Blizzard announced yesterday that Diablo 3 will have an auction house for players to buy and sell their hard earned treasures, which surprised no one. Blizzard also announced that players would be able to post auctions both for gold, the in-game currency, and also for real money. That surprised many people.
This announcement represents two major policy shifts for Blizzard. First, after years of fighting the underground item/character markets for Diablo 2 they are instead embracing and facilitating them. Second, they have crossed the line between only selling cosmetic effects and selling power/achievement, even if only slightly.
It's the second of these two policy shifts that has my attention. Selling power isn't universally a mistake (it works very well for the supercapitalist EVE Online) but is so frequently one as to warrant, at the very least, extreme care. Without absolutely perfect execution it can and will destroy a game's longevity and community.
This isn't unique to selling power, any game mechanic which trivializes accomplishment will undermine a game's community. There need to be goals, accomplishments and prestige in games for their communities to thrive. Most implementations of selling power, including what we know of Diablo 3, undermine these fundamental aspects of the game.
Diablo 3 is still something I'm very excited about, and it's extremely likely that I will be staying up to play it the night it launches. However, I worry that the community of the game will suffer for decisions like this one.