Blizzard dev admits Diablo 3’s auction houses hurt the game’s rhythm, both sides wish for removal
The Real Money Auction House in Diablo 3 has become a symbol for everything that went wrong in that game, and its removal is one of the best things about the upcoming console version of the game. It's one thing for fans to dislike the feature however, and quite another for the team behind the game to admit it was a mistake.
Former Diablo 3 Game Director Jay Wilson spoke on the issue at the Game Developers conference, and he brought up a number of incorrect assumptions about the auction house. They assumed most players woudn't use it, and that pricing would limit what people bought, and what was offered. The reality ended up being much different.
...Blizzard realized it was completely wrong about those last two points. It turns out that nearly every one of the game's players (of which there are still about 1 million per day, and about 3 million per month, according to Wilson) made use of either house, and that over 50 percent of players used it regularly. That, said Wilson, made money a much higher motivator than the game's original motivation to simply kill Diablo, and “damaged item rewards” in the game.
This isn't the first time we've heard this sort of criticism of the auction house. “Compare that to Diablo 3, where it’s like ‘oh man, the Brutality Blade, what do I need to do to get it? Do I need to kill a dragon? What do I do?’ Well, you could do that, or you could just pay $1.15,” game designer and author Jesse Schell said at DICE. “That doesn’t feel so heroic, really. That doesn’t feel like Utopia.”
It's a matter of game play rhythm, and a sense of reward. When you buy a powerful weapon in the auction house, it's fun to go out and kill things with it. But then fun wears off, and it had to be refreshed with another purchase. The majority of the loot you find in the core game is garbage.
Compare that rhythm to how Diablo used to be, where you found interesting items on a regular basis, and the pleasure spikes happened when a monster dropped an interesting item. That form of irregular positive reinforcement is effective at keeping player's attention in the long term, and the economy isn't reliant on a real-world value of items to make sense.
It was hard to walk away from the game because you always felt like you were a minute or two away from a great new piece of gear. The balance in Diablo 3 is now messed up, and even Wilson says they would remove the auction houses if they could. They are, in fact, doing just that for the PlayStation 3 version of the game.
“I think we would turn it off if we could,” Wilson stated. Removing the auction houses would be difficult, even though both Wilson and many fans seem to think it's a good idea, especially if it turns out many of the players use and like the ability to buy items for cash. Without the auction houses the always-on requirement would stop making sense, and then players would ask for it to be removed, and no one from the business side of things would likely be willing to give that up. So it remains, but at the cost of the game itself.
The fun of Diablo is in killing monsters and finding cool loot. Turning half of that process into a system where you can pay a few dollars for better gear destroys the skinner box. The game loses its fun. Sure, it also takes away the grind, but Diablo fans are buying the game to enjoy that grind. The good news is that the people involved with the game realize the mistake, and hopefully we won't see it in future games.