Recently Blizzard announced that in Diablo 3, they would be implementing an Auction House where players in the same region could buy, sell and trade items found in the game for gold and real money. The second part is where a lot of controversy is coming into play. However Diablo 2 had a notoriously bad black market for gear where it was bought and sold with real money. At the time people begged Blizzard to do something, but as Diablo 2 entered the twilight of its popularity, right around the time World of Warcraft was rolling out, this never made it into Blizzard’s plans.
Fast forward now to 2011, Diablo 3 is on the verge of being rolled out, and here we have a system in place to combat the black market that Diablo 2 suffered from several years ago. I recently posted, about is Blizzard about to sell you gold, now this might not be the exact same but its getting closer. Could we see this same type of real money auction house make it into World of Warcraft or Titan?
Let me cover the high level details of this system, in Diablo 3, you will be able to put up an item to collect real money. When posting there will be a flat fee taken by Blizzard, and upon sale, a flat fee will also be collected by Blizzard. Now to be clear this system is strictly a player to player sale. Blizzard has said they have no plans of putting items up and selling them, but allow it to be completely driven by the players. Blizzard has said they think they will break even on this implementation, however this type of micro transaction could make its way to another title, namely World of Warcraft. Long has it been debated that selling items for real world cash is against the Terms of Service (ToS). However this hasn’t stopped 3rd party sites from selling these items to players. In fact for the longest time, and I am sure it still happens from time to time that you will see items pop up on sites like ebay.
So the story goes its not fair in a MMO environment to buy items for real world money, that it promotes those who have more, will get more. Though this is directly what “might” happen with Diablo 3. In fact Diablo 3 is a “bridge the gap” type game from a dungeon crawler to a MMO and by implementing this system in D3, Blizzard will see how buying items with real life money via players to player transactions and how it affects gameplay, progression and competitiveness in Diablo 3′s gaming setting. Later it can be evaluated and modeled to fit future games as well.
Lets say this works out and it doesn’t create a sky is falling scenario, and the market is pretty good, gameplay isn’t drastically affected. How hard would it be to realistically see this happening in a game like World of Warcraft, take it a step further maybe their new MMO, codename Titan? Honestly I don’t see it as that big of a stretch. Though I know some will have strong feelings for or against it, is selling a BoE item from one person to another using real cash really that big of a deal? Some would say well then those with money will gear up faster, but what about someone who is more lower middle class, they find a very rare BoE item, put it up for sale, and get lets say $100 for it, maybe thats food for their family that week, or even maybe its enough for them to buy a few pieces of gear they really wanted? But before we get too far Blizzard has said the following: “I really don’t see us doing it for WoW ever.” So while Blizzard said they don’t see them doing it for WoW, doesn’t mean we won’t see it, or even for Titan. Think of the rest of this as more of a what if type scenario.
So what would a player-run, real money auction house do for a MMO like World of Warcraft or Titan. Well if we look at WoW currently, a vast majority of the best gear in the game is bind on pickup. There are a few exceptions from the latest trash drops or even crafted items, though in present day patch 4.2 many of the items that are BoE fill niche spots in many cases and there isn’t enough boe gear at high levels to fully equip a player. Even the crafted items are not the best currently as they are below the latest tier of raiding item level. Would selling these by players to other players for real money hurt the economy? You can make the argument that gold isn’t being passed around, so by not transferring gold, you are keeping it in the game and floating, possibly creating inflation of prices. I personally do not see how selling items via a Blizzard sanctioned auction house using real money from player to player would hurt the game other than some inflation, but even then if gold isn’t going back into an in-game vendor, the money would still exist anyway.
Sure one could say those with disposable income would have an advantage of being able to buy some of the best gear early on, but while some of the gear provides a leg up in PVE scenarios, it doesn’t completely outfit a character, it only provides a few pieces of needed gear to help a group progress. Buying two, three even four pieces doesn’t fill all gaps, and it certainly doesn’t let a person progress through end game content by themselves. Now the argument could be made where some of the hardcore raiding guild would require their members to buy the gear to get a leg up on the competition, but how many people would that really be? Do we judge how something would work based on 5% of the gaming population? I will say this, my guild would never require our members to buy our gear if it was made available to do so. Would I personally? Yeah maybe I would buy that one trash BoE item that has yet to drop in raid for my guild, because I have some disposable income I could part with depending on the prices.
Of course we have Titan in the works as well. This new type of auction house in Diablo 3 could help dictate how gear is designed in Titan, would Blizzard make more items BoE similar to Diablo 3 to facilitate this type of auction house? Or would it be more closely related to WoW’s current gear setup? Either way with building a whole new game, they can build around the mechanics, and with Diablo 3 coming out well before Titan’s release date, the chance to understand the lessons learned from this new system could prove invaluable to improvements, tweaks and implementation in a full fledged MMO. One could also make the argument that during WoW’s twilight (end of life), implementing such a system there before Titan comes out, might also prove invaluable to seeing the impacts of the economy in a real MMO.
In the end, don’t expect this type of auction where players use real money to pay for items that is sanctioned by Blizzard to appear in World of Warcraft, however don’t shut the door on future games like Titan, the sky is the limit, and Blizzard is really only limited by their own creativity for game mechanics, virtual economies and an understanding their player base.