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Last night my guild killed Heroic Hagara for the second time and not one, but two [Girdle of the Grotesque] dropped. As I'm sure most of you know, this is the BiS moonkin belt, and I was quite happy when I was awarded one of them. Then I had a revelation.
The GotG has two Red sockets and gains a prismatic socket once you apply the belt buckle. Since it is a BiS item I would expect it to be gemmed with epic quality gems even if they are a bit expensive, because I'm not going to replace it. Then I have to consider the reality of the situation.
The mean price of Queen's Ruby's on my server is 7,000g. Sure the price varies a little bit, but even the lowest I've seen them on my server is still 5,500g and that is in no way common. In short, I have to spend at least 16,500g just to gem my belt the way it should. You can buy epic items for less then that.
It's clear to me that the current system is broken. So, how did we get here, and how can we fix it?
A Quick History:
In The Burning Crusade (when the JC profession was introduced) epic gems were mined from special mining nodes in the Black Temple and Mount Hyjal raid instances. Eventually they could be purchased with badges.
- It supplied epic gems directly to the main group of players interested in having epic gems: hardcore progression raiders.
- Allowed the guild to allocate gems based upon need.
- PvPers had extremely limited access to the epic gems, and but they were pretty much required at the higher levels of competition
- Aquiring the gems was a 25man effort, but single players could cause havoc with ninja looting and favoritism
In Wrath of the Lich King, epic gems were prospected from uncommon ores. Alchemists could also transmute superior gems in to epic gems once a day with some additional mats.
- Epic gems were highly accessible for all players.
- Players controlled both the supply and demand sides of the gem market.
- Epic gems were so accessible that it crippled the market for blue quality gems.
his is pure speculation but here is what I think happened. In TBC, Blizzard introduced epic gems as a reward for high progression, but in the end weren't accessible enough. First, things first the guilds who mined them horded them for their own needs. On top of that, obtaining the gems was a 25man effort, but one or two people cause big problems by ninja mining the nodes or a GM playing favorites with the gems. There were other issues as well, but I think all of them revolve around the epic gems not being accessible enough.
So in WotLK, Blizzard created an entirely new system that was completely driven by the ingame economy. Players determined the supply by mining/prospecting ore or doing transmutes, and as a result Epic gems were probably too accessible in Blizzards mind. During WotLK, epic gems were fairly cheap. Players completely regemmed gear within a week or two of their introduction and the market for blue quality gems was crippled. As a result Blizzard felt the need to create a new system for Cata which leads us to......
The Current Problem:
The current problem can easily be broken into two sections: Supply and Demand.
The problem with gem demand, is that it is heavily skewed towards red gems at the moment. DPS and Healing are the two most common roles played in the game at the moment and almost all of them favor the stats provided by red gems (Int, Str, & Agi). On top of that, Blizzard likes to give players their best stats in the last tier of an expansion. As a result, the T13 year, has significantly more red sockets then previous tiers which reduces the demand for hybrid gem colors like purple and orange.
In short, 90% of the players in a raid want red gems, but only 17% of them will get one on average (assuming the distribution is equal). As a result, red gems are extremely expensive, but the other five gems are relatively cheap. Here are the mean prices on my server as an example.
Ultimately this is a problem Blizzard created 2 years ago when the started designing the Cataclysm expansion, and can't really be fixed until the next expansion even if blizzard wanted to.
The Cata system for epic gems does have several positives. For example, every player who kills a boss on normal or heroic levels has a chance to get an epic gem. The supply isn't controlled by the guild, and players have a choice to use it them selves or sell it for gold.
This system does eliminate some of the core problems of the previous two systems, but it's too random and inflexible to meet the players needs in a reasonable way. It creates a surplus of all colors except red, and an extreme shortage of red gems which increases prices to unreasonable levels.
The good news is, that changing the supply should be easy, and Blizzard has several options if they so desired to make a change.
- Change Drop Rates: There is no rule that says all gems have to have an equal chance to drop from the Geodes. I bet it wouldn't be difficult for Blizzard to modify the drop rates. They could make epic gems more common on the more common Geode, or they could change it so that red gems are favored over the other 5 options for both types of Geode. My guess is that Blizzard could easily implement this with a hotfix.
- Eliminate the Geodes: Blizzard could eliminate the geodes all together and allow players to buy the gems directly, instead of buying a random chance at an epic gem.
- Enable Gem Transmutes: If I remember correctly there were some transmutation patters for gems in the 4.3 ptr, but they never made it to the live release. This would allow blizzard to maintain the randomness of the geode, but still give players a way to modify supply, even if it's with a weekly cooldown.
As much as I would like them to, I doubt Blizzard will make a change at this point. Prices will come down as people are getting less gear upgrades, and more gems are being created. That said, when I talk to players, this epic gem situation is a common source of frustration. Since we are entering the lull between expansions when burn out among players is high, I think it would be a good idea for Blizzard to take a look at this issue and try and reduce some of those frustrations.