@Stede, @Namssob, and I, who do the Call to Auction podcast together, recently sent some questions to Ghostcrawler and professions designer He-Rim Woo about the economy, the auction house, and professions. Here are their answers!
Thank you for taking some time to talk about this part of the game that we all find so engaging! The professions, auction house, and economy "mini-game" is one that touches almost every player, but has so much depth that it has become one of the primary pillars of play for a large and growing part of the
Here are, in no particular order, our questions:
1. Do you have anything interesting to share about your design plans for professions or the auction house?
A: For the auction house, overall I wouldn’t expect any radical overhauls. More on this below. We’d like to add some minor quality-of-life features, such as the ability to sort by unit price.
For professions, we’re talking a lot about how we want to handle them in future expansions. One of the biggest concerns is that we have so many professions now (including the secondary skills First Aid, Fishing, Cooking and Archaeology) that we can’t always give each the attention they deserve. We gave a lot of love to Blacksmithing in patch 5.2, but Alchemists or Enchanters might wonder when it’s their turn. Other considerations are how difficult (and expensive) it should be to switch professions, and whether you should remember old recipes if you drop a profession and then pick it up again. We’ve even considered whether it makes sense to let characters learn more than two professions (or maybe even all of them). We have nothing to announce yet in this direction. It’s just brainstorming at this stage.
2. Inflation: is it something you consider when designing content? What kinds of things do you do to control it?
A: Inflation is, in fact, something we consider when designing content, because it affects many aspects of the player experience. Gold needs to be meaningful. When a player kills a monster and loots gold or gray items, that should feel rewarding.
Managing an economy, however, is no trivial task, as I’m sure you are aware. :) In addition to many of the challenges that real-world economies face, WoW’s economy has other complications. The amount of USD introduced into the U.S. economy is controlled by the United States Treasury and the Federal Reserve. In WoW, however, the amount of gold that goes into circulation is determined by our players’ behavior. Every monster that is killed, every quest that is completed, creates more fresh currency that is added to the economic system. Gold is taken out of circulation not by a central bank, but by how much our players choose to interact with NPCs to purchase various items and services.
To make sure that gold feels rewarding but not punishing is a constant juggling act. We weigh the various ways players can generate gold vs. how gold gets taken out of the economy. We consider how the different ways of bringing currency into the system (e.g., gray items vs. completing a daily quest) compare with each other and how that feels to the player. We try to make sure that it isn’t too grueling for players to meet necessary expenditures (e.g., repair bills), while designing cool ways that players can spend (e.g., the Grand Expedition Yak, putting items on the Black Market Auction House, etc.) that make gold meaningful and remove currency from circulation. We spend a significant amount of time considering these things when we are launching an expansion, and we continue to monitor them throughout the cycle.
Ultimately, we want economic interactions between players to be a positive experience. When selling, a player’s efforts in participating in various content (e.g., gathering herbs, collecting cloth, making armor, etc.) should feel rewarding. When buying, the effort they put into making gold needs to translate into something they want and would otherwise not have access to—because, say, they don’t have an Herbalist, aren’t interested in Fishing, RNG never resulted in that rare item, etc. We pay attention to the value of gold, and therefore inflation, for these reasons.
3. Will we see more catch-up mechanisms like we have for Blacksmithing and Cooking? What drove the decision to add these?
A: We are aware of how, for many players, leveling their character and skilling up in their professions have gotten out of sync over the past eight years. For these players, catching up has become an increasingly complex and daunting task that requires them to go back to content that is no longer level-appropriate. When you were cooking Dragonfin Filets or some other food of that ilk at level 70, you (or the person from whom you were buying ingredients) went to areas that weren’t completely trivial compared to your character’s power, and the products of those efforts could be used meaningfully at your level. Now, for a character currently participating in Mists of Pandaria content, making Dragonfin Filets is neither challenging nor useful (they might as well be gray items for most players). We didn’t feel that this was a good experience, so we decided to start experimenting with catch-up mechanisms.
The Cooking catch-up mechanism that was introduced in 5.0 has been met with an overwhelmingly positive response from our players, so we’re continuing the experiment with Blacksmithing in 5.2. We’ll be keeping a close eye on how that impacts the player experience. For 5.3/5.4, we’re considering introducing Herbalism and Mining catch-up mechanisms. The current thinking is to allow characters of any skill level in those professions to gather from nodes in Pandaria, with the yield from the node being determined by the skill level. For example, a character with 1 skill in Mining will be able to mine a Ghost Iron Deposit, but it will yield far less Ghost Iron to him/her than if a character with 600 skill in Mining were to mine the same deposit. This means that a player who has lapsed in their Mining profession can catch up while doing level-appropriate content, but players who are already skilled miners have a marked advantage in terms of yield/effort.
4. Are you considering cross-realm auction houses to address the difficulties of getting along in a particularly large or small economy?
A: Yes. We don’t have any announcements to make, but we’re exploring whether it makes sense to merge together the auction houses (or maybe even player trading capability) of realms with small populations, including those with imbalanced faction populations so that the Horde or Alliance presence is small. If we did something like this, we’d do it selectively similar to how we merge lower-level realms with the Cross-Realm Zone feature. We don’t like the idea of region-wide AHs because that removes a lot of the potential for underbidding, cornering the market and so forth.
5. Do you have any plans you can tell us about for the pet auction house interface?
A: We ended up adding a lot of custom support for pets, such as unique tooltips and special sorting. There isn’t anything else on the immediate horizon, but we’re always open to suggestions that don’t cross over into, “Overhaul everything!”
6. Will we see any more tradable pets from the Blizzard store? How do you feel about the way the Guardian Cub experiment went?
A: “Experiment” is definitely the right word to use here, because we wanted to see how the community and the economy would respond to it. We talk about doing another, but currently don’t have any plans to do so.
7. The constant development to the Tillers farm has been wonderful - do you have any plans for it going forward?
A: As it makes sense. We added a few bits of additional content for patch 5.2 and we’re not sure if we’ll do more for future patches. Overall, we think Sunsong Ranch has been a great feature for Mists. It started out as a side project for one of our quest designers and just turned into one of the signature features for the expansion. We’ll likely explore similar features in the future.
Some of these next questions are more of a wish list compiled from various members of The Consortium gold-making forum. Some of them exist already in the form of add-ons, however the vast majority of players in the economy use the default UI for the auction house and professions.
1. There have been incremental improvements to the auction house UI over time, but have you considered a complete overhaul? It would be nice to be able to see competitive auctions on the same page we post from, as well as save searches and group identical auctions onto the same line while searching.
A: A complete overhaul is unlikely. Our UI would have to be totally, irreparably broken for us to want to foist a brand-new design on our players, and while you can certainly enumerate flaws in the current AH UI, it doesn’t quite fall into the irreparably broken category. Anytime we make big changes to the game, even if the end result is a better design, it does have costs in terms of player confusion. It’s easy to come up with suggestions to make the default AH interface more powerful, but we’re also totally comfortable with the idea of user add-ons providing individual players what they’re looking for.
2. Will we ever be able to buy arbitrary quantities from an auction? Like split a single dust off from an auction of 200?
A: That’s not super high on our feature list. The AH is generally easier to search, especially for non-power users, when things are in stacks. And splitting off a few units from a stack tends to create more stacks of differing sizes.
3. Would you consider adding buy orders for more than big-ticket rare items? It would allow regular AH users as well as "power users" to walk up to an auctioneer, post an auction, and get an instant sale.
A: This is a feature we’ve discussed a lot, and specifically for the big-ticket items. We understand the challenge in making, say, an epic weapon or a Mechano-Hog, listing it, and hoping someone out there will purchase one before you pay too much in fees. We’re not excited about buy orders for, say, flasks or more pedestrian consumables or trade materials–we think browsing posted auctions works fine there.
4. Would you consider increasing the maximum time for auctions to something like a week or a month?
A: Generally, my instinct is to make the auctions shorter and shorter. My sense is that many players want the item immediately. Using the Buyout option and sitting and waiting to see if a low-ball bid ended up winning is something attractive only to players who are playing the auction house, as opposed to just looking for a gem or enchant.
edit: this question was asked and answered as I was transcribing this interview
4.1 A clarification on one question (as I'm writing these up)- when we were asking for an increase to the maximum auction time, it was to reduce the amount of time gold makers have to spend managing large quantities of auctions. If you list 2 of each cut of gem and every glyph, it takes a long time to relist every two days- you have to empty several hundred failed and succeeded auctions at a rate of 50 per minute, a task that's too large for people to want to do without addons. If instead, people could drop by the AH on the weekend, post everything for sale, and then not have to worry about relisting until next weekend, you'd find more sales going to casual players (which is better for the design and the economy!)
A: Yeah, that makes sense. I think we’d consider it if there was a slick way to limit it to just certain items. For instance, you could pretty much always assume there will be a flask on the AH so having a longer limit doesn’t have much effect there, and as I said, it seems like the default behavior is just to use buy out anyway. For things where players are actually bidding (and in the sense that they want the item, not necessarily just to relist it as a profit) I worry longer durations would just be annoying. I can’t claim we’ve thought about it whole lot though.
5. Have you considered separating the mail system from the auction house? If not, would you consider adding the ability for people to empty all their mail with one click?
A: Yes, we have considered separating mail as the AH delivery mechanism. One of our design values at Blizzard is to constantly ask, “What is the fantasy?” When a player chooses a warrior on the character creation screen, it’s likely because they have this fantasy in their head of a plate-wearing axe-swinging spell-eschewing juggernaut. Along those same lines, we can’t imagine that the fantasy of being an auction house tycoon is parking a low-level naked alt next to a mailbox in order to be able to receive all those glyphs you just won. Similarly, wouldn’t it be great if seeing mail made you think that someone wrote you a letter, and not that your Ghost Iron Bars expired? This isn’t a short-term change players are likely to see soon, but it’s a pet feature of mine and I know the programmers on our team would love to see it as well.
6. Will we ever see the ability to prospect or mill all, the way we can smelt all?
A: This is another long-term feature we’ve had. The challenge is that the game doesn’t know which herbs or minerals you want to process, so if there was just a “Do it” button, the game would have to decide whether to pick your cheapest materials or your most expensive, or whatever, and you’d have to hope it didn’t mill the wrong herbs. (“I didn’t mean to mill all that Fool’s Cap!”) There is a reason that deleting an epic item asks you for a confirmation. What we’d need is a UI where you could select the materials you want to use and queue those up. That’s something we can build, and have discussed a lot, but it isn’t the kind of feature we would get just by flipping a bit.
7. On the topic of grinding for professions, would you consider allowing materials processing to be offloaded (for a cost, maybe) to an NPC? Maybe an opportunistic Ethereal or a friend of Nomis?
A: That’s another option, though we could perhaps solve it simpler with the UI mentioned above. The degree to which we ground professions to specific physical spaces in the world is something we struggle with often. Again, getting back to what the fantasy is, it makes sense to go to an anvil to bang out metals. It might even make sense to visit a loom to weave cloth, but overall that’s the sort of thing we have moved away from. Having a summonable NPC wouldn’t be a burden, but having to travel to a specific location might be.