So WoW Insider reports that Flasks change in patch 3.1.
Old: Recipe crafts 1 flask. Flask lasts 2 hours. Flask-Hours / Materials = 2
New: Recipe crafts 2 flasks. Each flask lasts 1 hour. Flask-Hours / Materials = 2
In both the old and the new, the number of hours I can be under the influence of a flask is 2 for the same material cost.
So why predict a change in the market price of flasks?
Some anecdotal evidence to start off...
Reflecting on my own situation only, I will be wasting less flask-hours.
My raids are three hours in length. To be continuously under the influence of a flask, I need to drink two of them. However, one full flask-hour is totally wasted (well, technically it benefits me while questing or farming or doing BGs after the raid, but that is time I would not actively choose to have flask buff for).
Lets say I raid Ulduar 4 nights per week, 3 hours per night.
In the old configuration, I would drink two flasks (4 flask-hours) each night, and a total of 8 flasks (16 flask-hours) each week.
In the new configuration, I will drink three flasks (3 flask-hours) each night, and a total of 12 flasks (12 flask-hours) each week.
Time for some conjecture here
I'm going to guess that the average raid has a duration that is close to an exact multiple of 1 hour.
A much smaller set of raids have a duration close to an exact multiple of 2 hours.
Blizzard makes this change, and the result is much fewer wasted flask-hours. For my raid, 25% of my current flask consumption is pure waste. Given how easy things are, you might argue that 100% of my consumption is waste, but go do OS+3D with a progression group a couple times and then we have a chat.
In the current setup, demand is artificially boosted. I'm forced to consume 4 flask-hours when I only want to consume 3 flask-hours.
Its like bread companies selling buns in packs of six, and wiener companies selling hotdogs in packs of 8. They're artificially forcing you to purchase 2 extra items which often go to waste (unless I plan on having 24 hotdogs, or if I like eating peanut-butter-on-a-hotdog-bun sandwiches the day after I eat hotdogs. did i get that right? maybe its sliced up bunless hotdogs mixed in mac n cheese. i always forget which one comes extra since I always eat 24 at a time anyways).
Now that we can purchase in more efficient quantities, we will be consuming fewer (wasted) flask-hours.
So demand drops. If supply of flask-hours remains the same (same materials input will produce the same number of flask-hours output), price per flask-hour should drop.
But that's not all folks
Next they tell us that gathering a node will yield more herbs than in the past.
So the expected impact is that supply for mats for flasks will increase. If you look at this in a vacuum, and keep demand for flask-hours constant, that should reduce the price of a flask-hour.
But we're not in a vacuum. We just said above that the demand for flask-hours will drop.
Lower demand for flask hours, this reduces the price for flask-hours. But then reduce the cost to produce a flask-hour. If they get it right, the profit per flask-hour, or cost/income ratio, might remain stable.
Just how good are the economists at Blizzard?
The question is...just how good are they?
If they have some existing data regarding how many wasted flask-hours there are on a server (perhaps measuring how much time players are under the influence of a flask but NOT in a raid instance. not perfect, but perhaps indicative of trends), and they have existing data on the herb gathering rates on the server (easy to gather since blizz controls the spawns and the parameters that control how much herbs show up in the loot window), they just might be able to tweak the herb drop rate to keep price per flask-hour stable.
They need to address the Elixir Spec procs as well. The current procs provide between 2-10 extra flask-hours (or is it 2-8? whatever). If the new procs provide the same number of flasks, they'll be providing half the number of bonus flask-hours for the alchemist, in effect increasing the cost to produce a flask-hour.
Of course, it'll need some time to settle since the first week after the patch hits, all sorts of craziness will happen as people dump stockpiles of herbs or flasks (bad idea, craft them after the patch or else your existing flasks will change from 2 hour to 1 hour overnight), or other people try to jack with the market.
Also, we've got another, less easy to predict factor. Is Ulduar hard enough to drive demand for flask-hours up? That might totally skew the entire market. I'm thinking that demand will increase quite a bit, but that's pure speculation.
Or a new limiting reagent appears like Frost Lotus. So all the other herbs are plentiful, but Frost Lotus doesn't change. That then becomes the price driver for the flask market.
Its enough to make you go crosseyed
Since I farm my own herbs, have stockpiles galore, and I brew my own flasks, I'm excited by the change since my three hour raids will be less wasteful, but it will be interesting to watch what happens to the market.
My only hope is that Ulduar is hard enough. Or rather, that the hard modes are rewarding enough to encourage ongoing participation beyond the single achievement kill. Default Mode Ulduar will be only slightly more difficult than Naxx, which is good to allow access to wide audience and also to allow rich folks to buy farming spots months after the progression experience is gone.
If hard-mode Ulduar is both hard and rewarding, there's going to be lots of demand for flask-hours, which will benefit me if I choose to sell my raw herbs or my refined flasks.
Plus, flask-hour economics aside, its hard-mode content that I'm actually here for.