Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Killing the glyph market

It is safe to say that the market for glyphs in World of Warcraft isn't working as intended. Far from being a fun tradeskill which players find useful, sometimes make a bit of gold with, and which supplies other players with needed items at stable prices, the glyph market turned into something semi-industrial, which only a few players participate in, and that only works through the massive use of addons automating it. Prices fluctuate wildly from 1 gold to 60 gold, and on many auction houses over a quarter of all auctions are for glyphs. So, what went wrong?

I suspect the chain of events started with alchemy. Players need flasks for raiding, which creates a demand for frost lotus. Frost lotus is found when gathering high-end herbs, not all of which are then used for making flasks. People farming herbs for frost lotus create an oversupply of herbs, keeping prices for them low. Thus inscribers can buy relatively cheap herbs, and with the help of the ink seller transform them into any glyph, at a cost of under 2 gold per glyph.

On the other side of the equation is demand. Demand is fluctuating, but buyers are not very price sensitive. If you respec correctly, you are going to spend a lot of gold on the respec, the gear needed for the new role, enchantments, and gems, all of which will cost you hundreds of gold. A glyph costing 50 gold isn't going to stop you there.

So we have glyph being supplied at a production cost of under 2 gold, and buyers willing to pay 50 gold, so everything should be rosy, shouldn't it? Not so fast. Easy profit attracts everybody out to make money. And the auction house running with rules that are far from supportive to creating an efficient market, what we get is wild undercutting and prices all over the place. One aggravating factor in the case of glyphs is that it costs basically nothing to post a lot of them. Many glyph sellers have over a thousand glyphs on auction. Sure, over 90% of them return unsold, but the few that do sell make enough profit to make it worth their while.

That this isn't working as intended should be clear from the fact that it can't be done without addons. Imagine posting a thousand glyphs manually, then emptying your mailbox 48 hours later, and reposting all the glyphs that didn't sell, each time manually checking the current lowest price. Only addons like Auctioneer and Postal make that business even possible.

But if that doesn't convince you that this isn't intended, then maybe the fact that Blizzard announced to kill the glyph market will: In Cataclysm apparently you only need to buy every glyph just once, write it into your spellbook, and if you ever need it again due to repeated respecs, you can get it from the spellbook instead of buying a new one. Which means a few months after Cataclysm comes out, everybody will have all the glyphs they ever need, and except for a small market for alts and new players, demand will be pretty dead. I would have preferred other means, like a 1 gold auctioning fee for glyphs to stop the current excesses. But killing demand sure will work to kill the glyph market. Good riddance!
Unless Blizzard redesigns the economy, the collapse of the glyph industry will have repercussions. Since there is no one to buy the excess "cheap" herbs, farmers will have to charge a higher price for the Frost Lotus and that will mean higher priced flasks.

In high population servers, the glyph market is very stable. There are a high number of "glyph industrialists" and they help to keep the price low (e.g. under 5g a glyph). This in turn benefits the consumer a lot.
What I seriously do not know is, who are the people buying all those glyphs for years no constantly that a couple of industrialists per server sell such high volumes?

I have tank+damage dual spec and once I decided on the damage glyphs I never changed them. For tanking I have a stack each Glyph of Turn Evil and Righteous Defense to switch out for Halls of Reflection / raid.

My few twinks have their glyphs and never buy new ones. I would have to get one new glyph for serious raid tanking but that's not going to happen.

So who is buying these 5.000 gold worth of glyphs every day the glyph industrialists talk about?
If Blizzard gives you glyphs that have a significantly higher value the market should not die. Some glyphs could be given a production cost of several thousand gold, a few dozens of those in everyone's spell books will see the glyph market have a good turnover also in the new system.
I'm no hardcore glyph industrialist (I post around 600 glyphs for only 5 classes). Yet, I sell around 150 glyphs a day. Most of the glyphs are sold for under 5g, so the demand is there. In addition, I supplement my income selling Vellums.

Many of these people swap glyphs because 2 specs is frequently not enough. Take, for example a Priest. The hardcore healing Priests would have both heal specs (Holy and Disc) for raiding. Then there is Shadow PvE, Disc PvP, Shadow PvP, etc.
Azzur: I think posting 600 items per day is pretty hardcore in the general scheme of things :)

The glyph market isn't the only one though. One of my guildies recently posted a fairly hardcore guide to making money from jewelcrafting. So I'm sure a lot of people do that too (but not as over the top as glyphs have been in terms of the numbers.)
I can confirm Blizzard's plan to kill the glyph as a consumable. The latest beta build already includes the functionality. I'm not sure that this will kill the market, but it will make it less profitable.

As for your analysis: the problem with the glyph market is that there's A TON of them, so it's impossible for someone non-hardcore to handle the amounts of glyphs involved. As a result a few people corner the market and charge basically whatever they want. Unless a competitor with the same resources shows up, all "small fish" can be easily driven out.
i totally agree that the solution that could(/should) have been implemented a long time ago is to raise the AH deposit. i've thought this for a long time... while making thousands of gold from exactly what this discussion is about.

at a few points i've also tried to trade in gems. gems are used in a similar way to glyphs but with fewer choices there is a pretty constant demand for certain cuts. however, i've always turned away from gems because of the comparatively huge deposit cost (i think it's 1.5g for 24hours from memory).

oh one other thing that supports the market is the green quality inks you get a a by-product of making glyphs.
early in the expansion i could sell one of these inks for the same proce as a stack of herbs. they were being used a lot for making darkmoon cards back then and this meant that i could break even on a stack of herbs before even going to glyphs. all glyph sales were pure profit!

later in the expansion people don't make so many darkmoon cards but now i can sell the high quality inks by turning them into runescrolls. i'm still breaking even before selling any glyphs.

as i say, i'm profiting from it (and have been for some time) but i'm not enjoying it. i'm not a huge fan of the idea blizz are going with but we'll have to wait and see. i would have liked for them to simply raise the deposit and see what happens. that said, the other thing that's changing in cataclysm is we're getting 3 glyph slots with several (8?) of the middle glyph slots so perhaps something big had to change.
Good idea, but it sounds like it might have some ramifications for new players and characters further down the line.

In a year's time, there will be virtually no profit to be had from glyphs. So if I'm levelling a new character, will I have to actually seek out an (very rare, because it Makes No Cash) inscriptor and have all my glyphs custom-made?

Of course, some people will stick with the market, and on some servers it'll be fine. But on smaller servers I can see a situation where you just can't buy any of your talent tree's key glyphs.
Rather than killing the glyph market, I think it will provide a short term bonanza and in the long-term the glyph market will settle to a higher level of turnover than it does today. Here's why:

In the current market, how many glyphs does a character buy? Bryksom put his finger on it. Most characters buy one glyph per glyph position (or less) and never change it (or at least, not until there is a new level cap with new glyphs available). So the average character buys 3 major and 3 minor glyphs. Of course there are some players who buy a lot more than this and are constantly tuning their glyphs, but I believe these characters to be in the minority. For the average character, once a glyph slot opens, a glyph is bought and put there and stays there forever.

Who is currently buying glyphs, then? In my opinion, they are bought by new characters: either new level 80s or characters who have not yet reached the cap. The average old character hasn't changed a glyph in years.

Let's be generous, then, and say the average character buys 10-15 glyphs in a lifetime. This level of sales is what is sustaining the current market. However because there are so few scribes in the market, this level is keeping us all rich.

When the cataclysm happens, there will of course be a bonanza as older characters fill new glyph slots and as they buy all the other glyphs they feel they might need one day. In my opinion, the average older character will eventually buy almost all glyphs that their class will allow.

After that bonanza is over, we will go back to a situation that is similar to the current status quo. The older characters still won't be guying glyphs and the market will continue to be sustained, as a t present, by new characters: either new level 85s or characters who have not yet reached the level cap. The only difference to today's market will be that instead of buying an average of 10-15 glyphs in a lifetime, those characters will eventually buy every glyph their class will allow. That's at the very least triple the current market.

So, far from killing the glyph market, I think these changes will make scribes as rich as Croesus.
There is a never ending supply of alts buying glyphs.

Never ending.

Sure, this change will reduce demand slightly, no longer will you see someone buying 2 of the same glyphs when they buy 6 glyphs total (Obviously for both specs at once)

The hardcore that swap glyphs constantly? They have their own supplier, most likely one of their own alts. You just can't supply yourself like that on the AH, there may be 4000 glyphs in there, but only a few each of the really popular ones.

What is changing the glyph market, is lack of herbs. The fallout of the Bot Bans is a switch to Scribes being forced to get their own herbs, allowing many more competitors running smaller (But still totally automated) operations.
Speaking as someone who plays the glyph market I have to agree with Dàchéng. I know that some of my sales are from people swapping from one to the other glyph within the same spec (ie, maul to growl glyphs during raid) but quite often I'll see the same character name against 6 major glyphs indicating that it's a new 80 decking out - that's not going to change.

I'm making plans to swap my primary business over to JC in the event that glyphing goes belly-up but I can't see that happening.

At the very least I'm looking forward to the "bonanza" Dàchéng is promising ; )
The problem I see here is while people will not regularly need new glyphs because once they have them they have them but they will NEED them for an alt or new players will need them. But because there is so little demand, the availablity of a given glyph may be spotty forcing people to rely on their guilds. This of course leave the new folks possibly out in the cold. Must have glyphs are going to be come a pain in the @$$ to come buy.

So if Blizz's intention is to kill off the glyph market they need to just get it completely over with and remove glyphs as a tradeskill and sell the glyphs off vendors.

Seems like they are only thinking this thing half way though.
Hugh, I don't know that glyph makers will be rare cause it makes no money. I never had a hard time finding a blacksmith, a leatherworker, or a tailor, and afaik all those professions are pretty f'ing useless.

The whole trade system in WoW is very weak.
I think the biggest problem with the glyph market is just how many glyphs there are. Adding a new class of glyph in Cataclysm will only exacerbate it. Like anything, some will sell more reliably than others, but the scope is still far larger than other trade skills.

The solution I'd like to see is selling something like a "warrior offensive" glyph that could be transformed by the user into something more specific, like glyph of mortal strike for arms or glyph of whirlwind for fury. With three classes of glyphs in the new system and a few subdivisions per class, you could compete in the market without thousands of auctions necessitating addons.
"The glyph market turned into something semi-industrial, which only a few players participate in..."


"Easy profit attracts everybody out to make money."

These seem to be diametrically opposed views.

On my server, I'll take the latter. There is no shortage of competitors, and it is absolutely cutthroat.
I kind of makes me sad that any time a profession makes decent money, it gets killed with some change to make it easier for players to get instead of taking a more balanced approach and making it both easier and still remain profitable.

Instead of professions being ways to make money through crafting, they have turned into a sort of sub spec for raiding based on the bonuses they provide.

I think that for this particular instance, it's true that a lot of players often respec (despite the fact that we now have dual specs) or reglyph for specific fights and allowing players to learn spcific glyphs permanently to swap them out would be very helpful in alleviating that problem. But allowing players to learn ALL of the glyphs and swap them out? I think that's a little too much.

I think they really should have said "Ok, you get your 3 main glyphs and you can learn three additional glyphs that you can swap in at any time." This way, players who switch glyphs for certain fights can do so easily. As most players never change their glyphs, this now puts tanks and healers who swap according to fight specifics on par with each other. On the other hand, players who decide to respec to an entirely new spec such as a PVP spec will still have to buy new glyphs.

Reglyphers are happy, the glyph market can still survive though in a nerfed form (and it did need to be nerfed) and the sellers are still happy and able to make some money, everyone is happy.
I think Glyph, the Architect has the touched upon the closest reason here: Blizzard isn't out to kill the glyph market, they're making the system more friendly to players. It just so happens that folks think the end result will be the killing of the glyph market.

Take a long, hard look at engineering and arrows/bullets, and think how they pretty much didn't care that it'd "kill" engineering's profitability when they were going to implement the no ammo change (which they couldn't due to technological limitations).

I highly doubt they care about the market very much. The market is just emergent behaviour of the system as a whole, and changes to the system are driven (and rightly so, imho) by player-centric design, not economic-centric design.
It will be interesting to see what happens to Inscription in Cata.
I'm just a dabbler, I made a Scribe for personal reasons (Darkmoon rep) and decided to check out the glyph market a bit. I make a few hundred gold a day without too much effort. If I can keep that up in Cata I will be happy, it's only a part of my overall ingame income.
Nobody mentioned the intimately related darkmoon cards that use the snowfall ink left over after milling.

Back in the day, I am sure a number of scribes would sell 100,000g of darkmoon cards in a month. Not all profit of course - most of the gold went to herbalists.
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