Recently I decided to pick up Diablo 3 again. I hadn’t played it in a quite awhile, and when I had stopped it wasn’t because I wasn’t enjoying it, but rather because I had a flare with my hands and the Diablo controls were pretty hard on them. But now that I’m not spending a lot of time playing as much WoW and abusing my hands with raiding, dailys and whatnot there, I figured I’d check out the many changes that were made in Diablo (most of which I really like!).
It’s been so long since I’ve played, and there have been so many changes, that I found myself pretty lost. While the spec I was running when I stopped playing is still serving me very well, a little bit of research has shown me that other specs may now be more viable. That being said, I don’t know if some of the more popular specs really fit my preferred playstyle so I’m toying around with meshing what I like about my spec into what I like about those specs and seeing how it works for me. Anyhow, because I felt so out of touch, I decide to simply restart inferno from scratch and play my way through again. I’m at the point in act two where I’ve finished assembling Zultan Khule and I need to go meet his treacherous, double crossing self. In the process I’ve found three legendaries (two of which I am pretty sure are rubbish) and gained three and a half paragon levels. Not too shabby.
Since I have decided to pick the game back up, Brade also decided to update his and resume playing again as well. We generally had a lot of fun playing together and I imagine that once his schedule settles down (and I’ve finished my current play through), we will pair up for shenanigans again. One of the topics that came up while we were discussing some of the changes was the auction house (not the real money one, which we’ve never used, just the gold one). He made a statement that he thought the game would have been more fun without the addition of the auction house – and I tend to agree with him.
As such, I wanted to explore that thought a little bit – but break it down into two areas: The dominance of the Auction House “game” and the subsequent loss of community by virtue of the convenience of the auction house.
Now, before I go any further I want to state that I have an understanding of why both the gold and real money auction house were added to the game. I understand (or at least think I do) what they were created to combat. And despite anyone’s tinfoil hat theories regarding them, on paper, from a purely logistical standpoint they both make a lot of sense. Ok, now that is out of the way let’s talk about the auction house’s effect on the game.
The Auction House Game
While Brade and I were talking he made the statement that he wished he had never starting using the Auction House. The basic premise behind this thought is that, at least in very early Diablo, the game really ended up being more about “playing” the Auction House than it was playing Diablo, which inherently seems backwards. The Auction House is supposed to be a feature of the game, not the main focus. Yet the nature of Diablo meant that you often obtain loot that was a) a downgrade, but still decent; b) terrible; or c) a great item that you simply had no use for. This, in turn, lends itself very well to the auction house as you often had things of no value to you to sell.
But this also meant that rather than grinding through the game, holding your breath at each drop that RNG was your friend, you simply had to scour the Auction House to find the item you wanted. Subsequently, it also meant that you had to list your items so that you had the gold to support purchasing the items on the Auction House. And if you were really into the Auction House Game, you could simply buy low, sell high – gear your character to the teeth, and defeat everything with limited amounts of time actually spent “playing” Diablo itself. And while that may be energizing and exciting to some, I also feel that it isn’t a model that is likely to retain players. I suspect that there is only so much Auction Housing that one can do before it becomes tired – and if there is no other reason to play the game, because you’ve monopolized your corner of the Auction House, decked yourself out in the best gear and beaten all of the content – well, what’s the point of continuing to play?
Now, since my return to the game the only time that I’ve visited the Auction House was to look at the front page – laugh that things were somewhere in the range of 300 million gold – and move along. For now, I have made the decision to enjoy the game of Diablo (as opposed to the game of the Diablo Auction House). And once again, as I find my yellows and oranges, I find that I am secretly crossing my fingers that I might be opening up something exciting. And, well, that seems a lot more satisfying to me as a player. I find that I am happy to plod along through the story, and be curious at what lies behind each hidden drop. At least for now. I don’t know if my opinion on this will change as I continue to play, and I reserve the right for it to do so, but at this time I am certainly finding that letting RNG truly play its intended aspect in the game is more exciting than trying to save up enough gold and/or window shop the Auction House.
Which, of course, leads me to question what would the game have been like if it didn’t release with an Auction House? Would people have enjoyed it more? Would more people have spent more time becoming engrossed in the story and game play and less time in the menu screen? Honestly, I don’t have a definitive answer – and I do acknowledge that there were some issues with the release version of Diablo – but I can’t help but think that the game inevitably lost something when they effectively took away the excitement of having a rare item drop and uncovering the treasures underneath.
Did the Auction House dilute the potential Diablo Community?
In the interest of full disclosure – I never played Diablo 2 while it was current. However, as I understand it, the game built a great number of communities that lasted for many years. Some were trade oriented, some game oriented – but regardless it fostered communication regarding the game. However, with the advent of the Auction House in the game it seems that the need for some of the game community has been erased. I mean, why get to know other players when everything you might need/want is right there within the game itself?
Sure, it’s convenient. It’s easy. But with the integration of the new, advanced Battle.net system implemented and required to play the game, it seems that building communities was meant to be a focus. And that makes sense – because communities bind people together, and subsequently facilitate tying them to the game. As such, the added convenience of the Auction House seems to be counterproductive with strengthening the game through a strong community.
Since my return to the game, I’ve been trying to get up to speed on the changes. I’ve found two main resources (and maybe I’m missing something): The Official Forums and Reddit. Unfortunately, both of these places are well known for their proof of the great internet fuckwad theory. However, I ventured forth anyhow. I will admit that I have found some helpful resources – I’ve also found an equal or greater number that are significantly outdated and last updated around the time I stopped playing. This seems indicative that many people stopped playing around the same time I did.
When I think about this a little more, I liken it a bit to the advent of Looking for Raid in WoW. While the tool is convenient, and serves a certain (debatable) purpose, it is seemingly at a very high cost. Sure, you can throw 25 people together to “see” raid content, but at what cost? There is no team work involved. No planning, no strategy. If it weren’t for the frequently immature behavior, you could be tossed into a single player situation with 24 AI characters filling the other roles and you would never know the difference. In my opinion, community is one of the strongest things about raid teams. Unifying 25 people, with a common goal, to overcome challenges. And without that community – what is the point? I mean, you could take this argument even further by arguing that things like LFR, that require no community, take the “MM” out of “MMO” – although this is likely a topic that is probably best left for another day, as I’m starting to take this tangent out of context.
So where was I? Right – Community.
Now, I fully understand that Diablo is perhaps meant to be a game experienced Solo. And I don’t doubt that there are people who fully embrace that and only see Battle.net as a huge pain in the ass that they must deal with to play. But I’d argue that solo play isn’t the direction Blizzard went with this game. While I do not think that it falls into an MMO category, I do think that it was the intent that this game be experienced with friends – and the option to make new friends in the process. Which, in turn, could be argued is meant to help build a Diablo community.
And in that light, the Auction House seems to completely contradict that goal. The simple convenience of utilizing the Auction House means that you never have to venture out and meet new people within the community if you aren’t having the luck you need to find your gear. All you need to do is have enough gold, or time to amass enough gold, and go visit the cold interface of the Auction House. Which, in turn, seemingly encourages more insular play and less community outreach.
Is it possible to find a balance?
I honestly don’t know. I mean, I am sure it could be a huge pain in the ass if you wanted to organize a trade previously. But you also probably spent more time actually playing the game. I know that I am having more fun with Auction House free game play – and perhaps I am just being naïve, but I feel that I appreciate what I do in the game more. I appreciate the possibilities behind each drop. I appreciate each elite pack and boss. I appreciate the time I spend doing what are frequently viewed as mundane things.
What do you think? Would Diablo have been more fun for you without an Auction House? Can you think of any creative alternatives to the Auction House that would encourage community?