By Jared Newman | Monday, August 1, 2011 at 6:00 pm
With Diablo III, Blizzard will attempt to legitimize a black market tradition of gold farming by letting players auction off virtual items and gold for real-world currency.
The feature, called Auction House, aims to wipe out sites like D2Items.com and D2Legit.com, along with scam artists and spammers. Blizzard says it won’t be selling any items on its own. Instead, the market will be determined entirely by the players, with Blizzard collecting a listing fee, plus a transaction fee if the item or currency is sold. Money from sold items will appear as credit in players’ Battle.net accounts, and players can convert that credit to cash using an unnamed third-party payment service. (Paypal’s my guess.)
A separate version of Auction House will use in-game currency for transactions, so players won’t have to spend real money on virtual goods.
Auction House is a fascinating move that’s sure to divide Blizzard’s fans. On one hand, it encourages players to pay their way to the top of a game, cheapening the experience for players who’d rather put in the effort on their own. On the other, it’s a new kind of hook for an already addictive franchise. Even if this stuff was happening before, Blizzard is now sanctioning it and making it dead-simple.
That raises a bigger concern: Gold-farming — the act of playing a game solely to raise in-game currency that can be sold for real money — is a serious problem, with horror stories about forced prison labor and sweatshop playing conditions in China. The idea that Blizzard could profit from this activity seems unsavory at best. In an interview with PC Gamer, Diablo III’s executive producer Rob Pardo dodged a question on whether Blizzard was encouraging the exploitative side of gold farming.
Diablo III players may also face a higher risk of hacked Battle.net accounts, as every player’s progress will be worth a certain amount of real-world currency.
These aren’t unsolvable problems. Blizzard could implement safeguards to fight egregious gold farming and to prevent hackers from buying or selling goods on behalf of their victims. I understand it was a big day for Diablo III news, including the announcement of a beta and the controversial decision to require an Internet connection to play the game at all times. But in time, I hope Blizzard circles back to address some of the issues that Auction House has raised.