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Diablo III Real-money Auction House Opens

After multiple delays, Diablo III’s real-money auction house has finally arrived, sort of. At present, the service is limited to American regions using US dollars, Australian dollars, and Mexican pesos as official currency. This is the moment that we all laugh and point at Matt and his Britishness.

You can find the instructions for using the real-money auction house at the Diablo III blog.

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Brian Rowe

Writer, videographer, and perpetual purveyor of geekdom. Brian has contributed to gaming outlets such as GameShark, GameRevolution, and GameZone, and thinks too many websites have "game" in their titles.

35 thoughts to “Diablo III Real-money Auction House Opens”

  1. This is the way the world ends: Not with a bang but a whimper.

    Not really — i don’t care that much about this, they won’t get a single cent, peso, or whatever Australians use from me. Hopefully, others will feel the same way. If they do make a bajillion dollars from this, however, then we’ll all have to suffer through RMHA systems crammed into every imaginable game for the next decade. It will be the “Multiplayer” of the 2010s… and more common in games than the Beaches of Normandy or the Battle of Hoth.

    1. This is why I wish gamers had the balls to say no to idiotic shit like this. Because if it works, it’s the future of monetizing games.

      It’s utterly pathetic that people will spend real money for in-game items.

      1. I don’t understand your point of view here. Games with heavy online features require ongoing funding to continue to operate. That funding has to come from somewhere. Subscription fees seem harder and harder to sell these days. F2P with real money transactions is already running rampant and is probably here to stay. This is a new alternative which seems better than a company run store selling the same items. Other alternatives probably exist and will probably be tried soon enough (in game advertising?).

        So given that problem statement, what is your position? That companies shouldn’t produce games which require ongoing funding in the first place? That one of the other funding models is preferred? Or are you repeating the slippery slope argument posted here a few weeks ago that pretty soon our offline games will all be gone too?

        Personally, I want there to be games with strong online components (and games without) and would prefer a flat subscription fee for them. But the micro-transaction approach is interesting in that it allows those of us who don’t want to buy in game items to be subsidized by those that do.

        1. I’m inclined to agree. I don’t see what is inherently despicable with people paying money for in-game items. I personally would not do such a thing, but if other people wish to subsidize my game playing experience, I am all for that. Some games just have more expensive upkeep, and a real money auction house in Diablo is more enticing to me than a subscription fee.

          1. To speak more directly to Diablo 3 subsidization, specifically:

            What are you subsidizing?

            Awesome item drops are essentially random. Over a long enough time frame, theoretically, you could play until all the items you wanted dropped in your game, for free.

            Anyone who spends money on an item in the RMAH is paying for only one thing: time. I am buying this from another player so I do not have to wait to get it.

            Here’s my follow-up question: why not just put the Really Cool Item right into a particular treasure chest? If you don’t want the player to have it right away, why not make the treasure chest difficult to reach?

            My answer: It’s a God Damned Hamster Wheel. I’ll pay fore more dungeons. I’ll subscribe if you promise me a new monster class per month. But if you want me to subsidize a Hamster Wheel, you’re high.

          2. It depends on the game. My issues with the F2P model is generally that it’s designed specifically to get you to buy in-game items. The best models are the ones that would work without the in-game purchase elements… like your TF2 hats. That’s kind of why I don’t have a problem with the RMAH in D3 — D3 works just fine without it, and that market was always going to exist with or without Blizzard’s backing.

            It’s when games are specifically designed to use it and are barely playable without it (ie. pay to win models like unlocking weapon slots, or timed XP buffs to offset the glacial XP pace that’s there to encourage you to buy, etc.). Those are the games I refuse to give my time/money to.

          3. “But if you want me to subsidize a Hamster Wheel, you’re high.”

            Here’s my one problem with this statement — Diablo 2, and now 3, have always been like this. People who are complaining about the RMAH are assuming that (a) Awesome Item X would have its .0001% drop rate higher without the RMAH, and (b) they’d likely be able to get Awesome Item X with enough time. Diablo 2 had plenty of Awesome Item Xs that you could likely never see after thousands of hours playing, and it had no RMAH. EBay had a thriving D2 black market for goods precisely because of this.

            This isn’t about upkeep costs or any other PR reason — it’s simply that the Diablo model always lended itself to this kind of system, and the system is going to exist anyway, so why shouldn’t Blizzard internalize it and reap some profit. Again, when it starts becoming XP buffs, additional skill slots, and things that are above and beyond the already established model, then I’ll have a problem. Until then I think D3 is getting an unjust proportion of shit for this.

          4. When you argue against the hamster wheel, you are essentially arguing against the entire genre of Diablo-likes, or really, any game with random loot (assuming loot is significant in the game). That argument exists independently of the RMAH and is certainly a defensible position. Many micro-transactions cater to that, many don’t (vanity items which are only obtainable through the store). This one certainly relies on that and essentially amounts to paying other people to play the game for you. That, on the surface, sounds idiotic, I agree. But if you look a little deeper, you see that there are different parts of any game and not everyone will like all parts of the game equally. If playing Diablo 3 with the best possible items is something you consider to be the greatest game experience on the planet, then paying extra for that right doesn’t sound quite as unreasonable.

          5. Decent counter-counter-arguments, all.

            I suppose that in the end, I am anti-Hamster Wheel.

            If I throw a toy for my dog, and she retrieves it, and we’re both enjoying the exchange, that’s a game. If I throw the same toy in the hope that she chases it, then goes somewhere else to shake it and chew on it, giving me ten minutes of peace, that’s me manipulating someone who is dumber than me for my own gain.

            This entire system – random loot drop to RMAH – feels like one step too far towards me gleefully shaking a toy, even though I’ve been had.

          6. I don’t agree with the distinction you are making here. In both cases, you and the dog have participated in a mutually beneficial arrangement. The fact that one of them involves you doing something you presumably don’t want to do first doessn’t change that. It seems like you are attempting to apply some abstract, undefined value judgement to market transactions to determine whether they are *really* beneficial to both sides or not. But you are not the arbiter of other people’s preferences. Only they are.

          7. @brian: While conceding the value of negotiation, and the fact that different people have different means of assigning value, I suspect that the combination of random item drops and cash exchanges opens the door to mildly coercive behavior: give person A a drop, get him to sell it to person B, repeat process. Because Blizzard has total control of this process, and it’s not advertised as gambling, I consider it cheating the customer of his right to know exactly what’s going on.

            I don’t believe that wanting to know exactly what Blizzard is getting from its player community is naive. I don’t think it counts when you offer consent, when you don’t know what you’re consenting to. I’m willing to wear a Not An Economist hat, if you think my outlook is not sufficiently utilitarian.

            I’m willing to let it drop there, lest we turn this into a “Wealth of Nations” quote-fest.

        2. My answer statement to your problem statement is that selling in-game items for a predominately single-player game is only tangentially related to paying for online servers. Diablo 3 could have used an elegant solution for servers: don’t f*cking have them.

          Or have them briefly: most people I know who were ever going to play co-op, already have, and are in the final difficulty tiers. They could have shut down the co-op servers in 90 days.

          If someone wanted co-op after that? LAN cable.

          If D3’s default settings force me to play a SP game co-op, and then drops items I don’t need, and then offers to sell my fake-assed items to another player – all on a server they don’t really need for any other purpose – then the money coming in from the RMAH must be more than just “keeping the lights on”.

          Speaking to your larger issue on the value of micro-transactions, I think they’re the worst thing that ever happened to online gaming.

          I think grinding in MMOs is the spiritual ancestor of the micro-transaction: time = gear. With enough time, no end-game zone is ever free of griefers and jerks. It’s the source of the gamer joke: “if you’re better than me, you have no life; if you’re worse than me, you’re a n00b.” No one assumes superior players are actually *better*; the first assumption is that they’ve been playing longer.

          A subscription fee does not negate the time requirement. I could give less than a bent penny about robust competitive multiplayer, but I have to agree that that seems like the better way to go. But a micro-transaction is specifically built to turn money into time. Now, any kid who wants to dominate on day one can ask his mom for 20 more bucks. This is now a casual game.

          Casual gaming has its place, but I don’t want to talk to *any* stranger in the online component of a casual game. Because that would be asking someone standing next to you in an elevator what they’re reading.

          If a publisher cannot make the logical conclusions I have made, then they’re in it for the money. If they can, but they choose to link micro-trans to online play, then they’re doing it for the money. Which I’m sure they’re free to do, but Mike and I are free to call bullshit.

          1. Yes, Diablo 3 doesn’t have to be online, that is equivalent to ‘don’t make games requiring ongoing funding in the first place’, which is a perfectly legitimate answer as a consumer, but some consumers do want the kinds of online games which require ongoing funding, so the question still stands.

            I’m not sure where you got the just ‘keeping the lights on’ line of reasoning, or why it is bad that companies are ‘in it for the money’. They are all in for the money. When I discuss a game requiring ‘ongoing funding’, it is implicit that it also provides ‘ongoing profits’. If we don’t agree that game companies making a healthy profit is a good thing then there is not much more to discuss.

            You are free to call bullshit all you want, but a much more interesting discussion is had if you provide an actual alternative. From your other comment, it sounds like your solution is a different game design, which is back to ‘don’t make a game which requires ongoing funding’.

          2. “Or have them briefly: most people I know who were ever going to play co-op, already have, and are in the final difficulty tiers. They could have shut down the co-op servers in 90 days.”

            If you’re basing your opinions solely on your small slice of experience with the game I don’t think you’re doing yourself justice. I’ve been having a lot of fun with friends in co-op, and was just thinking last night how the super easy pop-in-pop-out model makes playing with my friends easier and more fun than trying to coordinate leveling in a standard MMO.

          3. @Brian: I’m suggesting that Diablo 3 does not automatically require a robust online component to function exactly as it does already, from a gameplay perspective.

            I’m further suggesting that, if we can all agree that we’d prefer (as grownups) to pay subscription fees, then supporting shadier business models is counter-productive. I’m no economist, but I’m pretty sure the success of Zynga – and other illicit drug pushers – pushes us farther away from that model.

            I believe microtransactions are meant to make the purchasing decision more subliminal, and therefore more coercive.

            While I’m on that subject, the wide-awake transaction between equals is the original definition of capitalism. On that score, there’s nothing wrong with people wanting to make money, and I’m not pulling the commie card here. I’m just saying that a baker doesn’t charge three other people thirty-five cents for a loaf of bread, then let YOU eat it.

            Good business models don’t externalize costs, period. If you want engaged, serious players to be your user base, then you cater to them, you tell them what the true cost is up front, and you get them to pay it. They learn to appreciate what you make, and what its true value is.

            @McKay: touche. It’s a legitimate point, and I knew someone would make it. That said, I have yet to see online co-op that isn’t “super easy to pop in and out” – and therefore sometimes feels too easy or casual – or is a scheduling nightmare, ie., raiding.

            River City Ransom or Scott Pilgrim is my perfect Fun Model for co-op: everyone in the same room, coupla beers, everyone stops when enough people are bored, or have to pick up the kids. Nobody does that anymore, and it’s mostly because of the money.

            Bottom Line: nobody I’m friends with does something that they love, solely for the money. I’d like to see more calculations made towards the love side of gaming, and I’ll reward them with money for doing so.

          4. I think your definition of capitalism is a bit naive. Economics defines rational actors as those who attempt to maximize their own utility. It makes no judgement on the individual definition of utility. You seem to be saying that capitalism implies some objective standard of utility which can be measured and that any transaction where one side does better than the other is inherently bad and to be avoided. Utility is a subjective evaluation of how much something improve one’s own life by one’s own standards. Only the individual involved can truly determine if a particular transaction is an optimal one.

            This is not to say that all transactions are optimal by definition. It is obviously possible to fool most/all people into agreeing to a transaction which they do not benefit from and I would agree that many game transactions can fall into that category. However, I don’t think a business model which relies on this type of transaction is sustainable, as most people do learn from their mistakes. So I expect that those micro-transaction models which are built on tricks and cheap psychological ploys will fail in the long run and the market will select for those which do offer fair value for money. That might also be a naive view, but any alternative approach of trying to limit such systems sounds suspiciously like nannying.

          5. @coyote_blue: While I agree that the preferred method of co-op gaming is generally in the same room with some friends, as I get older I find that kind of event to be largely unsustainable. D3 for me, however, isn’t totally unlike how I played D2 in college. We all got online and ran co-op together, even though we were in the same house and could easily do LAN, because once the online characters were available there felt like no point in having an offline version.

            As for making calculations based on the ‘love side of gaming’… ok. I think I understand what you’re saying. But I’d counter that even if the RMAH isn’t a love calculation, there’s enough in D3 that feels authentic that I have a hard time understanding the all or nothing feeling.

  2. “This is the moment that we all laugh and point at Matt and his Britishness.”

    I thought we were supposed to do that all the time. Bill gave me bad instructions.

    1. I am still enjoying Diablo because I haven’t played as much as everyone else seems to . . . but I think the entertainment or novelty value of making money off the game is probably worth more to me than the actual cash.

  3. I knew a guy who paid his rent by playing Everquest for a couple of years. Here’s guessing the people who do the same with diablo are not the kind of people you want to be with.

    Nice if you can offset some wow charges with this, but otherwise this is just a wasteful excuse for DRM.

  4. I have mixed feelings about all this, but the truth is is that a real money black market for these items/accounts would exist even if Blizzard didn’t create the RMAH. At least with the RMAH ran by Blizzard there is some legitamacy to it and therefore there is a natural incentive for Blizzard to combat hacks and dups.

    I suppose you could argue the incentive for hacks and dups is equally higher, but at any rate, I’m doubtful I’ll ever buy anything from there, but the idea of selling off all my stuff for real money when I’m done with the game is interesting – if not unrealistic

    1. I don’t understand anyone who disagrees with Glob’s statement. D2 did not have a system like this, but one was created and it was super shady.

      Can you blame Blizzard, even a little bit, for trying to make money off of it? If they did not do this, it was just going to get run by someone else. This way they get to make money off of it, and I would like to think at least part of the equation is that they can exert a little control over the systems to prevent people from getting in trouble by passing their credit card information over ebay or whatever.

      I’m never going to buy anything from them, but that’s my choice. If people want to spend money on it, let them. (Says the guy who just bought Battlefield Premium and feels dirty . . . )

      1. Exactly. The old model was shady as hell, and whenever Blizzard cracked down a lot of people lost items they bought without realizing they were duped. Now, granted, part of me says serves them right for buying their way to the best gear (and in violation of the TOS I believe), but that was still real money lost when Blizzard yanked the items.

        I haven’t bought an item on the RMAH, and I don’t plan to. $1 for an item versus $1 for a whole game on my phone, or could be saved and put towards some other hobby. That said, it’d be sweet if I could fund the SC2 expansion (or another hobby even) because some sucker is more loose with his money than I.

        1. Even if I don’t believe taking crack should be illegal, I do not want to reward a crack dealer because he’s selling crack in a cleaner alley. And I don’t want to profit from his success.

          By extension, I’m not suing anyone to have Blizzard’s RMAH removed. I’m not stopping anyone from using the RMAH. But while you feel okay playing D3 without using the RMAH, I would feel (far more mildly, granted) like a guy buying cigarettes from a store that I knew was selling crack under the table.

          I’m voting with my wallet and calling it like I see it. Your mileage may vary, and I’m not juding y’all for it, ’cause it’s not really crack-level evil we’re talking about, here.

          1. I really don’t see this as any kind of “evil”. Blizzard is offering a service that people obviously want. No one is forcing anyone’s hand here. If no one is buying WoW gold for money, then no one would be selling it, right? Same applies to D3 items. Supply-demand,I know you get it.

            I understand the logic of the crack analogy, but when someone blows $1000 on crack it offen hurts the community – i.e. we as a society actually pay for it, one way or another.

            In terms of the RMAH, if someone blows $1000 on the RMAH the community will likely profit from this, in one way or another – more content, more patches, more expansions – or at the very least the service he is paying for covers the increased cost of security that Blizzard is required to provide for real money transactions.

            None of this is new, right? It’s just that Blizzard is bringing it home, and arguably legitimzing it, instead of letting it run rampant in the Wild West. I honestly don’t like it, but there’s lots of things I don’t like that I have no control over – like human impulses to buy things they deem valuable.

    2. I think it’s an interesting thought process: How do we subsidized D3 server costs? Micro transactions. How do we get people to think about the AH? Force online authentication. I think a DRM was tertiary and the AH takes some of the guess work out of bartering etc… League of Legends stated they only make money off 1% of their user base, but they have oodles of job postings and i hear about people spending Thousands on their accounts.

      It will be interesting see how much Acti-Blizz makes off the RMAH. Which was address by PATV in Extra Credits if you wanna check it out (Side note Gabe came out to say games are becoming a service and not a single release, case in point DOTA2)

  5. “games are becoming a service”

    Absolutely. The industry is still trying to find it’s footing, but the precedents have been set and gamers have shown publishers that they are willing to pay a little extra.

    Still, it’s important to keep this conversation in perspective. Diablo III is different from League of Legends and similar games in that the service provided by real money is optional AND it is possible for me to get the same items of my own accord. You are not purchasing items to enhance the game beyond its original capabilities; not to say that it won’t happen.

    1. “You are not purchasing items to enhance the game beyond its original capabilities; not to say that it won’t happen.”

      Exactly. As I’ve stated in this thread a few times now I think, so long as ActiBlizz doesn’t cross that line I feel fine with the RMAH. Games that do that have little interest for me.

    2. I’d be okay with this shift, if the promise and fee structure were more clear.

      If I pay to have someone wash my windows, I know what I’m getting. But with the highly subjective value of games, and with devs being highly secretive prior to releasing new content, how do I know what I’m buying when I get a gaming “service”?

      1. What do you get when you install a TV in your house? TV is a service from devs where the value of content is highly subjective and the ‘devs’ are often very ‘secretive’ (more like they just don’t know, but it’s the same difference to a consumer) about future content as well. I think the history of broadcasting in the US is a very good analogue to recent developments in gaming. There are subscription fee channels and there many television stations offering ‘free’ content to all comers. You get the ads too. Some people are more affected by ads than others and those are the ones going out and buying those products, effectively subsidizing the TV viewing of those that aren’t so affected by ads (although this is where the analogy falls down a bit, as *everyone* is affected by ads, whether they realize it or not).

    3. What would you call an expansion to a game? Would it not be “purchasing items to enhance the game beyond its original capabilites”?

      We are drawing all these abrbitrary lines in the sand. Everyone wants a fair game, yet no one wants a fair game. Yeah?

  6. Thanks to Glob, brian and McKay for their counter arguments, above. I think I can whittle down my position to something not so hyperbolic:

    My buddy sold an item on the RMAH for six bucks today. He was kind of excited about it – like winning five bucks on a scratch-off lottery ticket.

    My buddy may not respond to this incentive, but he may also choose to consider himself six bucks “up” on the RMAH. He may think it’s now okay to spend three bucks on an item at the RMAH – he’ll still be “up”.

    Because he wasn’t expecting this windfall, I suspect it triggers the same part of the brain as gambling. Gambling is not evil or illegal, but I will call it “coercive”. At the very least, I believe there’s a strong argument that a controlled gambling environment (like a casino) is coercive.

    Gambling is irrational. While I don’t necessarily believe it should be illegal, I also do not believe that a gambling operation can be given the same leeway as a more “legitimate” operation. Our economic models require rational actors, and the casino operator works under the assumption that he, The House, is rational, and some (or most) of his customers are not.

    Again, that may not be illegal or evil, but it is unsavory.

    The saving grace of the casino, to me, is that it is a casino from the outside. Everyone knows what it is.

    Blizzard is in a position in which it can encourage gambling-like behavior, and is not required to label itself as a casino. I don’t think it is alone in its positions, or wholly without redeeming qualities. I think it’s just a good opportunity for us to look at where this road is going and decide if we’re willing to keep going down it.

    1. The difference between the Real Money Auction House and a Casino is that an RMAH transaction is entered into on equal terms by both buyer and seller. A specific item is exchanged for an agreed upon price. That’s capitalism.

      By contrast, a player at a casino pays a fixed amount for an uncertain outcome, a chance of winning. The player hopes to win, but has absolutely no guarantee if or what he or she will win. That’s gambling.

      The buddy you described in your scenario REALLY is up $6.00, and he REALLY could spend $3.00 at the RMAH and still be up $3.00. There is no ambiguity in this scenario.

      I like the direction that you’re moving in with this argument, but it needs more refinement.

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