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Diablo 3 Real Money Auction House: Cynical business or smart addition?

CVG and Future Games editors weigh in on the debate

This week the Diablo 3 Real Money Auction House will be open to both customers in the US and across Europe, but even at this early hour it's causing a stir amongst the community.

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The auction house allows players to sell in-game items for real-world cash - up to $250 per item - which can be converted to Battle.net credit or transferred to PayPal. While steps have been taken to circumvent any exploits and hold off the con artists, there is nevertheless concerns that Diablo's online haven will be assaulted from all sides by people trying to make some quick cash.

There's also the question of whether incorporating a currency into a game is a good idea at all. No one appeared to ask for it, but does that mean it won't be fun?

CVG opens its panel to two of its journalists to debate the issue.

CYNICAL

says Andy Kelly, Future Group Games Editor

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"It was smart of Blizzard to put a Real Money Auction House in Diablo 3. For years their games have been plagued by unsavoury 'black market' types hawking items and gold, and now they've basically legalised it, taking a $1 cut for themselves for every transaction.

But just because it's smart doesn't mean it's a good thing. It actually has the potential to break the game in places - especially the new PVP arena mode, which will be included in a future patch.

The power of your character isn't dictated by your own skill (it's just clicking, after all), but rather your gear. So if a player spends $250 on the best magical hammer and suit of armour in the game - and they undoubtedly will -they'll be severely overpowered.

The RMAH could also adversely affect the regular auction house by inflating prices, causing problems for players who rely on it to keep their gear up to date. To be fair, Blizzard have put a few systems in place to stop people exploiting it. Selling gold, crafting materials, and gems comes with a 15% 'Blizzard tax' to stop people selling unfairly large stacks, and gold can only be sold in quantities of 100,000 or more.

But anything that involves real money on the internet will somehow be taken advantage of. Criminals are too smart and too tenacious. They'll find ways to turn the thing on its head and cause problems. There are already cases of people having items stolen. Stick a monetary value on said items, and the desire for thieves to nick them gets even stronger."

SMART

says Rob Crossley, CVG Associate Editor

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"I do sympathise with the general complaint that Diablo 3 once offered a simple distraction from life and now seems to be replicating the stresses of modern day market trading. We all, after all, supposed to be playing games to have some fun.

But I think it's a tad premature to suggest the team at Blizzard will destroy the game experience - something which it spent years meticulously developing - just for the sake of a fast buck. What you can be sure of is that Blizzard knows the RMAH must be an enjoyable addition for most people otherwise it simply won't survive.

Any free-to-play games studio worth their salt will tell you that taking a hard-sale route on virtual items is not just bad for the experience, but also bad for business. Those that fear a pay-to-win trend will seep into Diablo 3 should be assured that, if this were to happen, the logical outcome is that people will simply be put off by the whole experience and spend their time elsewhere.

'Retain all customers' is a policy which Blizzard executives and developers are routinely drilled on. The rules have changed slightly: Losing Diablo 3 players is something the company will have to balance against how much more money it makes per paying customer. But the general rule is simple - the system itself cannot work unless it is agreeable, even fun, to most people.

You can be certain that the Real Money Auction House will be tweaked, balanced and continuously assessed to make sure that those who oppose it are a vocal minority."

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