This is a question that regularly comes up in some form or another. Some practices might feel like cheating other players (some obviously are). Obviously if you feel you are doing something that is unethical you will not be able to succeed at it. As such this is a very important question to tackle.
Staying within the ToS
This point is so obvious it almost didn’t make it. Anything that breaks the Terms of Service is a massive no-no to me. Bots and similar tools obviously break the entire point of playing the game and skew the playing field to a disgusting degree.
Why Gold making is beneficial
I believe that us gold makers provide a very valuable function. We make sure that other players have a much higher chance of finding the items they want on the Auction House. By purchasing from farmers we give them incentives to head out and farm. By crafting we literally create the items out of thin air, and by flipping we help smooth out the supply of items over time so the average price becomes less volatile and the AH doesn’t run dry.
Below we will go through the main gold making methods in WoW and I will highlight why I consider my practices ethical, and which practices I consider unethical
Farming is probably the most “honest” gold making you can do. You go out into the world and create valuable items literally out of thin air. As long as you are not using automation tools, but actually spending your time this is as white hat as it comes. I don’t have any qualms against multiboxing either, as it requires the multi boxer to pay for multiple accounts.
Multibox farmers also help your realm. They can generate more items than single farmers and will make sure that more players will be able to afford the items in question as there are more of them to go around.
Crafting is pretty much in the same box as farming. Some of you might think that I should not be charging a 30k premium on Vials of the Sands as the cast time for the craft is just 3 seconds. That’s a ridiculous amount of gold to click a button. To be able to click that button however I spent a substantial time farming. I also spend a lot of gold buying materials with very volatile prices, so I am taking a substantial risk. At the end of the day there would’nt even be a Vial there if I didn’t sell it.
The end result is that the buyer has a cool new mount, I have 30k gold in profit and some farmer has the 30k gold I paid for the materials. Obviously we are all better off in this situation than we would have been without the transaction!
In addition to this you have the fact that no one is ever obligated to buy my auctions. If the price is too steep your potential customers can do the work to get the recipe themselves. Or they can find a guildmate to craft it for them. Any AH transaction is voluntary.
All that being said I generally aim to have reasonable profit margins. For crafted items i generally aim for margins from 20%-100% This ensures I get a decent profit without fleecing anyone.
Flipping is the act of buying low and selling high. This only really works when you can reliably find items that are underpriced. At some level this means someone is not getting the best deal they could possibly get. In a lot of markets you are providing a valuable service by actively flipping: Liquidity.
A liquid market is one where it is easy to sell or buy your items. Fllippers work as market makers. You take some risk by buying the item as any price changes can wipe out your profit. Then you try to find someone who really needs the item and is willing to pay for it. In the mean time the farmer gets his gold faster and can spend it. The item remains on the AH for other players who need it and you take the profit for keeping it on the AH and taking the risk.
This is even more obvious for material markets. I have done a lot of material flipping in Legion and this is something that is truly great for your realm. You absorb cheap stock when there is a surplus and repost it at a reasonable price when the AH is running low. This ensures players will always have access to reasonably priced crafting materials. You help bring the price closer to the average by removing the lowest prices and adding more at the average level so you avoid spikes up.
This is the most contentious method by far. Sniping is the act of searching the AH for recently posted items that are severely underpriced. You can find some extremely mispriced deals. People selling items in the 100k range for 100 gold is not unheard of. I personally do not snipe, but it is not because I think it is unethical per se. WoW is a game and losses are not too substantial. You have the responsibility to make sure your auctions are correctly priced before sending them out into the void as you know they are not reversible.
That being said I fully understand why people would feel this is going too far in taking advantage of inexperienced players. I will not argue the point as I think this is something you will have to decide for yourself. If you feel bad about it you should stick to the methods above as they are unconditionally positive for other players!
If you want to be an effective gold maker you need to believe that what you are doing is helping other players. I have helped hundreds of players get their gear enchanted and gemmed at reasonable prices. I have also helped people consistently find decently priced BoEs and battle pets.
If you find markets with little or no competition gold making is even more ethical. If you are the only one crafting an item on you are server you are literally the only hope for players on your realm to get the item in question. So then you really need to figure out a way to mass produce it so they can all get it!
Obviously we will still be taking a profit margin for our trouble, but this is only as it should be. As gold makers we spend a lot of effort keeping the items easily available for other players and this service has a price.