How to make gold on a small realm

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 first-born to him. And be sure to catch the return of Basil and Fox's podcast, Call to Auction!

Last week, you responded surprisingly well to my column about fixing the economies on smaller servers. There are some big ideas in there, from merging Auction Houses to allowing the creation of buy orders.

But there's a problem with big ideas -- they're unlikely to be embraced quickly. A lot of you are stuck on slow, economically depressed realms, and little about your realm's economy is going to change soon. But don't give up hope. It is possible to make money on a smaller realm that sees low economic activity.

How? With a little bit of creativity, you can actually turn the problems of a smaller realm into avenues for profit.

Before we try to craft a game plan, let's talk for a second about the two major problems of playing on a smaller realm.

  • Small realms have fewer buyers. This is perhaps the most obvious, hard-to-cope-with problem. There just aren't enough people around to buy what you're selling. On some items, sales are slow. On others, sales are non-existent.

  • Small realms have fewer sellers. This appears to be a good thing -- it obviously means less competition. But it also means that sellers of raw materials are few and far between as well. How the heck are you going to make money selling potions, for example, if you can't get the raw materials to make them?

To be a success on a small realm, you'll need a strategy for dealing with both these issues. Thankfully, there are some tactics that should help give you an advantage.

Focus on the top-selling stuff. On my high-traffic realm, I've sold a lot of esoteric stuff for damn good profit. Hundreds of thousands of gold worth of Darkmoon cards. Exotic pets. Swift Lovebird mounts. Big-ticket items that only 0.1% of the public was looking for. That works on my realm, but on a small realm, 0.1% might literally be two people.

Instead of going for the big scores, on a smaller realm, you're much better off going for the common scores. Sell things that have the biggest potential pool of buyers -- the most frequently bought and sold items. If you've ever dreamed of building a farming empire, a slow realm is a great place to do it.

If you're an alchemist, focus on top sellers such as Mythical Mana Potions. If you're a jewelcrafter, focus on Inferno Rubies. If you're a tailor, focus on bags and leg enchants. Take a look at what's being listed on sites like The Undermine Journal and what's getting sold. Then when you see an opening, jump in!

Get to know your buyers. Do you know how all those small-town mom and pop stores manage to stay in business? They know their clients. They forge relationships. It's one of the few beneficial things that you can do specifically because you've got a small realm.

How can you work this angle? Well, say you're an alchemist. You've been listing Mythical Mana Potions pretty steadily for a few weeks, and notice that you've really only got three customers. Why don't you try communicating with those buyers directly, offering to COD them a stack of potions every week? It's a win-win: They get a discount over the usual price, paid for (in part) by the fact that you don't have to pay AH fees. But more importantly, they get a reliable, steady source of potions at a reliable, predictable price.

And what do you get? Well, obviously, you get a reliable stream of income. But you also get a loyal customer, goodwill, and good advertising. Offer that you'll gladly make any other potion or flask they need at a fair price. You might be surprised at the orders you'll wind up taking.

Don't be afraid to get the mats yourself. Normally, I recommend against farming. It's time-consuming, and on most realms, getting mats is a simple effort of visiting the local AH or dealing with a farmer. On smaller realms, though, getting materials is a hassle. It's a function of the few sellers in the economic equation.

What's a business mogul to do? Well, on smaller realm, it may very well be worth your time to head out in the fields and farm up your own mats. It can be a real competitive advantage -- how's the competition going to make potions to list next to yours if there isn't any Whiptail or Cinderbloom on the AH?

Advertise! On large realms, buyers just go and buy it on the Auction House. It's because supply is good -- if they need an Inferno Ruby, they can be fairly confident that there will be one on the Auction House. But that's simply not the case on smaller realms. Supply of an item might be nil, or a needed item might be available but at an obscene markup.

The solution? Advertise your wares when the situation calls for it. If the Auction House lacked red gems until you showed up to list your batch of 10, tell trade chat about it. If you've restocked the supply of common enchants, tell trade. You may have a pool of anxious customers just waiting around to hear about it, especially if what they're looking for is traditionally in short supply in your neck of the woods.

Understand that the service you provide is valuable! On my last two driving trips cross country, I found myself making the beautiful journey down I-70 through one of the most desolate parts of Utah. On both trips, I stopped at the same Burger King in Green River, Utah.

It wasn't a coincidence. And it wasn't because I like Burger King. It was because that Burger King is pretty much the only freakin' fast food restaurant in a hundred-mile radius. And believe me, they know they're the only Burger King in about 100 miles. A Whopper there is crazy expensive. But I paid for it. And so did the other desperate travelers who stopped at the same restaurant.

You, fair reader, are that fair Burger King -- a fast food oasis in a vast desert. You've got a terrible location, and because of that location, hardly any customers. But look at it from your customers' perspective: You're the only damn place around selling Whoppers -- or really, meat sandwiches of any kind. You can charge $9.99 for a value meal. And given the fact that you have so few customers, you sorta have to charge that much.

If you're on a smaller realm, you're just plain working harder than those of us on larger realms. You have to deal with price fluctuations in materials, opening yourself up to more risk. You may even have to put in the time to farm materials yourself because it's the only way to make the sale.

We won't call it gouging, because it's not. It's adequate compensation for your work and the higher risk that you have to bear. A 5gold Mythical Mana Potion on a well-traveled server might be worth 15 gold in the middle of Green River, Utah. Remember, you'll only see one-third as many customers at your little Burger King, so you need to maximize your receipts where you can.

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