Henry Feng is a PhD student from the Faculty of Health Sciences, The University of Sydney. He is currently investigating the impact of video game play on adolescent social well-being and its relationship with resilience. Being an avid gamer himself, he has a deep interest in all things game-related. The article below is strictly the author’s opinion.
Since release, Diablo 3 has had its share of acclaim and criticisms. With the game generating many hot topics, ranging from class balance to account security, the most persistent one is that of the ingame economy. At its core, Diablo 3 is a game that centres on the acquisition of items to improve ones’ game character(s). With this in mind, Blizzard (the game developer) has incorporated a Gold Auction House (GAH), and very recently, the Real Money Auction House (RMAH) system to facilitate trading of said items.
This all sounds great until the market is compromised by problems such as trading bugs, item duplication, gold farmers etc… and the list goes on. Throw real money into the mix and everything gets out of hand quite quickly. The purpose of this article is to highlight and explain some of these issues, as well as how they have/will impact Diablo 3’s success in the long run. Since this is such an immense topic, I will only cover some of the main points. The easiest way to grasp the relevance of each point is to apply each one to the adage of ‘99% of wealth owned by the top 1%’, whereas in this case it is 99% (of normal players) vs. the 1% (exploiters).
Let us begin with the self-evident problem of item duplication (AKA duping), which was first reported on the Asian servers. Unfortunately, the duping bug was also replicable with gold. Since its discovery, prices on the market have inflated to mindboggling numbers. Simply put, the average player could not afford anything. To paint a rough picture of the scope of the problem, an average player with a max level character in an endgame setting is able to legitimately and comfortably obtain approximately 50,000 gold/hour; 200,000 gold/hour if they applied themselves (this does not factor in the sale of items found along the way). The advent of duping saw prices soar into the hundreds of millions overnight – I will let you do the math with that one!
Similar to duping, the farming of unintended areas of the game (briefly touched upon in one of my comments here) also contributed to hyperinflation of items as well as gold; both were easily obtained at an unintended rate. Essentially, the market prices reflected the impact of the exploiters rather than the capabilities of the average player. The markets were no longer relevant to anyone who was not exploiting the game in some form. This is a precarious situation because some players who felt ‘cheated’ will in turn become cheaters themselves to level the playing field. The existence of sites focused around exploiting the game also exacerbates the problem. The age-old ‘gold farmer’ villains also make a return in Diablo 3. The potential impact is best understood from this interview with a real gold farmer.
At this point, it is worth noting that Diablo 1 and 2 allowed players the option to play offline as a pure single-player experience. Diablo 3 took a step away from its predecessors; you could still play by yourself, you just needed to be online at the same time. Blizzard’s justification for this necessity was that of improving game security, minimising hacks, exploits etc… Much to Blizzard’s chagrin, this promise quickly became a double whammy; ticking off the single player community and failing players at large with the continued existence of exploits.
To be fair, Blizzard has taken steps in addressing these game-breaking issues, ranging from impromptu/unannounced server shutdowns to huge waves of bans to curb the impact of exploiters. Despite these measures, some exploiters have escaped unscathed (for the meantime) and are reaping the rewards with their unfairly obtained wealth. This is not surprising, considering that Blizzard has a policy of banning in waves rather than case-by-case incidences as they appear.
What is perplexing is why Blizzard chose to roll out the RMAH this quickly after the game’s release despite the instability witnessed on the GAH market (and game in general). One would think it wise to rectify the situation and actually ensure everything is secure, stable, and working as intended before implementing any system involving real money. But then again, maybe it is not that surprising, but I digress …
It is ironic that Diablo 3 is a game about acquiring items, which inevitably requires some form of farming/grinding, yet everything that is farmable has been nerfed (e.g. Siegebreaker runs, Azmodan runs, Zoltan Kulle runs, Maghda runs etc). The fact of the matter is that a path of least resistance is always going to exist. People are going to pursue this out of human nature, yet Blizzard appears to be indiscriminantly nerfing every such path that pops up, as if there is an endpoint to it all. In the wake of dealing with exploiters, it is as if Blizzard has gotten carried away in their zeal and forgotten about the impact on the 99% of honest players (whether it be altering loot-tables, lowering item drop-rates, etc.).
Lastly, the latest topic adding to the Diablo 3 bonfire of complaints is that of retroactively nerfing items. Specifically, this issue relates to the item attribute of ‘increased attack speed’ (IAS). Prior to patch 1.03, players had realised that IAS was the single most important stat in improving a character’s damage output (a very important stat considering the whole point of the game is to kill monsters!). Blizzard has acknowledged the issue and is looking into possible solutions:
… we’ve also decided we need to reduce the effectiveness of Increased Attack Speed overall. Many players have commented that Increased Attack Speed is such a dominant stat they feel it’s required. While we don’t have an issue with there being important stats … We want there to be options and considerations for how you gear up, and one uber trump-everything stat can really work against choice and options.
While I do agree that stats need to be adjusted in order to balance the game and ensure it is fun, a huge obstacle standing in the way of any solution is that of the RMAH (not to mention why it was not better tested during beta). What will become of players who had invested time/gold/real money into obtaining items with IAS? Needless to say, this is dangerous ground that Blizzard is treading on. As of now (19/6/12 ed note: June 16, 2012) the official forums are flooded with threads complaining about the incoming nerf. Unsurprisingly, the announced IAS nerf has seen many players desperately selling all IAS items they currently own (kind of like the stock market!). It feels like an exercise in futility on Blizzard’s part as players are already speculating on the next most valuable item stat. Will this next best stat be nerfed, too? It is difficult to see where Blizzard draws the line.
The following examples further highlight the incomplete nature of Diablo 3, the instability of its economy and the effects of its poor implementation: France is threatening Blizzard with legal action, while Korea is creating legislation, in light of Diablo 3, that criminalises ‘farming’ altogether. There is even some word on the official forums of class action lawsuits in the works. Indeed, the effects of a poorly implemented game are far-reaching, especially when it involves real money.
As of now, Diablo 3 leaves a lot to be desired for many players, especially when you consider it was in the making for 11 years. Are quality Blizzard games a thing of the past?
The Diablo 3 economy is far from stable, the player-base is beyond irate, and there does not appear to be an end to the mayhem in sight. Real money can make things messy; let’s hope Blizzard can clean it up.
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