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I have a long and very significant relationship with Blizzard games, going back over a decade. Diablo for me was a seminal experience, so the announcement of Diablo 3 appearing at the end of this year has created a fair deal of excitement. With nothing new on the Warcraft front until we hear the contents of 4.3 MMO reports this morning that D3 will have an in-game Auction House that will not simply allow you to buy and sell for in-game gold.

The news you’ll be able use dollars (and presumably Euros if you’re not in the US) to purchase online items has been met with reactions ranging from joy to utter despondency. The biggest complaint I’m seeing thus far is that throwing enough real life cash at the game will give people an unfair advantage, at which I find myself thinking that this has been the case in Warcraft for quite some time anyway. You can theoretically buy just about anything, after all, except the actual skill you need to use your pixels correctly. Does it really matter what currency you use to obtain your items? If you have a [Holy Grail] and it’s (presumably) the only one then it will always come down to how much someone is prepared to pay for it.

There is a twofold interest at play, as MMO mentions in the article that this ‘will be very interesting for most of the readers of this site, because most of us wonder if it will have any effect on the evolution of WoW in the long run.’ I don’t know much about programming but I’m thinking that the AH is such an integral part of the Warcraft experience that to change it this late into it’s life could have potentially devastating consequences, especially on especially low or high population servers. The proliferation of gold sellers would also have a significant impact on how real-world currency would work within the structure, and although I can see Blizzard’s upcoming MMO looking at this as a possible development I would be amazed to see it become integrated in the game as it currently stands. Knowing how much D2 items would sell for on Ebay (back in the day) there is a certain amount of logic to allowing people the opportunity to sell their excess items for cash in the game environment rather than through a third party. This squarely places the economy into Blizzard’s hands however, and gives them the responsibility for ensuring that it maintains it’s stability, and that it is not exploited by people ‘duplicating’ items or ‘scamming’ generally, something they’re already addressing in their press releases:

With the previous Diablo games, many players have shown a great interest in buying, selling, or exchanging items for their characters using real-world currency, turning to potentially unsafe avenues to accomplish this goal. The currency-based version of the auction house provides players with an easy-to-use, Blizzard-sanctioned way to collect money for items obtained while playing Diablo III. In addition, it helps protect players from scams and disreputable third-party sites by providing a secure, in-game method to search for and purchase items posted by other players that are a perfect fit for their character and play style.

There is then of course the payoff to all this:  Blizzard will take a ‘nominal’ cut on all items sold. Thinking about the number of virtual transactions that must take place across all of the Warcraft AH’s over time it’s no surprise that someone looking at the business models hasn’t suggested this a lot earlier. As Gus Gorman found to his advantage, one cent on it’s own is nothing but a million soon add up to something and with Blizzard ultimately working as a money-making organisation, this is all going to add to the final balance sheet.

As this story breaks over the next few days I’ll be interested to see how the big news sites react to this development. Needless to say, if you think about it, this is hardly a surprise, and if it actually works on D3’s release I suspect the consequences will echo across all of Blizzard’s current output.

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