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Why raiding is so expensive in World of Warcraft: Legion

The economy of herbalists


Players who do raids, mythic dungeons and other high-end PvE activities in World of Warcraft may have noticed the high cost of flasks, potions and consumables in the Legion expansion. While the Warlords of Draenor equivalents of these items cost almost nothing, a Legion flask can cost over 1,500 gold on many servers’ auction houses.

I’ve written in the past about the player economy in WoW, and what’s been going on with alchemy in Legion is interesting. Here’s what’s going on and why it’s happening.

The price of entry

First, let’s talk about why this is a really big deal.

Warcraft’s PvE content is challenging, especially as you get into the higher difficulty levels of raids and mythic dungeons. This content is designed around the assumption that players will use everything available to them in the game to augment their characters and maximize the amount of damage they can deal, tank or heal off.

The auction house
Blizzard via Polygon

Alchemy is a profession players can learn in World of Warcraft which allows them to use herbs (collected by herbalism, another profession), to create potions and flasks. Potions are consumable items that provide an extremely powerful short term buff when used. Flasks are buffs that provide major stat increases for one hour. They give you a boost equivalent to the amount of primary stats you might expect to gain from upgrading all your gear by an entire tier.

Your performance will fall below the threshold necessary to be on the cutting edge of raid progression if you don’t use these items, and you will probably lose your raid slot in most competitive raiding guilds if you don’t use consumables.

That means you either need herbalism and alchemy, or you need to get herbs and crafting services from someone who has these professions. There’s not much discussion to be had there.

Time is money, friend!

There are four main herbs in Legion: Aethril, Fjarnskaggl, Dreamleaf and Foxflower. There’s also a special plant called Starlight Rose. Each of the regular herbs grows in a different region of the Broken Isles, and the roses grow exclusively in the max-level region of Suramar.

There are four kinds of flasks: one to increase stamina, one to increase agility, one to increase intellect and one to increase strength. Each flask has a different recipe, but all of them require 20 normal herbs — ten each of two kinds — and seven roses.

While you can harvest as many as seven normal herbs from a single node, you can only get one Starlight Rose from each spawn. Unless you have the highest skill level for collecting roses, which requires a lot of grinding, you have a chance for your attempt to pick the rose to fail. This outcome leaves you with worthless dust.

The Starlight Rose
Blizzard via Polygon

That means, to collect the herbs to make flasks, you have to travel to three different zones, pick two or three herb nodes for each of the normal herbs and probably 10-12 Starlight Rose nodes. Herb nodes aren’t terribly hard to find, but each flask represents maybe ten minutes of farming.

When you buy a flask on the auction house, what you are doing is paying another player to do this for you.

Trade goods have been artificially cheap in the past

Normal herbs are currently running players upwards of 40 gold each, and Starlight Roses can sell for more than 150 gold, and so players accustomed to seeing herbs sell less than one gold each in Warlords of Draenor, the previous WoW expansion, are experiencing some serious sticker shock. The cost of paying another player to collect trade goods for you has been disguised in the past by several different factors.

In Warlords, every character got a garrison with a garden in it. These gardens could grow a lot of herbs, which could be harvested without the herbalism profession.

This meant that the raw materials behind a flask represented very little player time, and also the quantity of herbs available far exceeded the needs of the community. Herbs were worthless and consumable costs were a barely noticeable nuisance, like repair fees.

Prior to that, WoW was home to a significant black market economy that farmed gold to sell to players on black markets.

Typically, gold sellers would do this by stealing an account using password phishing or keylogger malware, converting everything of value to gold, and then running the account via an automated “bot” program to collect resources, which the thieves sold for more gold. Since these bots’ time was worth far less than players’ time, trade goods were a lot cheaper than they would have been if real players were farming for them.

In 2015, after years of fighting illicit gold-selling and account theft with limited success, Blizzard started selling WoW Tokens, which are items that can be consumed to add a month of game subscription time to an account, but can also be sold on the auction house — a legitimized way of buying in-game gold with real money. This, along with more accounts being protected by two-factor authentication, seems to have dramatically reduced the impact of gold-sellers and their activities on auction house markets.

So the methods by which players were getting cheap herbs have been eliminated. Shit is, as they say, getting real.

Other factors may be temporarily inflating this market

The garrisons in Warlords of Draenor crushed the market for professions under a huge torrent of trade goods, and they also piped a huge amount of gold into the hands of some players who configured garrisons on many characters to generate gold.

A common transaction near the end of the expansion was for a player loaded with garrison-generated gold to pay large amounts of money — ranging up to seven figures — for high-end raid guilds to ferry them through the mythic-difficulty raid and collect high-end gear drops and the mythic moose mount.

That means that a lot of players came into Legion loaded with gold and are relatively insensitive to price.

That also means that a lot of people switched professions away from herbalism in the last expansion.

However, Legion has been out for a couple of months now, and some Warlords-rich players are noticing that their class halls produce much less gold than garrisons used to, and are tightening their purse strings. Meanwhile, more players are picking up herbalism and alchemy to try to capitalize on the booming market for consumables.

In the last few weeks, increased competition among herbalists has started to bring herbs down from their peak prices. As supply continues to increase to meet demand, the market should cool off and the pressure should decrease.

In patch 7.1, Blizzard intervened

Two major changes to herbalism and alchemy that could permanently reduce flask prices went live in the most recent major World of Warcraft patch.

First, there is a new vendor who will give you trade goods, including herbs, in exchange for an item called Blood of Sargeras.

The Blood Trader
Blizzard via Polygon

Blood drops from dungeon bosses, is awarded by world quests, and can be collected from gathering nodes by gatherers with upgraded skills. It’s supposed to be a high-end crafting material, and some professions, like Enchanting, can use a lot of it. But many players have more than they need, and it binds to the player who picks it up. This means it can’t be sold on the auction house.

On patch day, a lot of players converted their excess Blood of Sargeras into a lot of the most coveted herbs and converted them to flasks or sold them on the auction house, bringing prices way down but, as that initial flood has subsided, prices have started to creep back up.

Still, in the long term, the fact that Blood of Sargeras can be converted into herbs will result in increased supply of the scarcest materials and, therefore, lower prices.

The other big change is the introduction of a new combat potion, which can be crafted from Blood of Sargeras instead of herbs. If raiders start using these instead of the other potions, then most of the herbs will be going into flasks rather than a significant percentage being diverted for potion crafting. That means an increased supply of flasks and lower prices.

The first week after the patch, flask prices on my server fell as low as 1,000 gold, but those prices are likely to go back up as the initial frenzy of blood-for-herbs trading subsides.

Raiding is affordable, but barely

In Warlords, players grew accustomed to being able to raid without bothering with professions. Money flowed in from the garrison, and enchantments and consumables cost a pittance; a single garrison mission could fund a full week’s raiding.

Those days are over. Consumables are now priced at a level that reflects the significant amount of farming currently required to craft them.

If you send your class hall followers on gold-generating missions and you run some gold-generating world quests each day, you can probably manage to afford enough potions and flasks for a couple of hours of raiding each week. If you need more than that, you will probably need to find a way to grind for gold, or else start doing professions and auctions yourself.

For players hoping for help from on high, there may be hope. Blizzard has seemed to prioritize raiders over auctioneers and crafters in the past, and has dramatically reduced the need for players to patronize jewelcrafters and enchanters in order to augment their gear. If raiders keep complaining about consumable costs, Blizzard will probably intervene on their behalf. But the patch pipeline is slow and an overhaul to alchemy would probably be reserved for a major update. So, even if Blizzard were to help, that help would be months away, at the earliest.

In the meantime, the best way to alleviate the current scarcity of herbs and potions is also the best way to fund your own adventures: learn herbalism and/or alchemy, and get in on the action!

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