Diablo 3 and the Real Money Auction House (Diablocalypse?)

Yesterday, Blizzard disdained the notion of adjusting potential customers’ expectations for an upcoming game gently in favour of dropping a PR bombshell during a press/ fansite preview day for Diablo 3. There is a lot to like about the new game, with features that I think players will enjoy, but that is now going to be eclipsed by the more attention-grabbing news.

The headline reveals were:

  • Diablo 3 will have an auction house facility via Battle.Net (players will be able to trade under game IDs and this will not require realID)
  • There will be an auction house that allows trading via in-game gold. There will also be a facility to trade via RL currency. Players will also be able to trade in-game gold on the AH for real currency (ie. sell gold to other players)
  • There will be no offline solo mode for Diablo 3, running the game will require a permanent internet connection.
  • Mods and addons will be prohibited.
The Escapist posts comments from Rob Pardo explaining why the cash AH is such a great idea. My view is that each of these things can be carefully and logically justified on its own, but taken together they may force a large change in how the typical player approaches the game.

Speaking as someone who mostly played Diablo 2 solo and offline, I understand the issue of preventing piracy but I will still miss the offline mode and the relative quietitude and non-competitiveness of playing alone. I understand that it’s still possible to play solo online, but much like soloing in an MMO, it’s harder to avoid the ubiquity of online achievements and pressure to compete or keep up with friends when you’re in a multiplayer game. (I don’t buy any connection with this and cheating, since it’s easy enough for them to keep offline characters out of the auction house or online PvP games.)

The in-game gold AH is a great idea and something that was very needed in Diablo 2, where there was a clear desire for players to be able to trade drops but no real mechanism for allowing it. Even swapping items between alts needed some quick logging in and out and leaving the item on the floor in the meanwhile. The real money AH is a sensible way to legitimise the grey market that would inevitably form for D3 goods and characters. People are still buying and selling D2 items on ebay and that game is now 11 years old (I do not know who these people are who buy the stuff from ebay – if you’re one of them feel free to explain why it’s worth it to you in comments.) However, the people who bought and sold D2 goods were a small and hardcore minority of the playerbase — this playstyle is now going to be pretty much forced on everyone else.

Scrusi comments   that most players fail to recognise opportunity cost in MMOs, I prefer to think that players are quite well able to value their own time and some of them get more enjoyment out of grinding and creating their own goods and materials than they would from ‘industrial strength crafting and trading.’ However, once real money enters the picture, I think people will become very sensitive indeed to opportunity cost.  Because any time you are not farming valuable items as fast as is humanly possible and then selling them on the auction house, you are leaving money on the table.

So while I have no doubt that many many players will be delighted by this development, I’m left feeling that I won’t much like the evolving game community that this spawns and since there’s no offline mode, I won’t have the option to opt out either. Maybe I’m the aging gamer with odd ideas from an earlier age here and the new breed of online gamers wants nothing more than to be able to buy and sell random items for cash. I’m thinking you might as well go and play poker.

The decision not to allow adds or mods follows from the previous two choices. With no offline mode there’s no room for a non-competitive/ non-real-money-selling gameplay where players might easily experiment with interesting new mods or addons. So this also makes sense, but it’s a shame in an area like PC gaming where the modding community has added so much to the player experience (including previous Blizzard games like Starcraft) in the past to rule it out completely. I don’t think PC gaming died with this announcement, but it’s a sad day.

Now I’m not saying that Blizzard announced this cash item auction house today just to wind me up because they knew I posted about the pointlessness of gold accumulation in WoW, but you have to also wonder whether they are considering developing WoW in the same way. As things stand, you’ll be able to cash in proceeds from the Diablo 3 AH to pay for a WoW subscription or other items from the cash shop. I don’t think it is likely that things will go in the other direction, but if they do, I’ll have to eat my proverbial hat and admit that the goblins were right.

And that since I’m not one, I fail at online gaming.