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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

[Diablo 3] Blizzard tries to unring the bell

Blizzard announced today that it intends to close the Diablo 3 auction house on March 18, 2014. They claim it is because the auction house undermines the basic premise of the game ("Kill stuff, get cool loot.") and I think they have the right of it; the auction house had the benefit of facilitating trades, but with Diablo's crazed scaling, the AH's generally poor interface, and nothing to really guide prices, it did more harm than good.

Back in "the day" of Diablo 2, tradig was mostly done in chat channels and then organized in games.  A crude interface allowed you to swap items in inventories for gold or other items and it worked well enough. Problem is, this system was mostly player (and Stone of Jordan) driven and while some third party websites tried to gauge values, they met with mixed success and could be inconsistent. The auction house could have unified this; facilitating access to loot. However, the auction house also removed the need for players to go out and kill enemies, as anything you found, you likely could find cheaply on the auction house.

To make matters worse, the Auction House also undermined Diablo 3's crafting system, which was designed to allow players to supplement their gear with crafted gear if they were having bouts of bad luck (which most players experienced because the drop rate and reliability were, at best, dismal...even after getting Nephalem Valor). Reaper of Souls is intended to remedy this by upgrading the loot system substantially.

The problem is, can Blizzard un-ring the bell? By now the auction house is a staple of the game, and many players earlier on were inundated with stories about players who made $10,000 on the real money auction house. Players are likely used to feeling powerful because they could always skip those "low points" in gear power by hitting the auction house. The loot change might somewhat remedy this, but won't eliminate it entirely.

Usually with games, once you give something, it's hard as heck to take it back. The Assassins Creed series has spent the majority of its life having to constantly invent new ways to swipe the player's gear (especially during the Ezio years) or make enemies that could challenge Ezio and his arsenal. This isn't a hard and fast rule though, Halo 2 notably gave Master Chief the ability to dual-wield weapons, which caused a host of multiplayer issues. Put succinctly, if a weapon can be dual wielded, it has to be balanced around that, and thus is underwhelming when single-wielded, unless you allow the weapon's stats/abilities to change based on that. In future games they removed this ability and given the health of the series, I'd imagine the fans forgave them; it also helps that the game that bridged Halo 2 and 3, Halo ODST, explained that the normal ODST soldier was not strong enough to dual wield, so I think that softened the blow when players went into Halo 3 and couldn't dual-wield anymore.

I am not sure how it is going to work out; I may pick up Reaper of Souls depending on how it is priced and the press I hear about it. Blizzard steadfastly sticks to the Release + Expansion format of expanding content, but it also means that each "expansion" still prices near a full game.

I never actually thought they would go back on the Auction House; during development they were adamant about its importance to the game. I believe at one point words like "pivotal" and "fundamental" showed up. So color me surprised. Still, I am eager to see the reaction from this; by and large the very first comments on the reddit post that lead me to the news were optimistic. I am not sure how the players who enjoy the auction house will react.

Edit: I also noticed a feeling of apology in the post and video that accompanied it; it's nice that even giants can admit to making mistakes. My respect for Blizzard has gone up a few points.

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