Saturday, March 02, 2013

Diablo 3, the Auction House, and Efficiency

I've been thinking a fair bit about Diablo 3 lately. Unlike a lot of the gaming community, I thought D3 was quite a good game. In particular, I think the ability and rune system was inspired. However, I think Blizzard made one major mistake: the Auction House.

The Auction House is an understandable mistake, though. Diablo 2 had a lot of issues with people selling items on eBay, with all the attendant scams and customer service issues that entails. As well, just regular trading was a big hassle and not easy to undertake.

Blizzard basically had two choices: introduce a mechanism for secure trading; or disallow trading entirely. They went for the first option in the AH. More and more, I think they should have gone for the second option, and just not allowed trading. They already made loot drops from monsters be separate for each individual player. Banning trading would have only been one step further by not allowing others to see the items you drop.

The Auction House had a lot of negative effects. It made the game much too easy. D3 isn't that hard, but the difference between a character with only random drops, and one outfitted from the AH is huge. It devalued the whole blacksmith subsystem. I think that without the AH, D3 would have had far more longevity than it did.

The central fun in Diablo is making your character stronger. After you do the campaign once to see the story, the point is to kill more bosses and outfit your character with better and better gear. The AH allows you to "shortcut" that central fun, all in the name of efficiency.

Too much efficiency is not fun. Players will always argue for more and more efficiency. However, I think it's important for developers to stand firm against this trend.  It is especially dangerous to offer shortcuts to whatever your "central fun" is. For example, if the central fun in your game is leveling, I don't think you should offer items that make leveling faster or easier.

For example, looking at WoW, I'm not certain if heirlooms, valor points, or tier tokens have really improved the game at all. They've all made the game more efficient, certainly. But I think that they've caused character progression to become too efficient, too easy. And I think Blizzard agrees with this stance to a degree. In 5.2, they're introducing rare Thunderforged gear, which makes gearing up fully much harder, and a less efficient, longer process.


  1. That's a great point about skipping the central fun. What's the point of playing D3 if you're going to skip ahead?

  2. I could not agree with this post more.

    In the lead-up to D3's release, I was so keen on the idea of an AH. Trading in D2 was such a pain in the ass that I don't think I traded more than a handful of times in the several years I played heavily. Diablo.. but with an AH?! I thought that sounded like just the greatest idea!

    And then the reality which hit me was.. when you mix infinitely random loot, ten million players, and a super-efficient region-wide auction house, what you get is: every item imaginable for sale, and for the merest pittance, you can buy something better than anything you've ever seen drop..

    (and I too think D3 was quite a good game, unlike a lot of the community - I spent more hours in 2012 playing it than any other game, and I still enjoy it now, albeit in smaller and less frequent doses)

  3. I agree that the AH really warped the playing experience in D3. While it's true that D2 could stand on its own (although there were some trading elements), I'm not entirely sure if D3 would have been better without trading at all. Inferno mode in particular would have been impossible given the random nature of the loot - you would likely need 100+ hours of farming just to get a full set of +Resist gear just to progress in Act 2.

    As for the applicability of this to WoW, I don't think your logic follows. In fact, you should implicitly agree with me that heirlooms didn't go far enough: imagine if Blizzard never nerfed the XP required for new players to level, and instead baked (more of) it into heirlooms. Bam! The people that like the leveling game get a vanilla-esque experience, and I get to skip the incredibly boring grind that stands between me and a desire to try endgame with a new class. That's win-win.

    As far as Thunderforged gear goes, the devs already stated the purpose behind them is an attempt to make clearing the early raid bosses less boring. If a guild is 8/12 for a month or so, odds are good that the early bosses drop nothing but shards for most people. Except, now there is a chance its an upgrade instead.

    Although in a technical sense it might delay "progression," that wasn't its explicit purpose. And, honestly, I have no idea what you're talking about when it comes to "making character progression too easy" in the first place. If someone says "full-LFR gear" is their individual endpoint for gear progression, that's one thing, but that doesn't say much about the system overall.

  4. To go along with that idea of not going far enough, you have to take a step back and ask why auction houses in other games don't have a similar effect. For example, why is gearing still such a big game cycle thing in WoW, even though it's also a game with some randomly generated loot and an AH?

    The answer is likely because there's still tiers of loot that can't be sold over the AH, or traded to other players. Would D3 have still had the same issue if, say, all boss drops or epic gear was soulbound?

  5. Just chiming in to say that I agree that D3 is quite a fun game. Everywhere else it is mentioned, you hear "it sucks" or "people still play it?"

  6. I would love to see an expanded about efficiency problem in WoW. Even Ghostcrawler has commented on more than one occasion about the community's over emphasis on it.

  7. it's one of those things where what people think they want isn't good for them in the long run.

  8. Diablo 3 has no subscription, so AH probably is a subscription-equivalent mechanism (Blizzard takes a cut from seller's revenue).
    As Diablo 3 players have already given their $60 to Blizzard and aren't supposed to pay more, Blizzard can safely ignore "long-run fun" factor.

  9. "The answer is likely because there's still tiers of loot that can't be sold over the AH, or traded to other players. Would D3 have still had the same issue if, say, all boss drops or epic gear was soulbound?"

    Blizzard actually took the first steps already along this path in the last patch, introducing boe recipes that required bop mats to make bop items better than most AH items.