Roughly two and a half months ago, a large number of shop owners launched a scheme to buyout all of the shops in Caerleon. They succeeded in purchasing every plot with the exception of a lone Toolmaker and raised taxes to 40-50% on all other buildings, somewhere in the range of at least double to triple the previous prices. This group of owners, the community has come to reference as the Caerleon Cartel.
Speaking from our guild’s perspective (MAGA), we were very out of the loop on shop politics previous to this. We knew there was price fixing going on, coordination between shop owners, and even aware that there was this “Cartel”, but largely didn’t really care about the tax rates that much. However, once it was clear that basically all of the shop owners in all of Caerleon banded together to literally screw over the entire community and raise the prices to what we considered “extortionist levels”, we did what any rational group of customers in that situation would do… we got pissed.
As a guild, MAGA is primarily an open world small-scale PvP guild based out of Caerleon, but we also have a lot of members that utilize the shops in Caerleon to do their crafting. Being an open world guild, that only dabbles in Royal GvG’s when we feel like it and doesn’t have to worry about tons of ZvZ expenses, we had a large amount of both liquid silver and assets as a guild through a 30+ island network and 250+ laborers. After talking with a bunch of our members pissed out the prices and in particular our econ officer Snowbaby who does a majority of our guild crafting, we basically as a collective said “Fuck this”.
So we decided and voted to dedicate a portion of our guild’s resources towards fighting back against this predatory pricing. We knew that it couldn’t just be us that were pissed off about this, everyone was being affected and it felt like someone needed to do something about it. We knew we wanted to fight back, but as a guild this was so outside of our PvP focus that we didn’t really know how to effectively do that. We thought that if we could get some plots, that we could set lower prices to restore some sense of normalcy to Caerleon.
When the next auction cycle came around we decided to bid 300M silver across 10 plots thinking that bidding on a lot of plots would give us the best odds. We saw a lot of shops with winning bids for less than 30M so we figured we would have a good chance of winning at least one. Our noobish-ness was on complete display in our bidding, because we did not understand even the basics of the bidding system. We did not realize that the “winning bids” shown were only the second highest bid +1 silver and not the actual max bid that winner placed down. We lost every bid and would have to wait another month.
The next auction cycle came around and this time we were at least armed with the basic information that we needed to bid a lot higher to have a chance to win. We came more determined and this time voted to invest more silver into our bids, placing four bids of 110M, 110M, 120M and 200M. And just like the previous cycle we lost every one. Pissed about having to wait another full month to try again, we had another idea.
In the last bid cycle, four plots changed hands. So we decided we would reach out to each of them and see if we could convince them to sell their shop to us. Two joined the cartel, and one sold their plot back to the cartel. The last one however did express some interest. They had won their plot for 222M silver and after a few days we were able to negotiate buying the plot from them for 325M silver. At this point, we knew we were overpaying, but we didn’t care. It was on.
We had mapped out this plan early on that there would be no negotiating with the Cartel, we were going to set whatever the hell prices we wanted and do our best to crash the market. Prior to us, 720 (who had been running the cheap toolmaker) was able to get all of the toolmakers in Caerleon to 15% and under taxes. We knew going into it that we were going to lose money, as the Cartel would undercut us, but we had accepted that fact knowing we were doing this to give back to the community. We had a marketing plan ready to roll out on reddit/forums and the idea that we would let the community vote on which stations they wanted on a weekly basis. This way we could crash multiple markets so everyone that needed different things crafted had a chance to get low prices.
With our new plot, we internally chose to do a chef since we had 30 islands worth of crops coming in a day as a guild and we needed to pick something to start with right away. We knew that chefs and alchemists cost more to run… but being noobs in the plot business we had no concept of appropriate pricing/costs. We knew that under 30% would definitely make people want to use it because WE would get excited when we saw prices that low, so we set it at 29% and sent all our marketing out online.
What happened next shocked us. We were expecting that people were going to be excited about the low prices, but we were not ready for the level of support we got from the community. It was everything from brand new players, to guilds and alliances all over began to offer their encouragement both on the forums, reddit and even in game we were getting mail thanking us for doing what we were doing. At that moment it was 2 months of waiting that was essentially mission accomplished, we managed to bring reasonable prices back to Caerleon.
However, it was not even a day when we started getting messages from other experienced plot owners, including 720, Voc and a handful of others offering both support and guidance. One pointed out that at 29% tax on a chef we were actually below the nutrition costs to feed it and that by people using our station we were losing money versus what we were paying to feed it. And since the Cartel needs food to feed their plots… essentially we were subsidizing the cartel.
Under advisement of these smarter plot owners, we raised our prices to 42% which one suggested would be just above the nutritional costs needed to feed the station. What we were expecting to happen… was that the Cartel would then lower the chef prices to 35-40% as an attempt to undercut us like they did to 720. But that’s not what happened. Instead the cartel chose to raise the prices on all of the crafting stations in the city from 40-50% to the 80-90% range. We had already thought 40-50% was extortionist in their pricing… it was hard to believe they were going even greedier. At this point we realized that we needed to re-evaluate our strategy.
When MAGA embarked on this journey to fight back against the Cartel it was something initially we believed that we would do as a service while we could financially support it as a way of giving back to the community. This wasn’t fight we were necessarily expecting to “win”, but just wanted to do something good for average Albion player. We knew we would lose money, but ultimately we were pissed at the pricing and felt like someone needed to do something.
When we got as much support as we did though, it started to change our thinking. People were asking us in multiple places to not just take financial losses, but to actually raise our prices so we could maintain our station. We had one person who offered us a 100M silver donation to put towards fighting back (which we would not accept). At one point Cartel shops dropped one of their shops 10% tax lower than ours… but people kept walking past it to use ours instead (ours stayed at 0% capacity while the lowest their’s got was 35%). To put it simply… enough people were just as pissed as we were. With this many people invested/pissed about the Cartel prices we actually came to believe this is something we can win.
And that brings us to where we are at right now. We’ve held two community votes for stations (Mage Tower/Warrior Forge) and are currently in our final vote of the auction cycle right now. We’ve never had a station we built hit 100% capacity. With a 25% tax on a crafting building we’re making roughly 8M profit a day, all of which we’ll be investing into expanding/defending plots. Our biggest challenge right now is we’re constantly capacity locked and because the Cartel is essentially ignoring our station. We aren’t able to expand low pricing to the rest of the community since we have not been getting undercut as we had actually planned/hoped for.
Since SBI has changed the bidding process (which will take effect in September) this is the last bidding cycle under the current rules. We fully expect that the Cartel will shatter once that happens as we’ll be able to much easier target bids towards plots and it will be harder for them to defend everything with the losses they will take. So the end is actually coming. It’s why you’re seeing 200% prices across the city right now as one last extortionist cash grab against the community.
MAGA’s message/call to the community is this:
- Anyone that charges their own guild members 70%+ associate prices should be unbelievably ashamed of themselves. With all of the price fixing, we would have assumed they would at least not screw over their own guildies in the process. That is unconscionable.
- Remember the names of these Cartel plot owners. Every single one of them is complicit in this price fixing scheme and we really don’t care about whatever their excuse for going along with it is. Once this cartel collapses, hopefully these folks see so little business on any future shops they own that they’re relegated to alts to receive business if they want to own a plot.
- Bid. Even though their end is coming, MAGA does not intend to wait another month letting them run 200% prices if it can be avoided. We’d encourage anyone who is financially secure in game to place bids against any and all Cartel plots. They are easy to find, anything that is not MAGA’s plot, you’ll find them at 200% taxes. We’d encourage bidding in other cities too, but as MAGA plays out of Caerleon, our focus is here.
- Albion is a full-loot PvP MMO. If you’re going to screw people over, do it out in the open world, not scamming them in town through a full monopoly.
Thank you to the entire Albion community who has been over the top supportive of us during this ordeal. We couldn’t have done it without everyone who bought into fighting back, used our station over the Cartel’s and the crazy amounts of support/guidance we received along the way. Special thanks to 720, VOC and the other shop owners who explained a whole lot of math to us and for pointing out our dumb mistakes along the way. And the biggest thank you needs to go to Snowbaby… as basically the sole player who has raised over a billion silver for MAGA, she’s the reason we were able to at least get the one plot that we did.
Hopefully we as a community will defeat the Cartel before the September patch, but we believe their end is inevitable. In a small way, hopefully our guild helped live up to our name of Making Albion Great Again. We look forward to seeing you and fighting with you in the open world.
-Make Albion Great Again
We also got a hold of Vindrax and he was kind enough to answer our questions:
AN24: Welcome, thank you for taking time. So With all that experience you now have, what would you liked to have know from the start of your journey?
Vindrax: I think the biggest thing that held us back in the beginning was understanding exactly how the bidding process worked. The game really does not do a good job in the game of explaining a lot of these mechanics in terms of the bidding process. Even after we bought the plot we were still learning things which we had to go to other experienced plot owners for questions on. We have a good grasp on everything now, but it took us roughly three months of trial and error to get here. Not sure how this could exactly be improved, but I’d like to see more information included in game for players
AN24: Are you happy with the changes of the new plot-auction system/bidding system and if not what would you like SBI to change?
Vindrax: In terms of the new auction system, it’s definitely a positive change. The monopolies need to go. We have players amassing 100’s of millions, if not billions of silver off the backs of average players when they have a whole city locked down and there is no real alternative for people to break into the market without gigantic investments. It made matters worse that there were deals being cut with the city owners behind the scenes as well. Something definitely needed to be done and I think this will at least break up the monopoly piece. That said, I don’t know if this solution is ideal from the standpoint of creating a stable plot market. We are going to see a lot more plots trading hands (which will be a good thing in preventing monopolies), but it will be significantly harder to run a station at a profit. There’s a lot of data the stations don’t show you and costs that even as a shop owner you don’t have easy access to. It would be really nice if the game showed you total silver paid to the shop over a cycle (even after it’s collected) and total food fed (not sure how to break this down). This would go a long way to help players make smarter bids on their plots and not take gigantic invisible losses in the bidding process. We will have to wait and see but I expect the plot market is going to be really volatile and there will likely be a lot of money being made on flipping plots. These are all guesses though, we’re really not experts in this, but I’m at least relatively confident this is going to destroy the monopoly which we should take that as a huge positive.
AN24: After the changes are implemented, will you keep on being plot-owners once the cartel shatters?
Vindrax: Long term, I don’t know if MAGA is going to stay in the plot business, it’s really not our intention to run a plot for profit. Our goal is hopefully that we can inspire other independent plot owners that have some level of a conscience and run stations at reasonable prices. We don’t have a problem with plot owners coordinating with each other, for a long time taxes in Caerleon were 20%ish and no one cared. But once the Cartel monopolized all the shops, that pissed off everyone and there was no real alternatives to their ridiculous pricing at that point. It’s worth noting that MAGA is not planning on running any sort of Cartel or anti-cartel, we are just pushing for more honest/responsible individual owners.
Realistically, MAGA staying in the plot business would basically come down to Snowbaby. Snowbaby for over a year now only plays on islands and in town doing econ work for the guild. So having a plot for her to manage has been a fun addition to her daily island routine and I know she enjoys getting to collect the silver/feed the station. If we did stay plot owners it would primarily be just to provide her additional content and secondarily as a “safety net” that if someone did try to monopolize the plots again out of nowhere, we could at least keep something affordable in the city.
AN24: Thank you for your time
*Editors Note* We reached out to both Vasort and Vindrax and they have agreed to be on the AN24 show Real Talk today. https://www.twitch.tv/albionnews24 we are excited to hear both of their perspectives on this economic warfare only possible in the great world of Albion Online. If you are interested in helping either tip us off on great stories like this or helping to write them please join our discord. https://discord.gg/HZBsUBA .