Imagine a typical glyph market on a busy realm: dozens of goblins sitting hunched over their steam calculators surrounding the trading pit, each figuring their costs and profits down to the last copper trying to gain an advantage over the others. Thousands of glyphs are posted every hour, most to be canceled and reposted an hour later at even lower prices. Eventually, one of the goblins has a flash of brilliance (or cracks under the strain; the records aren't clear) and posts all of his glyphs at a loss. The calculation engines grind to a stop, leaving the goblins to stare up at the big board in silence, then at each other. "Now what?"
We call it the wall. One scribe picks a price and tries to hold the entire market to that price. If it holds, the market stops at the wall, and everyone on the other side watches helplessly as sales drop to zero. Sometimes it's done to drive off competitors; sometimes it's done to dissuade new competitors from entering the market, or just to burn up excess ink supplies ... or even just out of boredom to cause pointless drama, goblin style.
Like all good goblin inventions, the wall appears simple on the outside, but remains complicated (and somewhat explosive) when put into practice. One complication is that there is more actually more than one type of wall.
The low wall
The basic wall is quite simple: Pick a price just above the cost of the ink and post a few bazillion glyphs at that price. Other scribes will be forced to choose between selling below you at a loss and not selling at all. In theory, this locks the other scribes out of the market and eventually forces them to go find new professions. Once they're gone, you can raise prices and rake in the gold. Simple, right?
While this sounds easy in practice, there are a few complications. First, you're not making any gold while this is going on, so you'll be forced to live off your other profession until this battle is over. (You do have another profession, don't you?) Second, you're going to need a lot of ink if you're going to take all of the sales on the server, and any interruption in your herb supply will cause the wall to come tumbling down and all your work to be lost. Last, scribes are a notoriously stubborn lot, and you're probably not the only one building a wall. While you are waiting for the other guy to give up and quit, he's waiting for you to give up and quit. You could both be waiting for a while.
The high wall
A refinement of the endless crafting and undercutting to maintain the wall, the high wall is not designed to have the cheapest glyphs but to have the least cheapest glyphs. (This makes perfect sense to a goblin.) Your prices are still low, but you've left just enough room under your prices for the other wall-builders to carry on crafting and selling their zero-profit glyphs. Your second wall is there to prevent prices from rising. Your plan isn't to sell your glyphs, but to keep relisting the same set of glyphs every two days to force the competition to continue crafting their thousands of glyphs with no hope of actually making any gold at it. (In fact, sold glyphs become an annoyance, as they have to be replaced.)
This arrangement leads to an interesting collaboration between you and your competitor. He's trying to burn you out by taking all of the sales. You're trying to burn him out by giving him all of the sales. The battle becomes a staring contest between the low wall scribes (working feverishly in the sun stacking bricks) and the high wall scribes (sipping piña coladas on the veranda watching them work).
If you're on a server where you're up against multiple wall-building scribes, there may be little point in adding your own glyphs to the battle. Stacking bricks in the sun doesn't sound like much fun, and you're really not in the mood for more piña coladas. (OK, maybe just one.)
Over the course of the day, buyers are constantly buying random glyphs. Occasionally, a cluster of buyers will all buy the same glyph, punching a hole in both walls. When this happens, the next buyer is stuck paying the next highest price, and opportunity knocks for whichever scribe has that listing.
One way to take advantage of this is what we call the fallback wall. Essentially, you post one of each glyph at 40g and wait. If there's a hole in the wall, you make a quick 40g from the next sale. You may even get multiple sales at that price, until one of the builders wakes up and patches the hole. Despite the comparatively low number of sales, each fallback glyph that does sell will equal the profits from several dozen wall-price sales (without the need for several dozen bottles of ink).
On some servers, you may see multiple fallback walls, each higher than the last. This seemingly irrational behavior is from scribes betting that the hole will be big enough to remove not only the cheap wall glyphs, but also competitors' fallback listings. Glyph prices can soar to extremely high prices on occasion, and there's nothing like a 129g sale to brighten your day (or ruin someone else's).
The high-low strategy
Almost all scribes use addons to automate their auctions (Auctioneer, Quick Auctions, etc.). Posting, canceling and reposting thousands of glyphs is a Herculean task to do manually, and identifying and plugging holes in the wall would requires hours of wading through your inventory and finding which one is running low. The reliance on automated posting means that most players don't even see their listings ... or yours.
High-low was originally designed to break overconfident Auctioneer users, although it can have some success against Quick Auctions users. The first step is identifying your target competitor's thresholds and fallbacks. Using high-low postings, you would post two glyphs, the first just under his threshold to block him from posting (or force him up to his fallbacks), and one just under his fallback to steal the next sale from the hole. Against an Auctioneer user tied to market price listings, this can play merry havoc with his postings.
The wide price range of your postings also poisons his Auctioneer database with worthless information. A combination of 4g and 50g auctions may combine to create an item with a "market value" of 27g, a purely imaginary number. A competitor's Auctioneer may refuse to post any auctions at all if your first listing is too far below this market value, locking him out of the market even though the glyphs are selling well at high prices.
The Prisoner's Dilemma
Once a glyph market matures into wide scale wall-building -- or degenerates to that point, depending on which side of the wall you're standing on -- it rapidly becomes a twisted version of the classic Prisoner's Dilemma. Scribes have the choice of posting at low prices, cutting their own profits as well as their opponent's, or posting at high prices to increase their profits but allowing their opponents to do the same. Given the aggressive and competitive nature of many World of Warcraft players, many will choose the option that causes the most harm to their competitor, even if that option brings harm to themselves. This is an option missing from the classic Prisoner's Dilemma, creating a new puzzle: Goblin's Dilemma.
Read more in this special Gold Capped series on glyphs:
Maximize your profits with more advice from Gold Capped, and watch for more articles to come in this special mini-series on inscription. Regular Gold Capped author Basil "Euripides" Berntsen is now taking questions for a special series, "Ask an auctioneer" at firstname.lastname@example.org.