When learning virtual world economies, I’m sure we’ve all gone through a wealth of good and bad experiences. The auction house, for example, can be an ever-fluid sandbox for players to play in, and it can provide challenge and reward in a competitive setting. I’m a huge social gamer, and love meeting new players and hearing their stories, auction house stories included. I’ve met amazing players who are dedicated auctioneers and who’ve become sort of server-legends because of their economic mastery.
Some players may have started playing MMOs back in the early days when games like Asheron’s Call did not yet have a set market system or a secure trade system. Back then, players needed a way to buy and sell items and had to use either external forums or shout their wares in cities. In the absence of a strong monetary system, shards and motes became AC’s currency.
Before wiki websites and detailed forums existed, MMOs had a huge sense of mystery and unknown about them. If you wanted to find out something you often just had to experiment. Final Fantasy XI gave me my first impression of a virtual economy. FFXI’s system is pretty unique because the prices of all items are hidden from the buyer. A person wishing to buy an item places a bid, and if the bid price is at least as much as the asking price then the buyer obtains the item and the bid price is sent to the seller. Note that only the seller knows what the asking price is and the full bid price is sent to the seller even if it is more than the asking price. If more than one of the same item is up for sale when a bid is made, the one with the lowest asking price is sold, or the one put up for auction first if there is a tie. This is to encourage a competitive market, though whether or not it works as intended is a hotly debated subject. This system can make it difficult for the casual player to simply sell one item, and it can make playing the various auction houses a game unto itself.
In addition, players have to group-up in order to progress through a lot of FFXI’s challenges. The caveat of course is that party invites can be hard to come by because they’re going to go to those with high-end gear. Players need to get the money, to get the gear, to get the groups, to play the game. Even though the auction house is just one component in the overall big picture, players often have to master it because, well, there’s often a lack of any other option to make money.
My fellow FFXI linkshell-mate explained that he used to have several notebooks filled with item prices across every AH with hyper detailed records and forecasts for profit margins. The notebooks were precisely what it sounds like. He had detailed notes that checked item prices across all four AHs and looked for price fluctuations—guidelines for scarcity applied. For example: Bastok had the lowest ore prices, San d’Oria had the lowest consumable goods prices, and Windurst was always a seller’s market built for anything that wasn’t cloth or earth crystals.
He would note how fast an item sold, the market saturation, and how much to undercut the price. Combining all this data enabled him to figure out how to beat the gil sellers at their own game. At this time, the Kujata server's economy was being wrecked by gil sellers controlling the prices of most in-demand commodities. They'd buy up all the stock and relist the prices for astronomical amounts. This tactic ensured that the only people who could afford to use the AH were the ones who purchased gil for cash.
He mulled over the price logs and tried to find a way he could cross the financial class divide without spending real money. He found the opportunity with Tree Cuttings. With a steep initial investment for the Porcelain Pots, and perfect timing for applying crystals, he could turn a huge profit. Tree Cuttings could be grown into Saplings, and Saplings could be grown into Ice Ore used in high-end crafting. The servers never had enough Ice Ore due to the month long process to produce it. Even then, it would only yield one ore for every Cutting that was put into the gardening hopper. With forty pots across four characters he could produce four Ice Ore every month. With an initial investment of 350,000 gil, he could turn it into 800,000 gil at the first harvest. Then with only 80,000 gil for the next round of materials he could make 720,000 gil profit every 28 days.
All this effort produced great results: my friend achieved all his AH goals, had all the gil he needed, and could afford the highest end-game gear. My AH stories have never turned out this positively, however, hehe. I’ve had my fair share of frustrating nights at the AH. But that’s okay, I’ll still attempt to be a decent auctioneer. ;)
Do you have a favorite or not-so-favorite AH story? I’d love to hear it!
Every week, Holder’s Dominion author Genese Davis opines about MMO gaming, the issues the genre faces, and the power of shaping online worlds.