Eliminating the middleman is never as simple as it sounds. ‘Bout 50% of the human race is middlemen, and they don’t take kindly to being eliminated.
-Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly)
So the big news is that Diablo III will feature a real currency Auction House.
Personally, I don't think it's that bad an idea. Diablo being more a single-player game than a persistent world, it seems very optional.
Things I like about this plan:
- It uses real currencies like dollars. There's no messing around with "fake" transition currencies like Turbine Points, etc.
- It's obvious how Blizzard is going to make their money. They get the listing fee on every posting and the transaction fee on a sale. There's no games or trickery. Their cut is obvious, straightforward, and reasonably fair.
- It's symmetrical. You can buy or you can sell. But there's also no subscription fees so that certain segments of the audience end up going infinite and playing for free at the expense of others.
- It's completely ignorable. You can use the regular gold AH or even not use any AH at all.
- Arbitrage between the two auction houses might be interesting. Maybe people will buy items off the gold AH to put up for sale on the cash AH.
- Hardcore mode is cordoned off into its own section. You play Hardcore, and all you have to rely on is in-game resources. That is respectable.
Stuff I'm unsure about:
- It kind of legitimizes farming. The "illegal" and dangerous part of farming has always been the transfer from gold to dollars. This gives a reasonable way for people to take advantage of this. Further, farmers will decrease prices on the cash AH, because of increased supply of items. But they should actually increase prices on the gold AH, because the farmers will use the gold they farm to buy items on that AH to sell on the cash AH.
Keeping the dollar price low seems better, even if it frustrates would-be sellers. It sort of separates the professional sellers from the people would sell in the course of playing the game. The gamer sellers would probably be better off with the gold AH, at least in my initial eyeballing of it.
- As someone on another message board pointed out, this is the precise strategy offered by many people to deal with illegal drugs. Legalize it and tax it. Let's see how that works out.
Most gamers tend to the liberal/libertarian side of things, so it's amusing to see how many of them complain about this strategy when it affects what they deem important.
Things I don't like:
- It raises the stakes enormously for account theft. Let's say you have $100 attached to your Diablo 3 account. Now if your account is stolen, the immediate strategy is to buy overpriced items from a specific seller in order to transfer your money to a different account.
I don't really know how Blizzard plans to deal with this. Perhaps access to the cash AH will require an Authenticator. Perhaps there will be a significant delay on the actual cash transfer in order for Blizzard to identify and reverse false transactions. You could give the item to the player right away, but just delay the payment for 48 hours.
So those are my thoughts. Overall, I think it's a good fit for a random item-driven game like Diablo. I especially approve that Blizzard makes it obvious how they are going to make money. In my view, when you can't tell how the company providing a service will get their money, that is cause to be nervous.