Diablo 3 and the Real Money Auction House (RMAH) - Greed or Need?
This hub is going to talk about Diablo 3's Real Money Auction House. This feature is currently the most controversial subject in the Diablo 3 community, as people are torn as to whether it benefits or hinders gameplay. During the course of this hub, I will explain why I believe this is detrimental to Diablo 3, given my previous experiences with other video games that have a similar system.
Please read on!
An Overview of the Real Money Auction House
To Blizzard Entertainment's credit, I don't believe I've ever seen an auction house done exactly like this before, at least for a video game. Essentially, the real money auction house, or RMAH for short, serves as an alternate way to obtain items in-game through other players using real money. You can still use gold to purchase items if you don't feel like spending your money, but it does provide you with an interesting way of making money on the side for playing a video game.
The Nature of Auction Houses and Real Currency
I have played at least two games that have utilized auction houses that allow for you to spend real cash as well as virtual currency. Runes of Magic allows you to purchase diamonds with cash that can then be used to purchase items in the online shop or in the auction house. Nodiatis allows you to purchase time cards which other people can then buy from you for gold, basically allowing you to turn money into in-game currency.
The inherent problem with allowing you to use real cash to participate in an in-game economy is virtual currency inflation. I most saw this phenomenon in Nodiatis. See, the people who spend cash on the game get to determine the base value of the in-game currency. Seeing as they spend the money, this is more than fair. The problem is that, as the game ages, gold becomes less valuable (more people playing, so more people generating in-game currency). Thus, the base value of in-game currency drops relative to real cash. This, in turn, causes the game to slowly become pay-to-win, rather than pay-to-play, or free-to-play with microtransactions.
To take the Nodiatis example, you could get one time card (that's 5 USD) for around 5000 gold when they were initially created. So 1 USD got you 1000 gold. Nowadays, one time card can cost nearly 300,000 gold. That's 60,000 gold per 1 USD. In the particular case of Nodiatis, this also meant that participating in the auction house for rare items got harder, as most people would mark up their price to try and force purchases with time cards instead of gold.
How does this affect Diablo 3?
In Diablo 3, I predict that any top-tier items are essentially going to be out of reach of people who refuse to pay real cash. With Blizzard taking a cut of all transactions, this may very well turn out to be a win-win for them. They legitimize the once existent black market of top-tier items and runes present in Diablo 2, and they get to tax all transactions as well. They have also deterred direct trading in an indirect manner because of the fact that games are now auto-join. Your mileage may vary as to whether this deterrence is intentional or not.
In any case, it's highly unlikely that you'll be able to quit your day job and make a living off of just playing Diablo 3, but it is incredibly likely that Blizzard may not have to create another video game again, if they're so inclined. The profit potential from this real money auction house on Blizzard's end is huge.
Besides the obvious implications on the gameplay, it has covert implications on the way the game is marketed as well. See, for those of you in the crowd who have played Starcraft II, although you need internet access to play multiplayer, you could play singleplayer offline (without achievements, but that's another case of "your mileage may vary" anyway). Since Diablo 3 has the RMAH, it becomes necessary to police player interactions within the game to prevent hacking and modding. Thus, Diablo 3 is online-only. Congratulations, you now have one of the first MMOARPG video games.
On a final note, even if most people refuse to believe it, I wouldn't put it past Blizzard to set up a variety of auction house bots to imitate player behavior and sell top-tier items. Why settle for a slice of the cake when you can just eat all of it?
Some Final Notes
In Diablo 3, there will come a point where the in-game economy is virtually monopolized by the RMAH. There will always be a small subset of people that play around it by using the gold-based auction house, but they will be just that, a small subset. Whether this makes the game worse or better is up to personal opinion.
It will permeate into all aspects of the game, because that's what it was made to do. Gear is the sole determinant in the power of your skills once you've hit level cap, and guess what the best way of getting said gear is?
Of course, I will not tell you not to play the game, as that decision should be left up to each individual. If you do decide to play it, I wish you the best in your adventures in Sanctuary. :)
Until the next time, take care and have fun! ;)
P.S: Some Final Final Notes
I have included this extra section since the Diablo 3 RMAH has officially launched. I want to hear the opinions of Diablo 3 players in the coming weeks. Is the real money auction house helping the game? Or is it ruining it? Or, is it just existing? (neutral effect on Diablo 3 and its community)
Here's a poll if you don't want to comment in the comments section, but I'd love it if you could all elaborate. It's interesting to see opposing viewpoints at work.
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