Sunday, May 18, 2014

Auction Errors and Cash Currency

If you've used player auction houses in an MMO, chances are you have experienced significant pricing errors from both sides of the equation - as the player who screwed up and listed an item for a fraction of its value, and as the person fortunate enough to grab a major windfall as a result.  As interactions between cash shops and tradeable currency/items increase, the stakes feel somewhat higher.  

I snagged an item I've been camping on Neverwinter's auction house that typically sells for around $30 worth of Astral Diamonds for a mere $1 worth of AD.  This was almost certainly a pricing error on the part of the seller - opening the lock boxes that the item drops from requires a key that costs $1.50 worth of AD so it's pretty unlikely that anyone would sell any of the good prizes for less than the cost of a single key.    

I haven't equipped the thing yet.  I've done nothing wrong here, and I probably wouldn't think twice about it if it were just in-game gold - as I said, everyone makes these mistakes, you live and you learn.  The thing that bugs me is that this currency is so close to effectively real money.  It's possible that $20 worth of diamonds really matters to the person who made the error, because they don't have much money to spend on games.  Back in the subscription days, everyone could be assumed to have the $15/month price of admission on hand, and capitalizing on someone's mistake for gold was not going to take away something that they paid money for. 

Should the mechanics of auction houses be different when there's sort-of money at stake?  Or is it best to let people learn from their hard knocks? 


Rohan said...

How exactly would you protect against this though? And would you protect in both directions, preventing people from purchasing overpriced items?

The item price has to be within X% of the last item sold, or maybe the historical average? And what is the bound on X before it is obviously a mistake? 10%, 25%, 50%, 75%?

Psychochild said...

I also wonder if it was a thing where someone was trying to transfer an item to another person through the AH. I've seen people do that before, sell an item for dirt cheap and then the other person looks for it and buys it quickly. Maybe a way someone was hoping to pass an item to an alt? You just hit it at the right time to find the bargain and nab it.

Not sure if there's any such restrictions on trading in Neverwinter, just thinking of other reasons why someone might underprice an item. But, if there are trading restrictions, you just happened to catch someone trying to circumvent the system. I wouldn't feel too bad if this were the case.

Another option might be someone opened a box and got something they couldn't use, so they put it up cheap as a "karma to the universe" type thing. You just happened to be the beneficiary.

Not sure if there's any real way to "protect" against this. I assume you can cancel a posting after it's posted, so someone who keys in the wrong number and then doesn't notice probably needs more help than the system an provide. And, given that there are a few reasons why someone might intentionally list an item for a low price, I'm not sure there's a reason to do so.

Jeromai said...

Well, to recoup the cost of the gold they lost, that person would still have to spend time and effort, even back in the old days.

The economic market is, by nature, more than a little ruthless and cutthroat.

Protection-wise, I've seen a couple variations on the standard auction house in City of Heroes and Guild Wars 2.

CoH used a secret bid system, so that the lowest offered sold to whoever had a standing buy offer that exceeded that.

However, by listing only 5 most current offers, price was easily manipulated, and the market tended to skew in the direction of the richest players who could afford to set up prodigious bids for valuable items they wanted.

On the other hand, if you were lucky enough to get one of these drops they wanted, it could quickly be sold for large sums without needing to scrape together enough funds for an auction fee.

GW2 aggregates all buy and sell offers, showing by default to every player the lowest buy offer and highest sell offer.

So you can't accidentally choose to buy something overpriced, it will automatically serve you the best sell offers that exist at the time.

It also forbids selling something for lower than vendor value.

You can still commit errors by accidentally clicking the wrong button to buy when you intended to sell, or buying/selling at the price there and then when you'd rather have a different price, but on the whole, I prefer this system. The aggregate of the market sets the prices.

Green Armadillo said...

@Psychochild: Fair point, I shouldn't assume the person had no possible reason (though the involvement of a cash store lock box significantly reduces the odds that the person had zero context for the economy, it's not like a super lucky world drop). Maybe they're sitting around right now imagining that they gifted something to a broke teenager.

As you and the others note, it's not an easy to solve problem, if it's solveable at all within the constraints of a currency you can get at with dollars and a player-run auction house. You could actually do more harm than good by setting a nominal price floor, since that could create the impression that the "vendor" value is what they should list it for, when it's actually worth significantly more.

I'm just picturing the worst case for the other person (i.e. they paid real money specifically to get stuff to resell and then lost all of their profits due to a pricing error). Would they grin and bear it, or would they quit the game in frustration? Moot if there's no solution I suppose.

Maybe the moral of the story is that I'm too far from the "killer" access of the Bartle scale for it to bother me that someone somewhere might be extremely disappointed. :)

Bhagpuss said...

The solution to this is very simple. Act exactly as you would in the real world. I work in a bookshop. It's unusual but not unknown for items we we sell to have the wrong price. Sometimes that is in the shop's favor, sometimes the customer's. If either party notices this the correct procedure is to point out the error. The correct price is then determined and charged.

I have been in the position where I have seen exceptionally cheap items on the Auction House or Broker in MMOs. I have also put up items for x gold when it should have been x platinum. As a buyer, what I have done as a customer is to buy the item and send a tell to the seller asking if the price was intentionally low. It hasn't happened often enough for me to see a range of replies (from memory once the seller said yes he meant to price it that way and once it was an error and the other few times I got no reply). Whatever the response you can then either negotiate a fair price or return the item for a refund.

As a seller it's only happened once that I noticed (probably a lot more that I didn't). That was in EQ back when you had to be physically present in the Bazaar while selling and I was able to sort it out then and there.

Only in a system where sales are anonymized (GW2 is one such) can there be an excuse for buying and keeping an obviously mis-placed item. In most systems, where the seller is known, there's no excuse for taking advantage of another's error.

Bhagpuss said...

Geez, typos.

"mis-priced" not "misplaced", obviously.

Video Game Philosopher said...

The closest I've come to this is on Eve Online. Dropping or adding an extra zero is easy to do and a pain in the ass when you do it. Given that you can pay for your subscription time with in game currency, it might as well be real money (especially for someone like me who was spending a good amount of time trying to do just that).

I don't think you can or should protect against it. The harm is to one person, but another benefitted from it. This causes less damage than having restrictions that would prevent active market PVP (for example, drastic undercutting to drive prices down, or buying everything out and relisting it high to drive prices up). There's no happy medium, but you have to do what is best for the largest amount of people, and that is not to restrict it.