Monday, June 18, 2012

Diablo 3 RMAH: Non-Baseless Non-Speculation

On August 2, 2011, I offered some semi-baseless speculation on the prospect of a Real Money Auction House (RMAH) in Diablo 3.  At the time, I wrote this:

"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!"

At the time, I conceived of the RMAH as a means to financial glory and rent payment.  I could justify my habit by pointing to my bank account.  I worried that it would negatively impact my gameplay experience, but only to the degree that it would make me slightly more of a prick.

Well, on June 12th Blizzard launched the RMAH.  It turns out that I was correct:  The RMAH does impact one's gameplay experience.  Unfortunately, it impacts the experience to a greater degree than I anticipated.  It's not about seeing dollar signs when loot drops, or assessing repair bills in terms of lost income.  The real tragedy of the RMAH is this simple idea:

I have made $.58 per hour playing Diablo 3.

The entirety of the Diablo 3 gameplay experience can be reduced to a ratio of dollars to hours.

That idea is what I didn't fully grasp last august.  That idea is the fundamental problem with the RMAH, and why Diablo 3 shall probably be a failure.  That idea is the splinter in your mind that perpetually taints the gameplay experience of Diablo 3.

That idea is the subject of this rant.

When you farm items in Diablo 2 or WoW you're vaguely aware of the potential to sell items for money.  You could visit a trade forum or Ebay to profit off your loot.  The context within which items have a monetary value is outside the game proper.  In Diablo 3, however, all you need to do is load the game, click 'Auction House', and then click 'USD'.  Once you search for an item similar to yours, the game, itself, indicates the actual monetary value of your gear:  "Click click click click click, that helm is worth $4."

You might not think that line significant.  Instead of a third-party site, you can sell items within game.  What's the big deal?  The big deal is the erasure of that line, the integration of in-game loot with real-world economics.  You kill a monster, leave your instance, click two buttons, and then discern the monetary value of the item you just obtained.  The information required to assess your gameplay experience in terms of $/hour is right there, on the main menu, every time you load the game.

Now, you could vow to play in the "Amish style", which is to say that you abstain from any interaction with the Auction House.  The difficulty is that every time you load the game you see the 'Auction House' button.  Every look at that menu screen, every glance at the button, sparks the recognition of a potential to understand the game in terms of $.  As you progress in difficulty the temptation rises to click that button, to seek out new gear.  After so many wipes in Act 2 Inferno you have to confront the temptation of easily increasing your character's stats for just a few dollars:  "If I pay $7.50, I won't die as much."

That's one of the more interesting aspects of the RMAH:  It explains why people would pay $ for in-game items.  Usually, people dismiss the idea as absurd since, "You're buying things that don't really exist."  Why would you pay $20 for boots in Diablo 3 when you could buy real-world boots for your real world self?

Rather than think of the situation as paying $ for in-game items, think of it in terms of time.  Suppose you make $20/hour at your job.  Suppose the boots you want for your Monk cost $20 on the RMAH.  Now, do you

1)  Farm for countless hours in the hope of attaining the boots you want?
2)  Buy those boots for 1 of your work hours?

Why spend 10 of your Saturday leisure hours farming for boots, when you could spend one Friday work hour to obtain the boots you want?

That's the thought:  How are you spending your time?

When you think about it, you realize that Diablo 3 warps time into a commodity, a currency.  I've "spent" X hours playing Diablo 3.  In that time, I have earned $Y.  So, Diablo 3 translates to $Z per hour.  Moreover, those boots constitute a time investment.  Would you rather spend 10 of your Saturday leisure hours farming, or buy the item for one of your Friday work hours?

When that thought enters your mind, when you conceive of the game in terms of $ per hour, you begin to rethink your impetus for playing.  Why am I "spending" my life playing Diablo 3?  Why have I "invested" all of this time in a game that only gives me $.58 per hour?  Why am I farming for gear when I could get a job, farm that job for $, and then use that $ to buy exactly what I want?  Why would I buy items for the game, anyway?  Why am I even playing?

Yes, I had some fun experiences.  I have a few neat memories.  For example, last Saturday my first treasure goblin dropped a Stormshield, which sold for 3 million gold.  That's cool.  But it's difficult to translate that memory, that experience, into something quantifiable.  I can translate the stormshield into a quantity, but not the experience of getting it.

That's the question of temperament upon which one's experience of Diablo 3 relies.  If your mother drank while she was pregnant, you can probably herp and derp your way through the game killing monsters and have a gay old time.  But if you can do math, you'll probably lean towards quantification, towards economics.  When you think of the game in this way, it instantaneously transforms from hobby to something else.

It's not, exactly, a job.  That's not the feeling of Diablo 3.  Instead, Diablo 3 feels like...well...a subtle acid that slowly dissolves the pleasure once found in gaming.  Diablo 3 is an addictive game that slowly evidences the problem with gaming addiction; it wastes your life while indicating just how wasteful the game, itself, is.

When you enter the RMAH, and start to sell items, you receive the means of quantifying your time spent playing Diablo 3.  It's no longer about the feeling of killing monsters, of that momentary risk-hope-pleasure you feel when a rare drops.  Instead, Diablo 3 reduces down to a simple problem of division.

I've /played Diablo 3 for 289 hours.

I've amassed $168 on the RMAH.

Diablo 3 gave me $.58 per hour, and a couple neat memories.

Fuck, man.



The_Jolly said...

The Epic fall of Blizzard, a once mighty company, continues. A sad tale indeed

kylebrown said...

This is the thing I don't get about the RMAH in Diablo III. When you pay money to get gear in Diablo III, all you are doing is making the game easier. That money doesn't directly grant you access to new content. It barely gives you the opportunity to lord what you bought over others since legendaries suck balls. Oh boy look at this rare I got that may or may not be best in slot! I have no way of knowing!

All buying better gear in the RMAH does for a user is allow them to do the same thing they would normally be doing a little bit easier. You don't like grinding in the game, that is in it's nature a game of grinding? Then don't play the game.

At least in an MMO buying things can either allow you to play through content you wouldn't otherwise be able to see due to being undergeared, or it gives you something sweet to show off while you sit around in town arguing in the general channel.

_J_ said...

"All buying better gear in the RMAH does for a user is allow them to do the same thing they would normally be doing a little bit easier. You don't like grinding in the game, that is in it's nature a game of grinding? Then don't play the game."

I think one could justify buying MF% gear. Increase your MF% to get better drops to sell on the RMAH to get more money to buy better MF% gear to etc.

Other than that, though, I totes agree. If you only want to kill monsters for the sake of killing monsters, then why spend $250 on a sword? Sure, it lets you clear Inferno, but what do you do after that?

Reinvesting funds into better MF% gear is sensible. Everything else is...mostly confusing.

_J_ said...

"Oh boy look at this rare I got that may or may not be best in slot! I have no way of knowing!"

We do know item stat caps. So, you can discern how "perfect" an item is.

What you don't know is whether your ideal item has ever spawned.

_J_ said...

This is kind of sad.

I'm adding "fun" to the game by selling unidentified legendaries, and haggling over the price.

In summary, Diablo 3 can be fun if you pretend you're on Pawn Stars.

Mike Lewis said...

I think it is fair to say that i am never going to get a level 60 character. So I have no use for the RMAH.

If I am ever able to be the game with my barbarian - i am far more likely to start a new character and do normal over again. The normal AH has enough better equipment to keep me on a good curve.

The problem too with the RMAH is that, if you suck at the game, it does not matter how good your helmet's starts are.

_J_ said...

"The problem too with the RMAH is that, if you suck at the game, it does not matter how good your helmet's starts are."

Diablo 3 doesn't rely upon player skill. You just click things.

The "skill" is found in gearing one's character and discerning the best skillset/spellset for your toon.

If you had a helm with +200 vit, +200 str, +70 all resist, and +70 physical resist you'd have to try to fail.

That, by the way, is why Diablo 3 pvp is going to be a gigantic clusterfuck of stupid.

PVP will be nothing more than "Who paid the most".

They've talked about structuring pvp to only allow items that a person personally farmed.

In which case PVP will be nothing more than "Who farmed the most".

_J_ said...

Also, it doesn't take that long to get to lvl 60. You can do it in about 26 /played hours, going at a reasonable pace.

MA17 said...

Asia doesn't seem to have an RMAH yet, so you could play there, I suppose.

Be like, running with illegal Chinese people while Koreans plead for their banishment. Tshirt saying "Vietnamese pay for it in Dong", etc.

MA17 said...


Vietnamese pay for it WITH Dong

MA17 said...

Also, it used to strike me as odd that people would pay actual money for high level character and items in Diablo II, being as how you're pretty much using actual dollars to buy a picture of a sword that is only useful for killing pictures of monsters. I don't mean to imply that spending actual dollars on actual things is necessarily the better way to go, only that there's a pretty big jump between real items for real money and our understanding of what that means, and paying for an item in a video game separate and additional to paying for the game itself.

Now we live in a world with DLC where people pay like $0.99 to get some potions in a game that is stingy with potions, or $10 for some new multiplayer maps or whatever, even though those maps were already on the disc. Not all DLC works that way, but enough of it does that the whole Diablo item/character purchasing decisions starts to make a little more sense.

I gotta hand it to the RMAH for going one step further. Essentially, Diablo III lets you take your loot and turn it into DLC for someone else if you choose, while totally blowing past all barriers on how much this sort of thing is expected to cost. If Monster Hunter were to put out a $250 hammer as on-disc DLC? CAPCOM IS MAD WITH POWER! Blizzard gives you the tools to find and sell that same basic thing to someone else while they take their cut? Still a bit of an odd thing to have exist, but it's apparently being accepted as pretty reasonable. And if you look at the RMAH as a way to get the purchase price of the game refunded, not by Blizzard, but by a collection of other players while simultaneously paying a bit more for the game to get access to better items than what you're finding (if you like), the RMAH becomes sort of a give and take approach to DLC.

Plus, since Blizzard is generating revenue from the transactions on a regular basis, the RMAH also functions as a pay-what-you-want subscription fee that can even go negative (ie making fifty-eight cents an hour means it costs you -$0.58/hr to play). Even if the amount of money is rather small for the time it takes to get it, you're still being paid to play something similar to what you would have been paying, what, $15 a month to play previously? Pretty neat.

As a final thought, I'd be curious to see how RMAH cash intake compares to WoW subscriptions from Blizzard's point of view, and how that also compares to what most developers / publishers expect to get from their DLC.