There is some excitement on the WoW blogosphere about an announcement of Blizzard that they would introduce web access via browser or iPhone to the World of Warcraft auction house. Some people complained about the fact that, quote "certain elements of the service will be premium-based", others wondered whether the authenticator would be mandatory for this, and the eternal complainers tried to construe situations how this new feature would give somebody some unfair advantage.
I have some thoughts of mine to contribute to this discussion. The first is that this isn't really a new idea, I speculated on some WoW functionality for the iPhone, mentioning specifically buying and selling on the AH, three years ago. At the time I called that kind of functionality "tamagotchi elements", that is elements of the game which require frequent attention in short bursts.
So, is this a good idea? Actually I don't think it really matters. In my experience an overwhelming majority of World of Warcraft players is *not* "playing" the auction house to an extent where doing so when not logged into the game would be useful. The people buying underpriced goods on the AH, and reselling them with some profit margin, are by definition a tiny minority. Because if more people would do that, the opportunity for that sort of profit would simply disappear. That is a consequence of the efficient market theory, if everybody is looking for an opportunity for arbitrage, that arbitrage becomes impossible or at least so infrequent and tiny as to be not worth it.
A somewhat larger number of players, but still not all that many, are using the auction house frequently, in combination with crafting. Buy herbs, mill them to pigments and inks, buy parchments from an NPC, inscribe glyphs, sell glyphs. That simple basic example shows that one of the difficulties of the new browser AH system will be *what else* you can access via that browser or iPhone. Can you even open your mailbox? Can you craft? Can you interact with NPC vendors to buy crafting materials? The usefullness of the browser AH functionality will be limited if the auction house is the *only* thing you can access.
For the large majority of players the auction house does not play a huge role in their daily virtual lives. They might be selling some loot, buying some consumables or gear, but not frequently enough for them to feel the need to have access to that 24/7 from wherever they are. The auction house for most players is an integral part of the game, and having access to it, but not the rest of the game, doesn't make much sense.
Ultimately it all comes down to how you divide your time between the real world and the virtual one. A lot of players are totally capable of compartmentalizing, and keeping the two apart. Real life has priority, and at some point in the day when you just want to relax you delve into the virtual world and play a bit for fun. Those who either have problems of keeping real and virtual apart, or got their priorities wrong and think their virtual life is more important, should go and seek psychatric help. Believe me, being caught in class or in a business meeting playing WoW on your iPhone is going to get you into trouble.