WoW auction house
(image from NecroRogIcon on Flickr)
, CC BY 2.0

I used to play the auction house part of World of Warcraft. I noticed that when I want something as a trader, I'm often willing to wait the 24-48 hours with a “bid” offer. But when I'm crafting or just wanting to play, I'm less patient, and I prefer the immediate gratification of the “buyout” offer. When I was selling, I'd just set the bid to be slightly below the buyout, but I'd also have multiple overlapping offers at different prices, different time periods, and different stack sizes.

There's an asymmetry between the buyer and seller in WoW's auction house. Sellers don't need immediate gratification. Buyers do. The “buyout” feature is used a lot. There's no corresponding “sell immediately” feature.

This isn't a new observation. EBay started as an auction site but now has a lot of traffic using “buy it now”. The difference is that in WoW, buying something is even more immediate — you walk to your mailbox and have a shiny new sword waiting for you — with no waiting for shipping.

If I were designing an efficient marketplace for a game focused on the buyer, I'd simplify. If all I want to do is buy a Fire Sword, what do I need to know? The lowest price. I don't need to know all the listings and who made them. I don't need to know the listing time period. I don't need to know all the higher prices. I don't need the complexity of bidding and the waiting time.

What do I do with the following table? Decide which item I want. Also, decide whether to pay more to get an item now or wait a bit and pay less. Also, if waiting a bit, there are multiple options for how long to wait and what the price is. Also, estimate the risk that I may not win the auction because someone outbids me. Also, should I buy two at a discount and then re-sell one of them?

ItemNumberLevelLow bidCurrent bidBuyoutTime LeftSeller
Fire Sword1331374514:31Stoneplanter
Fire Sword132339519:27Azlishan
Fire Sword131861781:35Morianna
Fire Sword2533748838:03Flyv
Fire Sword133438608:53Sven
Ice Sword41811031304:39Linkshot
Ice Sword411010514910:30Mordn
Ice Sword41951091453:46zxcv

What do I do with the following table? Decide which item I want and whether I'm willing to pay that price. That's all.

ItemLevelLowest price
Fire Sword345
Ice Sword4130

On the other hand, complexity adds friction. And friction adds inefficiency. And sometimes you want inefficient markets because they're more interesting for gameplay. The trading game is fun! You can play with multiple prices, different stack sizes, overlapping time periods, cornering markets, hedging, reselling for profit, etc. It's just not a great interface for someone who just wants to buy a sword. Unless trading is a big part of the game, I'd want something really simple. Tell me what I can buy and what the price is.

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