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Diablo 3’s RMAH = The Lesser Evil?

Posted 6 Nov 2012 by

There’s an odd editorial on PC Gamer that takes a critical view of Diablo 3’s end game, mostly as an excuse to offer some generic opinions on the Auction House and other such features publishers are including in games to (attempt to) create a long term revenue stream. Quote:

In the run up to Diablo 3?s launch, Blizzard painstakingly detailed their thinking behind the late alterations they were making to Diablo 3, providing a fascinating insight into the design process. They tore up many of the accepted action RPG elements that Diablo invented. Teleportation scrolls were deemed extraneous, so they went. Unnecessary stats were thrown out, skills were altered or dropped entirely to ensure that every ability had a purpose. NPCs were culled until only the Blacksmith and the Jeweller remained. The end result was finely pruned, impactful and addictive, supported by a levelling system that favoured experimentation over the incremental stat progression and sparse ability options offered by traditional skill tree set-ups.

And yet, this carefully honed and, in many ways, brilliant action RPG finds itself swamped by a bloated final quarter. The climactic rewards of an action RPG – the best loot and the toughest bosses – are hidden behind layers and layers of plodding gold-gathering, Paragon levelling and bargain hunting. The systems designed to fuel ongoing auction house trade and develop a cross-game economy have stretched Diablo 3?s longevity beyond its natural breaking point. Blizzard continue to release major updates that may yet turn things around, but for now it looks as though quest to keep players playing forever has backfired.

We haven’t seen the last of the auction house. I think we’ll see similar ideas popping up in future releases. A full price game supported by ongoing microtransactions will seem increasingly ordinary as time passes and major studios start looking harder at the techniques free to play games have used to make a fortune over the last few years. Guild Wars 2, Mass Effect 3, Assassin’s Creed 3 and Diablo 3 are a few of this year’s big examples. What will be next?

I say it’s odd since the whole piece reads like it was written in June, slightly updated in August to mention some of the DiabloWikiPatch v1.04 changes, and yet it’s got November 5th for a date. Perhaps it was written a couple of months ago for the print magazine, and just posted online now? That’s kind of a fatal flaw, since the major features in last month’s DiabloWikiv1.05 patch, like DiabloWikiMonster Power and the DiabloWikiInfernal Machine, were introduced to fix (or at least alleviate) exactly the problems mentioned in this editorial.

RMAH or Else?

That issue aside… yes, publishers have a desire to continue to earn money from their games after release. Duh. And since WoW seems to be the last profitable monthly-fee MMORPG (at least in the West), they’ve got to find other ways.

Prior to Diablo 3’s release, I was like a lot of fans, and opposed in principle, to the DiabloWikiReal Money Auction House. However, that principle was based in reality, and as Blizzard talked more about the system, it started to grow on me. Not to use myself (I’ve never bought or sold anything in the D3 RMAH) but since it was a fairly painless way to provide ongoing revenue so we’d keep getting patches, Battle.net support, etc. Basically, all the stuff we wanted from D2 and didn’t get.*

So, how do you guys feel about the RMAH now? I still see some players blaming it for all the evils of Diablo 3, though that’s a lot harder argument to make now that v1.05 has largely recreated the economy and difficulty balance we saw in D2 (albeit with still much less common unique drops).

You’re free to scream and shout about the RMAH, but what would you replace it with? What other system could D3 have implemented to provide ongoing revenue to support patches and support? A monthly subscription fee? Cash item shop? Micro-transactions to buy more stash space and resurrect Hardcore characters? Personally, I’d much rather see an RMAH that doesn’t affect my gameplay in any way, and is a useful tool for players who want to use it, than other revenue-generators I can think of, most of which would be far more intrusive into the overall play experience.

D2 Support Footnote

* D2X launched in June 2001 at v1.07, and was quickly patched to v1.08 to fix some big bugs, and went to v1.09 a couple of months later. And that was it for D2X support until late 2003 when v1.10 was released. That patch, which was developed almost single-handedly by Peter Hu before he left Blizzard North for Flagship Studios, brought huge changes as well as making D2X much easier to mod, which enabled his successors to create more big changes in v1.11.

And yes, D2X v1.10 was awesome, but it was like 2.5 years between v1.09 and v1.10. There’s no comparison from the D2 days to the amount of support and big patch changes we’ve seen post D3, with big patches almost monthly, and they haven’t even added the PvP system yet, which will be arguably the biggest change of all.