My opinion has always been that farming is almost never optimal, and that you should not be farming unless you love it, or you have a lot of time to spend on goldmaking.
AH-based methods have better GPH
In general auction house based goldmaking methods will have better gold per hour than farming. Now of course I can state whatever I want, and it does not make it true, so let’s actually look at the potential gold per hour of a couple of farms and some crafting methods.
I’ll be basing the crafting calculations on prices on my realm Draenor EU. This is a very high population realm with extremely competitive markets. I’ll also be valuing the farming methods based on prices on my realm.
Crafting: 262 gear
This market is a little hard, as you can spend more, or less time depending on how large your crafting batches are and if you use multiple optional reagents or not. We’ll focus on jewelcrafting, as it has a small number of items and you don’t need missives. This means you spend less time per item, but it’s also much more competitive, as there are fewer variants and a larger prevalence of the popular stat variants.
Estimating the time spent
I did a crafting session restocking LW and tailoring Crafter’s mark gear and recorded. I spent a total of 16 minutes including the loading screen, manually queueing up items with missives, buying all the materials and crafting the marks. For this session I used missives on most of the items and I crafted 56 items total. On average I spent about 18 seconds per item. My stock was actually fairly high, so I didn’t craft too many of each, which even hurt my efficiency, but it’s still fairly simple.
Then we need to account for the time you spend purchasing materials, and posting them to the AH. I’ve timed a post scan of 57 items, which took 1m53s seconds from I started logging onto the character until I was done. About 10% of my items typically sell when reposting. So that leaves us with about 20 seconds of time spent reposting per sale. So even if the time estimate per item doubled over what I just showed, and I spent a minute crafting and selling each item, I would end up with 60 000 gold per hour. If the profit per item is significantly higher, such as it is with missive based gear, it obviously gets better (but here the crafting time is also considerably increased.
Calculating the profits
In total I spent just under 40 seconds per item, so we’ll use that as the baseline. For these items my profit margin ranges from 2000 gold up to 10000. I’ll assume about 1/3 sell at 6000 profit margin, and the rest at 2000. That leaves us with an average profit of 3333 per item.
Put all this together and my gold per hour is 297 000. Obviously I can’t do this forever, as once I have a couple of each stat variant crafting more won’t help until I sell the items I have, but the GPH is incredible. I can then spend another 20 minutes on doing the same for blacksmithing and jewelcrafting. Once i’m done with that I can spend some time crafting old world mounts, etc. Since maxing out does not take too much time I can be in more markets, making more money.
Farming: Zereth Mortis
Based on this Zanzarful video, we know that you can get about 5.5-6 progenitor essentia per hour. I’ll round it up to 6 for this example. In addition to this you will get a large amount of herbs, ores and other materials. I couldn’t find accurate data on the volume of other materials. In Zanzarful’s video he estimated the value at 10 000 on his realm, with the Essentia valued at 42 000. This was on the 31st of March, so we can just scale down the gold value based on how much those material prices have fallen since then.
All put together that puts the current gold per hour for this method on Draenor at: 30 000 gold per hour roughly.
AH-based methods are capped though
There’s generally a limit to how much you can do in a given time frame on the Auction House. Once you have one of each legendary at rank 7 for instance, crafting more isn’t really going to help until you sell one. You can cancel scan of course, but that may or may not be worth your time depending on the market. For crafted transmog for instance it would be completely pointless. Once you have restocked you will have to find some other way of utilizing your time. For me that’s just doing something else, but if you want to maximize your gold, you should spend this time farming or adding another AH-based method. Particularly early on, where your AH based potential will be heavily limited by how much gold you have.
What does all this means?
Stop farming unless you like it. It’s only really optimal If you are broke, or you have already invested into every possible crafting and flipping market available to you. Outside of that, if you like farming you should OF COURSE be doing it. It’s a game, so do whatever you enjoy. Not everything has to be optimized!