Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, October 06, 2009
How much is a glyph worth?

After running a glyph business in World of Warcraft for two weeks, I started getting hate tells of the kind that Gevlon regularly publishes on his blog, basically saying: "Why do you sell glyph for 6 gold if they are worth 60 gold?". If I reply, "What makes you think a glyph is worth 60 gold?", the answer is invariably, "Because I sold glyphs for that much". That brings us to the question of how much a glyph is really worth. Or the related question of whether a glyph is more like a Van Gogh painting, or more like a pencil.

The value of a Van Gogh painting is determined by the highest bidder, because the painting is unique. If you want to maximize your profit from selling Van Gogh paintings (not that you're likely to have many), you'd wait for that highest offer, even if that means your business is going rather slowly. But once you sell the painting, you get so much money, that all the waiting was worth while. Now in principle you could try the same with pencils. You open a pencil shop with only very few pencils on display, with a $100 price tag, and wait for somebody who is so much in need of a pencil that he'll pay $100 for a pencil. In practice that isn't such a good idea, because pencils aren't unique, they are fungible (that is one is pretty much like the other). They are easy to make in large quantities, and somebody else is probably selling one quite close by for much less. The value of the pencil is not determined by what the highest bidder is willing to pay for it, but by what the lowest seller is willing to sell it for. All it takes is one industrialist to build a very efficient factory for making cheap pencils, and he can flood the market with pencils at the cheapest price, while still making a decent profit due to low production cost.

Glyphs cost around 3 gold to make on most World of Warcraft servers. If you were the only person on the server able to make them, you could probably make a huge fortune in a very short time by selling them for 60 gold each or even more. But in reality that works about as well as the $100 pencil shop: Somebody else will come and undercut you. The higher glyph prices are on your server, the more people will be tempted to get into the glyph business. So the glyph mass market strategy works more like the industrialists pencil strategy: Find out the cheapest way to make glyphs, decide what would be a decent profit margin, and start posting cheap glyphs, as long as you still make a profit.

Now if the competition is selling glyphs for 60 gold, you might be tempted to undercut them by a little, and sell your glyphs for 59.95 or 55 gold or something. Then the other guy undercuts you again, you undercut him again, and so on. If you are online all day and do nothing but cancelling auctions that have been underbid and reposting them a bit cheaper, you'll "win" that, but only at the cost of a considerable effort in time. So if you are going for a deep undercutting strategy anyway, which is designed to make other inscribers quit the market, you might as well speed it up by directly going from 60 gold to somewhere between 6 to 8 gold, hoping that the guy who thinks his glyphs are "worth" 60 gold quits the business in disgust. As with the pencil mass market, the ultimate value of the glyph is determined by the lowest value anyone is willing to sell it for. And if you minimized your production cost, that could well be you, giving you a high market share. Even if you reach a high market share it isn't wise to raise prices to 60 gold again, because the other sellers will be back immediately.

But what if you are already selling your glyphs at just above your production cost of around 3 gold, and somebody is still undercutting you by a lot? Well, you know it costs you 3 gold to make that glyph, and having studied the market for herb prices, pigments, and ink, you know the competition can't produce much cheaper than you. So either you let the other guy sell at a loss until he gives up, or if he completely undershoots prices and sells glyphs for 1 gold, you buy them and resell them for 3. As long as you make at least a small profit, you can keep that up forever, while the guy making a loss will sooner or later give up. In other words, a glyph is more like a pencil, how much it is worth is determined by its production cost, and if you have production optimized, you'll know the true value exactly, and can react accordingly.

Furthermore there is the issue of who is actually buying all these glyphs. Much is known about producing and selling glyphs, but who buys them all is only speculated about. It is likely that there are several types of customers, the ones that only buy glyphs once, when they have an open slot, and never change it. And the ones which switch glyphs more often than that. The guy who needs a glyph just once is the guy who is willing to pay 60 gold if necessary, he doesn't buy more if the prices go down. The customer who is considering switching glyphs in and out on the other hand might well be tempted by lower prices, and buy a glyph for 6 gold he wouldn't buy for 60 gold. So by using a lower maximum sell price for your glyphs, you not only discourage the competition, you also increase the size of the market, and ultimately your profit.
Jeez, this was illuminating. I've been trying to level an inscriptionist and have wound up with a bunch of pigments I don't need anymore taking up a lot of space. Endless hours spent trying to figure out which glyphs to make are now useless, but luckily because of a good strategy.

Thank you, Mr Tobold, for making clear that which was once muddy, and I should have seen for myself.
While low glyph prices obviously opens your market to the regular glyph consumer, another side effect of this is interesting: The one-time buyer, buying their one-time glyph now at 6g, decides that glyphs are a consumer item, easily affordable, and worth experimenting with.

They become a regular glyph consumer, the playerbase shifts to consume more, and the glyph market expands further.
Guess it depends on server. I recently transfered to a new server and glyphs go for about 4-7gold each. On my old server, they averaged 15-30gold. My old server had a higher population should you would think the prices would be lower due to more competition, however when I looked into it is was because there were almost zero herbs for sale on the auction house, I checked 5 or 6 times over the course of a week and never saw more then a single stack of northrend hearbs for sale, and they were very expensive.

The basic guide for Galvon's money machine assumes that there are herbs for sale at a price cheap enough to make glyphs at a competitive price. But that assumes a large number of idiots willing to farm herbs and then sell them to someone else for near nothing, who in half the time will make twice the profit. What happens when the people who were farming herbs wise up to that and either A stop farming them compleatly and try to jump on the Glyph train, or B keep farming them and start selling them for greatly increased prices.

I imagine the end result is that the people farming herbs make more money, the people making gylphs probably continue to make the same profit margins and its the people who are buying glyphs that get screwed over.

Me personally I'm content to buy Cardinal ruby's for 160g and cut them into ruined which sell (inexplicably) for 190-220g

not as much money as inscription, but it also does't require a bunch of alts with guild banks and hours of time afk making glyphs. It takes about 30 seconds to cut maybe 5 of them and make a 150-300g profit. I do this about every 2 days make maybe a 1000 A week for in total maybe 5minutes of work, but sadly it has a very limited cap, I can't put like 20 rubies on the AH they'll never all sell. I only use money for repair bills and enchants and whatnot, I've never seen the point of amassing a great deal of wealth in WoW.
Me personally I'm content to buy Cardinal ruby's for 160g and cut them into ruined which sell (inexplicably) for 190-220g

I do that as well. But actually the main profit comes from the once-per-day alchemy transmute which turns a rare gem and an eternal (together worth 60 gold) into that epic Cardinal Ruby worth 160 gold. With transmute mastery I even sometimes get two or more epic gems. Sure, it's just once per day, but it only takes a minute for 100+ gold profit.

But that assumes a large number of idiots willing to farm herbs and then sell them to someone else for near nothing, who in half the time will make twice the profit.

Actually what you call "next to nothing" is still around 1 gold per herb, which is more than any ore except titanium pays. I would be really happy if there *weren't* that "large number of idiots willing to farm herbs", because if you are alone in a zone farming herbs is extremely easy. It also has the huge advantage of only costing you time, no investment required, pure profit. And unlike crafting, these gathering skills are even profitable while you level them up.
I started getting hate tells

That's why I use a bank alt for posting anything on the AH. But then again that would be sending a lot of stuff through the mail if you're selling glyphs.
I tried glyphs... I got rich (160k gold), I quit the grudgery... it takes so horribly much time, that I was already logging into wow as I'd log to my work computer.... 2 hours per day, thats approx. 10% of my life only to craft and take mails and post, meh I prefer to put to better use this ten percent of my life.

So now I'm a buyer. I quit inscription. I prefer to pay more for pencils and spend less time with boring stuff, more time with fun stuff, even dailies are more exhilarating than this gold-making.

:) Liked the article very much and your last phrase is SO TRUE, about increasing market size if prices are more affordable.
It's not necessarily true that the guy dropping below 3g will be beaten so easily.

For some players owning the market share is more important than anything else even if it means they are below market values.

I ran up against someone in EQ2 when he and I were the only Alchemists who could make a certain tier of ink.

He farmed all day for "free" resources and put them on the auction house so cheap that after factoring in vendor consumables that were part of the recipes and listing fees he was selling at a loss. In other words he had to grind both herbs and gold in order to maintain market dominance.

I let him have the market. If I had bought him out he just would have ground out more, he was willing to spend 15 hours a day every day doing this.
Did you ever study economics Tobold? I find your economic commentaries to be always insightful and clear.

I have a question you may have an opinion on. In EVE the costs involved in providing a good for sale involve not just the material costs but also the hard to quantify risks of transport to the point of sale. I dabbled as a trader for a bit buying in one region and transporting to another where the price is higher but I never really figured out an optimum pricing strategy. Most of the time I went for the 0.01 ISK less than the next guy strategy which works but is very time consuming. On the other hand if I went for a price just above the buying price then I wouldn't be compensated for the risk of transport.
If you're going for the deep undercutting strategy to try and make others quit the glyph business, you better be damn sure you've got enough gold and materials to produce the huge amount of glyphs required to do so. You'll want to cover every single glyph (except the leveling ones, since those aren't profitable) and have enough stock not to get sold out in 48 hours time. That, and you'll need a longer breath (both in gold and will) than the other person(s) going for a large market share as well.
Otherwise it's probably more profitable to simply undercut a bit and take your share.
Even if you reach a high market share it isn't wise to raise prices to 60 gold again, because the other sellers will be back immediately.

Not true. People do not have psychic abilities. If you are in position to put a glyph for 60g, that glyph is momentarily neglected by the competition. This is a good opportunity to try winning a jack pot and post it at said 60g price. The chances are reasonable you will get a sell at that price, and income of over 10 times of normal glyph sell. This is certainly true on my own server - practically all the glyphs sell for tiny profit (4g, 3g), but every now and then I sell a glyph for 85g.
Did you ever study economics Tobold?

No, but I do read economic books and am subscribed to The Economist. By the way, I didn't study game design either, this is all just a hobby.

I have a question you may have an opinion on. In EVE the costs involved in providing a good for sale involve not just the material costs but also the hard to quantify risks of transport to the point of sale.

The current global economic crisis is a direct result of risk generally being hard to quantify.

As I said, the true value of a glyph is not just its production cost, but the lowest at which somebody is willing to sell it, which theoretically should be production cost plus X. X contains the acceptable profit margin, payback on any initial investment, and any risks. Now posting a glyph only costs 30 copper pieces, so the financial risk when you don't sell it is low. But in the case of transport cost in EVE, you'd need to figure out some number for the risk. That would be based on the value of the transported goods, and the likelyhood of you being intercepted by pirates, and shouldn't be underestimated.

In economics it is known that some people use trading strategies described as "picking up nickels in front of a steamroller": If in 99% of cases everything goes well, you might be content with a very small risk compensation. But if the 1% of catastrophic loss case strikes, you'll regret it.
Why don't you send me those hate tells or post them on your own blog.

Let the world laugh on those people who try to bully others into something irrational.
Glyphs are intriguing, because there is such a dramatic difference between the resource value (gold cost to make) and resell value. But as you comment, they are also a strange type of good, because demand by each consumer can be very low indeed. And the transaction costs (the time spent constantly relisting on the auction house) are very high. So there are plenty of explanations. And I think transaction costs are most significant in this case - high prices are maintained because "shelf stacking isn't fun", so most players don't want to do it.

However, your question is itself flawed: Gold does not equal worth. At least not worth (value) in a sense broader than currency. For example, the most sought-after "epeen" items in WoW cannot be purchased with gold. I have 100k gold in WoW, but nothing (I perceive) worth spending it on. But I did spend days (of play time) searching for my turtle mount, which I routinely ride through Dalaran, even though it goes slower than a regular mount. Gold is largely irrelevant to the consumerist (Baudrillard-esk) aspects of the WoW economy. And the consumerist aspects are largely the reason people seem to play - they want their characters to be valued by other players - gear/mounts/etc are a visual method of gaining status. (And if you still don't understand, ask yourself why characters mount up while idling in Dalaran, when they clearly have no intention of going anywhere.)

(Personally the most interesting aspect of "WoW economics" aren't in the classic notions of benefit to the buyer when used, labor to produce, gains from exchange. Nor in the "sign and symbols" of consumerism. Rather in the ability to create the second without the first - create value in an entirely non-physical product, that has no practical use at all. That valuation problem isn't as trivial at is seems: In wider modern society most of what we might think of as the "information economy" induces market failure. Or if you prefer, tends to be a public good (non-rivalrous, non-excludable). And so can only be valued in convention economics once government has intervened (for example, legally enforces a copyright or patent, imposes Pigovian taxation, etc). Which may be fine, until you realise that government intervention will eventually be the defining characteristic of value. And all the while, people will think they are living in a free market...)
Why don't you send me those hate tells or post them on your own blog. Let the world laugh on those people who try to bully others into something irrational.

Actually I don't find your "Morons of the week" column very funny. Laughing about the stupidity of others (apart from being as not-politically-correct as laughing about a handicapped person) is only funny when the stupidity is obvious to the average person. I don't think the true value of a glyph is obvious to the average person, because otherwise we wouldn't have this huge discrepancy in valuations. So I'd rather educate than point fingers and laugh.
Actually, the morons on Gevlon's weekly post are very much aware of the value of their glyphs and even more aware that selling them at their high prices is close to a scam. They're being laughed at because they can't handle competition like the businessmen they pretend to be. Instead, they cry like babies whose lollipop was just stolen.
It's not at all like laughing at a handicapped person, because Gevlon's morons chose to act like idiots and chose to refuse teaching themselves how to deal with competition properly.
Whether you chose to expose them and laugh at them is something else. It's probably better for business to ignore them, otherwise they might decide to learn how to become a better competitor ;)
I'm wondering if you can corner the market easy by selling below cost-price.

For complex reasons 0.01 isk undercutting is far better a strategy in Eve than 1 copper undercutting is in WoW.
Some people can get the materials to produce pencils from sources that you dont know about, dont assume he is selling at a loss and that you can buy out his stock and repost it.

I have a couple farmers and also farm on my own when I am done posting all my glyphs. With the herb prices around 25g-40g again I have a deal to pay 20g for all and can easily keep posting glyphs for 3g ea.

When someone starts buying my glyphs I have use Gevlons advice and slowly post more (1-2 at a time) and bait him to keep buying them until he realises he has bought over a stack and I am still posting them...he now has stacks of something he cant sell.
Nees wins.
The MMO champion article has crashed the market on my server. There are at least 10 new people trying to get in and you have to repost every hour to make it worth while. I wanted to hit gold cap (at 192k currently), but I think I will wait out the glyph market as I dont have the time to constantly repost repost repost.
For my part, I play a narrow segment of the JC market because I make a minimum of 20g per listing, up to as much as 70g depending on the market that day -- only three cuts, so it’s very fast and very easy on the plus side, but limited earning potential on the minus side (I’d estimate 100g per day for 10 minutes time on average). If I turned honor or emblems into uncut gems that would turn ~150g material cost into pure profit.

I’ve played around in the glyph market as I skill up my scribe, but I can’t see a point in selling glyphs for a small margin like 3g apiece on my limited play time. It takes a fair amount of time to deal with farming herbs (or even buying them), milling, creating glyphs, mailing them to the AH toon, swapping to the AH toon, pulling the glyphs out of the mail, and listing them.

I can do a quick-and-easy subset of the Argent Tournament dailies for 13g apiece plus seals toward a pet that sells for 400g minimum -- by my calculations about 145g value in 30 minutes (or less, since I have the Tabard teleport, a hearth stone, and the Kirin Tor ring to minimize travel time) depending on the daily set (not counting additional synergy with the cooking, JC, or K3 daily, or gold looted / vendor trash / greens).

To match my AT daily routine with my scribe I’d have to sell 29+ glyphs per day at 5g pure profit each in 30 minutes time invested - I could be wrong, but don't think I could do that kind of volume selling of glyphs on my server.
Everything is worth whatever the buyer will pay and the seller will take. If they can't agree on a price, then it is worthless until a price is found. That might be 3g, 60g, or a trade window filled with herbs and some parchment.

So I'd rather educate than point fingers and laugh.
You have unlocked the achievement: "Decent Human Being"
In a controlled market, glyphs are like Gillette blades. Priced through collusion - usually overpriced with little to no alternatives but not overtly so as to piss off the customer.
The idea of someone sending hate mail over something like that absolutely boggles my mind. I mean, I can understand hating the system perhaps, especially if you are losing at it, but attacking someone for just selling their goods at the price they want to? That's ridiculous.
um... why not just link to Gevlon rather than re-hash everything he's written into your own words?

For people that want the detailed version:

and I wont even claim it as my own!
Winter, that is exactly the links I already put in my post! Why repeat them again?
The problem with Gevlons deep undercut strategy is this.

Its less profit for time invested than posting at higher prices.

I've tried both. I have hit the gold cap on two different servers with inscription. Here's the simple truth:

If you sell glyphs at say 5g each and go through 10 a day of each and I sell one a day at 50g...I have made more profit than you...and i've done so in 1/10th the effort.

Deep undercutting works, you will make money, but you're flat out an idiot for doing it in this inefficient a manner.
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