Daily Archives: March 18, 2014

Diablo III Auction House, Going Once, Going Twice…

Gone.

Today’s Diablo III patch is set to pull the auction house out of the game.  There is, of course, a FAQ for this.

Look out

Look out

Some are building this up as a really big deal.  And maybe it is.

The combination of the auction house and the questionable itemization of the game led to a situation where the auction house got out of hand, much to Blizzard’s surprise.  Or so they claim.  It seemed to me that the itemization was going to drive people to the auction house almost immediately after launch.  Others were saying it in beta.  But we all came with the outsider’s point of view, and I have been in enough organizations where the prism of focus has distorted our view of the world as to be unable to see the oncoming train.

And the quote in that link above points to what Blizzard’s goal, which was to control/eliminate third party sales of game items and currency.

Diablo II Shop

Maybe the last time I use this graphic

People who use “Legit” in their site names are clearly evil. *cough*

And a noble goal that was, given that such third parties often end up causing problems for the game.  It even appeared to work.  Pity about the hyper-inflation.  When your game is compared to Weimar Germany, it is never a good thing.  That wasn’t helped by a bug that let people create gold out of thin air.

So, after much consideration, Blizzard came up with a plan.  As part of their shipping Diablo III for consoles, they redid the itemization and did not include an auction house.   When that seemed to go well, they moved to roll those changes into the PC version of the game as part of their ramp up to the Reaper of Souls expansion.

At the end of February we got Diablo III version 2.0, which included a number of changes.

Splash Screen of 2.0 Features

2.0 Features

Itemization… or Loot 2.0…  was clearly the most important, and it looks good so far.  I have not been back to the auction house… nor have I felt any need to go there… since we got this.  I am also pleased with the change in difficulty levels.  Being able to go straight to Hard mode was good.

Today we say farewell to the auction house.  Whether you loved it or hated it, it is now in the past.

And in a week we get the Reaper of Souls expansion.  Sales figures on that will be the test for these changes.  When you just sell the box… and Diablo III sold very well… and are not worried about subscriptions of cash shop sales, your work is pretty much done.  You want to support the game, but as sales taper off, there is little financial motive to make big changes.  Unless, of course, you want to sell an expansion.

People have been coming back to Diablo III to check out the 2.0 changes.  And things have looked pretty good.  But sales of the Reaper of Souls expansion will be the referendum on the whole thing.  Diablo III sold 3.5 million copies in the first 24 hours (a number which I am guessing counts the million World of Warcraft subscribers who got the game for “free” by committing to a year long subscription) and 12 million copies in the first year. (Which also points out how important the PC platform is to this game.  XBox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions came out well after the 12 million mark, and the last quarterly report pegged Diablo III sales as reaching 15 million units.)

So this will be something of a referendum on the game and its changes.  If Blizzard cannot move a couple million copies next week… if they don’t have a press release out about sales… that won’t be a good thing.

I am still torn on the expansion.  I was leaning towards getting it, thinking that at my rate of progress I would be ready to jump right into a brand new Act V at about the time it went live.  And then my Diablo III play time got interrupted with one of those “always online” issues again.

Latency - Smaller is Better

Latency – Smaller is Better

Other online games were fine, including WoW.  But Diablo III was unplayable.  So I went and played WoW.

Now I am about a third of the way through Act III.  I could still catch up and be done and ready for Act V if I pressed hard, but that strays into making the game work, and I like to explore every corner of the map as I play.  So I will likely hold off on the expansion until I am ready for the content.  And I probably won’t be there next week.

In the mean time, according to the shut down FAQ, you have until June 24th to claim or clear out anything you have sitting in the auction house.  And it will remain a legend and cautionary tale, as well as proof once again that economic efficiency can transcend fantasy.  Or as Edward Castronova put it:

Being an elf doesn’t make you turn off the rational economic calculator part of your brain.

We are what we are.

Wally World Gives a Thumbs Up to Used Games

Walmart put out a press release to announce that they will soon be taking used video games in for store credit and refurbishing those games to make them “available for purchase in like-new condition at a great low price.”

WalMartLogo_450

This is no doubt a blow to those who like to frame the used game market as the moral equivalent to software piracy.  And it was always easy to vilify GameStop and its stereotyped raging gamer clientele in that argument, casting them as parasites and thieves respectively.

And while other companies, including Amazon, have dabbled in the use game market, when the largest retailer in the world steps up to the plate on used games… well… things get a bit ugly.

Not that it isn’t easy to vilify Walmart.  They were a customer at a past company I worked for, and they are every bit as difficult to deal with as they have been painted… though often in surprisingly stupid, shoot themselves in the foot sorts of ways.  But when their mind is set, they will get their way.  And if you think somebody is going to be able to pressure them to share a cut of used sales with game studios… something that was being suggested with GameStop… well, good luck with that.

Meanwhile, some companies, including EA, have grudgingly acknowledged in the past that the ability to trade in used games for store credit may, in fact, be propping up the sales of new games.

Using Used to sell New

Using Used to sell New

So one might wonder if this move by Walmart will prove a boon for the gaming companies, despite their grumbling.

Of course, this won’t be any sort of boon for GameStop, which lives in a tight little niche that depends heavily on being the only place close by to take your used games.  But now the big box on the edge of town, where your mom probably shops already, will take them as well.

Anyway, starting on March 26th you will be able to take used games to your local Walmart for store credit.  At some future, as yet unspecified date, Walmart will begin offering “Certified Pre-Owned” video games for sale, with the promise of them being refurbished to “like new” condition.