All that glitters

I’ve been doing some thinking lately about currencies in WoW. You know — various types of points, seals, tokens, and of course gold. I am not an economist, and I have no great insights, but I do have some thoughts on the subject based on experiencing the game. (There have been some interesting scholarly treatises written on economics of online role-playing games, but most of them were written years ago, when the genre was new and therefore interesting. You don’t see them much any more.)

My definition of in-game currency is anything that in and of itself has no use other than to exchange it for something that does have use. Pretty sure a real economist would cringe at such a definition, but well this is my blog and that’s how I define the term.

I think currencies in WoW fall into two categories: gold and non-gold. Non-gold would of course be all the various coins, seals, tokens, and “points” earned by participating in-game activities. Gold is a permanent (although not necessarily stable) currency in the game, non-gold is almost always temporary in that it is usually made worthless by the introduction of new patches and expansions.

Non-gold is a pretty messy concept. Some pieces of it become obsolete but still hang around forever — how many cooking tokens of various kinds do you have lurking in your token list? How about Champion Seals? I am a neat freak (so says my spouse), and to have these bits and pieces just cluttering up an imaginary bag/bank/repository offends my sense of order. (OK, technically all our game bags/banks are “imaginary” but some are less so than others, and honestly that whole topic is best left for another day, possibly when adult beverages have enhanced my metaphysical powers of reasoning.)  I can’t even get at them to tidy them up because, well, where ARE they really? I don’t know that I would throw them out even if I could, but let’s face it when will I ever use them? If they were account-wide at least there is a chance that a new alt might get some use from them, but as it is, they are disgustingly untidy and disorganized.

Another category of non-gold does not hang around forever, and that presents some challenges of its own. I am talking about more or less expansion-specific currencies like valor points. (I’ll refer to all of these as “points” but some of them have other categorical designations.) There are usually distinct pvp and pve versions. I don’t do pvp so I really cannot speak to these points much, but I think in general they are treated the same as pve points with regard to life span, value, transition to new, etc. Points are kind of the banana republic version of WoW currency. They are subject to being revoked and/or replaced at almost any time, with or without much warning, and transitions often feature what I usually think of as pretty stingy conversion rates, given the pain I had to go through to earn them. I was about to say that one difference between WoW points and banana republic money is that points are not subject to wild inflation. But then I remembered Apexis Crystals, the closest current game replacement for valor points, and well umm if you have tried to buy gear with them you know that inflation is rampant.

On to gold. I go through cycles with gold, sometimes I am flush and it seems like everything I touch turns into it. Other times I am not so flush, and it seems like no matter what I do, I can’t increase my pile of it. Interestingly, my gold cycles are opposite to most people’s, at least I think so. For example, I made a lot of gold towards the end of Mists, when most were complaining about how hard it was to do so.  Contrariwise, I just can’t seem to make much now and ever since the start of WoD, even though others seem to be making it hand over fist.

I really don’t care much to be “rich” in the game, but on the other hand I also don’t want to have to scrimp and save in order to buy things I want. What that has meant for me over the course of the last few years is that my definition of “enough” has been continually adjusted up. I remember when I thought if I could just keep a cushion of 1000 gold, I would be happy. Then it became 5000, then 10,000, and so forth until now I panic if I go below 100,000. Talk about inflation.

One of my favorite ways to make gold is to just not spend much. I don’t mean be a copper pincher, but I mean have enough professions maxed out that I can pretty much make any crafted items or consumables I need. Being self sufficient is an incredible money-maker, because then I get to keep the gold I make by questing,  doing dailies, and vendoring loot. You’d be amazed at how that adds up.

(But I have to admit my tendency is to be quite stingy with my gold. You would think the mortgage money was at stake the way I sometimes obsess over spending a few thousand for gear or a mount. I nearly had a nervous breakdown over deciding to buy the repair mammoth, and not even the great big one at that!)

I am not good at finding or seeing business opportunities in this game. One of my fellow guildies has made a fortune selling pets and mounts he gets from running old content. Another has a gift for finding underpriced goods on the auction house, buying them up, then reselling at something like double his investment. The couple of times I tried that, I ended up losing patience waiting for them to sell, and sold them at a loss just to be rid of them. Not exactly a money-making strategy. About the only thing I have ever been successful at is selling mats, usually whatever others are too impatient to get on their own. In cata, it was fish. In Mists, it was trillium bars and living steel. I haven’t yet found what it is in WoD. I would say Savage Blood or Draenic Dust, but both of those are still very useful to me in my self-sufficient thing, so by the time I have enough excess to sell, they will certainly not be the money makers they are now. I have dabbled in cutthroat markets like glyphs and gems, but even when they were lucrative they were just way too time intensive for me. And now Blizz has effectively destroyed the markets for them anyway.

One of the things I am surprised about is that I read a comment from Blizz awhile back that they basically wing it when they mess with the in-game gold supply, set prices and policies, etc. With a game this huge and what amounts to an actual economy, I seriously would have thought Blizz would have an actual economist on staff. For example, such a staffer might be able to predict the economic fallout when servers are merged. I know when my server merged with another a few months back, there was pretty much economic chaos in the AH and trade.

Anyway, my philosophy now on currency is, spend my non-gold as fast as I can because it is so temporary, keep a cushion (however I define it at the moment) of gold, and be self-sufficient in my professions.

About Fiannor
I have a day job but escape by playing WoW. I love playing a hunter, and my Lake Wobegonian goal is to become "above average" at it.

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