If you fly too close to the sun…
The long awaited release of Blizzard’s Diablo 3 was rocky to begin with due the presence of an ‘always-on’ DRM system, that didn’t exactly work in the first days it went into service. But it wasn’t until the technical issues were worked out that other, more fundamental, problems with the game made themselves known.
I found myself plugging away at Diablo 3, the same way I did with Diablo 2, but something was missing. It took me a few hours to realize that I just wasn’t having as much fun as I did with the previous games.
What took me a little longer to figure out was that I wasn’t having fun because I wasn’t really going after loot like I used to. Why was this? Diablo 3 still has plenty of loot dropping from enemies, so what was the problem? The Auction House, that was the problem.
The drops I was getting were simply not living up to what I could easily purchase on the Auction House, simply by exiting the main game and clicking a few buttons. Not only that, but for a few dollars I could hit up the “Real Money” Auction House and buy even better gear that real players were selling.
It turns out I wasn’t alone. In a recent article on Joystiq, Diablo 3 Director, Jay Wilson, told them that nearly every player has used the Auction House at least once, and over 50% of them use it “regularly.” In the same article he says he believes the Auction House “really hurt the game” because it “damaged item rewards” by encouraging players to bypass the normal, in-game, reward system of finding new, better, loot.
Here’s where I think they went wrong: World of Warcraft led them astray. You see, as a long time, on and off, player of Blizzard’s famous MMO I’ve spent my fair share of gold in the WoW Auction House. WoW and Diablo 3 follow the same basic formula, when boiled down, of killing things to level up and acquire loot. The further you get in the game, the better loot you can find, and the better loot you can use. This formula has been rinsed and repeated millions of times in both games and, though dumbing it down doesn’t do it a whole lot of justice, it works because it’s fun.
But why does the Auction House work in WoW and not in Diablo 3, if the games are so similar at their cores? Simple. WoW does not allow you to sell top-tier loot. You will find all kinds of gear by completing quests and defeating enemies, and players can even craft some pretty good gear themselves, but the best stuff is dropped by dungeon bosses and earned through player-vs-player challenges. This gear is usually the best stuff your character can use, based on their level, but it is bound to your character and cannot be sold in the Auction House.
These restrictions are what allows WoW to augment the core game formula, without breaking it. You can always hit up the Auction House to beef up your gear for the next challenge, but if you really want the best loot the game has to offer, you have to work for it and working for it is the basis of the whole formula.
Now, you may have heard me talk about how I wasn’t bothered by games like Dead Space 3, and the Need for Speed series, having a micro transaction system to buy in-game items, so why am I here saying that they effectively ruin Diablo 3 and not Dead Space 3? This is because these games follow a different formula and, though they have similarities, the reward system is more varied. Racing a clean race and taking the top position has its own reward, as does skillfully shooting off all the limbs of a Necromorph, so you can buy gear, or not buy gear, without drastically altering the formula.
The sad part of all of this is that the persistent online connection was brought in to keep the Auction House system from being flooded by hacked items, but if there were no Auction House to begin with, there would be no need for an always-on connection thus eliminating, what I see as, both of Diablo 3’s major issues. What’s good to know is that this was, at least in part, a lesson learned for the development team and that they’re ditching both systems in the upcoming console release of Diablo 3.