Money and Power in Video Games

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.


360 Trooper said...

It is rather tricky to pull off, and Extra Credits did a video on this kind of thing. They argued that, implemented correctly (it's doubtful that Blizzard is doing that here), it could be a massive future market for gaming. While Blizzard themselves aren't selling power, seeing as this is a player auction rather than an in-game store, it's still a method for people willing to shell out real money to get a significant edge over those who don't. The only way around this is do what Nexon did with DFO and balance the stats on cash-purchasable items into complete irrelevance. Even if the absolute top-tier equipment is some kind of bind-on-pickup deal, there will still be a ton of high-end rare-drop gear which is going on sale to the highest bidder willing to blow his paycheck on it. And that will likely serve to divide and alienate players. As they once said, in response to someone saying that Blizzard should sell WoW gold themselves so casual players can pay for it rather than farm it; it's not going to be the casual players doing this.

Anonymous said...

The official anti-RMAH petition here:


It is obviously a disastrous move, only the greedy and the ignorant support it.

360 Trooper said...

I had to Google "RMAH in D3" because that looked so much like a random spammer complaining about some political... thing.