Review: Diablo III Real Money Auction House Edition (** stars) Part 2

But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

1 Timothy 6

And man the evil in the whole Real Money Auction House is from the Devil himself amirite? The results of the Real Money Auction House, as we will see, speak for themselves. Foolish actions and a lack of foresight are the most obvious reactions that come to mind when actually seeing what it caused.

Someone, somewhere in Blizzard saw potential to make more money, or the potential to make more money. Diablo II’s biggest problem came not from imbalance but through its trading system. Seen by many Diablo purists (wrongly, I might add) as the central focus, trading allowed people to find gear suited for them. Considering gear with zero value to your class could drop, this gave people an incentive not only to group together (for additional loot drops), but for possible trades as well. This sounds all well and good until your realize that people can monetize this without Blizzard’s knowledge since people connected to game privately. Backroom deals could be made, websites could sell gold with multiple accounts, and gold farmers could grind favorable pieces of gear to sell them for REAL MONEY. That, in Blizzard’s eyes, reduced the value of the experience.

What does a post-World of WarCraft Blizzard think, though? They already monetized their game to the tune of 14.99 from many millions of people and turned into a multi-billion dollar company as a result; surely they could imagine a more lucrative way to make money off the obvious demand for trading? Enter the Real Money Auction House. Similar to World of WarCraft’s auction house (except for the added ability to use real money), the plan was to make money off people selling loot to each other for the price of gold. If you wanted to buy something, you either grinded out money or simply made a purchase. Blizzard got a cut, the seller got a cut, and everyone turns out happy. Right?

Unfortunately, Diablo III’s initial incarnation didn’t see the Real Money Auction House as a mere side addition; instead, the entire game is tuned with this in mind. Good loot almost never drops, since this would provide little incentive to use or spend money on the Auction House. You may never see a Legendary, Diablo III’s higher rewards, but with ten million people buying the game on release, somebody is bound to have one sitting on the Auction House. Normal difficulty seems tuned correctly, but go up to Nightmare and expect to grind levels just to remain competitive. Either you do that…or buy yourself some gear, instantly removing the grinding from the equation. An action role-playing game this is not! Think more a free-to-play mobile game with a wonderful AAA game disguise!

RMAH

You can imagine why people felt so dissatisfied by this system. The combat, indeed, felt good and worked well, but the whole loot-based wrapper no longer existed. You did not EARN the loot. Either you paid money to get it or you spent untold hours because of poor loot tuning – either one did not strike players as a worthwhile experience. Because of this, the Real Money Auction House eventually led to Diablo III’s infamy for having the fastest drop-out rate of online players for any game…well, ever! Consider that you must always be online, and the loss of 65% of all players in about 2-3 months is even MORE staggering!

The core of the whole experience is ruined via the Auction House, since you literally pay to win. Diablo is designed to be played multiple times on ascending difficulty curves, so to force players to grind for interminable hours or pay money rips the soul right out of Diablo. It only takes a few subtle problems to completely wreck a game, but Diablo III’s release really took the cake for worst design decisions ever. Imagine that, an exterior issue creates more problems than it solves (and the Real Money Auction H0use caused Blizzard to pay untold dollars in legal fees due to countries making those transactions illegal – ugh, what a mess).

So Diablo III’s initial incarnation, which happily no longer exists, turned a great many off to Diablo. That includes myself; I received it for free from my World of WarCraft subscription, and totally wanted to love it. The endless grind, though, ground me into submission. Why not just play something, ANYTHING else instead? Grinding for loot and paying to win do not remain exclusively as Blizzard’s domain. I can pay to experience accomplishment anywhere. Video games give you the opportunity to learn a system in its entirety while conquering it via your own knowledge, skill, and ingenuity. Diablo III’s revised Real Money Auction House design goes directly against the basis of the great majority of successful video game design, and in that respect it failed so utterly as to turn many off from Blizzard’s recent output entirely.

Did people perceive it as a money grab? Absolutely! And I really think that’s the reason why so many people saw their most beloved game, Diablo II, sullied by this newer version. Their nostalgia now seems ill-placed, and a once-great company (in their eyes) ruined one of the greatest games they’ve ever played. I can understand those feelings perfectly, time and distance having their way with any number of media products I consumed and enjoyed during my youth. The further bastardization of said franchises sometimes became too much to bear and you just needed to leave the new version alone…preferably forever!

So here it is, the epitome of a perfectly servicable game ruined by one design featured designed to make money. Unfortunate though it was, this problem would turn into an interesting new direction for the series, one that would bring it to my own preferences….

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.