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World of Warcraft's auction houses will undergo a big chance in the expansion pack Warlords of Draenor. Blizzard said that they plan to merge the auction houses used by Horde and Alliance players.
"Yes, in 6.0 auction houses are unified between factions on a given server," said designer Ion Hazzikostas on the official World of Warcraft forums.
Hazzikostas added that servers with unbalanced faction populations were a "major reason" for this change. In some cases, one faction outnumbers the other by a 100:1 ratio. Players in the minority faction have access to fewer items on their auction house and generally have to pay far higher prices.
WoW already has three "neutral" auction houses operated by goblins. However, they're in far-flung locations like Gadgetzan and Winterspring. They're harder to reach than the auction houses in capital cities so there's typically a dearth of items on sale. Many players simply use them to transfer gold and supplies between their own Horde and Alliance characters.
Allowing Horde and Alliance players to buy and sell from auction houses in their respective capitals will make a big difference, though. The solution isn't without its problems, though.
"I think this is quite a good change, especially because it counteracts one of the most negative effects about faction imbalance," said community manager Taepsilum on the European WoW forum. Having said this, I do understand some of the concerns, especially lore and narrative wise, and will try to clarify that with the devs."
I can see why players might have an issue with free trade between the Horde and Alliance. The war between those factions is at the core of World of Warcraft's story. However, it shouldn't be that hard to come up with an explanation that fits with the game's lore. Blizzard could just say, "Oh hey, the goblin cartels took over!"
Merged auction houses won't solve the economy problems for players on lower population servers, though. Blizzard is addressing that particular issue with Connected Realms, sets of two or more realms that can trade or run instances together. Linking the game's servers began last year and is still an ongoing process.
"Connected Realms will contribute greatly to creating healthy realm populations everywhere. It won't help as much with faction imbalance, but you'll still end up with more players on both factions regardless, that means, more players to play with despite any imbalance that may still exist."
These measures became a necessity due to the declining population of World of Warcraft. The game has been steadily losing subscribers over the past few years. The game's population is now around 7.6 million, down from the peak population of 12 million back in 2010.
Blizzard's hoping that the new expansion Warlords of Draenor will give the game a shot in the arm, though. The closed beta test began last week and the full version is expected to launch this fall.