Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Diablo 3 Auction House: Semi-Baseless Speculation

Most of us played Diablo 2 for a considerable amount of time. I'm assuming that those of you who played on battle.net traded items, or at least paid attention to trade spam, so know how that marketplace functioned. Additionally, I've spent quite a bit of time playing WoW's auction house, and generally understand the trends of that online marketplace. If we combine our knowledge pools, and our considerable intellects, I'd like to think we have a fairly robust position from which to semi-baselessly speculate about Diablo 3's You Cans Buy Shit With Real Monies auction house.

Let me start by saying that I like this auction house, as a concept. For one, I am excited at the prospect of profiting off the time I will inevitably spend farming gold and loot in Diablo 3. For two, I applaud Blizzard's willingness to join 'em, rather than fight 'em. I know people buy gold / items off third party sites; you know it. Blizzard's willingness to accept this reality, and try to legitimize the whole process, just makes sense. While I have never bought or sold items or gold online, I think the ability to do so can enhance the gaming experience, and add a new level of value / meaning to the items and funds acquired in-game. For three, Blizzard's initial statement that all content on the AH shall be player-farmed seems to keep this from turning the game into a pay-to-win system since all content is farmed and sold by players. It takes something that already existed, then legitimizes and streamlines the process.

That being said, there are some obvious points of concern that I wish to discuss with respect to how this auction house will function, and the impact it will have on the game. I've broken these concerns down into categories, of a sort, based upon some key questions.

Question 1: How much will it cost, in real money, to post items, for real money?

"We plan to collect a nominal fixed transaction fee for each item listed in the auction house. This fee consists of a fixed charge to list the item, which is assessed whether or not the item is successfully sold, and an additional fixed charge that is assessed only if the item is sold."

If I post a Stone of Jordan to the AH (I'll abbreviate "auction house" this way from now on), and it does not sell, I lose some money. That fee will play a great role in determining the success or failure of the new AH. If it costs a penny to list, then the AH could be flooded with worthless, overpriced items. If it costs a quarter, few may participate without first taking out a small loan. What do you think an ideal fee would be, and how do you foresee this charge affecting your own participation?

Obviously, sensible people will chart the marketplace and then strategically craft their own auctions, in the same way that persons play the stock market or WoW's AH. But these people are, most likely, the individuals who already sell items and gold via third party sites. This leads to question two.

Question 2: Will this new Auction House stop third party sites?

No: To avoid Blizzard's transaction fee, third party sites will continue to sell gold / items on their own. Additionally, avoiding the AH can allow these sites to occasionally scam individuals.

Yes: Since the combined transaction fee total is less than their site hosting / management costs, third party sites will utilize the AH. Additionally, the availability of this AH will make players less likely to seek out third party sites.

In my semi-baseless speculation, it could go either way. I think it depends on how much Blizzard charges to post items, and takes from the selling price. Thoughts?

Question 3: Will the real money AH kill the gold AH? Immediate follow-up: How much will gold be worth, anyway?

I think these two questions are inherently linked. Why would I sell a Stone of Jordan for 5,000 gold when I can sell it for $5? There are two answers: Either the transaction fee is too high, so selling for $5 just isn't worth it, or the gold-value of the item is higher than the dollar value of the item.

This is the point at which my speculation explodes on itself, for the following reason: "Players will be able to buy and sell gold through the currency-based auction house at whatever the current market price is, as established by the player community."


Not only does this make gold farming a viable job prospect, but it also creates tension between the two AHs. If a one Stone of Jordan is listed for 10,000 gold, and another is listed for $5, and the price of gold is 1,000G = $1, then it only makes sense to buy the SoJ for $5. Alternatively, if I can buy a SoJ for 5,000 gold, and resell it for $10, why the hell wouldn't I?

This is the aspect of the system that fascinates me, at the moment. For one thing, it seems to suggest that gold will be valuable in Diablo 3, similar to how gold is valuable in WoW. However, this will drastically modify gameplay. In Diablo 2, one has to put effort into not maxing out their gold. As that system changes, so, too, does gameplay with respect to the cost of items, repairs, potions, scrolls, etc. Additionally, it makes AH farming a lucrative enterprise, whereby one can spend hours either reselling items that were undervalued by their original posters, or by converting items to gold, and reselling that gold. But this realization, and the answers to previous questions, all funnel into perhaps the most important question about the new AH.

Question 4: Will this AH change how you play Diablo 3?

Answer: Yes. Of course it will. How could it not?

Previously I thought of Diablo 3 as a new, shiny installment to the Diablo franchise. It was another context in which I could lose myself, farming for hours to amass countless digital treasures I could lord over people on message boards in an effort to feel superior. But now? This could be a job. An amazing, fantastic, wonderful job.

But more than that, I recognize that it will change how I play with people, how I fundamentally conceive of the game. Whenever I die, I'll realize that I just lost money, in terms of the loss of gold paid to repair my items. Whenever I loot D3's version of Mephisto, I'll conceive of each item as a dollar amount, as rent, food, or booze. When I create characters, I'll assess their utility in terms of gold / item acquisition. When I gear my characters, I'll pause at each unique to choose between using it, or selling it.

I'm already an asshole about Diablo 2 and WoW with respect to loot and gold, and in those games it's only about the inflated sense of self-importance I get from wearing item sets, or passively bragging about my gold total. But when those items, that gold, translates to real-people money? Fuck, man. Fuck!

But then I take a breath, and realize the flaw in my thinking.

There are many other people asking these same questions, engaging in these same speculations right now. The part that is glossed over is the fact that item/gold sellers can turn a reasonable profit as a result of their limited competition. When everyone is a gold farmer, that significantly decreases the competition and demand, by drastically increasing the supply. Once the initial absurdity subsides, and the AH is regulated by individuals who understand basic economics, how significant will the AH actually be? Moreover, how will it affect people's conceptions of their own characters?

Diablo is about item collection. The game, at its core, is a system for amassing randomly generated items the value of which is found in their rarity. But when these items are readily available for purchase, and translate into a direct dollar amount, will they still maintain that value to the players?

I'm not sure. At one moment I think the items could be more awesome, since they maintain their initial appeal via rarity and gain that economic value as well. But then I ask myself, "What would I think of my Aldur's set, my WoW gold, if I could have obtained it by spending $20 five minutes into the game?" And I have to answer that, honestly, it makes them kinda meaningless. Sure, the gear and the gold have utility within the game for accomplishing tasks and defeating monsters. But I don't fucking care about that part. I don't want to kill monsters, I want to brag about my loot. Yet if any jackass can obtain my loot by stealing their dad's credit card...where the hell is the fun? What can I lord over other people if not my gear?

Maybe I could find enjoyment in the gameplay, I could focus on the new pvp system, or perhaps I could simply appreciate the experience of playing a game online with people whose company I enjoy.

Yeah, that's not gonna work. I guess I'll have to be an achievement whore.

Anyway, what do you peoples think about the Diablo 3 AH?


Roscoe said...

Diablo is about item collection. The game, at its core, is a system for amassing randomly generated items the value of which is found in their rarity.

Is it.. possible... that implementing such a system... acts as a measure to stop the game from being precisely this? To refocus the majority of players opinions and understanding of the game back onto the gameplay?

I guess part of what I'm wondering is.. you're building this upon an assertion that really is only valid for D2, and not the franchise. Sure, there was a sort of desire to find the best possible pre-and-suff-ix'd items for your character in D1 and the rarer Uniques... but without the serious, semi-integral multiplay aspect, it's very hard to say that items had any real value, except to the whims of any one player.

There was less of a sense of This Is a Good Item, Objectively (or as close as online partisans come to such a concept), and more simply fodder for people to talk past one another, no different than arguing the value and utility of any one particular class and skill build.

If the assertion then holds true for D2, and more or less, D2 alone.. then perhaps it's possibly not wise to project it onto D3's untested playstyle? I mean.. I don't think you're utterly and entirely wrong.. but.. you might be a bit premature in branding the franchise thusly?

_J_ said...

That's an interesting interpretation. Blizzard makes items easier to acquite, to decrease the focus upon item acquisition.

That seems possible. Then people who don't like farming items can just buy them off the AH and spend their time doing other things.

The question, though, is what other things one could do. I mean, if you aren't killing bosses to get gear to kill bosses, what are you doing? Unless they're trying to make the game about pvp or something.

Mike Lewis said...

since i will not play on online - than i do not think it will matter.

like i said in the other post. This is a way for blizzard to get a cut of the gold farm money while attacking gold farmers,

Roscoe said...

Well.. that's the whole question of "What is the point of a game", J.

Why do we play, and by breaking it down, do you lose something in the action?

Beyond, of course, dodging the fact that any question of alternatives is hidden from our knowledge by the fact the game's not out yet. It keeps you stuck in the mold of projecting from D2.

I get the underlying "What's the hook?" question. The why do I keep playing? But.. why do we keep watching Sports Night? Pretty sure we've done all we can in Quote collection there. We've seen the end, so it's not to complete the series. I think, it's pretty much.. because it's fun.

_J_ said...

"since i will not play on online"

You can only play online. There is no offline mode.

"Beyond, of course, dodging the fact that any question of alternatives is hidden from our knowledge by the fact the game's not out yet. It keeps you stuck in the mold of projecting from D2."

I'm not sure why you think projecting from D2 is a bad thing. D3 is a game in the Diablo franchise, occuring after Diablo 2 and World of Warcraft. Given the influence of those games, and Blizzard's statements about D3 in the past, i'm not sure why baseless speculation founded upon the mechanics of Diablo 2's playstyle, combined with WoW's playstyle, is fallacious.

Sure, it's all semi-baseless speculation since the game is not released. But we're not talking about a new property or genre. One clicks on monsters, to get loot, which then enhances further monster clicking.

My guess is that the inclusion of achievements will refocus the game on achievement acquisition rather than loot acquisition. But that's just because they did that with WoW, and your comment about the AH reducing the need to farm for items makes sense.

Still, though, I think we have a reasonable basis upon which to speculate. It's not certain, but it's grounded in the history of the franchise and the characteristics of Blizzard's other properties.

sflinky said...

when did it become massively multiplayer? I thought it was going to have a co-op mode.

kylebrown said...

You could make a strong case that D2 was an MMO, when played on closed battle.net.

_J_ said...

"when did it become massively multiplayer? I thought it was going to have a co-op mode."

It'll have co-op, insofar as it has co-operative play, since everyone will be playing on bnet.

There are some people bitching on forums about the online requirement for Diablo 3. I assume these individuals are in the mid-90s, yet somehow can post on the forums of 2011. It's really quite amazing. Wormholes are, most likely, involved.

"You could make a strong case that D2 was an MMO, when played on closed battle.net."

That depends on how we determine whether or not something is "massive".

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