The Devil’s Wealth

Large corporations are managed with a great deal of forethought. The strategies which the highest echelons of management set into motion are considered and mulled over for long stretches of time and over many meetings. This is how businesses succeed and grow. The oft overzealous knee-jerky conservative reaction from a passionate fan base to an unprecedented announcement usually comes from people not willing to understand why something has been added to or omitted from the latest version of a given product.

Blizzard didn’t become Blizzard by making mistakes with its beloved franchises. Many are regarding the addition of real-money auction houses to Diablo III as a miscalculated move on the celebrated developer’s part. The biggest fear the most vocal critics share is the affect such exchanges would have on the value of loot players acquire from drops. The most die hard players spend tens or hundreds of hours griding the same dungeons to obtain top tier weapons, armor and trinkets. From the outside micro-transactions may seem damaging to the gameplay of an multi-player online battle arena (MOBA) or any other online experience focused on competitive play. While this once held true for shooters such as the Modern Warfare series, these practices are most beneficial to games being developed on the industry fringe.

DDO was one of the first Massively-Multiplayer Online RPGs to embrace the free-to-play model which supports micro-transactions.

Free-to-play games like the dungeon crawler Spiral Knights and the MMORPG Dungeons and Dragons Online need such micro transaction systems in place to assure survival in a crowded, competitive market. Their business models are based on small dollar purchases made by the community of players surrounding them. Developers such as Spiral Knights’ Three Rings Design take huge risks releasing their games to the public with an entry-level cost of nil on the part of the consumer. All they ask of the player is the occasionally micropayments toward the purchase of in-game items. Such items provide character buffs or serve as simple aesthetic diversions from what is typically found in the game world.

Multi-player centric indie titles for which micropayment auction houses are advantageous include the much lauded MMO Mythos, the DOTA inspired League of Legends and the MMO-RTS hybrid Age of Empires Online. All of these are games from the outlying sectors of the videogame industry. All were made by indie developers who ask little or no upfront monetary investment from new players. They need the capital provided by free-to-play revenue streams to sustain operations and keep the game alive.

MANN Co.’s Aussie CEO Saxton Hale is the cartoonishly musclebound mascot of TF2’s in game store.

Of all the games applying the micro transaction business model the majority are MMOs, MOBAs and an abundance of Diablo 2 derivatives. However, full-sized tent pole shooters have adopted the real-money transactions paradigm. Valve’s Team Fortress 2 integrated real money transactions for weapons and hats which has not been detrimental to the game. Quite the opposite effect has transpired as the TF2 community has grown steadily since the introduction of the trade and craft systems. With the recent free-to-play changeover the player population for the objective-based first-person shooter has exploded. Team Fortress 2 even dethroned Valve’s own Counter-Strike as the most played game on Steam.

To bring this discourse back to Diablo III, specifically its auction houses, the idea that a game which recoups its production costs upfront from software sales and then asks its user base to fork over more money is a rather shifty proposition. Especially given that D3’s price point will probably be in the sixty dollar range for the standard edition. However, given World of Warcraft’s problems with gold farmers depreciating the in-game currency, one can easily recognize why Blizzard would seek to minimize any damage done to their new game by using what they’ve learned about player-run economies in conjunction with what they know about gold farming processes.

Even with dominant artistic and technical prowess, Blizzard Entertainment is still a business.

What do we know about Diablo III’s real-money auction houses?

  • Players will be able to trade money for in-game items via a player-to-player transaction system.
  • Blizzard gets a set cut from every trade.
  • A third-party provider will also receive a cut of the sale from any player who chooses to cash out.
  • Blizzard will receive yet another cut from a player who cashes out on their sale.
  • Anonymous transactions both ways. Neither player is aware of the other player’s identity.
  • Upon death, hardcore branded characters become barred from real-money exchanges.
Why is Blizzard implementing real-money auction houses?
  • The alternative to micro transactions is a subscription based model ala WoW. In order to fund the maintenance and further development of Diablo III multiplayer servers Blizzard necessitates some sort of financial influx.
  • Cut into the revenue stream of gold farmers

It’s easy to allow our grievances to cloud better judgement when the things we love dearly change. Stopping to consider the reasons for an amendment goes against our nature to preserve the things we love and the memories we have of them; especially when that change is unexpected. Servers, server maintenance and security overhead are costly even for a company as financially fortified as Blizzard. In the end we should all rejoice and celebrate the arrival of a new Diablo game. Blizzard has carefully cultivated its franchises over the years and it would behoove them to continue in their game design tradition. This tradition of meticulous testing and iteration, along with the mantra “It’s ready when it’s ready” has garnered them endless praise and an ever expanding fan base.

Perhaps this aggravated fellow can best summarize the well-meaning but over-zealous fervor felt by the hardcore.