Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Coming to an AH Near You...

Ormus' Robes going once! Going twice ...!
Monday, August 1, Blizzard took the opportunity to announce that Diablo III will have an Auction House

Instead of selling off all the stuff you accumulate while Diablo-ing, you'll be able to put it on the Battle.net AH and let somebody, somewhere else buy it off you. Woot

But the freaky thang is that there will be two variants of this thing, one of which will use ACTUAL REAL LIVE MONEY from your Battle.net account.   I'm going to say that again:  ACTUAL REAL LIVE MONEY. I think the business model here is that your barbarian may find a helmet or something deep in the bowels of the earth and instead of sticking it on your head, you can put it in the Auction House. And instead of asking 500 gold for the thing, you could ask for $5. And then some guy will see that, and use funds he has transferred into his Battle.net account to pay for it.  That guy could then use the $5 he has just earned (minus a percentage taken by Blizzard) to pay for subscription fees to one Blizzard game or another. or to buy a Sparkle Pony from the Blizzard Pet Store.

And now, we pause, to offer a link to all this info. There's a buttload of it and I don't feel like I need to repost it here. Go ahead and read and come back to some highlights and analysis.

Ok, so this is about Diablo III. What has it got to do with WoW?
Actually, this has more to do with Battle.net than anything else and every single WoW player has a Battle.net account. If we're not hearing about this coming to WoW by the next expansion, it'll be there for the one after that. It will absolutely be in Titan MMO in 2014 (or whenever).

Why would Blizzard want to bring something like this to WoW?
This could be the gold-seller killer.  Right now, people take substantial risks with shady third-party dealers so that they can buy fake gold with real money so they can buy exorbitantly priced crapola from the AH.  Under this model, the shady gold-dealers can be bypassed entirely and one can simply plunk down their real money for stuff in the AH without all the in-between steps.

Blizzard also gets that percentage on each sale, and with 12.5 million players, that will add up into major revenues, fast.

Why would players want this in WoW?
Well, if you're a gold-buying chump, you can probably get a lot of the stuff you want more safely. But I'm sorta betting that gold-buying chumps are generally too lazy to accumulate the gold for their epic-flying still and will keep the market rolling.  This could be generally good for casual players who don't mind spending a buck on a couple of flasks before raiding. For much of the player population, these things will depend greatly on the price points that develop.

Yeah, and what about prices? What will prices be like?
The more I think about this, the more I think it's the million-dollar question, and WoW players will want to watch Diablo III carefully to see how this all develops.

Developing an economy takes a lot of rules and will probably be a chaotic, throbbing thing on first emergence. In the first weeks of Diablo III, I predict we'll hear about this one rare item in Diablo that everybody will want, and it'll hit the real-money AH for something like $1,500. And some moron is going to pay that.  But that is the exciting first overture of an AH system that will grow and stabilize as more people come into it. Do not accept the initial horror stories as representative of how the system is going to work.

Can I get rich selling stuff on the AH?
Put that idea out of your mind right now. Blizzard did announce that one should be able to remove funds from the Battle.net account to an authorized account. But really, no one is going to be quitting their day job over this.  If I were Blizzard, I would cap the amount of money that can be charged through this system (and I'd cap it in the lower double-digits) just to prevent that stupid news story we discussed in the previous question.

What's going to happen to the Gold AH?
This is another good question. Blizzard indicates that it will surely remain because there will be players not interested in spending real money on stuff.  However, I can't see the gold AH retaining its luster in the long run. It'll quickly get to where if you want to buy purples, you'll probably have to commit to spending real money.  I don't think that the faction AHs will lose as much luster as the goblin AH in Gadgetzan, but I'd still expect the best stuff to move to where greed can really run rampant.

Is this a philosophical change for Blizzard?
Ugh, is this a hairy question. Blizzard has said that they would not like to sell things that would affect gameplay. To date, the stuff you could buy with real money from the Blizzard store has been cosmetic at best.  The introduction of real funds to an auction house would definitely suggest a change in that thinking. Gold-buying chumps have said for years that spending gold on gear doesn't really imbalance gameplay, which would be an acceptable truth if one also believes that skill > gear. I think Blizzard can rest on that last argument to say that no, a fundamental change is not occurring.

One could also simply argue that realism is winning out over philosophy here. Blizzard has been fighting the influx of 3rd party gold for years (and guys, it is an influx. Don't get into the same argument with me that we had here before) and 3rd-party gold is still here. This would be a radical shift in business structure that gives gold-buying chumps a lot of what they want while shifting control back towards Blizzard.

Are we over-reacting?
Yes. No. Maybe. I've been peering around official forums finding blue posts trying to stress that "WoW and D3 are two different game types," while they kill threads on the WoW forums and try to shift the discussion back to D3 forums instead.

That line "WoW and D3 are two different game types" is true, and frankly, I was astonished to find an AH going into Diablo at all because it sure doesn't fit with how I played D2 way back in the day. But like I said, this is not so much a Diablo feature as it is a new Battle.net feature, so I think the WoW GMs are trying to avoid what really will be an inevitable change to WoW.

I had a long discussion with a player friend the other day about his dissatisfaction with WoW in recent months, which was largely based on faction imbalance.  Blizzard once said emphatically that they would not have PvE to PvP server transfers, nor would there be cross-faction transfers. And gradually, all this stuff has fallen away and become possible. And I would agree that the game is the worse for it.

Shifting the function and means of the the AH is an equally huge meta-change to the World of Warcraft. Anybody who's not approaching that fact with a lot of caution is in for a bad, bad surprise.


  1. Well Somaric is screwed. I have always preferred to buy purples on the AH, rather than PUG with dimwits. But, any crafter worth his "craft", will immediately begin to sell his top gear for real dollars.
    Say, question comes to mind.
    Will the Battlenet AH be conducted in USD's, Euro's, AUD's? Currently, the $AUD buys $1.10 USD, so selling stuff for USD's is less rewarding.

  2. I'm betting that it will mostly be in all currencies above

  3. Man... this honestly is freaking the hell out of me...
    To be honest though I can't see it totally quashing the Gold Selling market... there are items for purchase like Epic Flying that aren't BoE that wont be able to be put on a 'Money' AH... if Blizzard hope to remove the gold-seller by this move I think they'll come unstuck in the long run. I could elaborate, but I might save it for my own post :)

  4. Perhaps something similar to Second Life's linden dollars.

  5. funny you mention the Linden dollars. I've been thinking of them very much as a model for how pricing >could< work. Except that most Second Lifers sell a never-ending supply of creations, as opposed to an item that is comparatively rare. Nevertheless, most of that stuff is serious micro transaction involving a very small amount of real money. But even a $5 sale on a Blizzard AH would stop being so micro.

    I haven't been in SL in years. I wonder how that place is holding up.

    I've been reading a lot of commentary saying that a real money AH won't ever come to WoW, but I just don't see why it wouldn't if it establishes well in other Blizzard products. Can't see an AH working in StarCraft. I'm sure it'll be a part of Titan someday, but really... apart from some issues about technical integration with the old software, it makes too much sense to put that kinda AH into WoW

  6. A buyer may have paid real money for the virtual item but he/she doesn't own it. Blizzard still owns the virtual items. Unlike tangible items such warcraft figurines, TCG trading cards or replica of Frostmourne.

    Having said that, would you pay USD $440 for a TCG mount, Swift Spectral Tiger, knowing you don't really own it? I wouldn't

  7. Excellent point, Daniel. I forgot that aspect of the ownership in the Blizzard vs. Linden universes and it really should temper how we go at these digital goods that are not going to be ours.

    Lol: seems like that Spectral Tiger has been going down in price! I've sorta wondered about something here: They are not producing more of those cards are they? I didn't think old sets were republished. And then the company that produces TCG has also changed, and I wouldn't expect Crytozoic to be entitled to republish material made by Wizards of the Coast (was that it? I can't remember now).

    That would suggest to me that there is a very finite number of Spectral Tigers in the world, and that they would be becoming more precious as time goes by. Hmmm....