A fan asked about a semi-recent change to the Auction House and got an informative reply from Wyatt Cheng.
Others in this thread have said it better than I but in essence if your desire is that you simply want to know what it is that you need to beat (so you can bid a bit higher) flip your thinking over and let the system work in your favor instead. Suppose the current winner is Bob with a visible (public) bid of 50,000 gold. Bob’s true max bid (which is hidden from you), is 75,000 gold.
In this case one of the following will apply:
Scenario 1: You are willing to bid between 52,500 and 75,000 gold. In this case, you’re not willing to pay as much as Bob, so Bob will win. The system will automatically increase Bob’s bid to your max bid. Since he entered his bid first (and is also willing to pay more), the system considers Bob the winner.
Scenario 2: You are willing to bid 75,001 or more gold. In this case, you are willing to spend more than Bob, so the system makes you the winner. Suppose you enter a value of 150,000 gold. Well now the hidden bid is working to your advantage. The public bid is 75,000, the maximum amount Bob was willing to pay. But now you’re the one who is willing to pay more, and entered a higher number, so the system considers you to be the winner instead. Even though you entered 150,000 – if the auction were to end right now you only pay 75,000, the maximum of the second place bidder (Bob). Of course somebody else may come along and bid that up, but the system will automatically increment your bid upwards for you to the maximum (150,000) you had specified.
For the academically interested, you can read more about this auction approach on wikipedia, it’s called a Vickrey auction or “Second Price Auction”. One very nice property is it gives bidders incentive to bid their true value. a.k.a “Truthful bidding”. For the Diablo Auction House it enables players to make a truthful bid, leave the game, come back 24 hours later and see if they won. No need to babysit a bid and make sure you don’t get “sniped”. As long as you bid the maximum amount you were willing to pay you either win and get a refund for the difference between you and second place, or you lose the auction to somebody who was willing to pay more.
I’ve seen this scenario and it can be confusing if you’re not used to using the AH. Here’s an example: the item you want has no buyout and the current bid shows at 3.1m. The buyout comps for that item are around 6.5 million, and you don’t want it badly enough to buyout one of the others, but you’d be happy to get the bid one for 4 or 4.5m. The beauty of the Vickrey system is that you just figure how much you’re willing to pay for the item, say 5m in this instance, and you bid that amount. If yours is the highest bid, the system will tell you so and you’ll be winning and will get the item if no one bids higher. If someone else has already bid higher then your 5m bid will be rejected… and you can decide if you’re willing to bid more or not.
That’s what you should do. Make your max bid and walk away, hoping for the best. What you should *not* do is try to bid just slightly higher than the displayed high bid, since your bid will be rejected if someone else bid much higher hours ago. The Diablo 3 Auction House doesn’t work Ebay style, where the winner is not whoever clicks the “bid one penny higher” button the last time in the seconds before the auction ends.
One of the more enjoyable things about winning such a bid (rather than just using the Buyout option) is that you get the item plus all the gold you bid above the next highest bid. This can be substantial; I’ve bought a few items for 1 or 1.5m that had comps at 4 or 5m. In those cases I bid my max for the item, say 4.5m for an item that showed a high bid of 1m. Ultimately I got the item for about 1.5m, since a few other people came along, saw the item, bid the minimum increment and got their bid rejected since I had the 4.5m bid already sitting there. Frustrated, they didn’t keep bidding to the minimum increment, or throw in a 3m bid just for the hell of it, thus the displayed price never increased much and I ultimately got the item for 1.5m, plus a 3m refund of the balance of my maximum price bid.