A few years ago, I was introduced to the concept of trading guilds. Trading guilds are unique to the The Elder Scrolls Online as far as I know, at least here in West, and are reputedly needed because there is no universal sales hub within the game through which to sell items to other players. Through the guild store, players are able to sell items to other players in the guild.
So, seeing as how it is the only way (besides spamming zone chat) of selling items to non-guildies, I signed on to a trading guild. It was a nice guild. It had no weekly dues and asked only that you fill up your listings as much as possible. Months came and went, I casually sold things here and there, and the guild slowly but surely changed from one that was content to take in new members interested in casual sales to one that wanted to compete for “the best” guild trader spots. I started getting friendly messages from the guild leaders asking for donations. We lost “our spot” a few times, leaving us with no guild trader NPC for the week. Other guilds were bidding more aggressively, so to compete, we were requiring more and more bidding capital from our members. Soon, the requested donations became mandatory. Subtle threats were sent guild-wide warning us that if dues were not paid, we’d be kicked from the guild.
I didn’t pay, for a couple of reasons. This wasn’t the type of trading guild I’d originally signed up for when I joined. The goal of the guild changed, but my goals were still the same. Plus, I had run the numbers, and with the little bit of selling that I did, I would actually be losing money to pay dues every week. I figured that if they really didn’t want me, they’d eventually boot me, and they eventually did.
This was around the same time that ZeniMax gave us the new, spiffy guild finder tool. So I used it to find a trading guild that did not require dues or a minimum sale amount. Then ZeniMax released Scalebreaker, which allowed for bidding on multiple NPC guild traders at once. This is great for the large trading guilds, who are able to throw millions of gold towards multiple bids. It virtually guarantees that they’re never without a guild trader spot. But the (perhaps) unintended consequence of the change is that smaller, more casual trade guilds are not as likely to snap up the lower-tier guild traders because the top trading guilds are able to bid on up to nine backup locations. Larger trading guilds with deeper pockets are pushing out the more casual trade guilds.
In fact, I got a message from my new trade guild just last week regarding this. They’d lost their normal trader spot because larger guilds have been moving in and bidding higher amounts. This time, I sent in a donation, hoping to help out a guild that was just trying to stay in the game. I wonder how long until even the most casual of trading guilds require payments from members simply to be able to sell outside of the guild.
I know I’m not the first one to bring up the inherent flaws in ESO’s trading system. A quick search of the forums will pull up several animated graphics of a poor dead horse being beaten to death over this topic. I’m also aware of how divisive the system is. Some players love it – love it – because it’s so unique, immersive, and in-depth. Others find it less than optimal for the situation many gamers are in. I see merit to both arguments.
What seems a bit odd to me, though, is that a game that’s attempted to simplify systems and cater to the more casual side of the playerbase seems to actually be moving in the other direction when it comes to the in-game economy. Being shut out of guild trading leaves casual players little choice but to drop out of the economy altogether. I don’t know many casual players who spend time trying to sell in zone chat. Time is precious. There are dungeons to run, quests to turn in, entire rooms full of puppy destruction to clean up! Well, maybe that last one is just me. The point is, most casuals don’t play the game enough to sit around in a zone waiting for someone to reply to chat spam. There needs to be a more casual-friendly option for trading.
I’m not even sure a game-wide auction house is the answer. For one, it would greatly decrease the use of the current system, if not completely replace it. I would like to see something implemented that would give players the option of a “hardcore” economy or a simplified, streamlined sales opportunity. Perhaps ESO could deploy zone auction houses that charge a higher listing fee than the guild stores but that would be open to all players regardless of guild affiliation. Zone auction houses could be a place that lower-quality items could be found at a lower price, while guild traders, being supplied by hard-core crafters, raiders, and PvPers, would carry premium goods for premium coin. I’m sure those who have studied game economics could come up with even better alternatives; this was just one “best of both worlds” scenario that came to mind.
As it stands, the rich continue to get richer while the poor are being slowly squeezed out of the market.