Monday, August 01, 2011

Diablo III Cash AH

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.


  1. The more subtle touch that had me thinking about this topic, is the overall expected longevity of the game from the perspective of the player.

    Diablo 3's end game will most likely be centered around item hunting in one form or another. The main difference between a gold based AH and a dollar based one is the fact that at the start of the game the player starts with 0 gold, whereas he can potentially start with an infinite amount of dollars.

    Gold intake and item rarity can help control the pace at which players gain gear and ultimately the number of (estimated) hours a player must spend in game in order to obtain everything there is to obtain. Dollars circumvent this issue. In fact, nothing is stopping the player to level up to level 60, put in a great amount of money to fully gear up his character and then be done with the game.

    It is actually in the detriment of the player to invest amounts of money into the game as it will limit his game time and his overall enjoyability of the game. Let's keep in mind that this game won't be like wow: it is the process of gaining the gear that must be the fun part; once all gear aquired there is simply nothing left to do.

    Basically this dollar AH will function like a big "Cheat" button on the game's screen. I dont know how many players would play a game with an "I cheat" button attach to it. Personally, when I start cheating at a game I know that quitting will come soon after.

    Multiple questions arise from this:
    a) will blizzard constantly introduce new items in order to keep players p(l)aying?
    b) how big will the farming industries in poorer countries get and how it will influence our experience?
    c) will the social norm inside anonymous multiplayer game be that you must purchase gear in order to stay on par with the rest of the party?
    d) assuming a heavy farming industry will the droprate of specific end-game items be reduced in order to keep them valuable? and if so, will it mean that the only possible way to obtain these items is to be spending money on the AH?

  2. The problem with this is that Big brother is going to come in, regulate and tax. They are going to require blizz to actually enforce their age restriction policy because games are marketed to kids and some people arnt educated/capable of making responsible choices.

  3. One thing to note is they said you can sell in-game gold on the real money AH. So farmers won't really deflate the gold AH at all.

    "Farmers" aren't really bad though, as any player who enjoys spending a few hours running circles is technically a farmer. The players that Blizzard doesn't want are botters. If anything, this new cash AH will make it easier to catch botters. Because all the sales are done in-game, it's easier to track who they came from. Investigating the top 1% of sales on the AH will likely find a few botters hiding inside.

    I also don't think that this system will kill the longevity of the game for a player. In D2 I never got even _close_ to having a full class set. 1-2 pieces tops. If anything, knowing how rare they were killed the longevity for me because I knew the odds were that I'd never get it even if I played every day for a year. With this system, I can sell all the neat items I find that I don't need, then use that profit to purchase the items that I do want. I have incentive to keep playing so I can obtain more items to sell in order to buy what I want. And, I never have to buy in to the system unlike FB games where it's a buy-only system and you can't sell to other players to obtain the real money currency.

    Also, that article Asterisk linked talks about circumventing gambling laws? How is buying and selling virtual goods gambling? There's luck-based winning ("good drops") but you're not going to lose money by playing. Sure, some kid with no self-restraint could go and spend his life savings on D3 items... but he could also go and blow his life savings on PS3 games. I don't see how that has anything to do with Blizzard. The only time big brother would ever care about it is when you go to cash out, so if you sell items before you buy items and don't buy in/cash out, who cares?

  4. I don't think this is gambling. For one thing, the payoff is always positive. The magnitude of the payoff is random, but you always end up better than you start.

    The random component is separate from the spending money component. You don't place money on an unknown outcome.

  5. Okrane, I'm not saying you're wrong. But the interesting thing about that argument is that I said something very similar about RIFT artifacts, that using the AH to complete sets felt wrong.

    In response, all the comments told me that buying missing artifacts off the AH was the proper way to go, and not "cheating" at all.

    I think that is an odd contradiction in attitudes.

  6. About the RIFT Artifacts: The sole difference I see in using the RIFT AH to get those items and here is that in order to use the RIFT AH you have to gain access to RIFT currency which is obtained through playing the game in the first place.

    Whereas with a RMAH you can simply use your bank account.

  7. I recall seeing mentioned in the previews that the cash AH would be anonymized... so that would prevent buying a specific player's auctions.

  8. Indy, that's easy to circumvent. It would be like putting up a green item for exactly 6342.13 gold.

    You can identify the target auction by using a specific, unusual price.

    And if someone else copies the price, well, there's a chance you send the money to the right account. And if you don't, it's still stolen and just reduces the thief's gain.

  9. I don't understand why people are getting upset over this. It is purely optional. And it opens up parts of the game to some people.

    Some people have the time (and energy) to grind for gear. They may or may not be lacking money. This doesn't affect them greatly (other than maybe making some real money if they sell shit the grinded.)

    Some people have the money to pay for gear. They may be otherwise busy with whatever or they may be lazy. So this is a bonus to them if they feel it's worth the extra dollahz.

    Really, though, unless it's one's own money, why should one care? Unless it's one's own character, why should one care? Other people buying stuff for real money on the AH is unlikely to have much impact on how I play the game.

  10. The issue I have (which Penny Arcade mentioned) is Blizzard employee integrity. There's a strong chance items will be materialized and enter the game for profit.

    I would hope blizzard has some form of IA, but selling virtual items from the source seems too easy.

  11. It wouldn't be as big an issue if it wasn't for the fact that someone with a larger sum of money inherently has a distinctly higher probability of buying out auctions from those who want to bid in-game money, but have no real money. That in of and as of itself does change the game for many people.

  12. I thought up another concern:

    That the RMT AH might eliminate the gold AH...people naturally would prefer money they can actually spend so I am concerned that it might mean you will be able to get sub-par items off the gold AH but the "good" items will all be on the cash AH. Hopefully the in-game economy will be strong enough that there will be a reasonable stable gold-cash exchange rate.

  13. Hi, long time reader, first time commenter. What I'm wondering is how they'll handle the distribution of loot. In D1 and D2, anyone could pick up anything pretty much, whoever clicked the fastest. But, since you can now sell items, such looting would cause a huge uproar, I'm sure. I suppose you could tag the mob like WOW except in Diablo loot traditionally falls on the ground and it has so many AOE skills that anyone who clicks first would tag everything. Loot goes to whoever deals most damage could work maybe... but then what about boss loot? Would you roll for that? But, rolling as in WOW would be way too slow-paced for a game like Diablo. I'm really surprised and disappointed that Blizzard went this route though I guess it was kind of inevitable. I'm very curious to see how they'll handle it.

    I used to think Blizzard was the perfect gaming company, but like any other company, I see that things become out of their control and quality control goes down as the company becomes bigger and bigger.

  14. JJ, I actually am planning on a full post discussing that very issue.

    But what I understand is that in D3, loot drops will be specific to the character. I.e. if a plate helm drops for you, only you can see it and pick it up. The other characters with you will see different drops.

    Apparently this was mentioned over a year ago in one of the initial previews, but a lot of people have forgotten now.