Blizzard Blindsided by Diablo III Auction House Popularity

While the auction houses reduced the fraud and effectively killed grey-market transactions between players and item- and gold-farming companies that hurt the online Diablo II community, Blizzard did not expect players to use them on the scale that they started to as soon as the game launched. Almost every player uses one or the other, according to Wilson, and nearly half use them regularly.

GameInformer article on Jay Wilson’s GDC 2013 Presentation

Two comments on this.

The first is, of course, that this revelation is months too late.  We were bitching about this sort of thing last fall. (Read my comment on that post.)  Hell, I brought it up in June of last year.

The second is, what do you mean you did not expect it?  Have you guys actually played the game?

The itemization that I experienced was such that nearly every single equipment drop I got was not only many levels below being useful for my character, but also many levels below the monsters dropping it.  Unlike Diablo and Diablo II, where gear you had to grow into was relatively common, I never got a drop like that in Diablo III.

Okay, there was crafting too...

Crafting wasn’t much better…

So I went right to the auction house to sell the useless lower level gear in order to buy gear closer to my level.  And I assumed that this was all part of the master plan to make people use the auction house.  I got that sense almost right away that low level drops were all part of the scheme to prime the AH pump.  He says right there that nearly every player uses the auction house at some point.  The strategy totally worked!

Now they are saying that it wasn’t intentional?

I cannot tell if I should be skeptical or flabbergasted.

In the article, he said they are working on a plan to fix the auction house problem.

Diablo II Shop

While avoiding this again I guess…

This I gotta see.

[Related: Green Armadillo and Player Motivation]

15 thoughts on “Blizzard Blindsided by Diablo III Auction House Popularity

  1. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Rodolfo – Hey, concurrency doesn’t matter when you make your money on box sales. As with SimCity, I am sure they had trouble hearing the complaints over the sound of the money counting machines.

    Old Blizzard would have been talking up an expansion by now.

    Not sure about the current Blizzard.


  2. Josh

    Lies vs incompetence is to AAA game publisher customer relationship management as nature vs nurture is to science. I give up.


  3. Rohan

    I think you’re being unfair. Almost no one anticipated this before D3 came out. Everyone who talked about this, talked about it after the release. The punditry were all concerned about the Real Money auction house before release.

    As to why they are talking about it now? Blizzard just unveiled a PS3/4 version with no AH. They have to explain that. And rumor has it that they will be introducing BoP items into D3 proper.


  4. Stabs

    No one expected it because we all thought it would be fun to progress through the game by collecting gear.

    Now I don’t actually think TAGN is correct in thinking that D2 had lots of drops that you equipped, I remember characters being level 20 with still some white or empty geared slots. But it’s all about accessibility and options. In Diablo 2 the expectation was to wear what you found and twinking was pleasurable, an upgrade beyond the usual curve. In Diablo 3 the expectation was to buy and found gear competed with the excess loot of a million strangers, much of it priced rock bottom.

    This meant that Diablo 3 was less fun because there was nothing exciting about drops.


  5. Azuriel

    Almost no one anticipated this before D3 came out.

    I talked about it three weeks before release, and likely would have sooner had I been selected for closed beta (rather than having to wait for open beta). Not because I’m a genius or anything, but because it becomes immediately obvious the moment you open the AH interface for the first time.

    The only surprising thing about the debacle was that Blizzard was surprised. What did they imagine would happen? Did they not tune Act 2 Inferno difficulty and onward around having +Resist gear in everything? In every Diablo game you end up vendoring thousands of pieces of gear that would have nevertheless been useful to other people. Opening an asynchronous means of exchange with those people that also provided more gold than simply vendoring it instead… I mean, come on.


  6. Ming

    This really confirms something that I’ve been thinking, which is that when making Diablo 3, Blizzard had assumed that the fun of Diablo, the reason people loved playing Diablo, was the farming of gear. So, for example, they originally assumed people would be happy farming the end Acts of Hell before moving unto Inferno, so presumably they thought that the Auction House wouldn’t be popular because it’s more fun to farm gear than buy gear. Right?

    However, it seems clear to me that what people actually find fun is the acquisition of gear, so they turned to the most efficient method of gaining gear, and surprised the developers with the popularity of the Auction House. I seem to recall this is a lesson that the WoW side of Blizzard learned long ago, that players tend to chose the efficient path over the fun path.


  7. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Ming – As Edward Castranova said, “Being an elf doesn’t make you turn off the rational economic calculator part of your brain.” People will tend towards efficiency.

    @Rohan – Unfair for calling him out for bringing up something I noticed pretty quickly upon playing the game (and mentioned in my second big post about playing Diablo III… and when else would I have talked about it?), but which Blizzard took 10 months to admit to? Or have they mentioned this before? I only recall Morhaime lamenting their lack of planning for additional content.

    I really ought to be calling him out for failing to mention the itemization connection with the AH. It can’t be that he fails to see that, right? But maybe that will be part of their fix.

    And if you think I’m not being fair


  8. Rodolfo Rosini


    I believe Blizzard All-stars is the Diablo 3 expansion. It was the pvp/moba component of it that at some point got split and became a standalone product.

    I am basing this on the release dates on the Blizz roadmap leaked a while ago. It kinda fits with a ‘missing’ D3 expansion 1.


  9. Aufero

    Oh, come on.

    This is Jay Wilson, the man in charge of the design team that made sure no one could play on Inferno difficulty without using the auction house. Is he seriously trying to get people to believe that wasn’t planned?

    “I think we would turn it off if we could,” (but it’s) “not as easy as that”.

    You’re right, it’s not. For one thing, Bobby Kotick would make Mike Morhaime fire your ass.


  10. Stabs

    “@Stabs – I think there is a point somewhere in what you wrote, but I am dammed if I can find it.”


    This is the point. In D2 where expectations are set by the gear that drops it’s fun to get a power-up some other way (twinking etc). In D3 where expectations are set by the AH gear that drops is meh.

    So D2 has fun drops and D3 doesn’t.


  11. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Stabs – Ah, got it. Spot on.

    I went into D3 saying I wasn’t going to use the AH, but then I really wanted a weapon upgrade and the drops were not providing it. So I went to get just that ONE thing. There I found that I could get a good upgrade for not too much gold. And so I went there for all upgrades going forward.

    Because the AH became the source of upgrades, people needed more gold, so they were selling their own below level to them, but great for others drops. And a thriving economy was born.

    Ironic that they managed that on… accident… while some MMOs just can’t make that happen at all.


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