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Is The Auction House In Diablo III A Feature Or A Crutch?
by Nick Halme on 08/22/12 04:17:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Two, three, four hours into Diablo III and you are off to a rolling start. Like any game with loot, your character is finding new gear - you're upgrading and improving. Cut to level sixty. Hours pass you by and you start to realize that the loot flowing from the broken bodies of your enemies is nonsense.

It seems like the Diablo III loot table is so effectively randomized that it's entirely possible for a player's entire end-game playtime to be saturated with entirely useless loot. While your first run through Diablo III is cinematic and exciting, the longtail on the experience is clearly meant to be a randomized grind. You play the campaign again and again not for the story or experience, but for the loot. You revisit specific boss encounters for the prizes.

The problem is that, for the average player without secondary magic-find gear, the majority if not all the loot you find is entirely useless. The auction house seems to exist not as a plus - not an intriguing marketplace as in World of Warcraft - but as a nexus, a loot aggregator.

It's as if it's quietly understood that your chances of finding good loot on your own, with which to progress through Inferno with, are close to nil. Your only hope is that the community as a whole will find and save the gear with stats that have been rolled appropriately so as to be considered useful or optimal by any of the game's classes. Rather than the auction house acting as a side project in economics, it seems to exist as a fundamental necessity for player progression for post-60 players in Inferno.

This seems like an odd take on RPG items and the concept of loot drops. In order for any item drop to be worth something there need to be a larger number of entirely useless items - junk - that drops alongside it. The issue here is that Diablo III seems to drop almost nothing but junk items.

One would think that Blizzard would cheat the system for the player - the idea being that a player who has spent a night gaming and has found nothing of worth is not a player who is going to be excited to come back and try again. At first, I expected some sort of drop bias based on my character - will Barbarian items have a larger chance to drop while I'm playing my Barbarian? (Nope.)

In a single-player context, this would make a lot of sense. And really, even while playing co-op, Diablo III is a single-player experience. There is none of the world and community of a World of Warcraft. Even when playing with others, the player feels very alone. The absolute randomness of the item drops, in this case, is perplexing.

When I was attending a one year program for game design one of my classes was Analog Game Theory. The end result of the class was to create a boardgame, and as a younger man my view of what constituted a solid game was very different from the views of my teacher.

I had taken the concept of chess - clearly defined and designed roles and interactions - and messed with them to create what was essentially a chess variant. The boardgames that most impressed the instructor, however, were games that were innovative and new if not entirely solid and timeless in their design. This reflected my view that if a game is to be updated, you should not tamper with its core. Make it look nicer, add new dependencies, but let it remain essentially the same - that's what made people like it in the first place. But as I get older, and my time becomes more scarce, I've come to believe that change is essential. In terms of loot drops, Diablo III is especially conservative - so much so that it feels indicative of another, older era.

These days I expect a game to impress me, but also to cater to me. I expected Diablo III to reward me with interesting items, but instead it harkens back to the days when good gear in a game is a status symbol for the young elite, pulling pizza-fueled all-nighters in accord with the byzantine systems of the game.

Instead, I feel like I've hit a brick wall. I have yet to finish the game on Inferno, and I feel like the game is not helping me - in fact I feel like it is broken because of this. Even grinding the first couple acts of Inferno is not nearly enough to produce the sort of gear required to complete the game. Instead all signs seem to point to the accumulation of gold in order to purchase the required gear from other players.

Rather than provide an stimulating economic side-game, the auction house seems instead to exist as a mechanism to correct for the fact that playing the game in and of itself is not enough to correctly gear a character. I can't shake the feeling that this is a heavy handed and perhaps entirely incorrect approach to creating an end-game that keeps players interested.

It may keep players unhappily running the treadmill in a fury to best a game that is fervent in denying them much help, but it is certainly not enticing and accessible to the general gaming public who want to simply play a game to its finish.

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Marcus Pettersson
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Not only is the junk that drops not weighted to be junk that is at least remotely usable by your character - it would indeed appear to be weighted away from your character class, so that whatever drops is usable to other characters other than your own. (Several hours of testing and putting down items in an Excel chart game some validity to this statement, but the sample pool is of course far too small for anything conclusive).

The most common loot items for me and my friends (playing a barbarian, a monk and a wizard) were demon hunter and witch doctor weapons (bows, crossbows, daggers, etc.). One can only assume that this is how it is (was/might be) because Blizzard wants:

A) their players to have several characters


B) to skim some of that free money off of every AH transaction (which of course relates to A above)

Or maybe I'm just being cynical :P

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You know, I strongly had that feeling but wondered if it was just a statistical fluke.

My initial friendlist was pretty much entirely Demon Hunters, and I'd estimate around half my loot was DH gear ( I was a Monk ). I actually thought that was pretty smart if they weighted your loot drops by stuff your friend can use.

Svein-Gunnar Johansen
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Drops weighted away from your character class would actually be a "good" idea from a Skinner-Box perspective. It would keep the subjects pushing the reward button for a longer time.

It would be increasingly frustrating, but the pushing would continue.

Adam Steele
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Just go read the Diablo III forums. Players there have already written up full detail post on AHIII and every other screw up they made. Actiblizz is so desperate to turn this failure around they are trying to make it look like they are improving when the RNG is still broken beyond disregard.

There is no cynical about this game. It's just plain corporate greed. Too think Jay Wilson takes pride in this shit.

Robert Boyd
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This article feels out-of-date given that they just did a huge patch yesterday that increases loot drop rates, improves the quality of high-end equipment, allows the player to permanently increase their Magic Find & Gold Find, and generally rebalances the game.

"but it is certainly not enticing and accessible to the general gaming public who want to simply play a game to its finish."

The general gaming public never gets to Inferno in the first place. The value might be different now but a few weeks after release, Blizzard announced that only 1.9% of players had even unlocked Inferno difficulty. For most players, beating the game on the default difficulty is "finishing" the game.

Adam Steele
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Like Nick wrote all you do is find more crap. So your gonna spend another 100 hours farming gold to buy items off the ah or maybe your'll one day find a new Legendary that is 30 levels below you. The Magic and gold find bonuses are their desperation to keep people interesting.

There is a reason that so many people are not going to get into Inferno. The game sucks. The game was a beta on release. The story is crap. Belial the greatest liar in the world. Completely see through as the emperor kid. Azmodan the greatest general in the hells. Tells you every single moves he makes. Wow. And seriously your bringing up the first mode. A 7 year old could defeat that game. I never had to dodge a single attack in "Normal" Mode or what most refer to it as "The Kindergarten Level".

This is not Diablo III is it an AH game design to rob idiots of their money. If this game didn't have the Diablo name behind it would of been a huge failure in sales as it was in game play.

Bravo to the art department at least for the painting style. However, no darkness hiding monsters. That was just stupid.

Scot White
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time vs money. blizzard offers both. and the recent patch finally make d3 fun again

Nick Halme
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@Robert Boyd

That's not entirely accurate. To be fair this article was written after a night with the "re-balanced" game. While loot drop rates have been increased, the result is that more junk drops. Where I'm taking issue is the sheer size and randomization of their loot table minimizing the player's chances of finding loot that they can use. Even increasing player levels (for the few who grind those levels) increases only the chance that loot appears. I imagine that's a statistical bump of some significance at the higher levels, but really it's not addressing the root problem.

That Inferno figure is interesting; I'd be curious to see how many people have unlocked Hell. Such a small number of players reaching the final difficulty level isn't necessarily indicative of players choosing to stop, but could also reflect just how many players are blocked from the higher difficulty levels (even Hell) by the intimidating amount of grinding and AH use that is required to gear oneself for anything past the Default difficulty.

I think the general gaming public is generally minimized - Diablo III is not a difficult game to actually play. It's very much something you could orchestrate with a beer in one hand. The thing that greases the wheels is gear, and the fact that it's so hard to get during one or two playthroughs may very well be what is stopping people who don't have that kind of time from continuing to play.

Gord Cooper
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One thing that I have found helps to detract from the massive issues with gear is having a solid group of even 2-5 other people that you regularly play with, and you maintain gear hunts for them, as well.

For instance, I play with my brother and a good friend, at a rate of about 2-3 hours, 3-4 times a week.

Our group has a Witch Doctor, Barbarian, Monk and a Demon Hunter.

On average, we're equipping new gear every couple days or so, due to the fact that we keep each other in mind when it comes to drops. We've played this way since launch, and we're all in Inferno/Act II currently.

With the new patch, the rolls of damage on gear in the upper iLvl range (60-63) has been bumped so that it maxes, effectively making the higher end gear more appetizing. Additionally, the prime stat on the gear has been tailored to the class the gear is designed for now, as well (Mojos have INT at the prime, as they were designed for Witch Doctor, whereas in the past, you might get a Mojo with DEX, for example).

The gear is definitely a little 'too' random so far, but if you're able to, multiplay helps to alleviate that. I've only recently found myself in the AH (~100 hours playtime now), to go hunting for 'Resist All' gear, as the elemental damage is REALLY jacked in Inferno.

The Le
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I am frustrated with the drop rate too. The Drops in D2 made so much more sense -- at level 40 you may find an item that you can't wear until level 25. In Diablo 3, at level 40 the best item you can find is onet aht can be worn at level 30. It's maddening.

I think this says it all too:

Adam Bishop
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"And really, even while playing co-op, Diablo III is a single-player experience. There is none of the world and community of a World of Warcraft. Even when playing with others, the player feels very alone."

This strikes me as a very odd statement. I've been playing the game on co-op with a friend, we use voice chat while we play, and the experience feels every bit as communal as any other multi-player game.

Nick Halme
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@Adam Bishop

What I mean is dropping into a co-op game in Diablo is very different from doing a PUG in WoW. Typing is kept to a minimum (what is there to say?) and you farm as you would otherwise. It's not set up to be your traditional multiplayer game, and to me it feels very much like playing alone together. Of course if you're playing with a friend, then you're playing with your friend.

Gian Dominguez
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The Auction House has also proven to be a big challenge. It adds a lot of power for players to trade and acquire items. Getting a great Monk drop that you can trade for better gear for your Wizard is obviously a great benefit, but it does come with a downside. The Auction House can short circuit the natural pace of item drops, making the game feel less rewarding for some players. This is a problem we recognize. At this point we're not sure of the exact way to fix it, but we’re discussing it constantly, and we believe it's a problem we can overcome.

At the very least the devs. knows its a problem. But probable not as big of a problem now especially after all the changes in 1.0.4

Remi Lavoie
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I think one of the biggest issue with the auction house (among many, many others), is that it takes you out of the game. I reminds you, "you are playing a game, you are not your character, you are someone playing a character". Which makes the actual game feel like a mini-game meant to collect items, to use in the main purpose of Diablo 3, selling items on the Auction House.
If the auction house, was in-game, some part of the story, like a merchant which happens to travel the world and bring you the best deals (which happen to be provided by other players), that would make more sense to me. It took me a very long time before I actually used the auction house, I much prefer upgrading my gear with items I find in-game, and this is largely because, that's how I think a normal dungeon-crawler game should work.

I used to play Diablo 2 with the same character for months, always progressing, and always finding better gear while playing, alone, and with friends. Now, you reach max lvl way too fast, and once you reach it, the game is terribly balanced, forcing you to use the auction house, or grind for insane amount of time (which most of us who use to play Diablo 2 as teens, dont have anymore as adults) for so little reward, because Inferno difficulty is way too punishing.
I tried it after the patch only to die about 15 times in a 1h play session at Inferno Act 2... I dont call that fun, even though we did find a few slightly better items.

Bernardo Del Castillo
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I wouldn't call the auction house a crutch, as much as a pulsating tuberous pustulent tumor in diablo's groin.
No but really, I concurr.

Joshua Sterns
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Is there even PVP yet?

Such a boring game after a few play throughs.

Steven Christian
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Played for 2 weeks and reached all acts of Inferno with help. But even in the last act, crap was still dropping several levels below my character.
Also, my character was unplayable with the lag and poor design (barbarians got 1shot even with full defence and resist gear).
The gold AH wasn't even out and gem auctions were frozen.
My friends and I all quit and never looked back.

We have since played Path of Exile and it is great; it's what D3 should have been and it's made by Kiwis :D