So the top problems I've seen announced with a global AH are:
- How to make it reasonable (Limitations on the number of items you can sell, potential cluster lag, prices, etc.)
- Cash flow. (Servers with a lot of money are "at an advantage".)
- The RMT.
I want to tackle the RMT first. So: #3 - RMT
Firstly, they will still have avatars on every server, for the very simple reason that the more pawns they have around, the harder it is for all their pawns to get shut down.
Aside from that, let's be clear on why RMT exists: The challenges of earning in-game money. The equation is not "profitability of play vs. cash cost", because it also includes that third factor: the risks of getting caught.
Players who utilize RMT ask themselves:
Is "need for gil" > "fear of punishment" + "desire to keep cash"
If it's easy to pick up a million gil in an hour of playing, the "need for gil" gets much closer to the "desire to keep cash", and the "fear of punishment" drives them straight toward "I'm not going to risk my 2000 hours of playing to save me a couple hours." Thus, if we can prove that the global AH will make it easier for more players to earn money from allowed activities, the demand for RMT decreases, and so does the presence of RMT.
Answer: #3 hinges entirely on whether a global AH makes it easier for players to earn money #2 - Cash Flow
Servers can be thought of as countries with limited border passes. What makes a country have more cash than another? More production and less spending. If
Country A makes 10 hats, but needs 100
Country B makes 100 hats, but needs 10
Then one of two things will happen: Country A had better have enough money to buy 90 hats, because they're going to be paying country B for the hats they need. So you ask, "doesn't that mean country B will have all the money?"
The answer is yes, but think about why. Because country B is making ten times as many hats! If you assume equal skill, that means there are ten times as many hatmakers in country B, but ten times as many hat wearers in country A.
Now, imagine there was no trade across borders. What you have then is:
Country A makes 10 hats, which sell for exorbitant prices because 100 people are bidding on them;
Country B makes 100 hats, and the price plummets because only 10 sell and the rest use up shelf space.
The theory the game makers have is that supply and demand will shift the crafters to produce the items that are in demand. Let me ask you: If you just spent a year and every gil you ever earned levelling your woodcrafting, are you going to spend a week studying the AH to see if you should actually switch to blacksmithing?
What ends up happening is that you roll the dice, and HOPE that the server you're about to spend your next 2 years on will have enough hatmakers when you reach level 57 and want that amazing hat. If not, good luck!
A global AH balances this out. If you end up on a server with no crafters, you don't have to change your play style to focus on crafting instead of battling, because there's still plenty of crafters on other servers to supply your need. Likewise, if you end up on a server where everyone crafts, and you really want to spend all your time crafting, you'll still have plenty of supply of raw materials without ever leaving town. The fighter-heavy servers supply the raw materials, the craft-heavy servers buy them and respond with crafter materials, and everybody benefits. This also has the side-effect of encouraging MMO play over solo play: you don't need to farm or craft everything yourself.
Answer: Everyone can get what they need without depending on server balance. The added benefit of people interacting MORE.
Okay, so far we've determined that the economy balance will actually work out better for everyone, which if we jump back to #3, means that (indirectly) players will be less likely to use RMT, when those lizard boots that have only been sold by one player in the last year are finally there and you really need 300k RIGHT NOW before somebody else snaps them up. I'm going to toss out an item #2.5 here:
The gil has to come from somewhere. Square, that's up to you. Quest rewards, farming, vendor sales: These will need to be balanced to get the right amount of money in the world to begin with. But that's out-of-scope for this discussion, so on to #1 - How to make it work.
There've been a lot of great ideas tossed out, which I'll defer to, but let me reiterate some of my favorites:
- Allow more items to sell at once.
- Merge the AHs (if it's global, why would you have to go to a different city?)
- Offer better price histories.
- Allow bidding vs. buy-it-now.
I'm going to start with the main problem (how do you manage such a large inventory) first. This should be simple: Make it a marketplace.
I'll explain. If I'm posting 500 Fire Crystals, why would I post them for different prices? Unless my goal is to ***** the consumer by blinding them with a cloud of numbers, the only reason I can think of is that I post them at different times, with different market values. So if we can make that work better, we won't need more than one price per person.
Let's start by keeping auctions at a week fixed. You post it today, it ends one week from today (we don't need to bother with the time - if you're willing to wait a week to win that item, don't quibble over a few hours.) Then, the real kicker: We limit people to a small number (we'll say 10 for the example) of items... But as many of that item as they want, though only one posting per item at a time.
Shocking? That's where the concept of a marketplace comes in. If you have 500 Fire Crystals, the only thing making you post them separately is a hope for higher profit on individual items, or limitations of the forum. Doing it my way has the benefits of allowing more focused farming, while decreasing the number of auctions to track for any particular item. (Instead of 1,000 fire crystals for sale, you'll have 13 auctions with varying quantities.) I'll return to this after the next point...
Now, we reduce the fixed base on an auction to... 1 gil. (Don't scream, give me a second to explain.) Any auction can be placed for either auction only, auction and immediate purchase, or immediate purchase only. The auctions start at 1 gil, and rise until they end. If you want to get a certain value, price it at that value! Or, if you're hoping for a certain amount, but will accept a much lower price, go for the composite: allow bidding, and when bidding reaches some cap (defined by Square, say 75%), the immediate purchase disappears and it drops to auction-only. You may still end up with a little less, but if they really want that item, they can now bid it as high as the demand dictates. (Should have bought it at the immediate price when you had the chance!)
Now, back to the quantity: What if I only want 1 Fire Crystal, but the lowest quantity for sale is 500? Well, let's go back again to that concept of a marketplace. Unless you're Sams Club, you're not going to sell everything in bulk. Post auctions in bulk, but let people bid on (or buy) whatever quantity they need. Example:
Sally has an inventory of 500 Fire Crystals to sell, and uses one of her 10 AH slots to post them, with auction or immediate, priced at 100gil.
> (The auction then displays: 500 Fire Crystals, minimum bid 1gil, buyout price 100gil, ending in one week.)
John goes to the auction house looking for Fire Crystals. He's in no rush, so he bids on all 500 Fire Crystals for 10gil each. Then he goes away for the next week.
> (The auction then displays: 500 Fire Crystals, minimum bid 11gil, buyout price 100gil, ending in one week.)
Bob goes to the auction house two days later, and just needs 10 Fire Crystals. He's in a rush (crafting waits for no man), so he does an immediate buy on that same auction (500 Fire Crystals), at the stated price of 100gil each. He pays his 1000 gil and walks away, leaving the auction at 490 remaining.
> (The auction then displays: 490 Fire Crystals, minimum bid 11gil, buyout price 100gil, ending in five days.)
At the end of the week, the auction rolls due, and John was the highest bidder. He gets the remaining 490 at 10gil each, for a total of 4900gil.
The net result? John got a good price (10gil each), Bob was able to find the exact amount he needed at a price he felt reasonable, and Sally made 5900gil of a single posting.
There would be complexities: More than one bid may be tracked against the same item (say John and Bob both went for the auction, but only bid on 250 each), and if Sally picked up another 500 Fire Crystals the following day, she'd have to either wait a week to post them or cancel her auction and repost for 1,000 quantity. (Or if Square wants to be fancy, let her add them on to her existing auction.)
The net result: Anything easy to obtain would ALWAYS have a very high quantity on the AH, meaning the price would remain proportionate to the difficulty of obtaining it. Sellers could farm the crap out of something easy and make a profit without having to decide whether to sell one helm or 20 crystals first. Inventory is cleared out faster, and kept where other people can access it. And if you really wanted to create 1,000 of that master crafting item, you don't have to post them one-at-a-time, waiting two years to get rid of them all. Put them all out there, and start earning for what you did.
--------------- Okay, summary.
We said if we could solve those three items, it could be feasible.
#1 - Allow a marketplace concept, permitting larger quantities and more buyer&seller friendly postings.
...which increases cash flow for farmers and crafters, allowing...
#2 - Stable economies on all servers, regardless of the individual balance of farmers vs. crafters vs. consumers.
...which means constant supply and reasonable prices, thus making possible...
#3 - Reduced RMT activity. When you can get what you need for a price you can afford, and turn around and make good money for normal activities, why risk a ban of your account?
None of these problems can be ENTIRELY solved by anything. The hope is that game makers learn from the success and mistakes of others, and continually improve. However, my reasoned opinion is that a global AH (with the right interface) can take the MMO side of the game to an entirely new level, and make a vastly more enjoyable experience for everyone.
Except the RMT.