Every Once and a While

Lately, Blizzard has been coming up with some truly hare-brained schemes. Their last humdinger was the Battle.net RealID cross-realm grouping “premium” (read: additional cost) features. There remains an air of mystery surrounding this, as the premium portion of this feature has yet to be spelled out in any way — other than that it will exist in some capacity.

Their latest announcement is not concerning a feature for World of Warcraft, but Diablo 3. And that feature is a Real Money Auction House.

Essentially, there will be two WoW-style auction houses in Diablo 3. One will be gold-based, i.e. items will be listed and sold for the in-game currency of gold. The other will be currency-based, i.e. items will be listed and sold for real dollars (or euros, or other regional currencies). A player can “charge” their Battle.net with real money to use in these transactions. Any profit they make also goes back to their Battle.net account, and they can then “cash out” and receive actual revenue from their auctions. Blizzard, of course, will take their cut — in fact, I believe they’re taking a cut at the time of sale, and then again when you cash out.

This all sounds rather great at first, right? You can effectively play the game and earn money. Since Diablo 3 is not subscription based, you’re not shelling out money each month, so any cash you make is complete profit.

Really, in a perfect world, that would be great. But this world isn’t perfect.

Hackers, Botters, Dupers, etc.

If there is one thing Diablo and Diablo 2 were known for, it’s the hackers, botters, and item duplicators. Blizzard never could fully quash this activity. Only the age of the game and its depreciated value made it less and less a target for hackers and the like.

Enter Diablo 3, where a hacker, botter or farmer can now turn their effort into actual profit. I can’t be the only person in the world who sees this coming.

WoW farming has settled down in the past few years, namely due to in-game systems and how the style of play has changed. Less people are buying gold with real life dollars, because gold is easier to earn in-game. There’s also less to buy with gold — all the great items still come from raids. The introduction of Firelands actually prompted a resurgence of farming, as the Firelands raid instance trash was populous and capable of dropping various epic items and patterns, but this has again died down thanks to Blizzard scaling back the drop rates.

However, in Diablo 3, farmers will have new incentive to ramp up their activities. They can farm legitimately, just like any other player could, but you know that they won’t stop there — surely there will be farmers in foreign countries, working shifts, twenty or so at a time, filling the auction house with their spoils. And if they’re not doing it the hard way, they’ll set up bots to do it for them. Worse yet, they will investigate ways to really game the system and either duplicate items or otherwise cheese the drop rates to get higher quality gear with less work.

The Spirit of the Game

Blizzard will tell you that the illicit trade of items occurred in Diablo 1 and 2, facilitated by third-party websites with a great potential to scam unsuspecting players. And they’d be right, this did happen.

However, as a Diablo fan and player, I can tell you that many did not participate in that activity. We did not appreciate people buying gear for real life money, cheapening what little in-game accomplishments we made. To bring this activity under the Blizzard umbrella and sanction it, well, I cannot say it’s good game design, and it isn’t good for the game’s community.

If you look at WoW’s community, you will likely see its unpleasant aspects. Lately, the game has devolved into a “let’s get this over with” mentality. The fastest path to Justice/Valor Points. Players in random dungeon groups will go an entire instance without even speaking to one another (provided everyone knows the fights and their roles). Optional bosses will be skipped, because the majority of the group is not there for the loot that drops but for the Valor points at the end.

It’s almost spooky, being a part of these groups. There’s no community here. We’re not comrades. We’re not even acting like people. The interactions here are robotic at best, because of a majority who are not playing the game for fun — they’re playing a game to max out their Valor points for the week.

If you do not think the same will happen in Diablo 3, especially with the incentive for players to farm and post auctions for real money, you’re mistaken. If a group does form, chances are it will be comprised of real-life friends or a team of farmers. Should an unsuspecting, bright-eyed player stumble into one of these highly regimented groups, they may wonder why nobody is talking to them and why they’re skipping boss X and Y to go straight to Z. Because Z drops the best loot for putting on the Auction House, of course!

Greed is Good

No, it isn’t. But with the way things are going in the gaming community, you might think otherwise. Activision will be charging players to enjoy the multiplayer matchmaking in Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3. CCP (EVE Online) recently had a flap about a leaked company newsletter that highlighted their own explorations of further monetizing their game — a game that is already well known for it’s in-game economy. Diablo 3 now has a RMT Auction House. World of Warcraft is evidently adding more premium features, with costs above and beyond its subscription fee. Downloadable Content for a fee is a feature in many of the latest games. XBox Live has its subscription costs. And so on, and so forth.

This sort of behavior isn’t going away, because companies realize it can earn them some extra cash. And gamers are buying. Personally, I don’t think any of it actually makes a better game, and it is saddening to see Finance majors having a hand in Game Design.

With the Diablo 3 Auction House, a player with enough disposable income can outfit themselves with truly great gear with little to no effort. That seems to go against the spirit of gaming in general, where everyone is on equal footing once they buy the original product. Only after that does skill and time investment set players apart. Now they’re adding a new factor — how much spare cash you have lying around, and how willing you are to essentially bribe the game developer to increase your character’s power. They’ll spin this as something positive, but that’s what it boils down to. Whipping out the Credit Card is becoming a lot like entering a cheat code.

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