Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Diablo annual pass challenge

Azuriel from In An Age launches the Diablo Annual Pass Challenge, where the goal is to finance one year of subscription for World of Warcraft (thus getting Diablo 3 for free) with the money earned from the Diablo 3 auction house. Less explicitly there is a general expectation in the blogosphere where many people talk about being net earners from the Diablo 3 real money AH system. And I wonder whether people realize how this constitutes a complete reversal of a moral high horse attitude against Free2Play games.

There have been years of discussion about the morality of Free2Play games. And a great number of people over the years expressed their belief that enabling people to buy advantages in game for real money is morally wrong. Now it turns out that there is a secret caveat: "Selling players in-game advantages for real money is morally wrong, unless of course the money is going to my pocket instead of that of the game company". Because this is exactly what the Diablo 3 real money auction house does: It sells players in-game advantages for real money. And Blizzard has cleverly overcome all moral objection to that by the sneaky means of sharing the real money proceeds from that with the kind of "time-rich" players who previously were most likely to object against the sale of items for money.

The Diablo 3 real money auction house is a negative sum feature: More real money goes in than comes out. For every player making X dollars from it, another player must have put X + something dollars into it. There are fees both for selling and for removing the money from the system, transaction by transaction. And Blizzard not only makes a profit from those fees, but also from a system which ultimately makes it easier to pay for a WoW subscription with Diablo 3 AH earnings than for a SWTOR subscription or other competitor's product.

The glee with which some players greet the Diablo 3 AH and it's earnings potential suggests a certain moral hypocrisy. It is very hard to condemn some Free2Play game for selling the Sword of Uberness for $10 if at the same time you are selling your Sword of Uberness on the Diablo 3 auction house for $10. From the buyer's point of view, there is no difference from where the Sword of Uberness comes, and who pockets the money. He will simply consider whether the Sword of Uberness is worth $10 to him, and make his purchase decision accordingly. If it was previously argued that this sale was morally wrong, because either it was selling people worthless pixels for money, or because it enabled people to get hold of rewards they "didn't deserve", the fact that part of the money now goes to another player doesn't change that argument at all. Or rather it shows how hollow these arguments were, and how quickly forgotten in view of a prospect for profit.
Diablo III will legalize gambling. Because no matter what people say, the RMAH *is* gambling (saved the free weekly auctions).

I was very excited about the whole "real money" stuff but in the long run I feel it will ruin the overall "gaming feeling". The very best items will be sold for money (chopping out any "gold only" player). Players will just think the monetary way, focusing on "making money" more than having fun.
Tobold, you wrote:

And a great number of people over the years expressed their belief that enabling people to buy advantages in game for real money is morally wrong. Now it turns out that there is a secret caveat: "Selling players in-game advantages for real money is morally wrong, unless of course the money is going to my pocket instead of that of the game company".

You are confusing two groups of people. Some people feel it is wrong to buy in-game advantages for real money ("pay-to-win"), and some people are happy to sell such advantages.

The two groups are not the same people, and it's a ,logical fallacy to assume that they are.
You're missing a very important thing here: If someone buys your D3 Sword of überness, it enables him to kill NPC monsters faster in a Single player game.

However, if someone where to buy a Sword of überness in Wow (just an example, might as well be runescape), it enables them to kill other players faster/better, sometimes even to the point of the non-moneyspenders not having a chance.

That, and there seems to be a wide disparity between what people are ok with in a Single player game, vs. what they are ok with in a Multiplayer game.
I don't know where you're pulling out the secret caveat. For example, I've been against F2P/microtransaction and I'm still against, Diablo III or not. My guess is that the others sharing my position are exactly in the same situation. Who exactly did you see reversing his position?
In my mind, at least, the distinction has always been that it is 'bad' to sell an advantage over those who don't pay - a gameplay advantage, not a time advantage.

As anything obtainable through the RMT auction house will be obtainable through normal play, there is no issue, it is simply an accelerant.
I don't think that the RMAH is same as item shops and pay for win.

Few things first - everything sold in the RMAH must be produced by a player. It is also not in infinite supply. So you cannot buy advantage - every item in RMAH is obtainable for the players in other ways. Think of it as the Guild Wars PVP packs. Or paying someone 1000g to run you trough SM/RFD/Scholomance/Stratholme. I personally don't intend to use it.
The fact that anybody who is not planning to play 14 hours a day thinks that they can compete with the Chinese farmers and make a significant amount of money in D3, is ridiculous in and of itself.
I wrote before:

Blizzard knows best about the future evolution of WoW. They know what patches they have planned, have done extensive market research and probably have a few informants at EA and NCSoft. And based on that information they consider it unlikely that the average WoW player, who agrees to this offer, would have been subscribed for 7 months or more during the coming 12 months.

This still holds. If you take this offer you speculate against a party who simply knows better. That's not very smart.
Fair point well made. I refuse to play FTP games for the listed reasons, it's not free to play, its pay to win. I'm sure a smarter writer than I could draw comparisons to a free market economy and FTP games and a socialist one where everyone pays high taxes but the state provides all services, such as some nordic countries/pay monthy games.

Regarding Diablo 3; I agree with all your points, but would add another reason on why I wont play it: it just doesn't look very interesting. *ducks and covers*
The two groups are not the same people

Think of it as a Venn diagram: The two groups are not the same, but there is a significant overlap. Of course there are people who believe buying advantages is wrong is either situation, and those who believe it is right in either situation.

But by comparing the prevailing attitudes of earlier against Free2Play and now for making money in Diablo, I am sure that there is a large group of people in the overlap section of the diagram.
On the bright side, it'll be interesting to see how the RMAH works out in practice. My suspicion is that you'll have to work pretty hard (or get v lucky) in D3 to reliably pay subscriptions from it, but who knows?
There are so many ways to justify buying power that only the most ostrich-headed can say it's morally wrong with a straight face.
There are several significant differences between Item Shop and RMAH:

RMAH items can all be earned without paying, by playing. You can get Sword of Uberness by farming it yourself, while you cannot get it in an item Shop way.

Also, RMAH guarantees that money-paying people will be LESS geared than HC players, as they can only buy what HCs sell and they will only sell second hand items, the ones they don't use it themselves. So you pay to "keep up" and not to "win".
The very best items will be sold for money

That's not necesserily true. With two different monetary systems there will be an exchange rate that will stabilize over time. So if you've got a good item which is worth a lot on the gold AH you can sell it there, and with that money you buy other stuff that is cheap there to place on the RMAH. At least that's how I've understood how it works.

Sure, people will tend to sell good items on the RMAH, but the wise player should realize that it might not always be the best thing to do.
One reason players were willing to pay so much more money for playing MMOs is 'meaning': the feeling that what you do matters. Past MMOs created this meaning by having a persistent world, persistent characters, social communities, etc.

Microtransactions per se never really helped this feeling. If anything they hurt the feeling, because if other players are better or cooler they probably have payed the company some extra money for this. F2P and MT feel arbitrary and cheap.

The RMAH feels completely different. While it still suffers from the fact that players are cooler/better because they payed for it, the RMAH directly connects your game with your real life; via your bank account.

Now, I think players will find out soon enough that this connecttion isn't really all that good. But for the moment this connection imbues D3 with lots of meaning. If you are 'good' at D3 you're not just good: you can also gain real money from it.

Now this is probably wrong for the vast majority of players. But it is still the current feeling among those who like the RMAH.

Put another way:
The trick with MMOs has always been that these games were more than 'just a game' for the players. That was the reason the players were willing to pay so much money for playing them - and even 'working' in them. Connecting your bank account in a two-directional way with your game is another way to make players care. And the more players care, the more they are willing to pay.
I think one can hold a different position about different games without being a hypocrite. Most people are comfortable with being able to buy advantage in F2P MMOs but would not be comfortable with teams being able to buy a 10m headstart in an Olympics race.

To me Diablo is an item farming game. As such allowing us to sell the items makes it more fun.

My ideal MMO would be a level playing field game with regard to real world cash. That's because I'd like to play in a world where people didn't beat you in fights or out-perform you in pve because they bought potions and gear in the cash shop. I don't think that's hypocritical it's just liking different games in different ways.

Similarly I like massively multiplayer games but I wouldn't like massively multiplayer chess.
Less than Pay-to-win, the idea of real money in a virtual game frustrates me because the last thing I want to do in a fantasy world is...think about real money.

The virtual experience feels more complete when the economy is part of the game rather than a monetized mechanic. I am naive to think there is any chance of mmorpg's not moving forward on this profit center.
In order to realistically make a game that is not influenced by IRL currency. You would have to make items bind on account. This is not a good option for D3 because the "market" is such a huge part of the game. You cannot have a game with a market that is not affected by IRL money because you cannot stop "on the side" transactions for in-game items. Blizzard's only choice for this game was to bring the RMAH (that would exist outside the game regardless) in-house. At least this way it can police the transactions that affect their game and make a few bucks too.

If you don't like this, then maybe this isn't the game for you. You might want to try a game where items are fully binding so they cannot be traded. Isolating in-game money and tradable items from IRL currency is a nice thought....its just not feasable.
It's all about implementation and context really. The people who pay money for items will probably be universally scorned as cheaters and lazy, but the perception towards the system that provides these items can (and probably should) differ depending how well the system works.

A cash shop that allows you to buy items stronger than in-game items? The worst. A cash shop that allows you to start the game at the same level where the rest of the population is? Convenient.

I don't think that hating the buyers AND the sellers must go hand in hand.
I'm with Yemala, my objection has primarily been to cash shops not real money transactions.

With a cash shop you are introducing items and such artificially. No epic monster was killed for it. And so the only factor holding up scarcity is the users willingness to part with cash.

The RMH just allows players to trade in game items that they have found for cash if someone else is willing to pay for it.

This is something that already happens in most any game like this. And it is outside of Blizzard, or any other companies, ability to stop. By making a way for it to be accomplished in game they can prevent fraud and scams more readily. Which saves them money on customer support from customers who get ripped off by illegal item sales sites, despite the obvious fact that it's not Blizzards problem.

And while Degrin mentions that bind on equip or bind on pickup items could prevent items sales the original Everquest is proof that it won't work. Such measures can prevent some sales but even in EQ there was a thriving account sales community, even WoW saw some of this. Although in WoW it was less of an issue simply because the game was less challenging and time consuming to get end game equipment.
Oh, you noticed too, eh?

The way they try to act like there is no item shop - what is that but an attempt to pretend there isn't an item shop (for all those who hate item shops) when there is?
How is buying an advantage in a single-player game (D3) in any way shape or form comparable to buying an advantage in a Massively Multiplayer game (what you called "Free2Play games")?
Nils wrote: "And based on that information they consider it unlikely that the average WoW player, who agrees to this offer, would have been subscribed for 7 months or more during the coming 12 months."

This isn't quite correct. You should speak instead of the average player who is interested in *both* WoW and Diablo 3. Clearly Blizzard think that their offer will appeal to some who might buy neither, or might just buy a short subscription to WoW.
How is buying an advantage in a single-player game (D3) in any way shape or form comparable to buying an advantage in a Massively Multiplayer game?

How can you draw such a clear line between the two? Isn't it all just shades of grey? Diablo 3 offers the possibility to play with and against other players. World of Warcraft offers the possibility to play all alone. How is a game like Diablo 3 which can't be played offline a "single-player" game?
Not to mention there is a growing trend to play MMO's as glorified single-player games nowadays.
What matters isn't that some play WoW solo, or that you CAN play D3 multiplayer. What matters is how they are played at elite levels.

WoW is a competitive, multiplayer game at high levels. And that's the level that impact of fair/not fair matters most.

If there are "world first kill" types of achievements in D3 that can bring notoriety, get appearances at conventions, etc., then it is multiplayer and will be affected by RMT and a sense that you "bought it", instead of "earned it".
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