Would Diablo Have Been More Fun Without An Auction House?   6 comments

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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?

Posted March 6, 2013 by Beruthiel in Diablo

6 responses to “Would Diablo Have Been More Fun Without An Auction House?

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  1. I posted something very similar a couple days ago: Diablo 3, the Auction House, and Efficiency. Great minds … ;)

    Though I didn’t look at it from the point of view of community. I always played D2 as a single-player game. I think the AH was bad for the basic game. Trading may have created a community, but I think it was also a source of a lot of scamming and customer service issues. I am not really sure how valuable the D2 trading “community” really was.

    • I pretty much agree with this. I had very little interest in playing D3 heavily as a multiplayer game. Ignoring that the game wasn’t properly tested at the higher levels, etc, and focusing just on the fact that the item drops were balanced around making people use the AH, the AH was bad for the game. The moment you essentially balance the game around a limited number of basic items for the whole community is pretty much the moment you need to re-evaluate your design goals.
      Blizz knew that a sizable chunk of people (I’m tempted to say they may have even said “most” at one point) who played D2 didn’t even log into the original battle.net, which should have been a heavy indicator that they had a sizable population that is not interested in not only multiplayer, but also trading. Forcing those players to game the AH in order to be able to play the actual game is a great way to not only drive those players away, but leave a bad taste in their mouth afterwards. I know the D3’s aftertaste is still too strong almost a year later for me to attempt to try it again, it actually even drove me away from the genre which was a genre that first pulled me into rpgs and multiplayer games (Dark Alliance series and Champions of Norath and the like). I couldn’t even stomach to try Torchlight 2 or Path of Exile because D3 polarized me so heavily towards the genre, a genre I spent a good chunk of my teen years playing with friends on a couch on weekends with bowls of popcorn and pizza.

      Like Rohan said, I can see the reasons for the AH and the initial drop rate balancing. There was an intent to lower the amount of customer service to be provided by eliminating a portion of the game that caused the most traffic for shady practices. There was also a desire to not have to wipe characters to reset the economy. There was also an obvious intent for Blizzard to make a little bit of cash off the real money AH, cash that otherwise would have gone through third party sites offering the same service like in D2. I can see some good intent behind the decisions, but I do believe that not once were any of the decisions called into question and asked the most basic of questions that is of the most importance when making a game, “Is this fun?” Playing from 1 to 60 wasn’t that fun, whether you used the AH or not (I did try both ways), and the “end game” at 60 was not fun since it was balanced around you and thousands of others playing at the same time and only a handful of you got an upgrade for your time played.

  2. I too just recently picked up D3 again with 2 characters in hell mode, no infernal yet for me. And like you again I too play lots less WoW since I have no desire for the raiding schedule again, I was big in BC and Lich. I looked at the gold AH once or twice, laughed over the ridiculous prices and went back to my mostly solo play. I have a good WoW friend who plays D3 with me and sometimes I join a public game for the company.

    I miss D2, but I played the same way there, mostly solo with some public. I’ve never felt a need for the AH and it does seem to me to get in the way of just playing the game and hoping for good drops, keeping what I might use on another toon or just selling .. horrors, I’ve sold legendaries.. :)

    Love your posts, it’s cool to run into fellow players with similar outlooks but who get me to thinking about different things about the games I love.

  3. I don’t think it would have been more fun, in fact late Hell difficulty would have started to get extremely tedious if not for the AH. Then again, I’m one of the weird few who doesn’t think the D3 AH was a big problem. As it is, even with the AH Inferno was too tedious for me…getting one and two-shot by unavoidable attacks is not my idea of fun. That was a while ago, so not sure what it is like now.

  4. A someone who played D2 a lot and has spent at least 500 hours in D3 i am still not sure what i think about the AH, on the one hand it has made it a lot easier to trade then in D2 and i don’t have to spend hours or days in trade chat or on trade forums to transform a item i have into a item i want. But on the other hand it has made it almost impossible to sell any item that is below great in quality. I recently leveled a Barbarian to 60 and thanks to AH i managed to get geared enough to farm Inferno on MP 1-3 in 2 hours for less then 2M gold. But at the same time the AH makes it almost impossible to get any useful self found gear since you can easily and rather cheep buy gear at least up to “good enough to solo the entire game on inferno” mode and anything better then that is extremly rare.

  5. Pingback: Weekend Open Thread: Game On | Mama Needs Mana

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