Friday, June 03, 2005

The Market Be a Harsh Mistress

It is inevitable. Whenever free people gather, markets emerge. This is true from the lowliest of small towns to the largest global societies. It’s even true when the stage in question isn’t really there.

World of Warcraft is a Mass-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG). On my server (Azgalor), there are over 12,000 characters with nearly 8,000 of them on my side (Alliance). Players create some of these as secondary characters, which they use for various purposes. But it’s still a lot of active minds.

These minds do most of their economic activity at the Auction House (AH), which, for the Alliance, is in the rather unremarkably named Ironforge. Countless items are traded at the AH, including herbs which people make into potions. By far the hardest herb to come by is the Ghost Mushroom. It’s needed some powerful potions but can only be found in small numbers in remote and dangerous places. For a while, they were going for one gold each (which is a lot considering one of the most expensive thing in the game—the epic mount—costs 900 gold).

This is where it gets interesting. A friend of mine often sells these mushrooms because they generate so much cash (making them available to lower levels like myself). But he noticed they were selling incredibly fast, even at that high price and even though he was “farming” for them all the time. So in true supplier form, he raised his price.

Doing this on the AH is very hard because undercutting is a common tactic. But since these mushrooms are hard to come by and my friend has other characters on his account, he thought he’d give it a try. He sent the goods to his pair of “alts” so he could sell them under their names. He even contacted another vendor of the ‘shrooms, telling him the price was rising. This other vendor thought it was a great idea; apparently his mushrooms were going fast, too.

Overnight the price doubled to two gold, and it looked like it was the consensus of four different players.

My friend gladly declared to me that he loves gouging people. I calmly told him “gouging” is actually impossible, unless force is involved. This is a lesson he quickly learned because he couldn’t sell his wares. One gold may have been too little, but two gold was too much. And to make matters worse, some people who weren’t selling them before began to undercut his bids. Apparently, they didn’t think one gold was enough to even bother.

I’ve just checked the price of the mushrooms and currently they are selling at just over one gold piece, my friend included. People don’t control markets, markets control people.

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