Diablo III and the Auction House: Since When is My Sixty Dollars Not Enough?

A guest article by Bill Evans

Since When is My Sixty Dollars Not Enough?

If you’ve followed gaming news at all this week, then you’ll have noticed that several outlets are running preview articles on Diablo III.  One of the more interesting features of Diablo III is an online auction house where players can find items within the game and list them online to sell to other players. The twist is that these items can be sold for either in-game gold or real-world cash.  The supposed reason for this is that during the Diablo II days, these sorts of transactions went on all the time, but since they weren’t supported by Blizzard, they were done in the back alleys of the internet and customers encountered problems like item duping, account hacking, and other general asshattery that tends to occur online. The concept here is that since these activities are going to take place anyway, why not provide a safe, legitimate environment for them to take place in? Thus the auction house was born.

This decision to have an auction house has two distinct side effects, the first being the dreaded DRM most gamers rightly fear. Diablo III will require a constant online connection, the reason being obvious: the last thing anyone wants is a bunch of jerks hacking the game offline, creating items, and then popping into the auction house to sell them for pocketable cash. It would kill the game’s economy and adversely affect the prices legitimate sellers could charge for items. That’s bad for Activision Blizzard too, and here’s why: the second side effect is they plan on making a ton of money off your work, and the way they’re doing it is really kind of dirty.

Microtransactions are the name of the game here.  Every time an item is listed, the seller pays a listing fee. This fee supposedly hasn’t been decided yet, but is expected to be small and fixed regardless of what’s being sold. It could be a penny or a dollar, we just don’t know. A second fee is incurred whenever an item is bought; again it’s supposed to be small and fixed. So, that’s two fees just to list and sell an item.  There are two methods to extract your money from the auction house. The first is a third party broker that charges, surprise surprise, another fee to cash out. This fee is unknown from what I’ve read so far. It may be fixed or variable depending on how much you’re pulling out, but the developers haven’t said exactly how it works or who will be providing the service. It may be a subsidiary of Activision or a genuine bank.

The other option for extracting your earnings from the auction house is a specific Blizzard account. If you’re a gamer strapped for cash, this could be viewed as a good thing, as this account can be used for things like renewing your World of Warcraft subscription or buying digital sparkle ponies or pets; and since real-world cash is involved, you should be able to buy physical items such as books, action figures, and other merchandise. My problem with this method is that the money, once placed within this account, is locked in and can only be used to buy things from Blizzard. If there’s a game you want from another company – or maybe you’re short and need to make up for a bill – it would be best to avoid this route, as you cannot, as of this report, take that money out to use on non-Blizzard things. It’s a great deal for the company, as  it is bankable guaranteed revenue they’ll get from you sooner or later, but to me, this seems a bit dirty: there should be an option to change your mind and withdraw your funds; that flexibility should exist if for no other reason than good PR and customer service. Yet, it doesn’t and you have to ask why.

All the negatives aside, let me say that were the auction house microtransaction-free, I would be for it without question. It’s capitalism at work. The market will bear whatever it will bear, and so long as everyone is happy, it’s a good thing. I see the value of such a feature. We’ve all fought the random-number generator in games, using a gun five levels too low for a character in Borderlands because nothing to replace it has dropped, or running the same raid in World of Warcraft time after time looking for a key piece of loot you need to round out your gear.

Personally, I don’t mind microtransactions in games, especially free-to-play games. I play a couple of F2P games myself and have supported them via their microtransactions where they are of tangible benefit, such as accelerated leveling, weapons, items, what have you. The transactions occurring in Diablo III don’t give you anything. You’re doing the work of acquiring the items while Activision Blizzard are making money off your work for every sale and providing nothing in return. You could try to argue the fees support the auction house, but that’s not accurate. The auction house is a fixed development cost. It’s been in development for a while; someone didn’t just hammer this out in a weekend by the pool. Also, remember that this price tag (since this is Blizzard) is going to be higher than everyone else’s from the start.

Most PC games run the standard $49.99 price point, Blizzard games run $59.99 for a standard edition. That’s a full fifth higher than the industry standard. Blizzard has already had their people work out how much time you’re likely to spend online, how many times the average user will use the auction house feature, and all the other metrics companies dig up while producing games. It’s all factored into the purchase price, along with expected online server usage and customer service loads. They have already budgeted this item into the retail price.

So, in short, by the time you’ve bought the game, you’ve paid for every single transaction in the auction house. These microtransaction hits aren’t supporting it. Hell, the fact the auction house exists is a marketing tool designed to sell more games and keep you playing longer in hopes of not only making Activision Blizzard gobs of free cash, but – given the expected size of the user base – keep you providing that cash longer while filling you with hope of making it big money-wise with your hobby, despite the fact that you’ll be facing pro farmers, gold sellers, and all the other web denizens involved in these activities when they’re not sanctioned.  Does this disgust anyone else yet? You’re paying extra for nothing. This leads me to the fulcrum of my article.

A Captive Market

What I really want to know regarding this situation and the industry as a whole is: “Since when is sixty dollars not enough for game companies?”  I completed my side of the transaction. I went to the store. I bought your damn game with my hard-earned money, and rather than appreciate that I didn’t pirate it (or the current industry whine, “buy it used”), you want to charge me money to use features I’ve already paid for? Are you serious?  When did I go from being perceived as a valued customer to this thing that has to be bilked time and again, squeezed and wrung until every possible drop of cash falls out of my pockets? This perception of the consumer is something that seems to be growing in the games industry. It’s indicative of a growing problem and I don’t know how we can combat it. It started a couple years ago with DLC and is continuing to grow in scope and severity.

Do you remember when DLC was a fan service? A developer would come out with new content a few months after release saying “Hey guys! We did some extra work, made this new content that has new quests, characters, stats, and continues the story. It’s five bucks, have fun!” Not surprisingly, people lapped it up. It was like a reward for supporting a game, a bonus where you got to re-experience something you loved in a new way; in turn, the game makers were rewarded for their efforts. It was a win-win situation. Then, things started changing.  DLC went from fan service to marketing tool and to its current form: loyalty punishment.

Nowadays, if you don’t preorder you lose out on “free” day-one DLC. Even if you buy the game the day it releases, if you didn’t preorder, you are penalized for not proving how loyal you were to the developers. If you wish to experience the content that the preorder people got for free, you now have to pay extra beyond the asking price, content that’s already on the goddamn disk. You’ll never convince the sane person that day-one DLC isn’t something that was in the game that was later pulled to penalize you for not swearing fealty to the developer by preordering. It’s wrong and needs to stop. It’s a full-on display of the attitude that we, the consumers, are no longer cherished, sought after, or appreciated.  We are now to be herded, wrangled, and milked dry of every last possible cent like we will be in Diablo III’s microtransaction system.

What does this mean for your average consumer?  Right now, not a lot. Sure, your bigger titles have people feeling the sting with fifteen-dollar map packs shortly after release, and people are gradually becoming aware of the games these publishers are playing (like doing extra DLC for preordering by a certain date as per Dragon Age II’s preorder incentive), but as a whole I think the gaming community is still oblivious. Are we buying a game or a license to a game? I think even the industry itself doesn’t really understand that this model isn’t sustainable, and if left unchecked, it will eventually result in a backlash or another possible industry crash, but those are worst case scenarios. Right now, it just has a crotchety gamer pissed off that he can’t just buy a game and actually get the entire experience for the price on the box. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to walk up a snow-covered hill somewhere in my bare feet.

Share Your Thoughts: What do you make of the decision to include a microtransaction-funded auction house in Diablo III? You can read more of the BnB team’s thoughts on microtransactions, preorder bonuses and DLC here.

12 Responses to “Diablo III and the Auction House: Since When is My Sixty Dollars Not Enough?”
  1. Kaizin514 says:

    I figure I might get a little backlash for what I am about to say, but I don’t care, I’ll say it.

    I do agree with the DLC statements. I feel that the industry isn’t doing gamers a favor by charging such a premium price for DLC and not to mention, making us pay for “on-disc” DLC. I don’t want to see the industry crash or suffer a backlash because of this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it does happen.

    Now, on to Diablo 3. One thing I think the press and gaming community seems to be missing is the fact that the real money auction house is OPTIONAL. Yes, it may have more items. Yes, it could have more high quality items. But a lot of people are taking under the assumption that this is the only option and Blizzard is forcing it on us. That is NOT the case. They have stated that you are given a choice. The fact that this uses real money should be another indicator that it won’t be everyone’s number one choice. Not every person who purchases Diablo 3 will have the money to dump into the AH. As I see it (and maybe I am off by a mile) the gaming community is in strong dislike for this AH. If we are in such dislike, then why is this an issue, won’t we use the gold AH instead? You see, this is the counterbalance. Not everyone has the money, not everyone has the time, not everyone likes it. Hell, not everyone plans on using the AH in the first place.

    Now, the games being $60 is becoming a standard, even on the PC end of things, not just Blizzard. It is about a 50-50 split on PC releases that hit the $60 mark. Could it just be Activision? Sure. But look at EA as well, they have plenty of $60 PC games hitting the market. With a Blizzard game though, I personally don’t mind paying the $60 because I KNOW I am getting a high quality product. You don’t see people complaining about Starcraft 2 anymore, do you? It is something people complain about in the moment, but then buy it anyways. It is quite hypocritical.

    Anyways, bash me all you like. This is my opinion. I probably missed a few points that I want to say, but it is what it is.

    • Armand K. says:

      Most top shelf PC games cost $50. Not that big a difference, but it’s very rare to see $60 games. Otherwise, some valid points.

      • Kaizin514 says:

        Yea, I actually meant to correct myself on the pricing. I meant 75-25 in terms of more $50 dollar games, but my point still stands. $60 is becoming a standard, whether we like it or not. When it comes to a Blizzard game, I’ll spend the $60 for a superior product. But yea, most PC games will cost $50 and most expansions being around $30. It’s only the biggest names that end up being the higher prices (Any Blizzard game, BF3, CoD, Skyrim, to name a few).

  2. james says:

    bla bla bla you dont know shit so stfu and stop trying to write useless content.

  3. no says:

    You obviously didn’t think this through because it never occurred to you that you can make your $60 back with their game. Once you made back your $60 you can go ahead and make MORE money!

  4. Crymeariver says:

    You seem awfully butthurt about the fact that Blizzard offers players a way to make money (other than all those bloodsucking third party sites that ruined d2 with ohm runes and crap), and then expect them NOT to charge players to use a feature that pays cash out. No one is FORCING you to use the auction system. So you expect any company (not just Blizzard) to not charge for a service that allows players to legitimately make money using their IP…your obviously delusional. In fact, from everything Ive seen the only microtransactions in d3 are IF a player chooses to use the auction house to get personal gain (ie make real world coin for in game items).

    • no says:

      Exactly right, Crymeariver. I think what we REALLY should be asking/worried about is if players will even bother to trade items for in-game gold. Hopefully gold will have a much more vital role in Diablo 3 than the past games.

  5. orakga says:

    The idea that $60 should entitle you to the entire set of content provided by one game is… outdated. In the old days when a game was created/baked/sold as-is with no online or prolonged support, yes, having a fixed price made sense.

    However, that’s no longer the case.

    Believe it or not it does cost a hefty amount to maintain those servers. Perhaps not $15/month like many MMORPGs charge, but given the number of hours you’ll eventually spend on those D3 servers, $60 is already a steal IMO. So, for Blizzard to explore other venues to monetize on the more loyal users is perfectly fair IMO.

    I mean, which would you rather have: a $100 get-everything-you-want pricetag, or a $60 pricetag with the option to spend more if you CHOOSE TO?

  6. Chad M. says:

    I’m probably in the minority, but after getting burned by StarCraft 2 (Part 1???) I have to say Blizzard’s glory days are probably over. They’ll have to do a lot to get me to pay a $10 premium above other games- and on the PC, $50 is still the typical price point (since there’s no royalty to pay to Sony or MS).

  7. Gregg B says:

    I don’t see what the big deal is; if you don’t like the price of the game then don’t buy it or just hold off and pick it up cheaper somewhere else; if you don’t like the real-world money auction house then don’t use it.

    I can understand the arguments for keeping it online if it stops people from cheesing the auction house as well as keeping piracy in check. I can understand the auction house as a real-world cash cow as well, if money can be made from it then why the hell not? The same goes for the price tag. If people are willing to put their money down for such a price then that’s their prerogative.

  8. Nicholas says:

    One other thing worth keeping in mind here is this.

    Once trades can be made using real-world money with a cash-out arrangement, then some actions in the community (such as duping) move beyond a simple violation of a EULA/TOS – which may see you removed from the community – to real-world fraud issue.

    Then the authorities from a bunch of jurisdictions get involved and things get really ugly.

  9. John Doe says:

    This is a surprise? People weren’t aware of the fact that Activision Blizzard is a greedy POS who’s quality of product has greatly declined? World of Warcraft anybody?

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