Another monetization discussion from Peter, this time about real money auctions!
I know that Diablo 3 is still a long way from release and anything can happen, and I realize that a lot of people are very much upset with Blizzard Entertainment‘s decision. Still, I can’t shake the fact that they have addressed something essential in both the aging Diablo 2 as well as in (albeit in a different form) their more modern World of Warcraft, the trading business.

Selling and buying items for real money is nothing new to Blizzard, this has been going on for over a decade. However, it has been done through third party sites, such as Ebay, to trade items and characters. World of Warcraft introduced the “soulbound” mechanic to the mix, making most high end items impossible to trade. Not so with the in-game currency which essentially spawned its own little industry of gold farmers. Blizzard have always taken a harsh stance on this trading and anyone caught could potentially face severe (for a game, that is) punishment.

So, what has changed? Blizzard went with the flow, identified the issue and realized that they could do nothing to stop it. Instead, they embraced it, making it an integral part of the game. Obviously some players want to pay real money for game items, so let them. Naturally, Blizzard takes a cut of every transaction, ensuring that the system works in their favour. The actual money transacted is added to the sellers account and can be used to purchase Blizzard products and services, for instance games and subscriptions. There are also plans for players to be able to get the money from transactions transferred to their bank account, enabling the players to even make money playing the game!

So, why the storm of hatred towards Blizzard over this? Apparently, some players are angry that other players can “pay to win”. Personally, I find this opinion startling. How is this in any way different from previous installments of the series? If you wanted a top level item in Diablo 2, you could just go and buy/trade it or simply repetitively kill the same boss over and over hoping it would drop in much the same ways that Diablo 3 seems to offer. The only difference here is that the game handles the transactions in a much more reliable and secure way. Also, Blizzard have themselves stated that the Player vs Player element is not to be taken too competitively as well as matching you to opponents of a similar skill level (which probably means similar success rate). This means that the only really big impact is the single player and cooperative game modes, and honestly, if someone gets an (arguably) unfair advantage in a single player game is this really a problem? Other players are upset that attaching a real money value to items degrades the fun factor of the game simply by making you feel like you’re wasting money by using items instead of selling them. This I feel is a legitimate concern, it might add a lot of pressure to a play session if you worry about money when you just want to worry about enjoying the game.

As a gamer and developer, I’m intrigued by the whole shebang. The gamer part of me feels that I’d rather just focus on the game, evaluating items out of my perception of usefulness and not worrying about what other players feel. Especially, I’d like to avoid feeling like I’m losing money due to decisions made within the game world. The developer side of me feels that the game itself is just a vehicle for entertainment, if a player enjoys the thrill of having a valuable item drop and making a buck selling it; great! Most things in life are based on a system similar to the one in Diablo 3. Spend money, get an edge.

For instance, if you’re into sports, getting better sporting equipment will naturally give you an “unfair” advantage. On the other hand, if you’re not competing in the top tier it’s not really as important. And especially if you’re not into the competition part but rather just play for fun. Another important aspect is that of every piece of entertainment. If you don’t like it, don’t pick it up. I may not like that when flying airways some people get more space, better service and free drinks. However, I do realize that this is because of their greater investment and it’s my choice if I want to invest the same amount to reap the same benefits. And on airways I can’t even simply spend more of my free time to get those benefits…

Overall, it’s fascinating that something so relatively trivial arouses such resentment. The addition of a real money system might be indicative of future developments with real money involved in non casino, non MMO type games. The prospect of actually making some money from playing a game I’d probably play anyway, is in itself something very attractive to me.

- Peter