Playing the Auction House: March Data

As part of learning about the economy for my own business ventures, I decided to make a study of what World of Warcraft players call “playing the Auction House”, in which they try to make profits solely by reselling goods bought from other players instead of going out and obtaining these goods directly from the game world. In February, I ran two characters on two different servers to dip my toes into the world of buying and re-selling. My preliminary findings left me with many more questions about the Auction House economy, and so the study continued!

In the month of March, my study followed six characters, each with a different marketing scheme for selling their goods. These characters remained on the combined server of Cenarion Circle and Sisters of Elune, a relatively small North American RP server, as well as one of the oldest. I will summarize some of my findings below.

Maluki – A Lesson in Bulk

First, I continued taking data for Maluki, which, if you remember from the February data, focused mainly on buying and selling Linen Cloth. Not a whole lot changed here–every so often he would still have windfalls of Linen Cloth being way underpriced, and there were still dry spells where his cloth wouldn’t sell.

I did still learn one lesson this month from Maluki, however. For a couple of weeks, he kept re-posting a stack of 80 units of Linen Cloth that then wouldn’t sell. Out of curiosity, I instead tried posting them in stacks of 40 units of Linen Cloth each, and bam, they sold the next day.

There isn’t enough data to tell, but this does lend to my hunch that sometimes, it may be worth selling resources in smaller stacks. Linen Cloth in particular is used by new characters with little money to their names; just as I had trouble buying out the bigger stacks for lack of money to plop down all at once, new characters may be running into the same issue. My 80 units of Linen Cloth may have been outside of their price range, but 40 units was within it. This will be a topic for further study, but I will have to think carefully on how to structure the experiment so it is mathematically sound.

Furen – A Lesson in Recessions

Of my new characters, Furen was the second to take up the mantle of merchant prince. Furen’s scheme focused on the selling of profession materials from the latest expansion, namely Tidespray Linen. He started with almost 2,000 gold and one unit of Tidespray Linen to his name. Tidespray Linen was easy to buy up–often there was more than one careless player who underpriced their Tidespray Linen, that I could then buy up and expect to make back a few hundred gold in profit.

Unfortunately, that’s not what happened. By the end of the month, Furen had barely 500 gold but also almost 200 units of Tidespray Linen that he had been unable to sell. What happened there, Furen?

Overall, Furen was a lesson of the forces driving the greater market. I got to witness the price of Tidespray Linen crashing in March, going from selling for a little under 10 gold per unit to barely 3 gold per unit by the end of the month.

Why the market crashed is a matter of speculation. One reason might be that crafting this expansion is not terribly useful for later raid progression: you level your Tailoring (the main profession that uses Tidespray Linen) up to max, and then you forget about it. Those obsessive enough to want their Tailoring as high as it can go are likely the sort to do so near the beginning of the expansion, and the prices only fall from there as the demand drops, but the supply–more players out there getting Tidespray Linen from loot–only ever increases.

I intend to keep taking data for Furen to see if this trend turns around and if March was just a fluke, but it doesn’t look good for his gold stockpile. We will see!

Zauth – A Lesson in Patience

Zauth was my third character. Zauth’s focus was on buying and re-selling consumables that are used in World of Warcraft endgame raids. I would comb the Auction House for cut gems and enchantments that were underpriced, then buy them up to resell. Zauth started the month with a little less than 300 gold, and ended the month with a little more than 200 gold, but with a stock over 20 enchantments that sell for at least 50 gold each, but may also see buying prices as high as 200 gold each!

Overall, I’ve concluded that buying and selling consumables is great business, but it is also one that takes patience. Many of the consumables only sell after a couple weeks of constant re-posting, and then only in a trickle of one to two at a time. I wouldn’t recommend this method for any looking for quick cash., but if you are willing to wait, and diligent in how often you post, you can probably make thousands.

I will probably continue Zauth’s participation in the study. Not only do I need to get rid of these enchantments, but I don’t mind the extra spending money it gives me, either!

Iodi – A Lesson on Monopolies

Iodi was one of my characters dedicated to an experiment outlined in the February data. This experiment was to see if you could buy items from NPC vendors and then turn around and resell them to players for a profit, based only on Auction House posting fees (which are returned to you upon your item selling).

Iodi focused on Durable Flux as her main sale. This was my big mistake. Due to a new game mechanic, where players can “scrap”, or salvage, quality gear, Durable Flux has flooded the market. Plate armor and most weapons return Durable Flux to the player upon being scrapped, but only one or two crafting professions use it. Though NPC vendors sell Durable Flux for about 25 silver per, I could often find a full stack’s worth of Durable Flux for sale on the Auction House at 10 silver per unit or lower.

Doggedly, I decided to make use of another economy trick for Iodi’s part in the study: to see if I could drive up the price by buying up the low-priced Durable Flux and then posting my own for higher. For the entire month I was buying up Durable Flux in the 100’s each day whenever it was below my goal of 25 silver per unit.

Iodi started this experiment with roughly 1,500 gold and 50 units of Durable Flux. By the end, she had about 1,250 gold and over 1,600 units of Durable Flux, and not one of them had sold. Wow! That said, I had managed to push the price of Durable Flux up from about 8 silver all the way up to 20 silver. Not bad, if I do say so myself, and it proves that it is very possible to artificially inflate prices when you monopolize the market, as Iodi did. Overall, this was sobering for me and even had me feeling a little dishonest–or would, if it hadn’t taken so much patience, doggedness, and a good deal of free cash to push the price up there. As it is, my goal price of 25 silver per unit has not yet been reached. That will be a goal for later months, though in the name of SCIENCE, not greed.

Ithelion – A Lesson on Fees

Ithelion was the other character that attempted making a profit through Auction House fees alone. Learning from my mistake of using a crafting material that was widely obtainable through other sources than the expensive NPC vendors, I instead focused on Crystal Vials, which are used heavily in Alchemy, which is in turn used heavily for making potions for raids, and are only available from NPC vendors.

Ithelion started the experiment with a a little under 15 gold, and by the end of the experiment, he had just 14 gold, unfortunately disproving my theory–you can’t make a profit on Auction House fees alone. For this reason, his part in the study will be discontinued.

However, as a point of interest, the Crystal Vials did sell, and relatively easily, which surprised me. Is this the price of convenience coming into play? If I had pushed their prices up a little more, would they still sell? But what surprised me even more was there was often another player or two posting Crystal Vials on the Auction House for a couple gold a pop! (For perspective, Crystal Vials go for about 7 copper each from the vendors, or 0.0007% of a gold piece.) I am desperately curious if that player ever saw sales considering how ridiculously overpriced these vials were, but in all honesty, I’m not feeling dishonest enough to attempt it myself!

Jassare – A Lesson in Demand vs. Supply

The final participant in my study this month was Jassare. She had a collection of pets that originated from sometime back in the Cataclysm expansion. A sweeping change was made at that time to herald the pet battle mechanics introduced in the next expansion (Mists of Pandaria): instead of every character carrying around her pet collection in her personal inventory, the pets were now accessible through a list that every character on a player’s account could use. This list only allowed three pets of each type to be added to it though, and so I had several pets left over that were no longer of any use to me.

Despite having about 20 or 30 of the little buggers, and playing with buying low-priced pets to push up the price, not a single one sold during the month of March. From beginning to end of the month, Jassare lost more than 2,000 gold.

However, there is more to the story here, which leads me to continuing Jassare’s experiment across two different characters in the future. One piece of the story is that the pets I was selling were obtainable from NPC vendors and relatively easily: thus trying to sell them for big money would be like that guy Ithelion encountered, who was trying to sell 7 copper Crystal Vials for 2 gold. There are other pets who are not so easily obtainable that may sell much better, though: pets that come from raid bosses, from being captured in the wild, from crafters, and from hidden treasure chests and rare monsters in some of the later expansions.

The other piece of the story is that, after the Mists of Pandaria change, pets now have both experience levels and quality levels. While I was playing the Auction House with Jassare, it wasn’t too uncommon to see people selling pets at cap level, or at cap quality for much higher price points–their seller had taken the time to level them up before posting them.

Hence my plan for two new branching studies. One is that Jassare will continue to buy and sell, but will focus on non-vendor pets this go-around. The second is an alternate character will start taking Jassare’s pets and training them to see if this makes them sell better. I will use an alternate character for this primarily for record keeping purposes: in the process of fighting pet battles, your character gains experience levels and sometimes loot, which I don’t want muddying the data.

In Conclusion

In Conclusion, the great Auction House study goes on! Maluki and perhaps another character or two will focus on the power of selling items in several stacks instead of one big chunk. Furen will keep on attempting to sell his Tidespray Linen and hope the recession was only a temporary one. Zauth has a lot of profit to make. Iodi will continue to be the greedy–I mean, the scientifically interested–dwarf she is and see how high she can push the price of Durable Flux. Jassare will adjust her marketing strategy as well as enlist help to sell cap-level pets. Look for the next update at the beginning of May!

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