone Craft Everything?” The premise of his argument is that specialization is the root of socialization, and as such, a proper MMO would not allow everyone to craft everything. In fact, anyone who suggests that they should be allowed to have some level of self-sufficiency is “an entitled xenophobe” better left to single-player games, and the catering to whom is a “dumbing down” of a MMO to the “lowest common denominator.”

Which, along with the Free Space, is a full Bitter MMO Vet Bingo.

Special thanks to Keen, SynCaine, and Tobold for the inspiration.

Special thanks to Keen, SynCaine, Tobold, and their commenters for the inspiration.

The fig leaf proffered is that perhaps everyone can make all the basic recipes, but that only specialists can make the best items. However, the whole notion is ridiculous, for a number of reasons.

First, you cannot “force” specialization in any game that allows alts. It wasn’t even much of a commitment on my part to develop a full stable of crafting alts in WoW because I wanted the ability to switch up my endgame play-style anyway. Even if you imagine that your perfect MMO limited you solely to one character per account, people could bypass the restriction via multiple accounts. That is, after all, exactly what EVE players do when they circumnavigate the restrictions of real-time skill gains (itself a way of forcing specialization). I suppose on the plus side, this makes your subscriber numbers look pretty peachy.

Second, you don’t actually need mutually-exclusive specializations in order to have a robust economy, as Keen claims. Within the beginning chapters of every Economics 101 textbook is an explanation of comparative advantage. The simple version is that two villages can produce both rice and fish, but at differing ratios: Island A can produce 10 units of rice or 5 units of fish in a day, and Island B can produce 10 units of fish or 5 units of rice. The ideal proposition is for Island A to produce rice, Island B to produce fish, and then trade half for half with one another, leaving both the richer for it. In fact, an economy between the two islands works even if Island A can produce everything more efficiently than Island B.

Or, perhaps more simply put, there is an opportunity cost to every action, regardless of whether or not you can do everything yourself. Any in-game economy will continue humming at full speed as long as one person is willing to mine ore and another more willing to farm gold than ore. Even though I could make everything myself in WoW, I still bought huge sums of materials and even finished goods because it was faster than doing it myself. Indeed, the existence of an AH at all will typically create entire economies by itself (barring ghost town populations).

Finally, there is a curious sort of bluntness to the dispassionate thought that people need to be forced to interact with one another via extreme limitations. Don’t get me wrong, I am someone who is thoroughly behind the idea of Divine Trinity and other forms of implicit specialization. But I feel like these sort of roles should be arrived at organically, rather than at the character select screen. I am a tank because I enjoy being a tank, not because I happened to pick “Paladin” in 2008. If I had stuck with Warlock, my first WoW character, how much less value would I have brought to the game, to the friends I made, and to my own game experience? As WoW has proven time and again, and even in the largely role-less GW2, just because everyone can be a tank (or tank-like), doesn’t mean they are willing to step into that role. So what possible good can come from shackling a potential tank to a dreary DPS-only experience? “So specialization matters”?

Further, the days in which I am inclined to make new friends out of perfect virtual strangers is largely in the past, and no amount of cumbersome game mechanics will get me back to that place. Even if extreme specialization is for the next generation of MMO player’s sake, I’m rather skeptical that such methods would at all work out the way people imagine they would. As Tobold recently pointed out, our generation of gamers were playing MMOs before the advent of Facebook and other social media – our games were our social media, our place to meet like-minded individuals. MMOs these days are 3-monthers not because they lack in content or design, but because we’re unwilling or unable to invest the social capital necessary to maintain our interest. And why would we? Either we brought along all the friends we already have, or they didn’t make the jump with us. In both cases, we’re full-up on social interaction, thanks.

So, essentially, I say let people do what they want, and they will sort themselves out according to their predilections.

Systemic Concerns About the GW2 Economy

It may seem a bit premature to wonder about the Guild Wars 2 economy, considering the game has only be out for a week or so. But a comment by Chris K over on Syncaine’s GW2 Review post got me thinking about whether the game’s structure makes the economy unlikely to ever “recover” from its current bizzaro state:

“The trend [of crafting being pointless] will not persist. Currently people are levelling crafting only for the xp gains. It is, essentially, buying levels with gold. When the majority of these people hit the level cap then you’ll start seeing a decent economy forming.

At least I hope so…”

I have reported before that the GW2 devs made it a point of pride that the crafting system alone can get you to level 80, assuming you feed an alt enough mats. But Chris makes an astute observation that crafting, even when the market is vendor+1c, has a point: easy, scaled XP gains.

So think about it. Going 1-400 in one profession will net you 10 levels of XP at increasingly large costs (primarily in vendor mats, but also karma recipes, etc). Or you could simply go 1-40 (etc) in all eight crafting professions and net 8 levels’ worth of XP much more easily. Why wouldn’t you do this on all your alts? Or your main for that matter, considering that you continue earning Skill points for “leveling” past 80 to spend as Mystic Forge currency.

Changing crafting professions to a new one is a completely painless process with no upfront costs, and all your progress in a dropped profession is saved. Switching back to even a 400-level profession only sets you back 40s – not a completely trivial amount at current gem exchange rates, but way less than I expected. There are no profession bonuses that I know of, and even if there are BoP gear recipes, the lack of gear progression at endgame makes it a mostly moot point.

All of this + the global Trading Post + the existence of Buy/Sell Orders makes me think it unlikely that the Guild Wars 2 economy will ever meaningfully mature from its current state. I have every incentive to start all eight crafting professions on all five of my character slots, and so does everyone else. Doing exactly that will continue to put huge Demand pressure on low-level mats, even if gold inflation raises prices across the board. I can maybe see higher level gear selling for more than vendor+1c once fewer people are leveling crafting past 125 (etc), but the moment it does there will be ten thousand wannabe goblins squeezing into the margins.

Not that I am particularly complaining about the ease in which I can finance cash shop purchases here. I just think ArenaNet really screwed up in the incentive department, on the same level and scale as Blizzard did with Diablo 3. I never thought I would look back on WoW’s discrete Auction House markets and extreme Profession-hopping disincentives with nostalgia, but here we are.

If there is ever a Crafting system failure metric, the “vendor+1c” phenomenon is it.