5 not-so-simple ways Blizzard can fix the World of Warcraft Auction House

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Gold Capped, in which Fox Van Allen and Basil "Euripides" Berntsen aim to show you how to make money on the Auction House. Feed Fox's ego by emailing him, tweeting him at @foxvanallen, or sacrificing your firstborn to him. And be sure to catch the return of Basil and Fox's podcast, Call to Auction!

Is the World of Warcraft economy broken? Not for everyone. Plenty of people get exactly what they need out of the existing WoW economy. High volumes. Quick sales. Strong profits.

For some, though, the economy is terribly broken. Plenty of folks are marooned on low-population servers with economies that crawl (if an economy even exists at all). There are few sellers and even fewer buyers. These players need help, and Blizzard isn't acting.

But what exactly can Blizzard do to help? Simple, small solutions won't help -- problems this big call for major action. And that's exactly what today's column is all about: major reforms to the WoW economy, any single one of which could right a ship that, for thousands of players, is sinking. For broken servers, a fix. For servers with humming economies, reforms that actually improve things and make the economy better and more fun.

So what are we waiting for? Let's roll up our sleeves and get to work.

1. Consolidate low-population realms. I'm about to walk straight into a minefield here, but it's an important subject. Low-population servers -- there are just too many of them, so many that the official forums are filled with threads (here, here, and here, just for starters) complaining about empty realms. Very few people like playing in a vacuum, even if there are some minor benefits to doing so (namely, lack of competition for farmed herbs and ore). There's no sense of community when there's literally no community around.

And if the community is in bad shape on low-population servers, theirs AHs are often in a shape that's even worse. There's no one around to post auctions. And when there are auctions posted, there's no one around to buy them. Only the most basic and common of materials are listed, and often at incredibly random prices. That's no way for a market to function -- if you can even call that functioning at all.

Blizzard routinely offers free server transfers to realms that are struggling with imbalance issues. That's nice, but it seldom does anything to fix the underlying problem. These servers need more than a Band-Aid. And with overall WoW player numbers starting a slow decline, these servers are unlikely to experience a future renaissance.

It's not a simple solution, but it's the inevitable one: Blizzard needs to take low-pop, Alliance-heavy servers and merge them with low-pop, Horde-heavy servers. Don't sit around waiting for these poor folks to spend $25 on a realm transfer. It seems far more likely that they'll just get frustrated with their characters and abandon them, making an already imbalanced server even worse.

2. Make the Auction House global. OK, so let's face it -- consolidating realms is unlikely to happen. But there's another solution that can accomplish, economically, the same thing. Globally consolidate the Auction Houses.

Bigger markets are always better. They're more efficient. More sellers means there are no worries about supply shortages. More buyers means fairer prices, more liquidity, and faster-moving markets. It's a good thing all around.

Obviously, consolidating all the servers' AHs into one will create a coding challenge for Blizzard. But even on a more simple level, there's no reason why existing servers need to be split into three separate AHs: one Alliance, one Horde, and one neutral. It's a confusing relic of old WoW, and the game would benefit if all wares were put into one, universally available AH.

3. Redesign the AH interface. Without a doubt, the default WoW auction interface is a mess. It's hard to use. Search results are, for some reason, not returned in an intuitive way. A player has to toggle between current bids and buyouts, total prices and unit prices. Not enough auctions are listed per page. Identical auctions are not grouped together -- one jerk can force you to search through 200 auctions of one-item stacks of Elementium Ore, priced at 1,000 gold apiece. And should you actually want to buy that Ore, there's no way to do it other than click your mouse 3,000 times.

To be sure, there are addons out there that fix the Auction House experience. One of my favorites is Auctionator, but it's far from the only one that fixes a clear and present problem in the default UI. Besides, why wouldn't you want buying auctions to be as simple and clear as this?

And while we're on the topic, here's another question: Why does the Auction House even mess around with traditional-style auctions anymore? How many items are sold through that mechanic? Wouldn't the market benefit from a universal adoption of the Buy It Now style, eliminating all that unnecessary, useless data?

4. Create a stock-market-style AH. In WoW, there's an imbalance in power between buyers and sellers. Buyers play in real time, searching through hundreds of auctions a second, rapidly placing bids and (should the price be right) rapidly making transactions. If you're a buyer in WoW, you hold the cards.

Sellers, on the other hand, are playing a different game. While buyers are playing in the now, sellers have to play a complicated chess game, trying to stay several steps ahead of the market. A seller can't force a sale on the spot the way a buyer can. A seller has to post and wait. But why? That's not the way things work in the real world.

In the real world, markets move fast. And that's because, in major part, because buyers and sellers both have the same amount of power. Sellers on the NYSE can list what they have for sale just like WoW players do -- say, creating sell orders for 1,000 shares of Stupid Boomkin Industries for $100 a share. But buyers have the same ability to do that too, able to create buy orders for 1,000 shares of Stupid Boomkin Industries for, say, $90 a share, even if no sellers exist at that price point yet. Transactions only occur when a buyer accepts a seller's price or when a seller accepts a buyer's price.

Creating a real-world style market opens up a myriad of new trading possibilities that simply didn't exist before. A major AH player could set a massive buy order for Whiptail at 1g each -- say, an order for 100,000 pieces. Any seller who visits that Auction House would be able to instantly sell their wares for 1g/each if they choose, or alternatively, create their own price. More options -- it's not a bad thing.

5. Blizzard should sell gold. Yes, this point is controversial. But let's be realists -- gold buyers and gold sellers will always exist. The demand is just too strong.

Keeping this market illegal does no one any favors. Sellers who bot out of sheer greed drive fair market prices into the ground. They steal nodes from legit, human farmers. And as we learned last year, a lot of these gold sellers actively engage in human rights abuses.

Blizzard has already dipped its toe into this market by offering the bind-on-use Guardian Cub pet. It was a strong first step, and one that severely hurt the bad guys' bottom lines.

But Blizzard hasn't been keeping up the fight. If it can hurt the gray market of Chinese gold selling, it should. And that means that Blizzard should sell gold, either directly or indirectly via Guardian Cubs.

Maximize your profits with advice from Gold Capped. Want to know the very best ways to earn 10,000 gold? Top gold making strategies for auctioneers? How about how to reach 1 million gold -- or how one player got there and then gave it all away? Fox and Basil are taking your questions at and