Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, June 12, 2012

There has been some interesting discussion between a blogger and Blizzard on the effect of the auction house on Diablo 3. The blogger's point of view was that Diablo 3 is less addictive than Diablo 2 because instead of having positive reward spikes from finding a drop, you have negative spikes of "oh, my gear is getting weak, better head to the AH now". Blizzard on the other hand speaks about how the better your gear is, the longer it takes for you to find an interesting drop:
"So then let’s say you visit the Auction House and get infusion of power that hurls you forward on that power curve. So whereas at one point your gear may be at a point that you are statistically speaking probably going to get an upgrade every 2 hours. After visiting the Auction House you hurl yourself forward on the power curve so far that now you are statistically going to get a drop every 8 hours."
What I find pretty remarkable is how much these two opinions agree with each other. Even in the official Blizzard version the effect of the auction house is to reduce your chance of finding upgrades in the game. And for most players finding upgrades equals fun.

In a way it is exactly the reverse of the "gamification" concept. You could call it "workification". The people who invented gamification realized that you can make a boring activity like work more interesting by making it function more like a game, for example with rewards being handed out. Blizzard's Diablo 3 AH basically removes these game reward elements from Diablo 3, or at least makes them much rarer. They are replaced with an activity that functions more like work: A constant and steady farming and collecting gold activity in the game, with minor highlights of selling items on the auction house.

Replacing a "spikey" reward flow with a constant stream of income is something trade does very well. It is the reason why trade is so important for human civilization, because there are huge advantages in having a constant stream of e.g. food, as opposed of having lots to each if you're lucky while hunting, and go hungry if not. Most people would rather like to work for a fixed income than to work in a job where your pay is determined by a random lottery at the end of the month.

But games have different purpose than real world activities. Workification of games just makes them less fun, less entertaining. A steady stream of income and constant improvement of my gear without any spikes is great in the real world, but rather boring in a game. While it could be argued that a game that gets boring quickly doesn't matter for Blizzard's sales figures, because by the time players get bored they have already paid, there is always the next game to consider: If everybody thinks of Diablo 3 as "that game that got boring quickly", the sales of Diablo 4 will be low. And there could even be a backlash against other Blizzard games, due to them having lost their halo.

Trade leads to workification, and workification makes games boring. Blizzard should have known that before they released Diablo 3. I certainly did.

I was just discussing this with a friend tonight. I think the blogger has the right idea and is right on why Diablo 3 is quickly losing our interest.

In Diablo 2 you could mostly play with what you found. Even in Hell difficulty reasonable playing would net you gear needed the progress and when you DID hit walls it was usually just a matter of going back an act once at most. D3 is not like this...repeated farming runs yield nothing and the step-up in difficult between acts is so severe (especially between 1 and 2) that it can feel like running head first into a wall.

Its just not fun; the fun of D2 was to find those cool unique items that defined your character. In D3 it ends up being: game suddenly gets ridiculously hard and the response is either grind for hours or hit the AH. I don't begrudge the people that go to the AH to solve this problem, but for me this is far less fun, AH hunting just is not my cup of tea.

One thing I have yet to learn is to not jump to conclusions. That stuff will really make a person disappointed, every last time. When I read your heading, this thought jumped into my head that you had written a post about DIII actually becoming work.

Think about it: we've all been comparing the RMAH to gambling and such. But couldn't that be turned around? This (hypothetical, mind you – like you have pointed out it seems a bit unlikely that selling stuff on the AH for cash will make anyone particularly rich) person, call him the "farmer", spends his working days in front of the monitor working with Blizzard's software. The farmer then proceeds to sell items to Blizzard's customers, using Blizzard's online store frontend. He is then paid by Blizzard for his hard work. Oh, and Blizzard profits too. Call me a lawyer, but I wonder when the first claim for poor working conditions drops into Irvine...

Anyway, and back on topic (which is of course in reality much more interesting than the one I had hoped for):

Clockwork, I think that Blizzard addressed that point very clearly in their replies over at Reddit. They did not balance the game for the AH. In other words, the AH has made the game easier than previously, not harder. Your expectations may have changed though (see Tobold's post further down the page)!
Workification CANNOT be avoided, no matter how hard devs try.

There is always an optimal route. The easier it is, the more "casual friendly" the game is.

Now imagine bind on pickup on every item. The best way of gearing would be farming certain zones (with best loot/effort). Would that be any more fun?
A lot of people feel this way so I am in no way arguing that they are incorrect about how they feel.

But as an MMO player who never played D2, I find it quite confusing. I picture these people saying "I wanted a new Trans Am automobile but all I have is this stupid winning lottery ticket for $10million." (The math would seem to indicate there are a lot more MMO customers than D2 customers. )

For me, the fun is in *getting* the new items, not *finding* them. Once you start thinking that "finding" them in game is better than finding them on the AH, it is a slippery slope to the Gevlons & Syncaines start talking about how you should only be happy if you got it from combat not from opening a barrel; then it will need to be a monster of higher than your level and so on. /yawn

Personally, I prefer to find something in the AH rather than in game. Figuring out what are good stats and what is a good price for them is interesting and seems to require a bit of thinking or at least far more thinking than combat. If I know that the weapon I want costs about 300k, then I can see a pile of 300 gold and think "that is 0.1% of my new 1250DPS 2h weapon" As I go along I can even do the math about estimating gold/hour and hours until I can get the weapon.

What if I get an excellent unique drop that is of no use to my class? In D2 paradigm I could not use it until perhaps I leveled an alt in the distant future? I can not conceive of going to an ask-to-be-hacked third party web site to trade it. And no game is worth enduring trade chat. In D3, the AH makes legendaries I can't use just surrogates for gold dropping.

Perhaps it is that D2 was designed as a standalone game and D3 was not. Regardless, the AH is a welcome addition for me.
Huh. Maybe it's because I had a Demon Hunter farming Inferno Acts 3-4, but I'm not sure if I agree with the assessment that the Diablo 3 AH removes the game reward elements at all.

I cherished all good drops very much, even though the item might be completely useless to myself. I might find items that can sell for an easy 500k to a smooth million. And because I'm farming these to sell for gold, I am pretty consistently rewarded without necessarily moving up the "upgrade reward bell curve". Sure, I got extra excited when I had several million to drop on some great items, but it seems rather silly to me that everyone's focusing ONLY on personal upgrades as the only rewards coming from the D3 drop system.

Seeing millions flow in through my inbox was most definitely a rewarding system for me to enjoy through.
When I read your heading, this thought jumped into my head that you had written a post about DIII actually becoming work.

I think the two are actually somewhat related. Quoting an e-mail from Gnomercy, a common theory is that Blizzard introduced the real money auction house to kill the business of people "working" Diablo 3 for money, aka the "Chinese Gold Farmer". By basically turning everybody into a "worker", the supply of work becomes huge compared to the demand in gold and items, pushing down prices. A commercial outfit can't compete with millions of players "farming for fun".

Of course the downside of that is that for the regular player Diablo 3 becomes about as interesting as these games are for Chinese gold farmers.
After visiting the Auction House you hurl yourself forward on the power curve so far that now you are statistically going to get a drop every 8 hours."

I ran through on normal mode and given there was so little content, I just haven't been able to work myself up to repeat it on higher difficulty levels. Having said that, I never got a single drop that was better than what was available on the AH. If I did get a "good drop," it was a "good drop to sell to someone 5 levels below me on the AH."
Don't we also play to escape unpleasant circumstances of industrialization and mass production? In today's developed societies, many know that they are replaceable. So, they try to individualize, to be special in their own way. The AH within D3 prevents that from happening. Your gear will not make you feel special anymore ->less appealing.
"Blizzard's Diablo 3 AH basically removes these game reward elements from Diablo 3 ... They are replaced with an activity that functions more like work: A constant and steady farming and collecting gold activity in the game..."

If you don't enjoy the game in the first place, and find the normal gameplay to be work, you really shouldn't be playing D3.

And if your complaint is that you don't enjoy the gameplay but would enjoy "game reward elements", then what you are saying is that you don't enjoy the game, just the meaningless in-game rewards. You are playing a game you don't like for rewards that only help in further playing a game you don't like.
Personally I haven't been interested in the AH. Tried to use it a couple of times, couldn't find what I wanted, went back to the game. I enjoy getting an upgrade, but it's not a must have thing. On the other had I just started Act 3 on normal, so it's not like I've been playing a tremendous amount.

It's pretty simple; if it is reducing your fun, don't use it.

Diablo has always been a fairly mindless dungeon crawler. I've enjoyed that for the most part. I think Dacheng has an excellent point--- if you aren't having fun because you don't actually enjoy the game in and of itself, why are you playing the game? If an avoidable part of the game is reducing your fun, why use it?
I was never all that into Diablo 2, though I do play roguelikes avidly. Unlike Hagu, though, even when I play MMOs I am not fond of the AH. Things I find are more special to me. Dropped items don't only have stats, they have memories for me too!
if you aren't having fun because you don't actually enjoy the game in and of itself, why are you playing the game? If an avoidable part of the game is reducing your fun, why use it?

That is a rather stupid argument which could be used to dismiss any blog post by any blogger on any subject. Of course I've come up with the same solution, I'm not playing Diablo 3 any more, because it bores me to death, mostly due to the AH.

But this is a blog discussing game design, and the question whether the AH (and its real money cousin) are a good addition to games which you would like to see in other games as well, or whether the AH makes the game less fun is an important one.

Besides fanboi-ism, I think the main difference in opinion on the AH is the old question of when the "real game" begins. Me, and the majority of average players, never planned to play through Diablo 3 more than once (and I didn't even get that far). An AH which makes many parts of that first playthrough (crafting, looting) obsolete is a big negative point. The hardcore majority thinks the "real game" starts much later, and thus the AH helping them to trivialize the first two or so playthroughs and to speed them up is quite welcome.
I'm only on Nightmare mode [middle of Act 2] thus far [I haven't played D3 all that much but I'm making progress] and I honestly have yet to need to buy a single thing off the AH. I've sold a few things and a few fights have been tough as a barbarian but nothing I couldn't work out.

Maybe I'm just not far enough along yet to experience this 'necessity' of buying things off the AH that all my friends are talking about but eh, we shall see
I would term longer periods between rewards as a grind rather than make up a new word like workification. Some people like grinding but it seems the D3 crowd does not.

The problem with progression games is that the actual gameplay itself is the means to achieving the goal of progression. If gameplay is fun, progression shouldn't matter. Since D3 is a progression > gameplay game, progression must be delivered to the player within expectations (which seem to be ever-increasing over the years I might add). The riddle then is what is the actual D3 gameplay to progress -- kill mobs or AH? Maybe you are looking for reward spikes in the wrong places?
I just got d3 at the weekend. Haven't bothered with the AH. I want d3 to be like d2. Funny thing is, if I hadn't read all the blogs about the ah I wouldn't even know it existed. I haven't seen anything in the game about it nor read any manuals or instructions. Although it could be I haven't paid attention properly. Running on auto because it's so similar to d2.
I don't think it's a stupid criticism. Nor would it remove any ability to criticize most game features. Most game features are at least somewhat unavoidable, or even if you personally can ignore it, it still effects your gameplay somehow. I'm not saying don't play D3, I'm saying don't mess with the AH. You've basically said that the mere knowledge it exists and you aren't using makes you feel like you are hobbling yourself. By that logic, you would never jog because the existence of bicycles and cars means you are just hobbling yourself. If you enjoy jogging, jog for joggings sake. The point is to have fun, not fiddling with statistics.

It's a portion of the game that you have to log out of the main game to even get to. You don't need to use it since you get more than enough money from playing the game to handle basic maintenance. It's a totally optional feature. It's existence doesn't have to impact your gameplay at all. You can't even access it during gameplay.

Just don't use it. You get what you want. The people who like the AH get what they want.

I just don't see what the issue is from the gamer side. You also seem to see this as a negative thing for Blizzard, but is it? The thing with this system they have in place now is that it is in Blizzards best interest to eventually shut the thing down. Selling like 6 million copies and then having players wander off so they can shut it down in a few years is a plus, not a minus.

BTW, did this Gnomercy guy confirm my theory this was about attacking the RMT trade? I am awesome.
Shutting it down ... sorry that a fool's idea. Diablo 3 smells DLC like hell's brimstone.

With the RMAH Blizzard Tax, expansions are coming that shall make using the RMAH even more a requirement.
Carmedil, the DLC and eventual shutdown are not two opposite ideas.

Unless you think the D3 servers will be up and running in 2112 and beyond, you have to acknowledge that they will get shut down eventually. Given the way the game is designed, that means D3 will go away eventually.

DLC is great and all, but the number of people who will maintain interest in it for 5+ years, with or without the AH, is vanishingly small compared to the # of people who will bought the box. In addition, Blizz has little incentive to keep people playing between DLCs, so long as they come back to buy the next DLC. This isn't WoW, where sub numbers need to stay up on a monthly basis. It's all about moving units.
The AH mode of gear collection in Diablo would be fine if the AH weren't so poorly designed. And there's just too damn much gear dropping. It's a nightmare trying to not leave tons of treasure on the table, and that's what makes the game "worky" for me.

I agree with the jogging analogy above. And describing a comment as "stupid" should generally be avoided, I think.
Actually, I think it is much worse than the Blizzard developer thinks. At least in D3, because until you are farming Inferno Act 3/4 there will be literally 1000's of players ahead of you and it is those drops you are buying (their junk is your major upgrade). Because Blizzard appears to have designed the game to drive players to AH (by making most drops several levels lower than monster level) player would have to farm for way more than 8 hours to move up the curve compared to buying the junk from someone one act ahead of you. It is horrible design and will ultimatel make D3 a short stay on my diskdrive.
I think people are too into the MMO gear treadmill to be able to just play the game as a game. Nothing you are doing means a damn thing, so why let a totally optional feature mess with your enjoyment. I just don't get it.

I can see why you wouldn't stick around too long with D3; I'm slowly making my way through it but I started playing World of Tanks today after a long break and I think that's the end of D3. So I'm not a big fan of the game.

But let's be straight--- it ain't the AH that is the real problem. It's that it's really not that good of a game. And since the by all accounts it's basically the same game as every other Diablo, it kind of makes me wonder what the big deal was. Sometimes I think our standards used to be lower in a lot of ways, not just graphically.

Blizzard is kind of like that locally owned restaurant that is really kind of ok at best but everyone acts like it's the greatest shit ever just because its not Applebees. Even though in this case Blizz kinda is Applebees. What I'm getting at is that it can release a game that I wouldn't have touched if it came from anyone else and get millions of people to buy it on reputation alone. It's a very competent execution of the concept; it's just kinda a shitty concept.
This post and some of the comments read much like the dozens of posts that came out before the game, decrying the AH and predicting it was the doom of the game.

I still play D3 every day, still have fun and am yet to buy anything on the AH because I haven't needed to (DH in inferno, monk in Hell). Has the game been hard at points? Certainly. Would AH purchases made those parts easier? Yes. Would that have reduced my enjoyment? Absolutely. So i didn't do it

It really is that simple.
Yes! Finally!

I've been hating on badges for ages. And D3 + AH seems to be the very same badges -- maybe "badges refined" or "badges next generation".
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