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The Auction House: A Basic Primer On How It's Supposed To Work


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The Auction House (AH), or Black Market, or Wentworth’s, or Trading House is a mass of incandescent gas, a gigantic nuclear furnace, where hydrogen is turned into helium at temperatures of millions of degrees.  Oh wait, that’s the Sun.  The AH is actually a giant accounting machine, matching up buy orders and sell orders from players and taking its cut in the process.  Sorry, that’s not nearly as interesting.

This guide is about how the AH is SUPPOSED to work, in an ideal Platonic universe.  However, I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t discuss the elephant in the room.

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

There are significant bugs in the AH system, and the worst part is that it is not clear exactly what the extent of those bugs are.  The primary bug that I am aware of is the “display bug,” where a specific item displays an incorrect “Last 5”, number of bids, and number of offers.  (I’ll explain these terms shortly).  This bug is not common, and it does not appear to be constant, but it shows up periodically and it shows up on some particular items with regularity.  If the “Last 5” looks like it is abnormally low, or abnormally high, it is likely that the bug is in effect.  Until/unless this gets fixed, you must always take the information given with a grain of salt.  MOST of the time it will be correct, but sometimes it is not only incorrect, but it is hilariously incorrect.  If something looks too good to be true, it probably is.  There’s a second elephant, but I’ll address that later.

SOME QUICK DEFINITIONS

A “bid” is an order to buy something, and in this game, it is an order to buy something at a specific price.  That can either be a noun (“I put in a bid for XYZ at 10mm inf”) or a verb (“I bid 10mm for XYZ”).  An “outstanding bid” is not one that is particularly noteworthy; it is one that has not been filled yet.  Something that is confusing about the AH interface is that when you want to place a bid, you have to press the button that says “Make Offer”.  Anyway, “bid” means “buy”.

An “offer” is an order to sell something, and again, in this game it is an order to sell something at a specific price.  You can “make an offer” or offer something.  “Offer” means “sell”.

To “hit the bid” is to sell something into someone else’s bid.

To “lift the offer” is to buy something from someone else’s offer.

Let’s give an example.  Let’s pick a mythological lvl 53 Ribosome.  Person A wants to buy one and has a bid of 10mm inf in the AH.  Person B owns one and wants to sell it, and has offered it at 50mm inf.  At this moment, there is one bid and one offer, and there is no trade since the order to buy is less than the order to sell.  Now Person C enters the AH.  She also owns a lvl 53 Ribosome and wants to sell it.  She can either offer it at a level of her choosing, or she can sell it into the best available bid in the market.  If she hits the bid, then she sells to Person A at 10mm, which is the only outstanding bid.  But let's assume she decides to list it and offer at 40mm.   Now Person D enters the market, and he wants to buy.  He can put in a bid that is below the lowest offer, but let's assume he lifts the offer and buys the cheapest available item.  That's the one that belongs to person C.  Now there are only two items left in the queue:  one bid at 10mm, and one offered at 50mm.

That difference between the 10mm bid and the 50mm offer is known as the “bid-offer spread”.

WHAT IS THE AH?

The AH is a player-driven exchange, where people can anonymously buy and sell specific items to each other at various prices.  This differs from vendors, where players can buy or sell items at specific prices in unrestricted amounts.  Want to buy a small luck inspiration from a nurse?  Buy as many as you want!  They will cost you 50 inf each time, and each time you buy one, that inf gets deleted from the economic system, and a small luck inspiration is created and put into your inventory.  Want to buy a small luck inspiration from the AH?  It may cost you more or less than 50 inf, depending on what you bid, and where it is offered, and if in fact any are offered at all.  When you buy one, your inf gets transferred to the seller (less a transaction fee, which is deleted from the system) and you receive the inspiration.  Nothing is created – the inspiration gets transferred, and so does the inf.  However, the transaction fee gets deleted from the system.

THE AH INTERFACE

First you need to access the AH.  In the olden days, you had to trek over to Wentworth’s on blue side or the Black Market on red side or the Trading House/Underground Trader on gold side and open up the interface.  Nowadays in the wonder of this golden age, you can open up the trading interface with the command “/AH” or “/auctionhouse” or probably a few other ways.  You cannot open the interface in an instance, meaning you can’t open it during a mission or when you are in a base.  That’s a technological issue, and as awesome as that would be to open the AH interface in your base, it’s probably not going to be possible any time soon.  Of course you can still go to Wentworth’s or the Black Market, and remember that those are locations that lead to day job badges and accolades.

Once you open the interface, you will see it is divided into three sections horizontally. 

The top section is the search section, where you can specify what you are looking for.  It’s mostly self-explanatory.  The text box allows you to input what you are looking for, and if you have auto-complete checked it’s pretty good.  Want a luck charm?  Start typing “lu” and “luck” autocompletes.  The “Levels” interface on the left are best used if you are looking for a specific level or range of levels in a recipe or enhancement.  They default to a minimum of 1 and a maximum of 53.  If you change them they will stay at the new levels, so be sure to change them back when you are done searching otherwise you might get confused when things stop showing up because they are out of the prescribed level range.  I never use the “Rarity” or “Origin” options, but I guess you could if you wanted.  The “For sale” and “Bidding” buttons will restrict the interface to only show items that have outstanding offers and bids respectively on them.

The middle section is the menu of all items and is divided in half vertically.  On the left side is the index of all items available by category.  If there is a [+] next to the name, that means if you click on it, it will expand and show a sub-index of items.  Play around with it.  Later, this guide will go into each section in detail.  On the right side is an expanded view of the items within the selected category that meet the restrictions you set in the search section.

The bottom section is your inventory.  There are six tabs that show, in order, All, Stored, Selling, Sold, Bidding, Bought.  There is also a running total of your inf.  Helpful hint:  if you want to monitor your inf total during regular play, you can set up a window.  In the regular interface, click Powers, Combat Attributes and the Combat Attributes window will open.  Select Base and at the bottom it will show your inf total.  Right click on your inf and you can Monitor your inf in a window that you can reposition on your interface.  You can actually monitor a lot of things, so if you didn’t know you could do this, you’re welcome!

Ok, now that we have the interface open, let’s go to an item.  We already started to look at luck charms, so let’s go there.  In the middle right, the Luck Charm icon shows with certain pieces of information: 

10652389 for sale

1085 bidding

420 on 2020-04-28

42 on 2020-04-28

42 on 2020-04-28

42 on 2020-04-28

42 on 2020-04-28

There is also an area where you can put in a bid, choose how many you want to bid on (up to 10) and click the “Make Offer” button to register your bid.  Yes, yes, it’s confusing that you have to click a button that says “Offer” to make a bid.

The for sale and bidding numbers are self-explanatory and represent real bids and offers that are already in the system.  You don’t have any idea at what level those bids or offers are at.  Every bid could be at 1, and every offer could be at 2bn.  The 420, 42, 42, 42, 42 numbers are what I refer to as “Last 5” and they represent the last five trades that occurred with a date stamp.  Those are actual trades that have occurred.  If a block of 10 trade all at the same price to the same buyer and the same seller, it only prints as one trade.  So the last 5 listed above could represent a total of 5 luck charms trading, or a total of 50, or somewhere in between.

Now is the time I remind you of the elephant in the room and again warn you that this information may be entirely false due to the display bug.  I will additionally warn you that even if it is true, you have no idea what the quality is of those bids or those offers.  Those 1,085 bids may all be really strong high bids, or they may all be for 1 inf.  A large number of bids does not necessarily represent any high bids.  In fact, those bids may all be the same and they may be all by the same person.  Similarly, you don’t really know where those offers are.  However, you do know that they are real offers; there are actual items for sale and you can buy them for the right price.

There is also a smaller elephant in the room.  Another bug is that sometimes the information of last 5 doesn’t come up at all and says something like “no information available”.  In that case, the almost universal work-around is to put in a low bid on the item, like 1 inf.  That puts the item in your inventory section at the bottom and there you can refresh it to get a current and hopefully accurate picture.

POOLING AND SEEDING

Now is as good a time as any to talk about seeded items and pooled items.  If you switch from luck charms to another piece of common salvage like inanimate carbon rods and you do it quickly enough that no trades have occurred, you will notice that the for sale, bidding, and last 5 numbers are identical.  That is because the Homecoming devs made certain things in the AH fungible, or exchangeable, or poolable.  "Fungible" is a funny term that is usually used in finance; it does not mean "like the Devouring Earth"!  But in this case it's exactly the right word.  When anyone offers a piece of common salvage, no matter what type, the system puts it in a pool of “common salvage”.  When anyone buys a piece of specific common salvage, it comes out of that pool.  What was a luck charm can become an inanimate carbon rod.  This is tremendously useful, and helps keep anyone from manipulating specific markets.

Common salvage, uncommon salvage, rare salvage all have their own pools.  Every set IO recipe, no matter what level, is in its own pool.  You can sell a Luck of the Gambler proc recipe at level 25 and buy it back at level 50.  However, the different set pieces are in different pools; you can’t sell a LotG end/rech recipe and buy the proc from the same pool.  Every crafted set IO, no matter what level, is in its own pool.  This leads to a variety of strategies.  If you want to buy a recipe in order to craft it and sell it, you probably want to choose the lowest level, since that will have the cheapest crafting costs.  So you can buy a level 25 recipe, craft it, sell the IO that someone else may be buying as a level 50 IO.

One other important thing to know about fungibility is that crafted IOs and attuned IOs all share the same bucket.  If you want an attuned IO, one way to get it is to buy a crafted IO, buy a catalyst, and attune the IO yourself.  Or, you can buy an attuned IO directly from the pool for the same price and save yourself the price of a catalyst.  You can actually even sell a crafted IO and buy it back from the pool as an attuned at the same price. 

Oh, I almost forgot about seeding.  Another thing the Homecoming team did in order to make things easier and to keep people from manipulating markets is they offered a large number of items at a fixed price.  Those seeded prices are: 10,000 for common salvage; 100,000 for uncommon salvage; 1,000,000 for rare salvage; and 50,000 for brainstorm ideas.  Initially there were 10mm of each put into the market.  You can consider these to be price caps; no one can stop you from bidding 2mm on a piece of common salvage, but you will essentially always be able to buy it for 10k or less.

BIDDING AND OFFERING IN THE AH

In order to bid on something, as mentioned above, you want to select the item and then in the box put in the price you wish to pay and the number of items you wish to buy (1-10).  If you want to buy more than 10 items, you need to put in more than one bid.  Bidding is free and has no consequences.  This means you can put in a bid and if it doesn’t transact (because there is no item offered at that price or lower), you can retract the bid with no penalties.  This means you can “bid creep”, or offer progressively higher bids for an item until you buy it.  In theory, you could bid creep by 1 inf at a time until you hit the exact offering price, but ain’t nobody got time for that.

In order to offer something, you need to actually own it.  If you open the AH interface and drag the item from your inventory into the AH, it will be moved onto the Stored tab on the bottom.  There are three buttons:  Find, Post, and Get, and there is a text box where you can input a number.  The Find button should pull up and refresh the current info on the item, showing number of bids, offers, and last 5 trades.  If it does not, try it again until it refreshes.  The Get button will take it out of the AH ad put in back into your personal inventory.  You use the Post button in order to put in your actual sell order:  input the price at which you are willing to sell the item and press Post. 

When you post an offer, you will pay the first of two potential fees.  The first fee (“posting fee”) is 5% of the amount you are posting the item for; the number will show up beneath the price window.  This amount is a minimum of 5 inf, nonrefundable, and mandatory.  If you don’t have that amount of inf in your possession, you cannot post the trade.  If you later decide you want to take down your offer, you can, but you eat the posting fee.

The second fee is assessed when/if your item is purchased by someone else.  The amount of the second fee (“sales fee”) is equal to 10% of the final sale price, less the amount you already paid as posting fee.  The net result is that you always pay a total of 10% of the sales price, which is deleted from the economy, and you receive 90% of the sales price, which goes into your account balance.  Note that since there is a 2bn inf cap on every character, if claiming a sale would put you over the cap, you are not able to claim the proceeds of that sale.

HOW DO TRADES OCCUR?

It’s a secret!  According to the employees:

“At Wentworth's we use a 'secret bid' auction. To make a long story short, you set the price for your item, but the Buyer does not see it. The Buyer bids what he wishes to pay and if he meets, or exceeds, your requested price he will receive the item. You may even receive more than you asked for! In order to help the Buyer with a bid, there is a history of how much that item has sold for in the past.”

When a new bid or offer enters the system, the AH checks to see if there is a bid higher than or equal to the lowest offer.  If so, a trade prints and the bidder receives the item that is offered at the lowest price.  The bidder pays the amount he bid, even if it was higher than what the offer was.  The seller receives 90% of the amount the bidder paid, no matter whether or not it was higher than what she asked for.  Let’s give an example:

There are three bids in the AH:  100, 120, 150; and there are three offers in the AH: 200, 250, 300.  This is in equilibrium, since every bid is less than every offer.  If this were not true, then a trade would have already transacted.  Nothing is going to happen in equilibrium.

Now let’s say a bid for 125 enters the system.  Since this is lower than the lowest outstanding offer (“LOO”) of 200, it’s not good enough to trade.  It goes into the queue.

Let’s say an offer at 225 enters the system.  Since this is higher than the highest outstanding bid (“HOB”) of 150, it’s also not good enough to trade.  It goes into the queue.

Now someone bids 300 for this item.  Now we’re cooking!  At 300, the bid is higher than or equal to every offer in the queue, but the trade goes to the LOO, which is the offer at 200.  The bidder receives the item.  The bidder has no idea where the item was listed, just that it was less than or equal to 300.  The seller at 200 sells their item and receives net total of 90% of 300, or 270.  Since their posting fee was 10 (5% of 200), and their total fee was 30 (10% of 300), the sale will tell them that they sold the item for 300, and paid 20 in incremental fees.  The trade is printed to the last 5 at 300.  The 300 bid and the 200 offer are removed from the queue.  The queue now has bids of 100, 120, 125, 150 and offers of 225, 250, 300.

Next, a seller comes in and dumps the item for 5.  5 is lower than every bid in the queue, but the trade crosses with the HOB which happens to be 150.  The bidder receives the item, and has no idea where it was listed, just that it was less than his bid of 150.  The seller at 5 sells their item and receives net total of 90% of 150, or 135.  Since their posting fee was 5 (which is the minimum posting fee), the sale will tell them they sold the item for 150, and paid 10 in additional fees.  The trade is printed at 150 in the last 5, the 150 bid and 5 offer are removed from the queue, and the queue now has bids of 100, 120, 125 and offers of 225, 250, 300.

I like to think of this visually as a set of goalposts, where the left goal post is the highest outstanding bid, and the right post is the lowest outstanding offer.  If you are looking from increasing prices from left to right, where each vertical line is a bid or an offer, it might look something like this:

|||||________|||||

There may be more than one bid or offer at any vertical line, and they may not be evenly spaced.  Maybe a better way to look at it is with + representing bids, H representing the highest outstanding bid, L representing the lowest outstanding offer, and – representing offers.  Then it would look something like:

++++H_______L----

In order for a trade to occur, it has to enter the system outside of the goalposts, either on the high side or the low side.  New orders can come in and narrow the goalposts, but as long as there is even 1 inf of difference between the HOB and the LOO, no trade will occur.

Without a little sleuthing work, you really don't know what other people are bidding or offering, and since any given queue of bids and offers may be huge and complex, it's often difficult to suss out what the rest of the book looks like.  There are, however, a few ways that I will discuss in a later section on strategy.

Some common questions:

"I've had an outstanding offer at 1mm for days now, and I see the last 5 has trades that printed at over 1mm.  Is that normal?"

Yes, probably.  In order for you to trade, your offer has to be the cheapest one in the book when a bid comes in.  In this case, it is very likely that there were other people who were offering at prices under 1mm, and people came in with bids of over 1mm.  The highest bid matches up with the lowest offer when there is a cross, and the trade prints at the level of the bid.  This is probably working as intended.

"I've had an outstanding bid at 1mm for days now, and I see the last 5 has trades that printed at under 1mm.  Is that normal?"

Nope, not at all.  That shouldn't happen, since every trade prints at the level of the bid, and if trades are printing below your bid, then something is wrong.  That is probably due to the elephant in the room display bug.  However, I wouldn't write off the possibility that there are other glitches in the system that keep it from operating the way it should.

"What happens when there are ties?  Like if I have more than one bid at the same price, or if five people are offering at the same level?  How does the system choose which trade happens?"

I honestly don't know.  Anecdotally, it doesn't seem to be purely random; it also doesn't appear to be time stamped, although I have noticed that, in general, earlier orders tend to execute before later orders.  I would love to hear from a dev on this topic.  Regardless, we know that the real tie-breaker is price.  An item offered at 999,999 will always sell before one listed at 1mm, and a bid of 1,000,001 will always buy before one at 1mm.  Or at least that's the way it's supposed to work.
 

"What happens when there are block bids or offers?  What's the allocation process?"

Boy you ask good questions.  Let's go back to our queue of {B: 100, 120, 125; O: 225, 250, 300}.  Let's look at four independent scenarios (these don't all happen in order):

1.  An offer of 2x @ 120 comes in.  The system looks at the highest bid and sees that it crosses, so one trades there. at 125  Then it looks at the next highest bid and, yup, that crosses too, so the second trades at 120.  The queue now looks like {B: 100; O: 225, 250, 300} and two trades print in the last 5 at 125 and 120 respectively.

2.  An offer of 2x @ 125 comes in.  Does the highest bid cross?  Yes and it trades at 125, but the second does not and it gets added to the queue which looks like {B: 100, 120; O: 125, 225, 250, 300}.  The goalposts just got narrower.  One trade prints in the last 5 at 125.

3.  A bid of 2x @ 275 comes in.  First, the offer at 225 fills, then the offer at 250 fills.  Both of those trades, however, transact at 275, since the bid determines the price paid.  So even though the sellers at 225 and 250 both go filled at the same price of 275, the 225 offer executes first.  The queue now looks like {B: 100, 120, 125; O: 300}.  Two trades print in the last 5, since they were allocated to two different sellers, but they both print at 275.

4.  A bid of 2x @ 235 comes in.  The offer at 225 fills, but the next best offer is too high to fill.  One trade prints at 235, and the extra bid joins the queue, which now looks like {B: 100, 120, 125, 235; O: 250, 300}.  the goalposts got narrower.

If this seems confusing, let me know and I can change the language.  But there is a simple process that the AH is supposed to follow. 

 

 

More to come later and I'll do some editing and cleaning.  I'm a little guided out at the moment.  All commentary welcomed, especially if I got something wrong.  All questions answered to the best of my ability.

Edited by Yomo Kimyata
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Who run Bartertown?

 

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On 4/28/2020 at 5:30 PM, Yomo Kimyata said:

Note that since there is a 2bn inf cap on every character, if claiming a sale would put you over the cap, you are not able to claim the proceeds of that sale.

You may also wish to add a warning that if claiming multiple sales will put you over the cap, the auction house will let you do it, and just discards any amount of Inf over the 2 billion cap. It's possible to lose a considerable amount of money that way, so people should be sure to email themselves some of that cash first.

 

(Preferably by first emailing themselves a blank message, then replying to the blank message, to be sure they don't typo the email—or else by dragging an account-locked item like a Reward Merit into the email to autofill their own address, then dragging it out again and typing in the money.)

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If you liked what I had to say, please check out my City of Heroes guides!

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Very detailed, thanks!

Also, +1 for the TMBG reference!

(Although I hear it's really more a miasma of incandescent plasma...)

 

Disclaimer: Not a medical doctor. Do not take medical advice from Doctor Ditko. Also, not a physicist. Do not take advice on consensus reality from Doctor Ditko. But games? He used to pay his bills with games. (He's recovering well, thanks for asking!)

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