The great Diablo 3 economy meltdown

Funnily enough, I’d been getting back into Diablo 3 recently so I was aware of the new patch that hit this week. One of the new features was that Blizzard raised the limit for maximum gold sold on the auction house from 1m to 10m gold.

And then … some players discovered a buffer overflow due to these changes that led to some easily replicated gold dupe mechanics. Very soon after this, some accounts amassed ridiculously huge amounts of gold, even by D3 standards. Blizzard disabled the US AH last night and deployed a hotfix earlier today.

But they’re reluctant to roll back the servers. Presumably lots of players returned to try out the new patch and Blizzard are aware of the effect of taking away any cool RNG drops that they picked up while playing on player morale. Instead they’re trying to identify offending accounts and doing selective bans.

It’s probably too late though, once that amount of gold flooded into the AH economy, legitimate players started selling drops/ gems for hugely inflated prices so the money has been distributed.

Here’s the lowdown from reddit, and the Blizzard official response.

It’s at times like these that it pays to be on EU servers that update after the US ones, our patch had the hotfix included.

[WoW] Should the economy reset with new expansions?

GOLD covilha@flickr

The in game economy is the last holdout in WoW of the virtual world type of MMO. Players buy and sell on the open market, various tradeskills and gathering skills feed into the auction house ‘game’, and although Blizzard tweaks the economy occasionally, it’s usually indirectly.

Not only that but they have no intention of trying to balance this aspect of the game. Some tradeskills have the potential to make MASSIVELY more money than others, and barring actual exploits, Blizzard usually leaves it all well alone.

But really – why don’t they reset the economy for new expansions? Everything else about the endgame is reset. Gear and progression are certainly reset. New levels are added, and just about everything a player accomplished in previous expansions is relegated to memories of old achievements. All except for gold in the bank.

Gathering gold is the only thing you can do in WoW which – so far – has been guaranteed to carry over into the next expansion. The only vaguely permanent accomplishment you can have on a character. But why? Since tradeskills aren’t balanced for cash making, all this means is that anyone who leaped on a gold making scheme in one expansion may never have to worry about gold again.

Nice for them, maybe. But is it good for the game?

There will never be enough gold sinks to soak up all of that spare cash, so the gap between the ultra rich and the regular player continues to increase. Even as a non-gold maker, I have about 60k gold between my alts on Argent Dawn, and since I have no interest in fancy mounts or 359 trinkets that’ll soon be replaced, there’s no real reason for that money to get ploughed back into the economy at all. Compare this to a game like EVE where you actually can plough your profits into better ships, different markets, and ultimately building large mercantile corporations. Or just use it to buy extra game time.

It doesn’t really matter in WoW that a new alt on a new server would be behind the curve.  Blizzard does provide plenty of ways to make gold via dailies or gathering or trade skills. You’ll have enough for anything you need. There’s no special reason to make more gold unless you deliberately build it into your own play (for example, gold DKP runs where people bid gold for drops favour players who gathered more gold) or like fancy mounts. (Incidentally, I think my two person rocket is at least as cool as the alchemical dragon, and seems rather rarer on my server.)

And that just shows how broken the entire economy is. Blizzard have actually given up on this part of the game. They know it’s not working.

But if they reset it with every expansion, that would give the players who enjoy building up their gold reserves more of a chance to show off their skills. It would help keep the gold levels at a level where gold sinks actually could make a dent in people’s hoards. And if they aren’t going to make a proper endgame for economy players, keeping the economy relevant is surely the next best thing.

On globalisation, consumerism, and F2P

(Even for me, that’s one heck of a subject line.)

What if developments in MMOs over the past few years really do model the real life experience in some ways? After all, virtual worlds are modelled on the real one … sort of.  Have gamers in virtual worlds been through their own virtual industrial revolution, and are heading on the road to  wherever it is that we are now in the real world?


Globalisation in MMOs, and specifically in WoW, happened when cross server transfers were enabled. Suddenly the population of a single server had much less of an impact on the progression of that server. Or to put this another way, there was a time when progression guilds took quite a strong interest in less progressed raiding guilds on their server and how they were doing. This might have been with a view to poaching players, but it was also because they knew that the server rose and fell together. There was an element of trying to foster the server community because progression guilds knew that earning a bit of goodwill with newer players now might result in better applications a few months down the line.

By the same token, if a raid guild on a server was well liked, non-raiders on the same server might share some pride in their achievements. I remember congratulating people I barely knew when their raid got C’thun down for the first time.

Servers now have become less relevant to a lot of players. Progression minded guilds and players think little of transferring servers or factions, advertise across servers and don’t feel the same sense of connection. Compare this with the way global industries set up call centres wherever the costs are cheapest and don’t feel such a strong connection to any local national interest.

You’ll still see some guilds, mostly more social ones, recruiting and training newer players off their own bat. If anyone remembers the post I wrote a few months back about running a TotC-25 to bring some less experienced raiders along, you might also be interested to know that some of them got the raiding bug and are keen to raid with our main crew in Cataclysm. Which is great because we’ll need the people.

Consumerism and F2P

Consumerism is a style of society in which people are defined less by their job and more by their purchasing power, and what they choose to buy. People are less interested in saving money (except if it means better consumption in future) or being thrifty with time or money, and more in having the newest latest most exciting items and experiences. We do see this as a trend in MMOs at the moment.

Players are less inclined to put all their focus into one alt on one game. Less inclined to define themselves as their main character or guild. Less inclined to pigeonhole themselves. Less inclined to put up with a long grind to get a minor benefit for one alt when they could get a new shiny more easily on another, possibly in a different game. And less inclined to value the achievements of people who do focus so much on one character – after all, look at how many options they have to give up to do that.

F2P games are bang in line with this type of play. A F2P game needs people to be constantly spending, so they need to offer a constant stream of new shiny items, which won’t last very long. This is the key — consumers like shopping. They like to have new and cool items to choose from. They bore quickly. They want to be seduced into making frequent purchases, not one-time permanent buys which would mean an item that never will be replaced. Consumables (by definition) are ideal candidates. If a player runs multiple alts then a F2P game can also try to lure them into buying shiny items for each alt separately. An item shop should frequently offer new things, time limited offers, anything to lure consumers through the virtual doors.

WoW in this context is actually pretty conservative with the cash shop options. They’re still good value compared to other games IF you have a lot of alts – the sparkle pony for example requires you to pay once and then all your alts can have one. Compare that with EQ2 which asks you to spend the same amount for every alt who wants the cool mount.

So it’s not necessarily about showing off to other players and keeping up with the Jones’, but might be just about being able to do a lot of shopping and choosing stuff you like for your own characters. Obviously the more money you pay, the more choices you have. Consuming is also a more solitary lifestyle. It’s all about your individual choices which you make privately with your own personal money, and less about having to fit in with the rest of the workforce. Again, this fits with the more solo friendly gameplay which MMOs are introducing.

The new breed of player may not be so interested in the endgame. Most of the F2P players won’t get that far – even if they stay interested in the game they’ll be cautious of committing too much time and money into it because that would restrict future options. This does not bode well for raiding as a playing style, at least not in its current form.

But can consumerism in games really support the sorts of communities that lead to long term growth? It’s a solo focussed mindset. And one effect of excessive consumption is that people can get jaded. The sparkle pony is new and exciting now, but how will it compare with future mounts, for example? Will there be a constant stream of people who will buy? In the real world there are also all sorts of issues to do with greater inequalities in society – in order for this to also be the case in MMOs, the cash shop would have to take on far more importance compared to in-game items.

If you were a time-traveller…

So assume you have a working time machine, and you don’t want to use it for anything boring like picking winning lottery tickets or teaching the Elizabethans about penicillin. Nope.

Instead you decide to dip into your MMO of choice (or maybe even switch games altogether) and use your foreknowledge to have more fun in the game.

If you could go back in time, is there anything you would do differently in game?

Would you roll a different race/ class/ server? Would you have gotten in on a different game at the beginning (maybe picked up a lifetime sub in a game you passed up, for example)? Would you have used your knowledge of the in-game economy to make some easy gold? Would you have joined a different guild? Booted someone who was going to cause a problem later on? Exploit bugs that later get fixed?

Or maybe you’d even know to take a break and skip a patch altogether until bugs got fixed a few months later.