Thursday, April 17, 2014

Auction Houses and Mega-Servers

MMOs are moving towards a single-server model. But this brings up an interesting wrinkle with Auction Houses or markets.

Markets with a very large number of participants are hyper-efficient. As Diablo 3 and Guild Wars 2 proved, they are so efficient that they cease to be fun.  Margins get rapidly driven towards zero. While that's great for buyers, it's not so much fun for sellers or traders. And we're all sellers at some point, if only to sell a neat Bind-On-Equip item we found while leveling.

I think what the last few years in MMOs have shown is that markets need to be somewhat inefficient to be fun. They can't be too inefficient, as in the case of too small servers, because there needs to be enough supply, and somewhat predictable prices.

It is interesting to see how the current single-server MMOs are handling this issue. The grand-daddy of this model is Eve Online. Eve has many markets. Every solar system is a separate market. These markets are separated by distance and time. This setup is pretty good. Some systems (Jita, for example) get known as trade hubs. Moving goods between trade hubs provides for arbitrage and interesting gameplay for the goblins among us. It's also a system which feels very natural and realistic.

However, this setup requires that your universe be set up in a certain way, with significant travel time between each hub, and a population spread out across the universe. It is not really a model for themepark games where people tend to follow the same "flow" as they move from zone to zone.

The Elder Scrolls Online handles things slightly differently. Each guild has its own auction house. Each guild is capped at 500 members. But a player can belong to up to 5 guilds at the same time. So most players will end up joining two or three "trade" guilds, which are dedicated to trading. This does give a decent selection, and also allows for a bit of arbitrage between guilds.

The downsides here are that it does seem a little weird to have these continent-spanning guilds which cannot talk to each other. As well, most guilds will want their 500 players to be active. I'm not sure how someone who plays very casually, maybe logging in once or twice a week, would fit into these guilds. Too many of these types of players, and your guild market becomes dead.

All in all, this is an intriguing problem. As more and more MMOs move towards the single-server model, it will be interesting to see what new solutions are brought forward.


  1. The GW2 auction house might be "too efficient" but in ESO trading does not exist for me. I haven't traded a single item to today.

    So yes, I prefer a "too efficient" AH over a game with limited storage space where you can't sell (and buy back) your crafting materials.

    In the end, a highly efficient AH like GW2 has, is nothing more but an gigantic extension of your bank.

  2. In my experience AHs in MMOs are generally biased towards rich veterans more than new players as the game matures. People can afford to splash crazy amounts on even low tier crafting mats or quality gear for their latest 'twink' alt.

    If you know how these things work you can quickly make some fast cash in a new game by selling in-demand low resources of course but in general if you want to power level crafting yourself it'll be very expensive.

    GW2 is the only game I've played so far with a unified AH and it was such a contrast to the model above (which I've seen in WoW, LOTRO, Rift, SWTOR and other similar games).

    Perhaps it's a good thing that super wealthy capped characters cannot drive up the price of items so easily. But then as the post states it's a bit of a nightmare for the casual market player, like myself. I really enjoy selling stuff on the AH, I can't express why in particular. It's a community interaction I enjoy in all the MMOs I play. I'm not a spreadsheet using obsessive about prices or profit. I just put spare items or mats on to make a few coins here and there. I've rarely bothered in GW2 as the system is so seller-unfriendly...

  3. GW2 had problems at the start where you could find anything you want almost in vendor price..but now they fixed that!

    First of all, salvage an item, gives you luck. Consuming luck you get magic find (you need tons of things to salvage to even get in 1/3 of magic find). End game armor also drop (when you salvage them) bop materials used in crafting the top armor (Dark Matters -> Ascended gear).

    Secondly, they made low level materials that you get from salvage worth a lot by having them required in crafting the best gear (Ascended).

    So now, it is much better to salvage items instead of sell them cheap. And now all items in the AH have good prices if not overpriced...

    So global AH is not the problem if you find a way for the game economy to work.

  4. Wildstar has an interesting feature I haven't seen before but it may not be new. You can play a buy or sell order for most materials. Basically this allows the player to say I will pay for x number of this item at y price. If if comes up for sale at that price, your buy order will execute. Sell orders work the same way. You can also sell now and you can see what other players are currently willing to pay.

    The result is that you can build up your bank very nicely by selling off the mats you don't need but others do. But it keeps prices from skyrocketing. It also helps that there tends to be a lot of mats for trade skills in the game.

    Another added benifit is that you don't have to scroll through pages to find the best deal out there for a certain item.

  5. STO has a unified server, but a WoW-style AH model and I don't really find it all that "efficient". Prices vary wildly, and there's a definate ebb and flow to it.

    Maybe it's more the presence (or lack thereof) of market analysis tools. I generally find participating in AH systems not worth my time in most games, because I have no way to determine what is truly a "fair" price. So I'm sure that many people are just throwing things up at whatever defaults it's spitting out or what have you, which drives prices down.

    I feel that I need to have an Auctioneer-like system to be able to properly participate. It's surprising that FF14 manages to have a pretty decent one built in, though it's only accessible as you try to post something to one of the markets.

    I also still say that D3's AH problem wasn't efficiency, but the fact that hardly anything was ever truly removed from it. When you buy gear on the AH in WoW and use it, you can't resell it (generally speaking). But that's what the model in D3 was: You got gear on the AH, used it until it was obsolete, then resold it to fund buying new gear.

  6. Personally I like the EVE model but I also understand it takes a pretty activate game world. Having AH's scattered around the world sort of fails if no one visits certain ones.

    Which for me is odd because I tend to be a more casual player, but I do think it can work.

  7. Sorry for late comment; I wanted to add that I liked an idea I had found on a blog - I believe it's Psychochild's blog but am not sure. (I apologize to whoever came with it and Psychochild in case it wasn't his idea.) The point is, common and uncommon (rare) items would be treated differently: Less common items' markets would have larger number of participants, e. g. one AH for the whole game if the items are rare enough, because a smaller portion of the population trades such items. On the other hand, markets for common items can be separated by trading hubs or other means in order to limit the number of players trading in a particular market.