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The staff of MMORPG.com gets together to bring you some behind the scenes insights on stories, the industry and the site itself.

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Contributors: BillMurphy,MikeB,garrett,SBFord,Grakulen,

Community Spotlight: Do Auction Houses Kill Community?

Posted by MikeB Sunday October 7 2012 at 7:03PM
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In this week's Community Spotlight, we're focusing on the thread, "Auction House: Death of Community" by Myrdynn. In the thread, Myrdynn declares that auction houses are the culprit for what he perceives as the death of communities in MMOs:

I have long been thinking of posting this, finally getting a little time to do so.  While playing some games recently, TSW, GW2, SWtor, TERA, etc over the last year, it has dawned on me that the biggest community killer is the Auction House.  Recently games (TSW and GW2) launched without a proper AH, and until they were put in place, people actually talked in the channels, making deals, helping people, selling mats etc.  I actually made a couple acquaintances that were heavy crafters, who just were after all the supplies they could get their hands on, and I was willing to help em out.  It was a good relationship.  Then the AH was fixed, and since then I havent even talked to a single person in game.  Before you say, well I should try making friends, there really is nothing in either TSW or GW2 that having friends makes beneficial.  I dont need them to do anything in game, I dont need them to craft anything for me, etc.

Now long ago, the games we played didnt have Auction Houses, and they were very strong communities.  Everyone on a server knew that if you wanted a Ubersword of Giant Slaying, that BobJohnson was the one that could craft it the best, or you could at least ask around and see if someone could hook you up.  This built community, numerous times, a conversation would go something like.  Hey I hear you can make me "item X', sure I can, but the mats are really tough to come by.  But why dont we get a group together and go out on a hunting party to find them.  You get your mats, you help me skill up one of my crafting skills, its a win/win.  Friendships were formed, alliances were forged, etc.

Unfortunately with the have it all now crowd that play MMO's Auction Houses are an evil necessity.  You collect your mats, sell them on the AH for X currency, then search for the item you want and bam, you got it, very short time, very EZ.  But during this time, you have no interaction with another player whatsoever, hell you dont even know who made you your item.  Items used to be imprinted with crafters as well, so that when someone says hey where did you get that sword you could inspect it and it would say made by "player X".

Anyways, I know I am going to likely be in the minority, but its something I have been thinking of for some time.  I think a happy medium might be a game where an Auction House isnt really an AH, but a Job listing, for example you want "Sword X" you search the AH database of "who" can craft it, and it will give you a list with (online/offline) status's, where you then actually need to interact with a player, It might not be all that much different but at least its a step back in the right direction

Thoughts?

Does the MMORPG.com community agree? Let's find out!

Leoghan feels the issue is a bit more complicated:

I've played a lot of MMO's some with AH's at launch and some without. I remember EQ before there was a bazaar and I don't remember the addition of the bazaar changing the social aspect of the game. 

If I remember correctly SWG launched with the market terminals or whatever they called them, I think that game probably had one of the best communities especially when it came to learning who was the best at crafting what and the like. 

The reality is that community shaping is not just about one aspect. Heck I think the ability to tab out of game and look up things like quest guides or other game related things can have as big an impact on community, if not bigger, than an AH can.

Rhavens definitely agrees that auction houses have played a role in impacting player communities:

I have to agree with the OP on this one. In the early days of SWG, crafters could have their own merchants or vendors in their houses, but we had to know the guy and know what he was crafting, otherwise we didn't even know where to find a house with a vendor in it (of course it was also possible to explore a planet and try all houses hoping to find a vendor). There was a bazaar but there was a price limit on it so it was more profitable for a crafter to have his own vendors or interact directly with a potential buyer and more efficient for all players to know them. Then came the "personal vendors location" on the bazaar and the social aspect of crafting and commerce took a big hit.

I don't say that having a auction house is good or not, I'm just staying with the OP about how it affect social. For some, interacting directly with a crafter is the best or more fun way to do buisness, for others, it's the fast and practical side of the auction house.

tomato_kwan argues that, if anything, the auction house helps communities:

So you mean a bunch of people spamming "WTS XXXXX" like 10 times a minute builds a community heh?

No AH doesn't destroy the community. In fact it helps. At least people would bother reading the channels.......

I miss old school MMORPGs but AH is a nice feature. If the game content is group/social oriented, AH won't "kill" the community. People that don't bother socializing do.

I also agree with many others in the thread that noted the issue is far more complex than the single issue of auction houses. If the game has the roots of a strong economy with a solid interdependence between players, a robust auction house may limit the potential for players to really interact with each other in a meaningful way, which should be the main purpose of applying that level of interdependence to your game design in the first place. In a sense, you're shooting yourself in the foot if you require players to depend on each other, but let them circumvent the social benefits of doing so by just going through an auction house. You get all the annoying bits, and not as much of the good stuff. Placing buy orders for items you can't make and getting an e-mail with the item a couple of days later doesn't really do much to foster community.

SWG was mentioned as a good example of a game that struck a balance between having an auction house of sorts and encouraging interaction in trading. Goods sold through a player shop out in the game world could be purchased on the bazaar terminal, but players would still have to venture out and pick it up at the originating vendor. Entering the shop, even if the merchant wasn't there, might impress the buyer and encourage him to check out his other vendors or even contact him for custom orders. I can personally attest to this having happened to me.

Of course, if the merchant is there, and they frequently were, it would often lead to some interesting conversation, and perhaps additional business. Heck, I developed a relationship with a pair of Mon Cal weapon and armorsmiths during my early adventures in SWG simply by wandering over to their shop and picking up some low tier weaponry to get things rolling. We chatted a bit and I ended up shopping there quite a bit. Eventually, these two merchants would pay me to take them out to dangerous areas so they could place their harvesters and acquire high quality resources. Had I just bought my items blindly off of an auction house, I don't think these opportunities would really ever present themselves.

Ultimately, the impact of an auction house on the in-game community really depends on the game, but I don't think even in the worst case scenario that auction houses are ever responsible for outright 'killing' an in-game community. There's much more to community than economic-based interaction.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below!