Monday, August 1, 2011

Diablo 3 - Items for real money? Good idea?



Those of you following back home might’ve woken up only to realize the newest addition to the grossly anticipated juggernaut Diablo 3. The Auction House.
“Yeah well, so what?” you might ignorantly say “WoW has auction houses too?”
“Why, yes” I might say “But this time it’s different. This time we’re dealing in hard cold cash”.
That’s right. A world of power and vast treasure is available to you, all through sanctuary, provided you can accomplish the insignificant quest “Get Daddy’s Credit Card”.
Truth to be told, this article is still boggling my mind. I’m still thinking, wondering. Not really in any shocked sort of way as the ‘fascinated horror’ approach. I’m honestly perplexed by this decision, and unable to form a definite opinion.
Looking at the almighty cauldron of liquid stupidity that is the internet, it’s not surprising to see fans dividing, which is predictable whenever radical decisions show up. You either wholeheartedly embrace it or hate it like the plague. And then, I have the feeling, there is us at the middle. I hope somehow, that I’m not alone with this feeling, and maybe I can share my thoughts, concerns and shreds of excitement about this.

I’d love to hear from you guys, what you think.
PRO: Why could this be a good thing? Aka Diablo is turning into WoW anyway.
Not all arguments in favor are as cynical as the last statement, though.  But it suffices as an introduction.
I’ve been gaming WoW since it entered closed beta, and I’ll be happy to admit; there is something about the premises of the game that makes me want to cut corners. I’m sorry, feel free to call me a stinky entitled casual. That’s just the way it is.
Back in Vanilla, when my guild sucked and never progressed beyond Molten Core, I bought a spot with the top-guild on my server, and raided Blackwing Lair a couple of times, paying for my epics in in-game gold. Gold that I earned by hard, honest virtual work. Whereas this was initially met with some disapprovement, my guild did appreciate having a Tier 2-rogue along for the raids.
As the game progressed, so did this tendency. And I was by no means alone. Guilds kept offering paid runs (though for in-game currency) and various bots kept showing up. And they got more and more refined. You really want to farm that Darkmoon Deck? Buy a bot, go to sleep and it will work wonders for you.

 Gold-farmers also saw a blooming era, as TBC introduced better Bind on Equip-items. With enough cool cash, you could easily get some decent gear and a flying mount. Various websites provided great offers, eventually you were actually able to buy gear or badges. Who could ask for more?
Blizzard eventually caved in. Initially you were able to invest in the official card-game, in which you were able to find rare mounts and prizes. It goes without saying that soon after you’d be able to pick up the very same stuff from sites such as E-Bay, provided you were willing to pay through the nose for it.
As time passed, you were eventually able to purchase special companions or (really ugly) mounts from the Blizzard-Store. To their defense, none of said items were really unbalancing in any way, but merely vanity-items with no apparent use other then boasting-rights. Additionally, money from the sale was given to charitable purposes, although this doesn’t really change the fact that we likely should’ve seen this coming.
Those of you who were avid Diablo 2-players might know that there was a really great market going on in trading items between players. Personal friends of mine took it to serious business, botting some of the very best gear, only to sell it around on various places on the net. For virtual points as well as cold, hard cash.
What’s my point, you’re asking?
This has been coming all along. We should’ve seen it coming. We should, by no means, be surprised about this. And in some way, I see Blizzard’s line of reasoning.
This tendency has been around for ages (as in, about six year within the WoW-community and likely more for Diablo 2). Only, it just became legitimized, more or less. What Blizzard is doing here is nothing more than a crystallization of the underlying greed and laziness that is the trademark of many a spoiled gamer. Somehow, this seems logical. Logical, because a lot of just mentioned gold farming sites were funded by hacked accounts and scams. Other players were severely penalized when they attempted to buy leveling services or honor-point-grinds through various sites, and never saw their honor points nor money ever again. That is, if they didn’t just get hacked.
I’ve been hacked. It sucks. It’s degrading. And I didn’t even partake in anything illegal. It just happened, all my gold, gear, everything, was gone over night. And it happens, because there is a market for it, and a lot of douches willing to employ illegal methods to satisfy the demand.
“But Maynard,” I hear some of you say “people who buy gold or virtual property deserve to be hacked and penalized!”. Well, maybe. Maybe not. It’s really about how you look at it and where you’re coming from regarding the game. I suppose that in the end it all boils down to the question, whether everyone should be definitively equal in an online game.
This relates to our perception of how things ought to be. In a perfect world, everyone should be equal. But in this world people aren’t equal. Whereas we would wish so, it’s far from the case, and it’s naïve to think this wouldn’t influence a thing so mainstream as gaming-culture. It’s a tendency that WILL go on, of that I am pretty sure. Even if Blizzard decides to cancel this initiative, there will be sites that promote purchase of virtual property, gained by hours of botting and emptying hacked accounts. And there will be people to buy it. In the last many years, I’d argue it’s been proven that this is a battle we cannot win. Unless the gaming community as a whole decides to boycott these sites.
And in case that happens, I might be offline for some weeks, since I’ll be busy chasing flying pigs in the frozen wastes of Hell.
In my optic it comes down to a simple matter of joining that which you can’t beat, and defeat it on its own premises. It’s not that bad an idea, really. What Blizzard is planning has the potential to become a very valid alternative to various scam-sites, and if player A decides to buy from them instead of shitty scam-site B, it’s potentially one prevented hack or scam. Even if not; the third-party sites will be challenged as they’ll likely be forced to stay in touch with the market-prices on the auction house, in order to stay competitive.  As a former addicted auctioneer in WoW, I’ll say this can be a very taxing job. If this can help shutting down some of the sites out there, I don’t see a problem with that all. You could argue that this would only prove to make Blizzard bigger and the sole corporate giant; but after all…this is their game.
Let’s stay with the liberal mindset for a minute.
Certainly, I’m not implying that every single third-party site selling virtual property is a hacking scammer. Some really do make a living by it (though this might be a misplacing term, since some of them certainly are obtained by bots) and therefore offer some lucrative prices. In my view it’s only fitting that Blizzard enters its own market. It almost seems absurd not to, in a way. And if I do understand this correctly, this is a free service that comes with the game, and even though you’re expected to pay a cut of your profit, I don’t get the feeling that this will be extremely significant in any way. At some place they even mention cuts only for sold items. And if you’ve entered that market already, percentages of your sales will likely be a minor concern. In a way it will be even more exciting to see what happens, once the various Diablo 3 players will start competing with various internet sites for the best offers.
Provided the sites won’t simply just accommodate and move their initiatives to the game. In which case Blizzard should rightfully also gain a cut from their sale, and the sellers are on level as everyone else in business.
Let’s move on to the process in itself. Obtaining gear from real money.
Again we’re dealing with the question; what’s your point of origin with this game?
Me, for example, I’m a casual gamer. As casual as they come.  Though I’ve always accepted this as my premise for the game. I’m fine with not having the best of gear. I don’t mind, although I’d certainly want to. But do I want it so much that I’d purchase it all?
Probably not.
Although…

I spent a lot of time, and I mean, a LOT, of time, with some friends back in Diablo 2. I was eagerly hunting for the Arm of Leoric, and it’s officially beyond count how many runs and tries I’ve been through without luck. In the end I got extremely frustrated, almost to the point in which I felt entitled to it. Those who’ve tried out the Archaeology-profession in WoW might know what I’m talking about here. The thing is; you put so much effort into this, but in the end it’s so extremely RNG-dependent.
I had a lot of good gear, really. That I’ve earned, found and traded. But the Arm, never going to happen. Had this been in Diablo 3, and could I spent some hard cool cash to get it…I would probably do so. Yes, I admit it, I would. But would I do so the minute I saw it on the AH?
Likely not.

 But in a sense I wish to get something out of it, once I invest the time. I’m not saying that I know where the golden line is, between proper reward and spoiled entitlement, but when I spend a month hunting for the Arm of Leoric, it gets insanely tempting to go to the auction house.
But not all people are approaching this from the same angle.

CON: Why is this a bad thing? Aka. Is there anything else to Diablo than loot hunting?
There are those who prefer the competitive aspect of games, and let me assure you I sympathize with these people, for this initiative could definitely be a turn for the worse. I’m aware of the potential hypocrisy in this, so let me explain.
As mentioned before, the world should be ideal and everyone ought to be equal without anyone suffering as the result. Even though this isn’t the case, as I stated, we still have to remember that this is a game, no matter how we put it. And once we sit down to play a game, at least if you ask me, we should all have equal chances to win, by the premise of the rules. Certainly, a guy who’s great at strategy and able to juggle lots of balls at the same time will have an advantage when playing Warhammer. But if Warhammer didn’t use point-buy, but instead depended on the amount of miniatures you owned, then it really wouldn’t be a fun game to play.
In a way, this also reminds me of back in the day, in which we all played Magic the Gathering. The card game, that is. I wasn’t exactly from a rich heritage so I made do with whatever cards I had. However, some of my friends literally had the most expensive cards thrown at them by their parents, meaning I would often face Moxes, Time Walks and Gauntlets of Might, with Polar Kraken being my mightiest card.
Needless to say, this didn’t make for great games for the rest of us. Whereas the chosen four probably had fun with each other the rest of us gathered with our puny 1/1 creatures and gamed. That’s how it worked.

I hear some of saying “AHA! Maynard, by that analogy, the guys with the big guns will just play Diablo 3 together and the rest will make do with the Gold-based AH, right?”
Well, true. But there is a flaw here. In Magic I was actually kind of sad that I didn’t play these people more than I did. Mainly because, well, I didn’t stand a chance and losing before you even begin is not fun in the long run. Additionally, as time passed by a certain element of elitism arose, meaning that those of us who couldn’t present a deck of at least a certain price were semi-officially banned from games in ‘their league’. In a sense I wonder, will this be prevalent in Diablo 3 as well? I know, for sure, some good friends I’d love to play with, but I also know they wouldn’t hesitate to sell their first-born son for the best in slot armor. Whereas I’m much more hesitant, I wonder whether it’d ever work for us, unless Blizzard manages to pull off some serious tweaking of the difficulty. Otherwise, we will end up playing either on my level, meaning my friend will face-roll everything before I even land a blow, meaning none of us have much fun. Alternatively we will play it on the harder mode, in which I splatter and he gets challenged, meaning I have to spend money in order to become on par with him. You could argue that he could just start an alt with me, but a huge charm of Diablo (for me) is how we can progressively improve our main character together.
Will this initiative in fact end up separating players with various mentalities? I suppose this isn’t much different from WoW, in which some people raid hardcore and their friends don’t, and yet they manage to do a five-man from time to time. I wonder whether Diablo 3 will manage the same achievement.
My second consideration is: Whereas Blizzard legitimizes the sale of virtual property; they might still have the problem of botters on their hands. It goes without saying that this will be a challenge and an issue, but not necessarily any more so than in WoW. I do, however, predict an increase in bots, now that real money is actually involved in this. It’s actually perfectly doable now, to earn real life money, by letting a bot do your grinding for you.
Unless Blizzard really manages to up their game and make a better effort against botters, I’m not really sure whether this is a great idea. I’m no specialist in marketing, but I assume this will have some effect on the market in long run, provided enough botters appear? Any comments would be welcome.
Finally, and importantly; Is there really that much to Diablo once you have your gear, except starting an alt? I remember when a friend of mine actually gave me the rest of the Tranq-set, including Hellfire Torch for free. Being about as awesomely geared as I’d hoped for, my Necromancer easily wallowed through Hell over and over. Until I suddenly realized I had no purpose doing this, besides feeling awesome. Which lasted for about some days and then it got dull, because…what was left to do?
If I’ll be able to spend half my monthly wage in order to top off my character’s gear, what’s left for me to do in the game? Will we see special challenges, activities, places, expansions, content, what?
Even though I’m tempted to buy this stuff, doesn’t it kind of defeat the purpose of bashing down monsters in legions?
I’m not sure where to go with this. I’m not sure what to think exactly.
I kind of see both sides, and yes, I will likely play this game either way. It’s Blizzard, after all.
In the end, though, this is an optional choice. In my case, it likely won’t mean much, since I game with some real life friends who are kind of casual. But I fear some of them will take this to the extreme, and quickly race off into the horizon, leaving the rest of us standing with our puny greens.

Ah well.
Time to make another Bhaal-run, it seems.

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