It's pretty strange that I am writing a post about an announcement for Diablo. In truth, I have very little experience with the franchise. I played Diablo one for a little while after sold for a heavily discounted price. I never touched Diablo 2 and had/have no plans to try Diablo 3. This isn't a comment about the quality of the franchise; it's a matter of so many things to do and so little time. So I think you can see why it is strange for me to post about a Diablo announcement, but this one cuts very close to WoW.
In case you haven't seen it already, Blizzard has announced a new Auction House feature in Diablo 3 that will allow transactions both in game-gold and real-life currency. For the full details, please look at Blizzards site.
An Attempt at Fairness:
First and foremost, I need to qualify my comments on this subject. As stated above my experience with Diablo is very limited. While I can envision a lot of bad things if this type of feature was introduced in WoW, I can't say with any experience that the same bad things would happen in Diablo. In fact, Bashiok has made some decent arguments as to why having this type of AH in Diablo is different then having the same type of AH in WoW.
It should also be said that Diablo 3 is not WoW. Just because this is happening in Diablo doesn't mean this will be added to WoW as well. Blizzard has said in the past that this type of feature won't be implemented in WoW, and they have also said that real money transactions provide any game advantage. This could be a feature that is only intended for Diablo and will never interact with WoW. I recognize that players who have an opinion similar to mine could be overreacting, because there really is no intention of ever implementing this type of feature in WoW.
That said, it's incredibly hard not to see this as a step down a new road for Blizzard. If you had asked me yesterday if this type of feature would ever be considered I would have given you a complete and confident "NO." This step definitely increased the chances of this type of feature being added to WoW, especially when you consider other features like Race and Faction changes which Blizzard claimed at one time or another would never happen. That is why I think my concern for WoW is justified, when Blizzard adds a feature to another game that could possibly be added to WoW as well, even when the games are unrelated.
I really don't care if this feature is added to Diablo 3 or not, but I do have very strong opinions about if this type of feature should be added to WoW. And when I see posts like Mathew McCurley's on WoW Insider absolutely drooling over a real money AH I feel the need to post an opposing view of why this would be bad for WoW.
Dual Auction Houses are a Lie:
One of the big selling points Blizzard is trying to make is that there will be two Auction Houses that you can use depending on your preference: a Gold AH and a Currency AH. Bashiok has gone so far as to say "I have no doubt that the gold auction house will by-far outweigh the real money auction house in scope and amount of items available."
While I am sure that there will be in fact two Auction Houses, the idea that you can choose which one to use based on preference is an illusion. You can tell by answering one simple question. Which is better, fake money or real money? If you answer real money then you are like 99.9999% of the people who will play the game.
Anyone who thinks about this situation at all will realize that the Currency AH will drive the postings on both auction houses. Bashiok may be right that the Gold AH will be bigger, but all of the prices will be determined by the Currency AH.
For example, let say that the Boots of Uberness are listed for $5.00 on the Currency AH, and 1000g is selling for $1.25. How much gold are the Boots of Uberness worth? Clearly they are worth 4000g in this situation. You can list this item on either AH, but the price is clearly going to be determined by the Currency AH. I could list this item on the Gold AH for 10,000g but why would someone buy it there? They could just sell 4000g for $5.00 and buy it off the Currency AH.
So, as you can see, any suggestion that the Gold AH is an independent auction house is an illusion. This isn't to say that the prices between the two AHs will be in perfect lock-step. The fees charged by Blizzard and the less liquid nature of gold will cause some differences, but don't be surprised when they are fairly close most of the time. If WoW's AH has taught us anything, it has shown that there are a lot of very smart people who can work the system to make fake currency. Just think what will happen when people are motivated to make real currency.
Legitimizing a Shady Industry:
Another suggestion that seems to be popular is that is that this is a big blow to the shady business of Gold Selling. In his WoW Insider piece Mathew McCurley says "Blizzard could remove the profitability of gold farming by making everyone a gold farmer."
Yes, how could the gold farmers possibly be profitable when you can buy and sell gold and other things from anyone in game? Let me think. How could they survive?
Oh, I've got it!!!! THEY COULD BUY AND SELL GOLD IN GAME!!!!
This isn't a death blow to the gray market. This is just legitimizing it. Claiming this is any kind of weapon against the gray market is like a politician saying they won the war on drugs by legalizing them.
Some of you might then argue, that because all players are now allowed to participate in the market this will reduce the profitability and that gold farmer won't make enough money, and therefore leave the market. At first that point of view may sound logical, but it's missing a few key points. First, the gold sellers’ biggest problem currently is finding gold buyers. While legitimizing the market will increase the number of sellers, it will also increase the number of buyers, and may not change the profitability of the market at all. It may even increase the profitability of the market.
The other thing proponents of this argument are forgetting is that the gold sellers won't play fair. Gold Sellers are more then willing to bot and hack their way to create their product, and that's not going to change if Blizzard legitimizes their market. Botting will still be the most efficient way to gather trade goods. Since Blizzard tends to allow bots to operate for a few months and then ban them in waves even when the bot is obvious, the gold sellers are unlike to stop using bots. Hacking has a similar issue. It's obviously profitable for them now, and there's nothing about a Currency AH that would make hacking unprofitable on its own.
In short, anyone who thinks that a Currency AH is a silver bullet against the commercial gold sellers is just deluding themselves. It will definitely change their business model, but it's not going to prevent them from doing harmful things like Hacking. In fact, legitimizing the gold sellers could harm the casual player more then botting and hacking ever have. If the gold sellers are significantly more efficient with their gold farming than the average player, then that will push the price of gold extremely low and inflate gold prices on the AH, thus forcing players to play long hours to earn enough gold to buy an item or to buying gold.
The Social Hazard:
Finally, I want you to think about this situation if a Currency AH was introduced to WoW. Let’s say you are the GM of a moderately successful guild with 100,000g in the guild bank along with plenty of items. After a while you grow bored with the game or just want to go casual. What do you do?
Of course, there are a lot of GMs that would leave the guild bank intact and step down without issue. At the same time, I'm just as confident that there will be plenty of GMs that will take the money and run. Being the GM of a guild is hard work, and I assure you that fore some people it will be easy for them to justify taking the money by saying they earned over there time as GM in the Guild. I've heard that excuse several times in my 4.5 years of WoW without a Currency AH.
And guess what, you as members of the guild are powerless to stop them. Guild Masters have total control of their guild. They determine who has access to the guild bank and who can be in the guild. They could justify locking up the guild bank by saying they want to protect it from people who might take the items for themselves to sell them. Then the next thing you know, you log in one day with everyone kicked from the guild except the GM and his alts. I can't say how often this will happen, but I guarantee you it will, and you might be surprised what your friendly GM is capable of justifying when several hundred dollars of gold and stuff are on the line.
To be fair, I have very little experience with Diablo, and a real money AH may be perfect and helpful for that game. I also recognize that what Blizzard does with Diablo doesn't necessarily relate to WoW in any way. So, my concern for WoW at this announcement may be an overreaction. However, since they are willing to implement it for Diablo, it's reasonable to assume that they might conceder it for WoW as well. That is why I think it's important to lay out why I think a Currency AH is a bad idea for WoW.
While Blizzard can create and claim to have two separate AHs, it's impossible to have them operate independently. The Currency AH will set the prices for both AHs because gold will aways have a price. Some people are arguing that this is a damaging blow to the gray market businesses that deal in game items for real money, but it is no such thing. It just legitimizes them and makes their business easier in some respects. It also isn't going to prevent harmful activities like botting and hacking in any way shape or form. Finally, if this type of service was added in WoW it would create new hazards for players. Guild Masters and other players with access to community gold and items can easily take them and sell them for personal gain. And if that personal gain can have a real financial impacts expect that activity to become more common.