Should the Diablo 3 auction house be scrapped? It’s “hurt” the game after all

30 Mar 2013  by   Paul Younger
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Will it make you rich?

The auction house that hurt Diablo 3 according to Jay Wilson

It’s been a few months since Jay Wilson stood down as the Diablo 3 game director and now that the dust has settled over his departure and development on the game continues at a glacial pace, Jay was at GDC to talk about Diablo 3 in a post-mortem discussion –Shout at the Devil: The Making of Diablo III.

During his talk Jay made some interesting, but dare I say it, obvious comments regarding the Diablo 3 auction house admitting they had originally looked at an auction house as a way to stamp out fraud following the success of cash for item trading sites in Diablo 2.  This has largely been a success.

The big statement from Jay however, the headline-grabber, was that he thinks the auction house had actually “hurt the game”.  It appears he was surprised that an auction house would have any negative impact on the game.

Back in 2009 there was discussion on the official forums about a trading system but there was no concrete plan in place to add one to the game. The seeds had been planted though at least a year before the auction house was announced.

“First off we really don’t have a solid plan for any sort of external trading system, that is anything beyond being in the same game with the person. We know we’d like something like that though if at all possible” stated Blizzard CM Bashiok.

Back in August 2011 Blizzard invited the press to their HQ in Irvine to give them the first hands-on of the Beta, and while the press were  busy being delighted by the gameplay, Blizzard dropped the bombshell of the implementation of a real money auction house.  The fall out after the event was fairly unanimous, Blizzard were off their rocker.

Even on the day of the announcement Blizzard were less than sure themselves how the Auction House would evolve once the game was in the players’ hands  “We don’t really know what will end up happening with the Auction House”.

Blizzard also promised that the money they would gather from auction house sales would help fund continual development of Diablo III. Some portion of the community begrudgingly accepted the reasoning hoping this meant the game would be kept fresh and exciting.   Nearly one year down the road it hasn’t panned out that way with much of the post development time spent fixing the game.

As it transpired those who were against the idea and had thought about the issues an auction house might raise were right in thinking that overall it would be detrimental to the game. So why was it?

Diablo 3 Legendary

Shiny Legendaries

Blizzard had to look at how the items in the game would work, itemisation is one of the most important features of a Diablo game, but if top Legendary items were dropping with every chest that popped or boss slain then it would cause a problem for an auction house economy. The upshot was that the good item drops in the game became so scarce that players were almost forced to use the auction house to find the good gear to progress and get through the “wall” they were hitting thanks to the difficulty of the game when it launched. Thankfully Blizzard tweaked the difficulty in Inferno eventually.

With the chance of making some real cash through an auction house, it also changes the way players approach the game. As Jay said in his talk yesterday, money has become a motivator to play and not the challenge of taking down the Lord of Terror himself. Not that taking down Diablo was ever the real incentive for Diablo 2 players, it was about the gear. When money becomes an integral part of the gameplay the fun quickly diminishes and the playerbase becomes frustrated.

Legendary items were also rather poor in quality in comparison to what has gone before in the series with magic items often better than their Legendary cousins when it came to stats. The whole itemisation was pretty screwed up when the game launched and although Blizzard have made some good efforts towards rectifying this they are some way off from satisfying much of the community still. The development team say they are continuing to work on a “viable” solution for the auction house and itemisation but as usual they’re keeping their cards close to their chest.

What is most startling from the comments made by Jay is that they thought only a small percentage of people would actually use the auction house when it went live after release. How could they have got that so wrong especially after claiming the Auction House was introduced to help combat the considerable amount of trading done on (unsafe) third party sites in Diablo 2?

With over 50% of the player base supposedly using the auction house it was bound to have some sort of an impact on the way players approached the game. But what now? Wilson says Blizzard “think they would turn it off if they could” but they have “no idea” how many players really like the system. They must have some idea based in how many people log in each week and actually use it.  As Jay says, 50% of the 3 million players each month log in and use it.  That means there’s could be a 50/50 split of those who do and those who don’t like it. If they were to take away the auction house how many of the 50% who use it now would be that bothered? Many players simply use it out of necessity to get their hands on top items because the balance in game is not right . Fix the itemisation and drops and then it becomes less of a requirement.

In a quick and dirty poll Diablo: IncGamers are running on their Facebook page the answer currently stands as 74% say to remove both Real Money Auction House and Gold Auction House, 11% say remove just the Real Money and 25% want to keep both Auction Houses.

It would be logical  for Blizzard to ask the larger players what they thought. I know that would probably kick up a whole host of posts, most of them unsavoury I’m sure, but this is an issue Blizzard needs to get on top of.  Blizzard may have no way to turn back the clock on the auction house at this late stage, but they need to find a solution to keep players coming back to the game while at the same time offering some level of security for those who enjoy trading.

With the recent announcement of the Diablo 3 Playstation version, which can be played offline and features no auction house,  the console version appears to be more in tune with what the PC players wanted when the game launched and still want.

For a game that has a PC fan base Blizzard largely ignored while the game was being developed, it’s ironic that console gamers may end up playing a version PC gamers said pre release they wanted to play and maintain post-release they still would rather be playing.

So, should Blizzard turn off the auction house? Should the real money aspect of it be turned off and another system put in place? Is it even possible one year down the line to remove such a major part of the game, but then again, if they get the item balance right would it remain such a major part? It could become redundant.  Perhaps  that’s something they should be asking their community.

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