As one of the last major games to operate on a subscription model, World of Warcraft needs to give players a lot of things to do and many ways to play. Historically, one of the ways players have engaged with the game has been to master the in-game economy with an eye toward joining Azeroth’s one percent.
The Warlords of Draenor expansion included some major changes that did a lot of damage to the in-game economy and severely limited that way of playing. Legion brings some changes that may start to rectify some of the harm done, but it probably won’t bring back the robust crafting and auction-house economy that a subset of WoW players enjoyed in previous expansions.
Economies require players to need things other players can provide
What all players are doing across all possible activities in a game like World of Warcraft is pouring in time in hopes of progressing their characters. Some activities will give you gear upgrades. Others will increase your reputation with various factions. Some will award gold, the game’s currency. And others will yield commodities that can be sold on the auction house or used for crafting.
Each character in World of Warcraft can specialize in two of the game’s dozen professions. You can be a blacksmith who makes plate armor and weapons, a leatherworker who makes leather and mail armor, a tailor who makes cloth armor and inventory bags, a jewelcrafter who cuts gems to add stats and bonuses to socketed gear, an enchanter who augments gear with stat increases or an alchemist who makes useful potions.
Alternatively, you can use your professions to specialize in gathering raw materials, like the ore needed by smiths and jewelcrafters or the herbs used by alchemists and scribes.
The key to a healthy in-game economy is that many players need things other players can provide. Players who want to level a bunch of professions on a bunch of max-level characters can be totally self-sufficient, but it’s often easier to just buy a crafted item rather than going out and looking for raw materials and then leveling a crafting profession so that you can make it yourself.
And when there’s a demand for player-crafted goods, players who make a point of supplying those goods to the community can earn a lot of currency.
Money ain’t a thang to most players
You get gold from just about everything you do in WoW. Enemies drop coins and items that can be sold to vendors. Old gear can be sold to vendors for gold. Quests award gold. You’ll accumulate currency no matter how you play the game.
But if you want a whole lot of gold, you have to grind extensively or find an efficient way to get lots of gold for a relatively small time investment.
Most players don’t care about having that much gold; there are a limited number of things you can buy with your wealth. The best gear in Warcraft drops when you defeat raid bosses and binds permanently to the player who loots it. That stuff can’t be bought or sold (unless you bribe a raid guild to carry you through a raid and give you loot).
Most players only need gold to fund occasional upgrade costs like flying mount training, incidental gear repair costs and buying consumable items crafted by other players. That means that most players don’t need a significant gold income.
However, a few kinds of players want to build wealth:
- Guild bankers, who try to earn enough gold to pay for repairs and consumables for their entire guilds. This way other players don’t have to do anything except raid.
- Players who want to buy WoW tokens with gold. Blizzard began selling these tokens in 2015, after years of unsuccessfully trying to prevent third parties from selling WoW gold for real-world cash. Each token can be consumed to add a month to a WoW subscription. Players who want gold can purchase the tokens for $20 and list them on the Auction House, and players who have extra gold and want to add time to their subscriptions can buy the tokens with gold.
- Players who like to spend large amounts of gold on frivolous luxury items like rare mounts and companion pets. Blizzard added a vendor who sells a pet that costs a million gold and a mount that costs two million in the new expansion! Buying a token worth a month of game time costs 35 to 40,000 gold on the Auction House, so if you pay for your subscription six months at a time with real money, which gets you the cheapest per-month price, WoW costs $13 per month. At that price, two million gold is worth $650 in subscription time, though technically the tokens cost $20 each, which means two million gold is worth $1000! That’s a hell of an expensive mount.
- Players who view acquiring a lot of gold as an objective in its own right. Fair enough. Being rich can be fun.
WoW used to require a lot of interaction with the player economy
Prior to Warlords, progression of any kind required extensive engagement with the crafting economy. Most armor pieces and weapons had sockets for player-crafted gems, and many professions created consumable augments for gear.
During Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria you’d need three player-crafted gems for your chest piece, one for your bracer, one for your gloves, two or three for your pants, one for your shoulders, two for your belt, one for your cape, a special metagem for your helm and possibly some for your weapons, your necklace or your rings each time you replaced a set of gear.
You would also need enchantments created by an enchanter for your gloves, cape, chest, boots, bracers and weapons along with your shield if you used one. And you’d need an inscription created by a scribe for your shoulders, spellthread created by a tailor or an armor patch created by a leatherworker for your pants, and a belt-buckle created by a blacksmith to add the second gem socket to your belt.
Additionally, if you wanted to raid it was extremely helpful to use an alchemy flask every hour, potions to increase your effectiveness during key moments of boss fights and food created with fishing and cooking to provide buffs for each attempt at a boss.
Avoiding the economy of player-created items was all but impossible for most players.
Warlords of Draenor changed most of that
While the game systems in Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria forced players to interact with crafting and the player economy, the designers behind Warlords felt that it would be a quality-of-life improvement if players could generally just equip new gear as it dropped without worrying about encrusting it in gems and filigreeing it with magic in order for it to reach its potential.
Warlords drastically reduced the number of enchantments — you now only enchanted your cape, your jewelry and your weapons — and gem sockets on gear were almost completely eliminated.
Meanwhile, the player garrison, the customizable base that was central to that expansion, could produce huge amounts of ore, herbs and enchanting materials, even for players without the relevant gathering professions. As a result, the supply of these commodities far exceeded the community’s need for the goods that could be crafted from them. Gathering became completely obsolete and prices for herbs and ore cratered.
Garrisons were staffed with NPC followers who could be sent on missions, and some of those missions awarded gold. The base rewards were usually pretty modest, but followers could get an ability called "treasure hunter" which multiplied gold awards from missions. And if multiple treasure hunters were assigned to a mission, the bonus stacked. Players now had a way to build wealth without interacting with others.
That meant that a garrison could produce between a few hundred and more than a thousand gold per day. But each max-level character could get a garrison, and you can have 11 characters on a server. So if you were willing to level a bunch of characters to 100 and put in the time to establish treasure-hunter garrisons on all of them, you could have earned potentially millions of gold over the course of the expansion.
This didn’t involve making the gold other players earned through normal means flow into your coffers, unlike older auction-house strategies for getting rich in Azeroth. You were just printing money.
The supply of herbs and enchanting materials was so excessively high due to garrisons and demand was so suppressed due to system changes that flasks and enchantments cost less in absolute terms during Warlords than they did in previous expansions. But for truly scarce things like rare-drop battle pets and WoW tokens, gold went through a period of hyperinflation. The gold price of a WoW token doubled between April of 2015 and July of 2016.
Warlords of Draenor was a disaster for the WoW economy.
Does Legion fix anything?
Legion corrects some of the worst excesses of Warlords, but crafting and the player economy will still be far less central to the game than it was in Pandaria or Cataclysm.
The Legion pre-patch in July eliminated all gold rewards for Warlords garrison missions, cutting off the firehose of gold into the economy. Players will be moving on from their garrisons and moving into the new, somewhat similar Class Halls.
But there are some big changes: Draenor garrison missions required a currency called garrison resources, but the garrison produced a lot of these resources and you could also get resources from the follower missions. That meant you could send your followers on as many garrison missions as you wanted using nothing but the resources your followers passively earned from their missions.
Class Halls utilize a similar currency, but it can’t be earned passively; you have to go do quests on your character to earn the resources you need to send your followers on class hall missions. Since you actually have to play the game to keep a Class Hall running, it will probably be impractical to run Class Hall missions on a large number of characters.
Class Hall followers also don’t seem to have gold multipliers analogous to the treasure hunter perk, another way the flow of gold into the economy will be slowed.
Avoiding the economy of player-created items was all but impossible for most players
Class Halls don’t have mines or gardens, unlike garrisons, so gathering professions should become relevant again.
Gem sockets are far less common than they were in Pandaria, but a bit more common than they were in Warlords, so jewelcrafting could see a bit of a comeback, but demand for gems will continue to be much lower than it was in Pandaria.
Flasks and potions should be more valuable this time around, since garrison gardens will no longer be producing more herbs than anyone can ever use.
There are actually fewer relevant enchantments in Legion than there were in Draenor, because you won’t be enchanting weapons anymore. However, prices for enchantments could rebound to the point of being pretty profitable now that players can no longer generate huge quantities of enchanting materials in their garrisons.
Finally, various professions including scribes, smiths and engineers can craft relics for artifact weapons so this is a potential new market niche and should help create demand for herbs and ore, propping up other crafted goods as well.
Also, it’s important to note that while the huge amount of gold produced during Warlords is sloshing around in players’ banks, Legion crafting uses all new reagents, so the herbs, ore and enchanting materials produced by the garrisons are no longer relevant.
Without huge amounts of raw materials to depress crafted-goods prices and counterbalance the flow of gold, we may start to see the effects of inflation at the auction house. If the new resources are at all scarce, the prices for both raw Legion materials and new crafted goods could be very high, at least for a while.
Things are a little better for crafters. But just a little.
Draenor garrisons were unpopular with a lot of players, but a sizable chunk of the community loved them. In Warlords, it was possible to completely ignore professions and buy all the flasks, gems and enchantments you needed with a tiny fraction of your passively-earned garrison gold.
Legion is throttling the flow of gold and raw materials into Azeroth’s economy, so those days seem to be over.
This is a good thing for fans of professions, who will see these activities become at least a bit more rewarding in the new expansion.
But players continue to need far fewer crafted goods than they did in the expansions before Warlords. Blizzard seems to have little interest in bringing back the vibrant auction house community that existed in older expansions.