The default interface for the auction house could use some loving. It's an essential part of players' gaming experience, and whether they use it or not, its design has an effect on them. We've seen many examples of Blizzard designing parts of their UI to include features provided by addons that had become so prevalent that everyone had to run them. For example, threat didn't always show up on the default frames -- back in my day, we had to run Omen to avoid pulling aggro from the tank.
It's important to recognize that not every valuable interface tweak belongs in the basic WoW UI, though. If it's a feature that's only used by a small segment of players or is unnecessarily complex, it's probably best off in an addon. You won't see me advocating that the base AH UI keep historic pricing numbers, for example. It is, though, a travesty that you have to page through hundreds of pages of single auctions to get to the lower priced stacks.
Fix the damn vending machine
The single most important part of the AH that needs looking at is the way it displays and sorts auctions when someone is looking to buy. This part of the game touches everyone in some way. Even people who do their best to avoid any interaction with the economy are going to need to buy things once in a while. In fact, the AH's vending machine role is, in my opinion, it's most important function.
- No intelligent sorting possible
- Each auction takes up a whole line, and the lines are too large
- No saved searches
- Default categories are unintuitive
- Filtering is borderline useless
- Can't search for exact item names
The solution would be to take the best parts of the addons that people use and integrate their features. For example: Auctionator groups up all batches of auctions that have the same stack size and price into one single line. It also lets you create lists of saved searches.
My ideal default auction house interface would have a simple interface: the categories would be replaced with well thought out pre-set default lists based on aggregated search data, and the method to change these saved searches would be obvious and intuitive. Searching for the name of, for example, an uncut gem wouldn't display every single cut in the AH unless you checked some option box, and if you wanted to filter down your results, you'd have the ability to do that. Your search results would never be 15 pages, because all the identical auctions would be grouped together. And if someone decided to be annoying and list hundreds of slightly differently priced auctions, you'd be able to filter out all auctions from a specific seller. Sorting would default to unit price.
Retail or wholesale?
The above changes would go a long way toward making your average player waste less time cursing at the auction house, but there is another change could make buying less frustrating for the 20% of us profession jockeys who are probably responsible for 80% of the gold gathers collect. We would really like to be able to leave money on the AH for goods so if some insomniac Californian posts a bunch of farmed goods at some ungodly hour, we'd have a fair chance at it. The way it works now is that the first of us to log in and see it will have the price advantage, and be able to sell crafted goods at higher margins. This leads to the competitive edge being more about who has more time to kill than who is more efficient.
Imagine if a miner could stumble into the Stormwind auction house, and before deciding whether to try and list their 70 stacks of Thorium Ore, see that some jewelcrafter who prospects the stuff has loaded the wholesale section with a open offer for 50 stacks at 20g a stack. Instead of risking listing his ore on the AH and maybe have some of it come back unsold (with all the annoyance and lost money that entails), the miner could simply fill the existing order and collect his money right away.
The jewelcrafter in the above example would probably have to make some decisions about how much they're willing to commit and at what price. I can say right now that when it came to Cataclysm ores, I'd probably have no less than 5 offers up per type of ore at the same time: the cheaper the ore comes, the more I'm willing to buy. This feature could also be a real boon for the rare stuff that people don't realize the value of. If a new player leveling their first character happens to loot a Essence of Air, not knowing how much it can be worth in the hands of a BoA enchant scroll maker, they might list it for much less than they could have. Here you have potential profits moving from the person who actually looted something to a speculator or broker whose only contribution to the market is knowing when something is overpriced.
The custom UI advantage
What we have in this game is unique: WoW has one of the largest virtual economies in the world. It's not the central purpose of the game (any more than achievements or mount collecting is), but it is, in my opinion, the most interesting part. I've learned more about practical economics and business playing this than I did in years of economics class and working the day job in meatspace.
Right now, all the cards are in the hands of people with custom user interfaces. A few small changes are all that are needed to even the playing field, and allow everyone to interact with the market without getting hung up over details like addons.
Maximize your profits with more advice from Gold Capped as well as the author's Call to Auction podcast. Do you have questions about selling, reselling and building your financial empire on the auction house? Basil is taking your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.