The Diablo 3 auction house feature is going to introduce real money transactions, and Blizzard is braced for an initial backlash today once everyone gets that news. No longer will players need to quest and loot forever to find the perfect piece of equipment they're looking for as they can now purchase it with in-game gold, or with real-world currency. Additionally, you'll be able to auction off your hard-earned loot at any moment, and you can convert the gold you make from that into a Blizzard e-balance, or even into real cash. That's right, say hello to Blizzard-supported gold farming.
We imagine that you'll probably have a few questions about this, so keep reading to find out everything that we know so far. While we were able to play our way through the full beta, that experience did not include the auction house as part of the built. But, Blizzard anticipates having a version of the auction house up and running when the beta comes out.
First, of all, if you're sitting there pulling your hair out and drooling, we can understand your frustration. Or if you're out there smiling and already swimming in your virtual currency Scrooge McDuck-style, then you'll also want to pay attention. We're going to give you all of the information about the auction house, and then let you decide how you feel about it.
First of all, why did Blizzard decide to go this way? Obviously trading in Diablo 2 wasn't perfect, and if any of you were around during the days of rampant duping and selling off of materials, you knew that everyone was a multimillionaire. The objects became so commonplace that Stones of Jordan became the new currency, and things devolved from there. Rob Pardo even referenced the fabled "Chat Gem" when talking about how that economy got away from them.
At its heart, Diablo is a loot game. Finding new items are a big part of the experience, and they are extremely random. Unlike World of Warcraft, which uses a deterministic approach to loot drops, Diablo is randomized. A high-level character may drop a rare item, but you have no clue what it will be. It could take you ages to track down something specific, which is why the need to trade things became so popular. It was much easier to find someone willing to trade for that socketed shield you needed, rather than trying to grind for it and hope it would pop up one day.
But despite the need for trading, there were only a few ways to trade in Diablo 2. You could meet up with other players and trade using the in-game trading interface, but it was still often difficult to find specific items. You could post in the forums and chat channels, or use shady third-party websites to try and track down what you needed. eBay was a popular choice as well, but it wasn't the ideal way to find what you needed. Blizzard decided that they want to make this a better experience for players: hence the Diablo 3 Auction House. However, this isn't the auction house that you might have experienced in World of Warcraft.
This time around, you'll be able to buy and sell items with in-game gold as well as real-world currency, and it will be integrated directly into the game client. Right now this is restricted to Items, gold and components that have been put into the auction house by other players, as Blizzard "has no plans" to put items directly into the auction house themselves. But, that doesn't mean that they won't do it eventually. Interested in buying a full-character? Blizzard is considering that as an option right now. Single auction house for each supported currency.
The auction house will have auto-bidding and instant buyout options, and a smart search by class. Players will be anonymous during trades, and there will be both real money and in-game gold auction houses. Hardcore players will not be able to use the real money auction house. There will be listing fees and transaction fees, although Blizzard plans to allow a certain number of "free" listings per account per month, but they'll still take a transaction fee if it sells. You can also choose to send the money you make in the auction house to your Blizzard e-balance and use it in the Blizzard store, or you can choose to send it to a third party payment provider to withdraw real cash, for a percentage. Once you've sent cash to your e-balance, it's locked in there, so you need to be sure what you're doing with that cash after you sell a bunch of items. Basically, the whole feature is like DiabloBay.
Blizzard doesn't want this to be a "Diablo Store," and they're hoping it will facilitate player trading, and they cite several reasons for adding it. They claim it will be great for buyers and sellers, will work well with the design of the Diablo item system, and adds a great deal of depth and fun to the long-term game. According to Pardo, "The auction house in WoW has become its own metagame, we think that will happen here as well."
What do we think about all of this? There will undoubtebly be a huge backlash to this, especially amongst hardcore players who believe that you need to earn your way to a fully-outfitted character. While you'll still have to level up on your own (at least for now), new players will be able to come in and spend their own money to get awesome weapons, armor, and other items. But if that's what they want to spend their money on, then so be it. While there is bound to be a lot of negative reaction to this, it will die down in the weeks and months leading up to the game release, and then upon launch this will end up making a ton of money for Blizzard, and some people will figure out how to work the system for lots of cash.
If you need a primer, go read Cory Doctorow's terrific For The Win, which has players doing this very thing in-game, or check out all the details direct from Blizzard. So what do you think? Are you set to go for the gold in Diablo 3?