Friday, 21 October 2011

Abuse of the Economy - How it works and how blizzard could stop them

This post is probably going to be very controversial.

It talks about cheaters and exposes some of their methods. I fully expected to get blasted, flamed and be accused of being a cheater myself for bringing this shady business out into the light of day where honest players who might pressure blizzard into doing something about it can see it.

I've made similar posts on the official forums before (without specific details on the methods cheaters use) and all that happened was the threads were very quickly flamed / trolled into oblivion. I did not make this post to help people cheat. I made it to expose how they cheat and hopefully maybe finally get it stopped.

What's wrong with the auction?

In a single word camping is what's wrong with the auction house. Campers sit at the auction all day constantly cancelling and re-posting their 1 or 2 of everything profitable. It takes most of the skill out of playing the auction. All that really matters now is being the last to post (for 1c less) just before someone buys. Knowledge of your markets, timing your posts, etc., none of those matter very much anymore. Now it's mostly about being the last to post just before someone buys.

Quick posting mods that take most of the work out of mass posting and cancelling are a big part of the problem. Campers using quick posting mods are bad enough but it get's completely ridiculous when someone sets up a bot or hotkey program cheat script to automatically press buttons for him. Most players have no idea just how easy it is to do.

I'm going to go into some detail regarding exactly how simple cheat scripts can be used to abuse the economy. My purpose is to educate honest players about how easy it is for cheaters to abuse the auction and hopefully eventually get blizzard to put a stop to it once and for all by fixing the underlying problem.

Cheat Scripts

Practically anyone can grab a hotkey program like AutoIt or AutoHotKey and make simple scripts to automate keypresses for them. AutoIt and AutoHotkey are just 2 of the most popular hotkey programs, there are literally dozens, maybe hundreds of similar programs that can do the same things.

For example an automatic herb milling script for AutoHotKey could be as simple as this:

WinGet, wowid, List, World of Warcraft

loop 400 {
  ControlSend,, 1, ahk_id %wowid1% 
  sleep 3000

This script once started will send a "1" keypress to wow every 3 seconds, 400 times in all. Set up an in game milling macro with "1" as it's hotkey and you've got automated milling. Note I haven't actually tested this script but unless there's a typo in there somewhere it should work fine.

Many players claim they actually use similar scripts that send commands to wow when they move the mouse or scroll the middle button. Technically within the terms of the ToS while the above isn't. But I'd bet most of them actually use fully automated scripts like the one above, one for milling, another for prospecting, DEing and so on.

Myself I actually don't use any scripts that break the ToS, but I don't expect everyone will believe me when I say that either.

By adding another line of code you can add an input box to enter variables like the number of stacks to mill/prospect. All you need do is load up your bags, start up a script and walk away while it handles the tedium for you.

Or you could setup a script to click the left mouse button repeatedly. Do a post or cancel scan, put the mouse over the post/cancel button and start the mouse click script to automatically spam post.

Getting slightly more complex, many hotkey programs also have the capability to read specific pixels from the display driver without doing anything Warden (WoW's anti-cheat program) can detect. A cheater could set up a script to run forever, continually reading one pixel of his posting mod's status text and automatically switching between post / cancel scans and clicking the post / cancel buttons as necessary all based upon the color of that one pixel.

The possibilities are endless, in fact many full fledged bots are actually written in AutoIt. They're just extremely large and complex AutoIt scripts.

Blizzard is never going to be able to stop the automatic milling type scripts. Not without turning Warden into what amounts to a virus or spyware on your system or making major changes (nerfs) to the in-game macro system. We already have in game /afk crafting queues. They should just even the field by adding in game /afk processing queues for milling, prospecting, DEing too. Then everyone can do it, not just cheaters.

Fixing the Underlying Problem

The underlying problem is perpetually cancelling and re-posting auctions for 1c less works far too well. Not to mention it's lame as hell. In addition it's so ridiculously easy to automate the process with undetectable cheat scripts and make so much gold that it must be almost irresistible to gold farmers and sellers.

I don't want to suggest breaking the quick posting mods. That would severely discourage constant camping but it'd cause a lot more trouble than it's worth. What's really needed is something that discourages camping by making camping far less effective without making posting auctions more tedious. If they made constantly pulling and re-posting items a losing proposition everyone would stop camping.

Blizzard could easily discourage camping by changing how deposits work. Make deposits based upon a meaningful percentage of the buyout price. Say 10%. If your auction sells or expires you get your deposit back minus a small "listing" fee similar to existing deposits. If you cancel your auction you lose the entire 10% deposit. If you don't set a buyout price then the only charge would be the non-refundable listing fee.

Nobody is going to repeatedly cancel and re-post the same item if it's costing them 10% of the sale price every time they cancel. Prices would stabilize at reasonable profit levels. There'd be far less camping, far less price gouging and probably fewer bullies attempting to control markets and force others out with extremely low priced goods too. Win/win for everyone except the very worst of the campers.


  1. Hi MoxNix
    I was writing a comment, but decided it was long enough for it's own blogpost. So it's up at

  2. meh the least you could do is post the gist of it here too.

    IMO your view is very simplistic.

    For starters everything doesn't revolve around glyphs. You won't see people stocking 20 of every crafted epic just so their's are always the lowest priced.

    Yes of course we'll still have undercuts but nobody is going to be able to stock enough of everything (not even glyphs or gems) to just sit there perpetually undercutting everyone else. It would take hundreds, or even thousands of every single item you sell to do it.

    Timing your posts and setting reasonable prices will be far more important again.

    Markets will still reset, in fact the glyph market will reset even faster since most probably will go with 12 hour auctions instead of 48 hour auctions.

    In your post you said:

    "Markets work brilliantly when you can buy dirt cheap, and sell with a large profit."

    I have to disagree with that. IMO it's the sign of a badly broken market that's constantly being manipulated and abused by campers.

  3. Ok. Next time I will make sure I put sarcasm tags around certain statments.

    I still disagree with the premise. The reason for camping (either automated or manual) is that the difference between what we are prepared to sell for, and what we can sell for is so extreme. As a player, reduce that gap and there will be less camping.

    For the record; I don't camp. Never have; Don't intend to start now.

  4. Camping is just how some play the game. The real problem is the ability to use posting mods. Remove those from the game and you will change what is on the ah. I made my first gold cap with no mods. I found quick auctions and in a couple of months made a million. I couldn't do this without the mod.

    Posting fees don't stop the gem market campers and there fees are higher. If the markups are huge then you need huge posting fees to stop campers, I have close to three million gold. Your premise wil only change how I post it won't impact my ability to dominate the market even easier.

    As an aside I am not a camper but I will ensure at specific times of the evening I am the lowest up. Undermine journal can be thanked for that

  5. I'm backed up the wazoo with a tonne of finished posts waiting to be thrown up so today you get a comment =).

    I remember (but cant find) Blizzard mentioning they want to fix the currently tedious milling/prospecting/de but they didnt want to open a can of worms and get tickets from scrubs saying "i didnt want that herb/necklace to get milled/de'ed!". Hence probably why the lax attitudes to semi afk squashing. If I knew how to use that script I would use it because mass milling sucks balls.

    Now on the separate topic of increasing listing fees it would have to be a very big increase, to force players to think twice to play the camping/undercutting quickly game. But even then high rollers that do big business would still accept it as a required overhead cost. It will be the little and medium guys that would feel the pain. Good for Critical though, easier/faster to kick those weak/average ones out.

    I say this because when i tried jc for a few months using a similar model to my glyphs (all metas + all the rare cuts i had, around 75% or so), high listing fees is an universally accepted cost of doing gem business. I would get undercut all the time. And we all know how not cheap gem listing fees are.

    PS: only just read Brent's comment, almost the same gist as mine. Except i dont has 3 mil =(.

  6. Side discussion: I've got 51 posts and 6.5k views. You've got 36 posts and 11.6k views!

    I think I need to work on the quality of my posts =(. I wonder what your average Time on Site is like. Post up weekly stats so we can compare epeens!

  7. You're doing fine Critical, considering my blog has been up twice as long and half my views can be attributed to a single link from a wowinsider article.

    Regarding fees, yes the fees would have to be large to discourage camping that's why I suggested 10 percent. It wouldn't hurt the little guys because most of the deposit other than a small "listing fee" is refunded if the auction sells or expires. You only lose the whole deposit if you cancel an auction. That's the whole point of it, to discourage constant cancelling and reposting of the same items.

    It'd actually help the little guys, especially the ones that time their posts well because they wouldn't get undercut as quickly or as often.

    BTW existing JC deposits aren't high. They might seem high in comparison to super low glyph and chant deposits but the reality is they're all negligible.

  8. Brent, I agree quick posting mods are a big part of the problem. Without them nobody would be able even just cover, far less camp everything, but breaking the mods would cause more problems (or at least more QQ) than it'd solve.

    If quick posting mods make it too easy to camp and breaking the mods is undesirable then the solution is to make camping less effective.

  9. 1. Thats my point, jc listing price doesnt seem high because we are high rollers (for lack of a better description) and we see them as trivial. A heavy camper will be at least a medium if not high roller.

    2. Heavy penalty for cancelling only wont stop campers, they will finally buy-in to Critical's advice that a 7-glyph stack takes the same amount of resource (1 slot) as a 20-glyph stack, and wont cancel auctions.

    IMO campers are inevitable because camp-haters are a very very small minority of the whole WoW game so Blizzard is not going to worry about fixing this "problem". Critical would say dont spend/waste energy trying to change the world. Better to adapt your own strats to deal with these scummy campers. Yes you scummy scum scum!

  10. There's an interesting comments from Deja over at Foo's WoW musings

    "1c repost undercutters vs. glyph wallers... both are abusive practices, it's just a matter of point of view. A substantial listing cost would combat both and be fairer for everyone, scribe and consumer alike. It ought to cost a few thousand to maintain a wall of 3-4k glyphs. A proper solution will get rid of both, or at least make them cost enough in relation server resources they needlessly consume."

    Good point regarding walls whether they be glyph walls, gem walls, chant walls or w/e. Unfortunately high non-refundable listing fees would hurt the little guys. The little guy can't afford to lose a bunch of deposits for a long period of time the way the big guys can.

    My suggestion only hurts the one's who cancel auctions. It doesn't penalize those who leave their auctions up. If anything it actually helps them because the ones who do cancel and repost will stop.

    Sure they could still post more but if they aren't cancelling they'll need orders of magnitude more stock to post continuously.

    Inventory management alone would be a nightmare to deal with.

  11. @Critical

    1. JC deposits are typically under 1g, that isn't high to anyone.

    2. Right now with cancel and repost camping an obsessive camper might post the same 5 glyphs 50 times in an hour. He only needs 5 glyphs to do it. To do so without cancelling he'd need 250... And there are over 350 different glyphs. The same goes for everything else that's heavily camped, gems, chants, leg armors, spell threads, belt buckles, etc. To keep up perpetual camping like he does now he's going to need a truely massive, unmanageable inventory.

  12. 2a. Do your campers throw up 5? Mine only do 1, max 2. If relist fees go up your 5'ers would definitely drop down to 1 or 2.

    2b. Us pros love massive inventories. So your suggestion hurts weak/average players but wont dent pro camper gobs.

    3. I would love Deja's suggestion that it should cost a few thousand k to do walls of 3-4k glyphs. I have a few spare thousand k, lesser gobs do not. Easier to drive out competition.

    /shrug Critical's wall strats were designed exactly to let campers do their thing while still allowing you to get sales.

  13. The exact number they post doesn't really matter. That was just an example, maybe a bit ex.

    The point is to post perpetually without cancelling would require a lot more than just a full stack of each glyph (gem, chant or w/e).

    Even if they only posted 1 of each glyph every 5 minutes that'd still be 12 per hour. 144 to keep it up until 12 hour posts start expiring and become available to post again. 144 glyphs is over 7 full stacks, that's one heck of big inventory, yet it only covers one market segment. Now do the same for chants, gems, etc. and don't forget many old world items (twink and heirloom chants for example) only stack to 5.

    If you want to post 2 at a time double the stock requirements. If you want to post for 24 hours double it again.

    I still disagree high cancelling costs would hurt weak/average players. What hurts them the most now is constantly being undercut by campers. If the cost of cancelling auctions was not insignificant campers would stop cancelling.

    I do agree high listing costs (not cancelling costs) would hurt both weaker and poorer players. That's why I didn't suggest them in the first place.

  14. BTW we've probably all seen BoE epic gear campers too. The guy that posts a bunch of BoE epics worth 10k for 40k and camps them for hours. Whenever someone undercuts any of his epics he'll cancel and re-post it for a little bit less within minutes. It only costs him a few gold to cancel but he'll make 30k every time one of his BoEs sells.

    Now imagine if cancelling that epic cost 4k (10% of 40k)... Would he still cancel and re-post it?

    I don't think so, more likely he'll post it closer to the 10k it normally sells for and keep re-posting (after expiry) it until it sells. Or he might try spamming trade to gouge higher prices but he can't spam very many different items anywhere near as quickly as he can post them.

    He isn't going to use perpetual undercuts to drive prices into the ground so he can buy everyone else out and jack prices back up again either if it's costing him 10% every time he cancels.

  15. I like the idea of high(er) costs for canceling posts. Early on in my expedition to accumulate large amounts of gold, I cancelled and re-posted certain items without regard for fees. Now, I don't camp anything, and typically don't cancel any posts. If these costs are raised high enough (for anything), it will reduce the amount of people who do it.

  16. While I still like the idea of higher posting costs globally, I think I've come upon a more elegant solution for bots and campers alike. Blizzard could simply add a progressive throttle to the auction house item scans that cancel/repost loops continually run.

    The more an *account* scans, the higher this server side variable would increment and progressively increase the amount of waiting time before a scan could be run. This value would have to persist through ui reloads and logouts. Too much cancel/repost and they would be greeted with a "x time remaining before you can do that." As for efficiency, the cycles regained by stopping the constant scans would more than compensate for the overhead of the additional code. The mail system would probably be happier as well.

  17. Blizzard needs to hire a new economist, they have had to for a long time, enough said.