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The Psychological Considerations Of Diablo 3’s Real Money Auctions
by Taekwan Kim on 08/01/11 03:17:00 pm   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.


So by now, everyone’s heard about the auction thing that D3 is going to have, right? Personally, I am more or less ambivalent about the feature, and in some ways I think it will definitely contribute to the investment or replayability some players will experience by allowing them to indulge in the illusion that their game time has monetizable value (a crutch for those who feel that ludic engagement in and of itself doesn’t have enough worth).

This is both ingenious and devious—let’s face it, we’ve all experienced that feeling of guilt when we sink too much time in a game. Such a system alleviates said guilt and lets the player avoid facing the question of why they feel guilty about it in the first place. And this will hold true even if the player never actually engages with the auction system because the theoretical value is always there. (Remember Mr. Gordon’s comment about “gamers need to generate around $3 of in-game value per hour for themselves to stay entertained”?)

Is this the logical conclusion to socialization/gamification? That is, isn’t this what the whole externalization of in-game ludic rewards into “real world” accomplishments is all about? I think the most troubling aspect of this is that it feels like an unintentional capitulation to the idea that playing games is inherently a waste of time—mostly because there’s no money (or expressly monetizable skills) to be gained out of it (“you’re not going to make a living playing games!” etc.).

I mean, why do people buy gold to begin with? Because they can’t justify the time spent getting it themselves. Somehow, it feels less guilty (or at least, less frustrating) to spend real world money on a piece of intangible code than to spend the time getting it for free (which says a lot about our perception of the worth of games). It also reflects on the “fairness” of making some of these items well-nigh impossible to obtain at all. (Do designers have a social responsibility to reduce said impossibility? Etc.)

A more concrete concern here, however, is that this will adversely affect pickup multiplayer games and essentially make PvP a considerably unbalanced (unengageable) endeavor. The question that will be on everyone mind is, has the game now been reduced to “pay to win”? Even in a PvE game, it gets old pretty quick to join a party in which one person carries the entire team, reducing one’s role to that of a spectator or leecher.

Unfortunately, for some, even if the answer is no, all it takes is a small seed of doubt to destroy engagement—a problem exacerbated by the fact that Diablo-likes require such high amounts of time investment. Plus, even if you got all your items by yourself, there's no way to prove that, so the legitimacy of your efforts (or those of others) will always be in doubt. Again, we return to the question of the value of time spent in a game, and the thing that must be avoided is the player questioning his ability to control his own agency through effort and due diligence.

How the player experience in Diablo 3 will play out, then, will probably rest on how important player skill will be compared to items in determining player efficacy. If we have a situation like Guild Wars where the effect of items has been minimized (or egalitarianized) as much as possible, the impact on player investment will be less pronounced. However, this is a Diablo game we’re talking about here, so it’s hard to see that happening.

My concern is that Diablo 3 will be a more or less isolated and single player (or friends only) experience, where anyone can connect if they want to, but nobody actually does (except to buy and sell loot). Which is actually fine. That’s how I play Titan Quest; Torchlight is singleplayer only; and, unless I was power leveling, that’s basically how I played Diablo 2 as well. Loot selling just makes it so the de facto single player experience appears to be more “legitimate” (i.e. less onanistic) and to have more “value” (because it’s monetizable).

But a worst case scenario would be a sort of negative feedback loop of diminishing perceived worth for multiplayer games, fueled by the perceived value and impact on player efficacy of loot, which ends up choking the longevity of the game. This, however, is really a doomsday scenario which is unlikely to unfold. After all, Diablo 2 multi is still going relatively strong, and that game had/has serious devaluation with atrocious amounts of botting.

A final conversation topic: compare with EVE Online’s ISK/PLEX conversion. Discuss. (Mind, ISK to real world money is prohibited.)

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Taekwan Kim
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Edit: it seems the comment to which this was a reply has been removed.

That's a very interesting perspective Mr. Weber, but I'm not entirely sure that allowing one to pay so one can keep up (alluded to by the phrase "pay to win") will actually solve that situation. Might I suggest (perhaps unfairly and rather cynically) that the difficulty in this case is really a problem of power dynamics between friends?

Say you do go ahead and purchase items from the auction house. Will you then be able to reveal that you did so to your friend without him feeling that his own time investment has been cheapened? Also, might there not be a perpetual cloud of doubt which lingers over the cooperative experience when either one of you begins to wonder where all those items are coming from? I only say this because, from your statement, it seems you feel an inequality with regards to the results of your own time investment. If there is already a loot race between the two of you (conscious or no), will this auction house system actually alleviate the tension? Might not this have the effect of inflating said perceived inequality and competitiveness? (Man, that sounds a lot more dire than I mean it to. Nobody takes it that seriously, or doubts their friends that much, right?)

That said, I think the situation you describe is actually pretty common. I can attest to a similar situation I have with a friend of mine--except I'm always on the opposite side. It seems I'm always simply more enthused than my friend is, so I'm forever outpacing him in whatever multiplayer game we decide to pick up (Diablo 2, Titan Quest, Guild Wars, you name it). And the more enthused I am, the less enthused he becomes. This seems odd to me because much of my enthusiasm is really about providing items for the both of us to use--setting us up so we can be on equal footing for our next session. It's a sort of cognitive trick that increases my own investment by making farming feel like an altruistic endeavor. This, of course, would be significantly lessened if my friend just bought everything he wanted.

Investment in a game is a tricky, bizarre thing. The less we have to invest to get to where we want to go, the less value it seems to have. "Fairness", then, really depends on your perspective. To those with less time, it seems unfair that those with more can play so much better. But conversely, those who do spend time will be dismayed with their efforts are outpaced by those willing to sidestep the requisite time. So the question becomes which is more egalitarian as a route of advancement? Time or money? (That sounds like a false dichotomy.) And I'm not sure that the retort "look people can just buy that stuff illegitimately anyway" is an honest appraisal of the situation. (There's a world of difference between seedy, dubious third party purchases and in-game, designer sanctioned transactions.)

Over-analyzing aside, though, I think you're probably right in that this will be a service which promotes coop between friends of disparate time allowances. Still, it's hard to dismiss the feeling of disenfranchisement in the face of agency that can simply be bought.

Martain Chandler
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I can attest among friends anything goes. They may razz you about paying to play but that's the worst I've seen. You only hate rich bastards you don't personally know.

What I'm concerned about is the future sketched in For the Win by Cory Doctow.

Let's say the D3 auction house is a runaway success. Let's also postulate that Blizzard lures quite a few WoW players to D3. What happens when Blizzard's income from the auction house eclipses their software and subscription sales?

Can you imagine the incredible pressure on the developers to stock the game with rare items to make Wall Street happy? I shudder at the thought.

Jonathon Walsh
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There's a big difference between what we commonly think of as Pay 2 Win and this. In a traditional Pay 2 Win environment players are paying to bring advantages into the game. If you are looking at player vs system (sum of all other player's and the game itself), then the more money spent on the game the more disadvantages there are for someone not paying. It'll either be gear disparity, lack of buffs, or the devs balancing around people who pay. In either event the non-paying player faces increased disadvantages because of people Paying 2 Win.

In Diablo 3 we have a different system. People don't pay real money to create advantages for themselves. They're paying real money to redistribute advantages. Every item that someone buys for real money is taking that item from another player. If there were no real money transactions then nothing would change. A player who wouldn't pay real money is in the same boat with or without the real money transactions. They have the exact same disadvantage when looking at player vs system. The only difference is going to be how that disadvantage is distributed. Real money auction house might consolidate some of the items on to fewer players, but all that does is mean that rather than a lot of people having a small advantage there will be less players with more of an advantage. Overall though nothing really changed in the advantages people have, it's just been redistributed based on real money.

If anything this lessens the disadvantage. Increased incentive to farm means that deflation in D3 will occur more rapidly and the higher visibility on items being sold will also drive prices down.

Martain Chandler
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I understand what you're saying and I wish you luck. However, for this pretend I'm Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park lecturing you about chaos theory and unintended consequences. So... er... be careful.

I'll be watching how this unfolds with great interest.

Taekwan Kim
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Mr. Walsh, very good points. It's definitely true that we're talking about a more or less closed system here, and it's not like there's going to be an inexhaustible supply of high-end items for people to buy at all times (this occurred to me as well while I was posting my reply to Mr. Weber).

However, player perception is still something to consider. As long as there is a _perception_ that players are paying to win, even if this is inaccurate and unfair, it may still adversely impact player investment. It's also important to note that D3 will have PvP, so the problem will be much more pronounced in that area.

Another consideration, though, is just how elite elite items will be. Most F2P games (at least, Western ones) will at least attempt to have some sort of balance, or minimize the impact, of purchasable goods so as to mitigate the damage to player perception and experience (some will simply only provide purely cosmetic items to avoid the problem entirely). In this case, though, there doesn't seem to be a limit to what can be sold.

If you could, for instance, legitimately buy a Windforce in Diablo 2, that'd be pretty darn close to pay to win considering how much it outclasses every other bow in the game. And it's extreme rarity (most players will never see it or even know of someone who has successfully farmed it) means that simply buying it (assuming one can, which again brings up the closed system caveat) provides a real and serious advantage over obtaining it for oneself by farming or item trading as, realistically speaking, it practically isn't possible to farm/trade for it by oneself.

The only thing, then, is how a player defines for himself what it means to "win". If that's being the absolutely most ridiculous and overpowered character that's possible, then buying a Windforce is quite literally paying to win. If it's being able to compete against other players in a PvP setting, the opportunity to obtain items you normally wouldn't be able to due to time restrictions is paying to win (even if it doesn't actually result in wins). But if your goal is simply to have fun and be relatively effective in a non-competitive or parallel setting, then it's not such a big deal.

EnDian Neo
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Thy reasoning, methinks, is flawed. No. of items dropped is proportional to play time. There IS potentially an inexhaustible supply of high-end items (over time).

I think case studies from WoW gear-trading and players paying to be run through raids are close parallels to D3's auction system. Paying game-gold (bought for with cash) is equivalent to paying cash to see content/get gear, so why not get a cut of the action?

There are 2 issues that any developer should consider:

1. How do I maintain player immersion in the game's mythos? At least some players play for story, so having real world currencies in a fantasy world can be a jarring experience.

2. Not to alienate casual play (by having most of the exciting action occur at the AH). Most casual play I observed follows a certain pattern: login, complete a small section of the game (an instance run, a few battlegrounds, some quests), logout. So long as that iteration of the loop is compulsive, a developer can maintain a critical mass of players to entice a small minority to part with real world cash to keep up/get ahead of the pack.

My "solution" is to make the AH as unobtrusive as possible, someplace that a player has to work (slightly) to get to, then he can set it as his town portal spot.... or something. Out of sight, out of mind I guess?

Taekwan Kim
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Potentially, yes. Practically, no. At least, not for items like Windforce. Demand much, much, much higher than supply and all that.

Alex Leighton
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I'm definately not big on this, at all. A game world should be a place where everyone is on equal ground at the outset, where real world economic status shouldn't be a factor in your success. In my opinion, allowing in game items to be bought with real money is cheating, just as surely as it would be if you purchase extra queens during a chess tournament. Sure, you can get another queen by getting a pawn to the other side of the board, but now we have a poor chess master being beaten by a rich kid who's never played chess before. How that can seem right to anyone I just don't know.

As well, there's no doubt that we'll see item farmers who do nothing but farm rare items, which will saturate the market and kill the value. This will simply defeat the purpose of allowing people to get some extra value from their time playing, because their hard earned items will be almost worthless. There's no way for any regular person (who are the people this is trying to benefit) to compete with some Chinese prisoner who plays 14 hours a day.

Darren Tomlyn
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This was, IMO, inevitable, given how Blizzard's 'RPG's' - (Diablo 3 is sounding like an 'RPG' in name only, unfortunately - no user-defined character development from what I hear) - happen to function - i.e. turning from character-based to gear-based during play. 'Gear-based' within these games, because of how Blizzard designs them, means one thing - they become a competition, (competing to be told a story - (be given some loot you need/that you can exchange for what you need) - i.e. whether you win/lose)).

Since the whole point about the design of these games is to give value to the reward/goal/outcome, (loot), instead of the process by which it is competed for, (after the basic process has already been explored), it is no surprise that people have been willing to pay with real-life money for such things. As such, making it official was inevitable for Blizzard at some point. But this is ONLY possible because it ceases to BE a game at that point - the written story of the player becomes secondary to the story told by the game itself.

In other words - as far as GAMES are concerned - this is BAD design.

Michael Joseph
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Wow. If i were Blizzard I wouldn't want to hear people saying this sort of thing.... but I think you're spot on.

It makes perfect sense though when non traditional monetization strategies start to pervade game design.

Darren Tomlyn
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I don't think Blizzard really care what I think - it's obvious they know exactly what they want and what they are doing.

Unfortunately for me, they are moving further away from what I'm looking for and want in a game myself, which is why I doubt I'll be bothering with Diablo 3.

The only real question mark I have, (and this doesn't just affect Blizzard) is just how interested they truly are in making 'games' anymore, assuming they still remember/know what they actually are...? :p

Daniel Hearn
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Pay 2 win has no argument in this in my opinion. Look at d2; people use "D2Jsp" or other sites to buy items for the game, you have people who are decked, and i mean fuckin beefed up to no extent cause of their pay to win game style. Sure you can run 7 other people in hell baal without losing any life and killing everything with spinning hammers, but when its brought into pvp, a legitimate player with decent self earned and traded gear vs someone who just bought everything with money, it comes down to class, skills, strats. Gear is a medium factor into pvp. I have a blizz sorc with elite uniques not hard to come by with some dedicated farming, I kill "Godly" paladins because I can lure them into my skills and cause them to kill themselves. They then rage and ask for me to show my gear, which I do and they show theirs, the stat differences are huge with me at a disadvantage, but my skill makes up for my lack of gear. The same thing can be related to WoW where people farm their asses off for those godly items,

Ex. WoWTBC tier 6, vs season 1-2 chars. The people who invest time into pvp and those who invest time into pve will have a huge difference in skill when it comes down to dueling.

Blizzard is trying to prevent the mistakes of D2 online trading and buying, while also diminishing farm bots to make this game legitimate and safe, and above all else, "Fair". There will be little pressure on the devs to make shit tons of new items because of a thing called "Drop rates". With no bots at all, this makes farming twice as hard. Also pay 2 win is a myth of fear... You don't start out buying items, you find them, put them on auction for some real life cash, you can then use that without needed a job to buy items from others creating an equal balance of play while still holding a competitive edge. This idea is pure genius!

(Ex of pay 2 win being NULL). GUY 1 with no income starts the game, he puts an average amount of time into the game, when suddenly due to "Luck" aka "Drop Chance" he gets a elite unique and doesn't need it. He goes to the action house and puts it up for 10$. GUY 2 has a job and money to throw around, he spots GUY 1's item that he has been searching for and buys from him. GUY 1 now has cash to spend on other Items without any income other then playing this game.)

David Paris
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As long as items are tradeable, then a secondary market _will_ exist. I'd much rather see Blizzard get a cut of that market, and provide in game security to make sure transaction occur safely, than to just leave it wild and woolly on the fringes.

EVE tries to control/get involved with this secondary market through the use of plexes, but there's a huge side market of ISK / supercapitals / high chars / etc .. that occurs beyond that. They would have been better off wresting early control of that market as well.

As for whether or not D3 will be impaired by it. The question is largely whether you can be competive without having to resort to purchased items. If not, then D3 will suffer hugely. If you can (and the purchases merely leverage high money low skill or low time players into being effective) then there is no negative impact on the main function of the game.

Joshua George
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I totally agree. As long as trades exist, there will be a side market. But who wants to go through the trouble of that when there exists a market in game?

Tony Nguyen
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Hi All,

I think if you really want to talk about player psychology then you can't end up blaming this new system for the habits already formed in the virtual goods black market. Where's the talk about player demand in all of this? If players didn't want to engage in the virtual loot craze then it wouldn't be an issue.

You can call it a symptom of bad game design, everyone has their opinion of this and certainly if you went the Guild Wars route, this wouldn't be an issue either. The real problem is that a lot of people like this system right now and until the demand moves away from this kind of game play mechanic (gear based, whatever you want to call it) it will continue to be a problem.

Blizzard has simply decided to cash in on it and try to control and regulate it vs. fighting a "War on Black Market Virtual Currency/Goods Selling". They created this gear-based game play mechanic before there was a black market for it, not because of it.

People often vote with their dollars. No one is going to force you to play Diablo 3 (well...maybe your buddies!), but certainly no one can force you to buy virtual goods. It's your own decision, take responsibility for yourself.

Taekwan Kim
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Mr. Nguyen, personally, I don't concur that this is bad design at all (indeed, I am leaning towards it being rather good). I wouldn't even argue against the merits of legitimizing, and therefore establishing regulation, over real money trading. But it's dishonest to say (not that you said it) that there isn't a real psychological barrier to black market purchases (not to mention the obvious security risks) that makes it entirely different from in-game, sanctioned and facilitated operations that are easily accessible.

The point of that being, isn't it somewhat incongruous to note there is significant demand for black market goods, and yet claim that players should take responsibility for their actions? By that logic, people should refrain from taking security risks or disrupting the game's economy with these purchases in the first place. No one _has_ to buy black market goods either, right?

And yet, clearly they do. If we accept that RMTs are now so commonplace that nobody thinks twice about it, why would players think twice about using the auction, too? That is to say, there is really no longer any stigma attached to that. And considering how much higher the psychological barrier to black market purchases is compared to in-game, legitimate transactions...

Really though, I'm not saying this will necessarily destroy player investment (to quote myself from the post, "in some ways I think it will definitely contribute to investment or replayability"). We simply can't know as of now. Once again, the issue here is player perception of fairness. And once again, anything we can say at this point is really just speculative because we simply don't know how rare items will be, or how much they will impact a player's efficacy compared to his skills, or how much most players will even care that someone else has better gear than them (I'm guessing most of us actually probably won't).

But what we can say, and indeed what was the primary point of this post, is how little players seem to value time spent playing a game, and how much in a hurry they are to skip all the content, or how much they feel the need to get some sort of "real world" consequence out of their time. (Of course, that's an unfair portrayal for players like Mr. Weber who simply don't have the time but would rather they did.) That's really the most dismaying thing about this whole affair--that a demand exists at all, and how easy it is for us to succumb to it. C'est la vie, I suppose.

Martain Chandler
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Excellent points. What does it say about a game's design when greedy/profit-driven/rich players want to play the game more then people who enjoy the content? (Not that I'm saying any particular play style is good or bad.)

It's a giant can of interesting worms which Bliz has opened!

Tony Nguyen
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Hi Taekwan,

Thanks for the thoughtful response. I should clarify that what I meant by "take responsibility" was that whether one decides to purchase black market goods or participate in a legitimate system that either way they make that choice. I wasn't condoning one system over the other and I didn't mean to say that everyone should do the "right" thing.

All systems can be exploited and it is the personal psychology of each player that dictates whether or not they will do so. I only ask that people own their decisions and not pass blame onto other people, whatever it is they choose to do.

The virtual Axe of Ten Thousand Howling Wolves could mean a lot to a person or it could mean absolutely nothing. Same thing with designer jeans.

In the end, I agree - that's life.

Darren Tomlyn
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Of course it's bad design, if they want to make a GAME. If they wanted a competition, (which is what they have), then why bother with a game at all? (Certain facebook programs do that, yet are still called 'games' (which they're not)).

Games are not competitions, but merely competitive activities, (as are puzzles). Games and competitions represent different applications of incompatible behaviour, therefore such an addition always happens at the expense of the game itself.

If people really can't recognise the difference between things people DO for themselves, things that people DO for others, and things that happen TO people, then they've got problems.

Unfortunately, that is exactly the problem everyone seems to have.

Games are about people (the players) competing in a structured environment by DOING something for THEMSELVES - (writing their OWN stories). People creating and designing games are therefore doing so to enable such behaviour.

Telling a story TO the player (within whatever setting it is taking place in), is not what games are defined by. Any story that is told to the player, must therefore directly enable a story to be written, or it has no place in a game itself. If the story told becomes more important than the written story, especially if the written story also diminishes in importance, then it's no longer a game at all, but a competition - people are now competing to be TOLD a story, rather than competing BY writing their own.

Taekwan Kim
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Mr. Tomlyn, I appreciate the time you’ve taken to comment here. Let me try to do justice with a considered reply. I think I’m going to come off rather aggressive here, but please understand that I am simply expressing some strongly held opinions, just as you yourself have done. Here goes.

Firstly, I have to say I’m not sure I’m fully getting your point of view. If anything, these real money auctions are going to let players get the item they want without having to "compete to be told it" (as you termed it, which I admit I'm not really grasping either). They're going to reduce the in-game activity required to earn the agency a player wants so that he can actually get to the task of telling his own "stories”. ("Story" and "narrative" are such loaded and ambiguous terms here—it's simpler and perhaps more accurate to just say "agential goal". But let’s just go with those terms for the sake of argument.) There's more to these auctions than that, of course, but again, let's just go with that for now, too.

This is getting progressively off-topic, but let me try to reason with your viewpoint. You say games are purely about players telling their own stories. This, however, is an impossibility because they must necessarily rely on the tools provided by a game to shape any sort of narrative within it.

Which is to say, there is no such thing as a game narrative that is fully written by the player—that's not playing a game, that's telling a story. And that's the whole point of games as a medium—it's a two sided dialogue which doesn't take form until the moment of _interaction_. The "narrative" of a gameplay session neither comes fully from the designers, nor does it come solely from the player. They’re really about telling as close to the story the player wishes as can be conceived and achieved within the contours of a game, which automatically makes it a competition against the restrictions of a game (more on that at the end). A competition between stories, if you will, which doesn't always have to favor the player's version. Indeed, some of the most profound experiences in gameplay arise _because_ they explicitly deny the player's intentions.

(Here, we can see why "narrative" used in this way is an ambiguous term: it makes it difficult to distinguish between the narrative and ludic contents, because there's "narrative" in gameplay, too. It makes it too easy to cherry pick when the story proper is the only part of the narrative or when the gameplay is the only aspect that counts.)

Even simulations (that is, one-sided dictations) have parameters from which they must begin and conform to, and no player can ignore the obstacles and restrictions imposed by a game in the pursuit of his agenda unless he either cheats or changes the code to fit his needs—at which point he ceases to play the game, but merely pumps it for content. And we can see here exactly why the nature of gameplay is dialectical: the moment a player has unrestricted agency, the moment he stops telling his own story but instead sails along simply to see where the game is going.

Perhaps that is exactly your point? That offering the ability to buy agency is the same as cheating? But I would point to my discussion above with Mr. Walsh: these real money auctions are _not_ offering unlimited agency. And it would be disingenuous to say that there's no gameplay to be found in commodity trading in and of itself. After all, entire games are based on exactly that. Can we deny all the stories that come out of EVE Online? You can definitely buy agency (ISK) in that game. And still, all the ISK in the world doesn’t matter if your character doesn’t have the training necessary to use what that ISK can buy. Which will be the same here in D3 in terms of level and class restrictions, not to mention item availability in the first place—or, indeed, player skill.

Or perhaps you are saying that agency in games should be solely based on player skill alone (at least, that's what I'm getting from your admonishment of gear-based mechanics)? I would like to introduce you, then, to RPG Codex, a rather intensely dedicated community where a long running contention is that RPG's should never (or rarely) have player skill based challenges because that ceases to be roleplay any longer—that the success of a ludic challenge in an RPG should always be determined by the character's (or avatar's) attributes because the player shouldn't be able to solve a highly difficulty logic puzzle with an Intelligence 2 character. That is to say, these gameplay mechanics, too, rely on in-game abstractions that need to be earned that have nothing to do with the player’s inherent skillset beyond having earned/selected them.

Or maybe you are saying that these games are intrinsically about the player simply waiting around until he gets the item he wants before he is able to move to the next section of content. But, as other commenters have already noted, not only is that untrue, but, since loot drops are a matter of chance, such a game would be unbalanced and indeed be of poor design—they need to let player skill compensate to a reasonable degree. Items matter, and they matter increasing at the highest end game content (Uber Tristram in D2, for example), but the vast majority of players don't need to access that content to "tell the story they want". Regular loot drops serve them just fine.

And those that do, well, the process of earning the gear to be able to access that content is a huge part of the “story” they want to tell. It takes knowledge and long term planning, time and resource management to position oneself to be able to farm for end game content. Those are player skills if ever there were any (patience is a skill too). And about process orientation—I _enjoy_ grinding for high end gear, believe it or not, because the bosses you need to farm for that are challenging and engaging in their own right. It doesn’t matter if I never get the item I’m looking for, I’m simply interested in how far I can go. And that’s pretty darn process oriented if you ask me.

Lastly, it seems unreasonable to me to say that games are not competitions. The simple fact that games are interactive works of active resistance (as opposed to the passive “interactivity” of browsing a DVD menu) means that games are competitions—such interactivity by necessity requires two parties in opposition. And a puzzle is not a game unless you attach a consequence to failure (which often games do that employ them), at which point the puzzle and its designer become the opposition. We might perceive it as a game because so many of us approach puzzles with the notion that if we can't solve them, that would prove that somehow we are stupid or inferior human beings (the story we want to tell is that we're smart). But a puzzle alone is no more a game than, for instance, solve for x where x + 2 = 4. It doesn’t really matter if you can’t figure it out. In a game, if you can’t figure it out, that probably means you won’t be able to tell the story you want. So these are clearly two different animals which can’t be placed in the same category (unless, again, one approaches a puzzle as an opposition to—that is, competition against—one's intelligence).

I hope I was able to challenge some of your thinking here—but I certainly don’t mean any offense by what I’ve written. I'm sorry this was so ridiculously long; you brought up a lot of points to respond to, for which I am grateful.

Darren Tomlyn
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I'm afraid that everything you've posted is based on a subjective interpretation of what I wrote that is fully and completely inconsistent with what I actually wrote.

The reason for that is simple - the foundation of my reply is not information you currently have, (though can be logically worked out from my post fairly simply).

If you want the long, detailed explanation, then I suggest you read my blog - (click my name) - apologies for not suggesting that before, though I assumed all the relevant information, as I said, could be seen in what I posted - apologies if it wasn't.

I can, however, give a quick explanation here as to why everything you posted above is wrong - built on an inconsistent perception of the some words in the English language, (and more, ultimately), based on how it is used, especially how I happened to use it in my post above.

The definition of the word story, upon which your post is entirely based, is wrong.

From that you then infer that story=narrative, which is also wrong, and everything goes downhill from there, as you perceive everything I wrote in a manner that is extremely inconsistent.

So lets replace the foundation - as I said, for a detailed explanation of why this is correct - read my blog:

Story: An arrangement or form of information, (an intangible thing), about a series of events, either real or imaginary, (created and stored inside (a person's) memory).

The word story is treated as a thing in the language - independently of the words tell OR write. The word story is NOT used in a manner as representing an activity, (which people/entities take part in), which is the ONLY other option available as a noun, since it is not used as, derived or related directly to or from any verb or adjective.

So what is the thing the word story represents, and how and where does/can it exist? See the definition given above.

The words narrate, narrative, narration and narrator, are all APPLICATIONS of this thing we call a story:

Narrate: to tell a story/tell the story of...

Narrative: n. A story that has been or is being told. adj. of the telling of stories - the property of telling a story/a story being told.

Narration: The telling of a story/the act of telling a story

Narrator: One who tells/has told/is intended to tell stories or tells/told the story of...

Things people do for themselves = writing their own stories

Things people do for others = telling stories

Things that happen to people = stories they are told

Game: n. An activity in which people compete in a structured environment by writing their own stories.

Competition: n. 1. (As a direct application of compete) The state of trying to gain an outcome/goal (story) at the expense of/in spite of someone or something else. 2. (The competition) That which is being competed against. 3.* (A competition). A (usually structured) activity in which people compete to be told a story.

*Although all activities that are competitive can be called competitions, the use of the word to represent such things in general - (except involving that which is being competed for, (a cup competition etc.) which is consistent with 1) - is NOT common. The use of A competition/competitions are usually far more precise, and consistent with 3 above - (band/talent competitions/lotteries/raffles etc.). It is this use and associated definition which is consistent with the behaviour Blizzard's Diablo series enables and promotes from it's players.

(For reference:) Puzzle: n. 1) Interacting with creative stories being told, through power of choice, discovery or inquiry. 2) Interacting with stories being told in order to solve a problem.

These definitions are the foundation of my post above - I suggest you read it again, now. Such words, however, are merely symptoms of a deeper problem within and for the English language itself. I've explained the problem in my blog in relation to such words, though I'll be recapping/describing the basics of such problems in a more complete manner in a later post. (After I've finished the post on art).

Cai Wingfield
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Taekwan, whether or not Darren considers this a worthy reply to his post, I found it a fascinating read and felt it really expanded on a few points I was hoping to read in your original post.

I have an ill-formed thought on this topic, I wonder what you think.

I know games as a medium can't really be said to have a "fourth wall" because the player and their relationship to the game world is necessarily inseparable from the content of the game. However, I feel there is an analogue. Perhaps a kind of "fifth wall". (This is, I'm sure, a concept well-explored in games criticism I have not yet read.) One thing I enjoy most about immersive games is that they include me in a world in which I may explore, overcome adversity and tell stories. Not all games do this, for example I wouldn't say this of Starcraft 2; but for me D2 was a terrific example of an immersive game which I, like you, played solo or with friends only.

I'm not going to say that an auction house in D3 per se would interfere with ludic or narrative systems (I hope I use these technical terms appropriately), but what will bother me is that the proposed auction house will serve as an unwanted portal or functor from a piece of the outside world into the game over which I have no control but which also doesn't exist within the fictitious systems of the game.

Whenever I get sweet loot in game I will have at the back of my mind that I *could* have got it by paying real money instead of spending time and effort playing the game on its own terms, as I am encouraged to do and as I enjoy doing. This is a point you've already made. For me this will severely cheapen the experience. In D2 when I got a unique item I was elated — in the fiction (and mechanics) of the game, "unique" meant special. Whatever I did with this item was important. I held a treasure I could either use or trade with someone who would find it more precious. This was an aspect of the mechanics of D2 which, for me, tied perfectly into the narratives I could create for my character.

In D3, a unique item will not be nearly as special, at least for me. In places accessible to my character will be many other copies of it, probably better than the one I hold, and people who IRL are richer than I will pluck these for their characters without a second thought whereas I must sit and consider my account balance before allowing my character to progress with the same in-game ease. Were the auction house in-game only, I would be on a level playing-field with others. If someone else could afford that equipment that I could not, it would be as a reward for more time invested in the game I too was enjoying, rather than because they were wealthy and I was poor.

In short, the fourth (fifth?) wall is broken by this chunk of the outside grafted into the game world and my experience is cheapened by the constant reminder that the game's economy is linked with other systems which I have no access to. My stories cannot account for this.

Perhaps this seems a petty complaint — can't I just enjoy my game and ignore how other people are playing theirs? What a sense of entitlement I seem to have, can't I just get over myself? ;) Well, perhaps. But I wonder if I am alone in having these thoughts.

Darren Tomlyn
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This happens because of the relationship between the loot/rewards and the game in the first place. The loot in these games are not part of what defines them as a game - they do not enable the game itself, merely promote it.

Because the emphasis is placed on such loot, however, the line between promoting and enabling the game becomes blurred, which causes problems, and ends up turning it into a competition. As soon as it ceases to be a game, nothing else matters, because it's no longer about the players at all - but the game itself (on behalf of its creators).

Yes, as you say, taking it beyond the setting itself is also a problem with this system, but because of how the program works, as I said, it was inevitable, since being a competition promotes such behaviour anyway...

A lot of problems with games today stem from one simple fact - people either don't know and understand what games are, and so don't fully understand what they should be creating, or they don't care... (I don't feel Blizzard really cares now).

Taekwan Kim
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Mr. Wingfield, I’m very glad you found this fascinating, and I hope I can contribute further to your not at all ill-formed thoughts.

See, that's the great thing about games (at least, this is my understanding): it's about an honest exchange or trade of blows, and sometimes players will impose further restrictions on themselves to make it feel even more honest. And this goes hand in hand with the urge to optimize--we want to maximize our efficacy as much as possible through our own efforts.

If I'm playing Dragon Age: Awakening, I’ll solo Nightmare without consumables. If I'm playing Dungeon Siege 3, I'll play it Hardcore and reload even lengthy bossfights if I go down because resuscitation feels cheap. If I'm playing Left4Dead 2 campaign, I'll play it Expert Realism with two bots and a friend. That's a whole slew of really unnecessary and (some would say extreme) self-imposed restrictions to which I have a compulsive attachment. And the reason is really simple without even having to bring in much immersion (though that certainly plays a role): I want to see if my strategies and efforts pay off at the highest difficulties or I'm not improving my game at all, which reduces its meaningfulness and value. In this way, games become about self-improvement more than anything else, which is the easiest thing to invest in (or “immerse” in).

I know Mr. Tomlyn disagrees with this idea of opposing parties, and that's fine. But if I were to try to explain this feeling of cheapening, I would say this: that honesty, self-improvement, and optimization all feel threatened when one is trying to do his all but his opponent doesn't seem to be reciprocating. If the other side gives it up too easily (or intimates that he will), then what's the point of trying? Where is the improvement? What strategies am I putting to the test? It's like playing basketball (or, if you would prefer, Street Fighter, or CounterStrike, or what have you) with someone far above your skill level, but then they decide to condescend to you so it's not entirely one-sided. That can feel like a personal insult, even if they're just trying to make the game interesting.

So when we impose our own personal restrictions, that's because we need the opponent to provide that much more resistance. I think the problem, then, is when we feel like our ability to impose these restrictions is being impinged upon. And the ability to impose these restrictions has to do with our ability to filter out (or "suspend disbelief" in) the fact that they don’t actually exist. (This is something I referred to rather nebulously as “ludic immersion”, compared to “narrative immersion”, in a previous post—hopefully a useful conceptual distinction, and what I believe you are referring to as the fifth-ish wall.)

I would also say this about the auction house: sure someone else can buy a high end item whereas I have to toil for it, but that also means that items I obtain personally have even more added agency because these people are willing to pay for it. It makes it so that the agency concentrated within a single item is much more liquid and redistributable (especially compared to D2 where trade was a strictly barter based system). That sounds pretty exciting to me, but I know that it will break ludic immersion for many others in the same way that respec does. Because permanent skill selection and having to farm all your items are personal (in every sense of that word) rules, too. Well, that's my interpretation anyway.

Darren Tomlyn
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"See, that's the great thing about games (at least, this is my understanding): it's about an honest exchange or trade of blows, and sometimes players will impose further restrictions on themselves to make it feel even more honest."

Here is where you, and many, many others involved in creating games, cause problems.

The reason for this is simple:

What you are talking about is NOT the foundation of what games ARE. Competition - the act/state of competing, which is what you're talking about, even in a created environment - (rules and/or setting) - is not what the word game represents in itself.


Because competition and a structured environment are merely the APPLICATIONS of, for and to the behaviour the word game ultimately represents. Without the behaviour itself, they're not a game at all - indeed, without ANY additional behaviour, they're almost meaningless.

Depending ON the behaviour they are applied to, such elements can also be used to enable both competitions and/or puzzles for example, in addition to games. And BECAUSE of the basic behaviour itself these words represent applications of, they are not always compatible, if at all.

(I still recommend you read my blog first - it explains all this in a bit more detail).

There are 'three' basic games:

A race

Structured combat

Competitive throwing/movement for accuracy/precision, distance/duration.

None of these are defined by the reward gained for winning such an activity - they don't even need to end in order to exist - winning does not even have to be possible.

Games represent the process of competing by writing our own stories in a structured environment.

What people compete FOR, or why, doesn't matter at all, and has no bearing on it being a game whatsoever. In fact, if it replaces the written story, then it ceases to be a game.

Jonathan Heaton
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I think a simple solution to the issue of someones accomplishments or finds being cheapened (perceived) due to the ability to use real world currencies to purchase items is by simply adding a small annotation to the item. If you find an item then a small annotation could be added along the lines of Discovered By:XXX or Collected By: XXX and if the item was bought then indicate it as such Purchased at Auction House. That way a person who has found those items can show off that they have and those that purchase items can't promote themselves as being this epic loot finder. I know that with some items it will be impossible to do this: gold, gems (if they are socketed), runes, etc. but when it comes down to the big ticket items: weapons, armor, characters even a person can be proud to know and show off that they earned those items through gameplay and not by buying it. I have always felt that people who want to use real world currency to buy in game items should be able to because some folks have more money then time and vice versa. Those who are more casual gamers that work steady jobs and don't have the time to grind through levels and farm for valuable items will be and have been at a disadvantage to those that have more free time to play these types of games. The disadvantage comes from the small percentage of a specific items drop rate coupled with the amount of time it would take to raise the gold to purchase said item leaves the more casual player at a point of never being able to get a piece of gear that they want. This can also lead to exclusion from the game's community if a certain gear set is perceived to be the most optimal option for a specific build type or area. I have witnessed firsthand individuals being denied access to a party for having gear viewed as subpar. This type of elitist exclusion could be lessened by having the auction house to obtain gear from, because there is nothing a developer can do to make people within their community be more accepting of individuals who don't have the setup that some groups may require. The auction house to me is a great way of incorporating microtransactions into a game that as far I can tell at this time will be free to play. It does cost money to run servers and with D3 being an online only game they are going to need quite a few to accomodate their customer base. I for one rather pay towards a microtransaction that gives some type of benefit in game be it slight or substantial then for soemthing purely cosmetic. And truthfully, I don't think Blizzard would create items that would give someone such an enormous advantage as to make the game unchallenging. After a while if your not being challenged games get boring and you move on, not something a developer wants to happen. Value is definitely in the eye of the beholder, but I think for the sake of those who feel their experience and gains will be cheapened by the fact that people can buy their gear they could be appeased with a simple annotation. Also when you get right down to it sometimes having the best gear will not make a bit of difference if the person playing the game has no skill whatsoever. I have yet to play a game where there has been a specific gear set up that makes you able to steam roll over everything and never have to worry about being defeated, if there is that is a game balancing issue and not one of someone paying to win.

Jan Koschel
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I can't see how Blizzard wants to prevent third party sales / grey market sales / "illicit item sales" with the announced auction house system. Players can advertise, arrange, and perform a transaction outside of the Blizzard auction house, exchange funds, meet up in-game, and then exchange the item via regular direct player-to-player trade. That way, the seller could even fully circumvent the listing fee, purchase fee, and credits to real money conversion fee.

Blizzard says that the third party trading will happen anyway and that they want to monetize it. Sure, but then why develop a system that can be circumvented via other means provided by the game?

Taekwan Kim
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Ok, here goes amateur with no real economic training speculation:

If we're comparing with Diablo 2's trade system, advertising or searching for a specific item in that game was a serious, serious pain. Diablo is not an MMO--there aren't any hubs people can park themselves at and hawk their stuff. The closest to that that D2 had were the chat channels in the lobby before joining a game, and going through spammed text advertisements that endlessly scrolled up too fast was both an annoyance and unduly time consuming (you're looking at maybe 20 sellers per channel at a time). And, again, there's a much, much lower psychological barrier to guaranteed safe transactions than there are to verbal agreements with anonymous individuals when it comes to real money.

Sure players could circumvent the fees, but if they want the best selling (or purchase) price with the widest pool of customers possible with an absolute guarantee that the exchange will be honored, they're probably going to turn to the auction house. Remember, the auction house is going to be anonymous, so it can't just be used as advertisement through which the players could then contact each other (and even if it weren't, sellers are unlikely to resort to that unless the item for sale has very little demand).

Economies of scale probably means that it simply won't be profitable to work outside the auction house for third party gold farmers--there's just going to be a lot more activity in the auction houses than there are with external transactions, so their prices will have to come way, way down (beyond the downward pressure already caused by competitive activity in the auction house) to beat the convenience and safety. Or, for ultra rare items without downward competition, it just makes more sense to use the auction house to push the price up as much as possible.

Plus, players can always just sell for in-game gold and convert that to real money later, thus significantly reducing their fees across multiple listings. Since D3 will give players a couple free listings periodically (I think it was per month?), one could, theoretically, circumvent the listing and purchase fees altogether with the auction house, too (there's still that credit conversion, of course)--assuming the price of items won't exceed the gold cap, thus forcing players to resort to RMTs to get their full value. *End speculation*

Jan Koschel
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In Diablo III, especially in comparison to Diablo II, direct trading shouldn't be of an issue. Each user will have a unique identifier, e.g. "Hanswurst.110". The seller offers an item on an external site to a specified price, the purchasing user transmits the money and his ID, the seller confirms the transaction and supplies his ID, the buyer and seller meet up in-game and exchange the items. Very straightforward and simple, pretty much the same procedure as when you buy gold in World of Warcraft. In that case, the seller will have two certainties that he will not have when using the Diablo III auction house: (a) he will not loose money while performing the sale and (b) he can 100% identify and verify the buyer. This is not the case when he uses the auction house as he may get undercut and still loose his listing fee.

In regards to selling for in-game gold first and later on converting it to real money: in order to do that, there would first need to be a demand for in-game gold at a price and conversion rate that would feel more reasonable for users than directly converting everything into real money. *speculation* Due to how item qualities are set up and the overall distribution of value in items, I doubt that would be the case. Very high quality items will be sold for real money, be it via the auction house or third party ways, while the gold-based auction house will be inflated via low- to medium-quality "MUDflation items". */speculation*

Taekwan Kim
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Yes, I was thinking the same about ultra rare items too. But I'm assuming that players will bother to do the math when they list items for in-game gold so that they don't undercut themselves by selling it for less than it's worth in real money (when you convert to that from gold). Which is why I mentioned the gold cap, since this kind of activity will probably cause serious inflation. But I think you're probably right as that's a pretty big assumption (really who can be bothered to do the math?). Not to mention, the value of gold will probably be relatively volatile, so it will feel much safer to go with hard cash on these types of items.

Also, I mentioned psychological barriers because people _usually_ take the path of least resistance. It's much easier to just type in something in search and browse the auction than it is to find a reliable outside forum, contact the seller, and arrange a meet. If, then, you get a lot more traffic in the auctions than in outside forums because it's simply easier (again, an assumption), wouldn't it be in the interest of the seller to employ whatever resource gives them the most reach?

But again, totally just speculation here on my part.

Jonathan Murphy
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Holy crap these are long posts! Real money could result in a disaster. Blizzard can implement methods to make it work. They will need to listen to their beta testers. Cough put me in beta. Cough. I promise I won't write a book when I have a suggestion.

Taekwan Kim
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Lols, sorry about that. Need to start putting up tldrs. Or just write books.

Leonardo Nanfara
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You think way too much man and there lies the real problem. Let Blizzard do what they want with their games...there entitled to it. If there methods fail so be it. If you have a problem with what there doing then go do your own thing and maybe others will criticize your methods. The game market is constantly changing and every developer is exploring different methods of monetization so get used to it and quit complaining.

Taekwan Kim
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Lol, so true. I'm also replying too much. That's interesting, though, since most of what I've written here is in support of the auction house. But it _does_ look like a whole bunch of equivocating.

Alex Spittal
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As the old adage goes, long time reader, first time poster. These are some long posts but they make my day at work go by quite quickly. The insight that everyone has, even if I don't agree with them, is great and promotes a discussion which otherwise might not be had.

It seems that a great deal of the posts I've read have skipped over, or not readily addressed the group of gamers that I belong to. Those that only play with their friends and couldn't care less about people who buy items. I realize this is because the article isn't title "Gamers who only play with their younger brother and some friends who don't pay for items online" and accept that. However in reading I've come to a number of conclusions. People are fairly divided on the issue which isn't a surprise since this is the internet but what seems interesting is that the group that are moderately "for" the AH seems to be able to give a caveat about their arguments (It seems like a good idea BUT it could be bad) whereas the other group seems not to be willing to make the same concession that there could be good points no matter how bad they think the idea is. I’m not saying that they couldn’t make those same arguments but just that they seem unwilling.

Also, from the perspective of a gamer who won’t be using the AH but still like to PvP it doesn’t worry me too much about going up against a pay to win type player. I know that at the end of the day I’m secure in my character and his/her abilities. I know that I came to them by playing the game and enjoying it while I do. I’ve put in my time and don’t think that someone who has purchased their gear is worth getting frustrated over. I don’t get mad at players who wallhack/aimbot in FPS style games.

In my mind it’s got to be so very boring knowing that all you have to do is point and click and you win. Why not just open and close files on your desktop over and over it you just want to point and clickover and over? Same action and it costs less money.

I don’t have a problem with anyone buying their way to victory because it doesn’t affect my games. If it makes it more enjoyable for them then I’m all for it. Just because I’m not that type of player doesn’t mean they can’t be.