Every time something vaguely related to trading comes up in Warframe, someone always shouts that we need an MMO-style market. Or an auction shop, or whatever you want to call it. The idea being that users just throw up what they want to sell and buyers can just click a button instantly and get their item. After all, an auction house works great in other games, doesn’t it? Surely it’ll work in Warframe and it’ll make trading so much easier!
But I don’t think it will.
I actually think an auction house will make trading worse.
Now, that’s a rather bold statement for me to make. I’m not an economic specialist. Funnily enough, I don’t have that much experience with online, MMO-style markets. But I do have a basic idea of how these things work and I’ve seen a few real life examples for my thoughts to have some merit at least.
It’s also worth pointing out that I do trade regularly in Warframe, mainly via warframe.market, although I will flog my unwanted Riven mods on Trade Chat as well. I’m sitting on over 5000 Platinum and could easily get a lot more if I actually put the effort in. So there IS some bias here. But I should also point out that I am not a good trader at all.
Anyway, on with the actual topic.
The problem with an auction house is that it makes trading far too easy. And while that does sound like a “platinum riven key mafia” sort of thing, there’s a reason behind this. Digital Extremes make money from Warframe because not everyone is willing to wait patiently, farming relics and things like that. The idea is that players buy what they need with Platinum. But unlike most MMO-like games, you can also trade Platinum directly with other players. Being able to trade means you create an in-game economy and you can have a genuine free to play experience if you trade.
You also end up with a massive scale of supply and demand. There is almost always demand for Platinum, but a limited supply in rotation at any given moment. Platinum costs real money, and while some people will spend thousands on Warframe, most people don’t. Or, at least, they only buy Platinum at a 75% discount, which is at most a once-a-month occurrence. On the flip side, there is theoretically an infinite supply of things like Paris Prime blueprints or Fang Prime blades. Most of these items gather dust in the bottom of your inventory or get turned into ducats, while Platinum either sits on your account, is traded or goes into the bottomless sink of the Warframe shop.
To be fair, a Paris Prime blueprint was never worth much. It’s about 3 Platinum to buy one off someone. But you have to go through the effort of finding someone to trade with you in the first place. That small bit of effort and communication with others means that some people will go and buy the part, some people will farm relics until they get the part they want and some people will just go and do something else.
You don’t get rich selling Paris Prime blueprints, but some items have value. For example, an Anasa Ayatan Sculpture seems to always have a little value (about 8-10 Platinum for one), simply because there’s effort involved and people want Endo, but there’s also not a huge amount of competition to buy or sell them.
This changes if everyone sells their blueprints at once.
If you have an auction house where you just put up your item and have your Platinum delivered directly to you, that means EVERYONE can just put their items on the auction house and get Platinum.
Sounds great in theory, but now, suddenly, instead of, say, 200 Paris Prime blueprints being listed on warframe.market and another 200 posted in trade chat, you have everyone simply putting their Paris Prime blueprints up. But everyone will put those blueprints up for different amounts. And buyers will only ever buy the cheapest Paris Prime blueprints. You very suddenly end up with a race to the bottom, because selling your Paris Prime blueprint for 1 Platinum is better than not selling it at all.
You end up with a race to the bottom. Aside from genuinely rare items (e.g. Loki Prime sets or Maiming Strike mods), everything will drop in price as players dump their items on the auction house instead of blending their things into ducats. And since most people will ever only want one Paris Prime but always need Platinum, you just end up with more and more unsold parts.
Sure, things like vaulted items and Acolyte mods, limited edition items, will retain value, but everything else will plummet in price when everyone can just throw their items on an auction house and forget about them. Meanwhile, Platinum remains as it is, because Platinum has a defined, real-world price.
You’re overreacting, that won’t happen!
But it has already happened. We saw it happen in real time, just in a different game. Remember Mann Co. Supply Keys in Team Fortress 2? Remember how easy it was to trade 3 refined metal for 1 key? Now stop and think about how much 1 key costs. It’s always been the same price. If you want to trade one key for refined metal though, because trading is (or was) so easy and there was so much refined floating around, refined metal became worthless.
Okay, that’s not quite the same scenario. But we do have an almost exact scenario to look at as well: the Steam Market.
Have a look at how much trading cards are worth. At best, you get $0.01 for most cards, unless they are rare foil ones. The fact that it is so easy to put up your unwanted Steam items means that literally anyone with half a brain can do it. And because there are so many Steam users, everything rushes down to the price of $0.03 (or $0.01, what the seller gets) incredibly quickly. Within the first hour of any Steam event, the price of trading cards wold start high and drop to $0.05 and stay there, as everyone tries to sell their cards.
Sure, the same thing in Warframe wouldn’t happen nearly as quickly, but everything dropping down to 1-5 Platinum means that making Platinum is only really doable if you get lucky or spend real money in the first place. Just like the Steam Market.
There might be other issues too…
And then there’s the risk of things like botting and automation. There are already bots that buy and sell Steam Market items automatically. These drive prices down further because you have to out-buy and out-sell code. And having everything being easy to buy means hording becomes easier too. Someone can just snap up all the items they want, then raise prices.
There’s another drawback too. Because Platinum will move a lot faster in an auction economy, it becomes a lot harder to track and to reverse if something goes wrong. Warframe’s fraudulent Platinum transactions and reversals, while somewhat rare, are bad enough as they are. Now imagine reversing hundreds of trades, just for small amounts of Platinum. Because of how fast this Platinum moves, it weaves a much denser, messier web.
I’m not saying that the system is perfect.
The trading mechanics in Warframe could do with improvements. Trade Chat is an absolute cesspit at times and you have to be careful who you trade with. The inability to see when players are online hinders things further. And you can’t send private messages either, which slows you down.
But I think an auction house will cause far, far more problems than it will solve. And it will destroy the ability to play Warframe casually as a complete f2p player.