Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Diablo III to include player-run auction house, but you shouldn't worry

Gabe Newell once said that games should be more of a service than a product, but it’s Blizzard Entertainment who is taking that mantra to heart. Blizzard released a flurry of details about their upcoming action-RPG game Diablo III. Among them was a required internet connection to play the game, similar to StarCraft II which released last year. The need for an internet connection is integrated into the game for Blizzard’s Battle.net service, which can share data and friends lists between StarCraft II, World of Warcraft, and other Blizzard games. Another new addition to Diablo III is the restriction of player-made mods. The restriction is a change in stance from Diablo II, which allowed for free reign of customizability when rearranging the UI and other systems.

The one feature that is dividing the gaming culture is the addition of an auction house (the term marketplace seems more appropriate, though). The auction house will allow players to buy and sell in-game items using either in-game currency or real-life money. The auction house will also allow players to buy in-game currency with real-life money.

The market for real-life transactions in gaming is a touchy subject for most in the past few years. Many feel that in a multi-player situation, the size of your wallet should not be a determining factor in terms of game skill. In the minds of many players, the addition of an auction house using real-life money in Diablo III creates an unfair advantage for others in the game.

Currently, the auction house will be separated based on region. Blizzard will charge a flat fee every time an item is listed for sale, and additionally when the item is sold. Blizzard says the fee is to combat players spamming the auction house with junk items. When you sell an item, the money from that sale goes into a type of online wallet that can be used for other Blizzard products, such as games or World of Warcraft time cards. You also have the option to cash out your online wallet, but Blizzard will partnering with as-yet unnamed third-party to handle the exporting of funds. A percentaged-based fee will also be charged when exporting said funds. “If we have a balance that you can at any point turn into cash,” said Rob Pardo, executive producer for Diablo III, “we get treated like a bank. That suddenly brings in a whole lot more regulations and things we do and oversight we have to have. It just made so much more sense for us to partner with someone that does all that.”

Despite the market for it, Blizzard says they will not be selling any items themselves. They want the economy to be entirely player-driven, with Blizzard only acting as an oversight to ensure safety and security when buying and receiving items and money. Blizzard is taking security a step further with loot, as each player will receive their own loot. Anytime a creature drops an item, each player will see their own iteration of loot, eliminating the ability of players to steal other player’s loot drops. Sellers on the auction house will also be anonymous, preventing players from only selling to certain players or preventing other players from becoming hostile with each other through the auction house.

The auction house was not originally intended to be included for Diablo III. Pardo said they started working on the system only 18-24 months before the release of StarCraft II, suggesting that it was not part of the original design documents. “What we're incentivized to do is make lots of awesome random items. If we were making Diablo III without the auction house, that's exactly the same goal we would have,” Pardo said. The inclusion does bring certain game design challenges, though. If players are able to get higher level armor and weapons at a faster rate through the auction house than previous Diablo games, does that change the average length of game for the player?

Ultimately, the biggest complaint by players about the auction house is that it creates a situation where players can gain power through their wallet, but in a single-player game, does that matter? Diablo III is, by and large, a single-player game. Many claim it to be a competitive multi-player game due to the inclusion of PvP arenas, unveiled at last year’s BlizzCon. Blizzard themselves said that they will not be supporting the arenas in an official fashion, like they have with StarCraft II. If Blizzard isn’t worried about the competitive aspect of Diablo III, why should you be?

Though there is no announced release date for Diablo III, Activision-Blizzard stated at their last earnings call that beta testing will begin sometime in August or September of this year.

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