The following article was created by an exchange of emails between Flux and Katniss, a forum and podcast regular. In it we debate the merits of the Diablo 3 Auction House and its impact on the game economy, with special focus on whether the AH creates a long term “item game” that adds a content and fun to Diablo 3. (Plus various related topics.)

    Katniss has been playing the DiabloWikiDiablo 3 console since launch, and given that that version of the game does not have an Auction House (or any other sort of in-game trading or communication mechanism), and its economy benefits from the much-buffed drop rate of Loot 1.5, he’s an excellent source of information and opinion on how Diablo 3 will play out, post-Auction House. Will we miss the trading and “slow path to riches” provided by the Auction House once it’s gone? Or are we just thinking from a D3V point of view, and come improved drop rates and other new features, our current mindset will prove irrelevant?

    Here’s the debate:

    Blizzard recently confirmed that they’re going to add additional content to the Diablo 3 Console, as a way to make happier the fans who are getting bored already. They didn’t give details and I assumed they were talking about patching in DiabloWikiLoot 2.0 or DiabloWikiParagon 2.0 or DiabloWikiNephalem Trials or some of the other upcoming stuff that’s going to be patched into D3V before RoS. We’ll find out about that at some point, but what I found interesting was the console boredom, which I’ve heard from a number of people playing it. You included, Katniss.

    In comments to that console news item I threw out a slightly trolling thought experiment. Is the console getting boring in part since there’s no Auction House and no secure economy or trading system?

    So here’s the logic. Console is much more fun to self find and you get much better gear much more quickly than on the PC. Which is great and most people love “Loot 1.5” console style… but there’s a down side. Once you’ve got a high level character on the console, the items you find are 1) amazing and useful, or 2) not upgrades = junk. And since there’s no secure economy or trading system or Auction House, players have very little use for anything they find that’s not an upgrade for their current character. since there’s no practical way to trade or sell it.

    This differs a lot from the PC, where you hardly ever find upgrades for well-geared chars, but you find a constant array of gear that’s good enough to sell and add to your gold balance. Here’s my analogy: the great items you find and want and use are “dollar-quality” items. You almost never find those on the PC, but you can find a glittering array of penny and nickle and dime and sometimes even quarter-quality items, which the Auction House allows you to easily convert into gold. Which you can save up for the dollar-quality items you really want.

    That’s a play style and long term enjoyment that doesn’t exist at all on the console. Do you miss it?

    I agree that because trading is thwarted a bit by there being no AH in console and lackluster community engagement, therefore your hypothesis of people only caring about finding items for themselves holds true. I don’t believe that the “economy” of the console is one of thinking of, “What can I get or trade for this item?” but more, “Can any of my characters use this as an upgrade?”

    And that leads me to my first point:

    Click through to continue the discussion…

    There are essentially two types of players when you break it down: 1) Those who are driven to have one ultimately powerful character and don’t care about the other classes because they’ve made their choice and that’s all they’re now interested in. 2) And the type of player who likes playing multiple classes and could have a main but doesn’t consider that to be the end all be all. For type two, their “main” IS an Auction House and whenever they find anything, it can be hoarded and used on another character.

    I think for either type of player, after you surpass a certain gear level, lower quality gear becomes superfluous anyway. The only time it really works is if you have some mechanic taking items and characters out of endgame, such as hardcore mode.

    It sounds like you agree that the lack of an AH kills the long term item game and “getting rich is my objective” style, but that you don’t miss it. That’s just now, though. how about in some months, when all your chars are geared to the point they can’t find upgrades anymore? Will it be annoying when all you want are upgrades with a .01% chance to drop, and don’t have any AH to sell all the other stuff you find, or to potentially buy your upgrades from?

    I think the item game is partly influenced by how the player plays and how they view their character slots. The item game enlarges the more classes you have when there is no AH, and the item game also enlarges depending on how many friends you want to support with item finds, and how active you plan to be about using other mediums to get in touch with players.

    The console’s community structures are essentially non-existent. There is no typing and no in-game headset support, so trading amounts to, “throw something on the ground and hope someone needs it” or else you just salvage it and play for yourself.

    Lastly, it’s up to the developers to really make us want to value and retain some of the lower quality gear; come Reaper of Souls, if there are certain affixes or passive benefits only available on ilevel 67 gear for instance, maybe that’s something someone might be hard pressed to give up for a pure main stat upgrade or something with a ilevel 70 replacement piece.

    Slightly OT, but don’t the console type Smart Drops hurt twinking and finding gear for other chars/classes? It’s not identical to the “smart drops” Blizzard says we’ll see in Loot 2.0, but for instance if you’re playing a Monk, almost every good item you find will have +Dexterity, and you’ll hardly ever find anything with big bonuses to STR or INT.

    Is that an issue you’ve noticed? Can you effectively item hunt for other classes, especially classes with different mainstats? Or do you get enough legendaries of use for other classes? Say you’re playing a Barb; if you find a legendary wand or source or mojo or xbow, it’s not going to have +400 strength on it, right?

    Well, there are tradeoffs to any system, right? The smart drops system does not have the goal of twinking in mind. It is a reaction to people crying out for a chance to self-find their own upgrades. If more items roll with stats customized toward the character you’re currently playing, then the odds of that item being an upgrade are already at least 2/3 better than if they were to roll with one of the other two main stats. Twinking is hurt (that is if you aren’t planning your next character to be one of the same main stat as what you’re currently playing) in that respect, but what this “problem” actually opens up is replayability. It now asks the player to go and explore the game with a new class in order to find gear for that specific class. In the same way that finding gear for other classes to use is exciting, it’s probably even more exciting and rewarding to find the gear for that new character as you progress with that character, rather than holding a bunch of stuff in escrow and feeling like you’re just waiting to unlock level 30 or 50 or 70 so that you can equip all of it.

    In my specific experience, I’ve found offhands for other classes that are specific to that class and they roll perfectly well for that other class with no “wasted” stats. I think that’s smart drops at work. One of my first set item drops when I got into farming on console was a Chantodo’s Force (and the Wizard was the last class I finally leveled to 60). It had everything a CM Wizard would need. I think, however, that a twink item found this way only gives you a starting point for that class because when you do then get on your Wizard and are finally able to use that item, odds are that if the same item were to drop again, it will be an upgrade due to the likelihood of a higher Intelligence roll.

    So where are you on the “it’s getting boring not finding more upgrades” curve on the console? Still finding new gear and getting self found joy? Do you see that state holding long term? Will you still want to play once you’ve got a char super geared and the upgrade hose has slowed to a trickle?

    Can you imagine how the console would work if there was item security and an AH for easy trading? Would that change how you play? Would self found be less fun with shopping as an option? Also, would the hypothetical console Auction House be useful? Would you buy and/or sell in it? Or do you think it would it be so choked with fantastic gear for minimal prices that it would totally short circuit the proper game progression and selfie fun?

    I’d ask that as a preview for Diablo 3 PC’s future, but it seems likely Loot 2.0 will come in with the shutdown of the Auction House in March, so we’ll never have an AH when players are finding far more quality gear.

    It depends on what class I play. There are certain items that I want to find for certain classes to specifically upgrade them (with the knowledge that some of them have very unique affixes such as a Sledge Fist for the Monk or all of the DiabloWikiEHP provided by a well-rolled Vile Wards).

    I will be the first to admit that my time on the console has definitely trickled off. Now that I have leveled all classes to the end game and beaten Inferno with them all, that “…what’s next?” feeling has begun to creep in. I think the item hunt and the paragon leveling would still be fun on the console if certain elements like the density changes were included and there was just generally more content. Right now on console once you have well-geared characters, your only goals are to get more paragon levels (which really don’t provide much since the rate of finding Legendaries is pretty steady) and to advance to a higher Master (Monster Power) level. Both of these things don’t exactly change what you do in the game though. So, I’d say the boredom is less from the item hunt, but how you go about the item hunt.

    When you say shopping, do you mean actually buying items with real-life money micro-transactions or do you mean using the in-game currency? I guess it’s not that big of a difference when it comes down to it, but I’d say that if the Auction House in any form existed on the console, it would completely undermine what makes the console version have that reaction from the fan base of, “Wow, this is so much fun. Look at all of the ridiculous items I’ve found.”

    Because it’s so easy to get upgrades, that means that really good items quickly become trash and if everyone was putting them up on the AH, their prices would be low and make the item very obtainable and you’d wreck the hunt for yourself in the same way that many people who have hacked the game have already done and found out for themselves. The fun of the console would absolutely be compromised.

    I meant using gold you get from item sales to buy other items. I guess the same principle works for $ you get from item sales that you use to buy other items, but I’ve never done it that way. On the larger issue though, it sounds like you slightly miss the item/economy game that the Auction House allows, but that not really since self finding is so viable on the console. I think it’s interesting that you don’t think “BOTH!!1!” would be an improvement. So I guess the self finding is good so long as that’s the only way to play? If an AH was there, you think it would undermine, rather than enhance.

    Any thoughts on what sort of trading system might come in for the PC once the AH is gone? Most PC players think that’s essential, but we’re thinking in terms of the current economy. As you point out, there’s literally no trading system on the console, and you don’t seem to really miss it since self finding is so viable.

    How about a trading system for gems or materials or the like? I can’t imagine playing the game now without the ability to buy those since I do way more crafting than I find commodities for. Or is that just a PC mindset, and I only need to craft so much since I can’t self find the way you do on the console?

    I think it’s important that any of the future changes promised with Loot 2.0 for PC occur in a world where this is no Auction House to promote efficient trade. Like I’ve mentioned previously, people will always take the easiest route to gain the most power, so if you have the handout system that is the Auction House, you’re going to experience likely what I’ve predicted above if the console had an AH, but perhaps at a slower rate since it seems the shelf life of the PC version is meant to go far beyond the shelf life of the console in its current form.

    That said, you need a system that encourages community, socialization, and the exchange of ideas, builds, and possibly items. This seems to be what Blizzard wants to accomplish with guilds/clans. These features have a lot of potential to take the ease of the blow from what many feel the AH represented in access to trading. If they implement a bank or repository, then everyone will want to be part of a clan or guild (but hopefully they will have size limits so that there’s some selectivity) and this way, there will be what we used to see where people named games “FreeEE ITEMZ n0w” and just dumped stuff on the ground. Maybe you do a loot run or Nephalem Trial, get a bunch of stuff, but none of it is an upgrade or only slight sidegrade; you throw it in the clan bank and hope that someone else will find something they can use, go on a loot run of their own, and return the favor.

    Now, I used the word “need” before because I see the state of items on console and “need” feels appropriate. I’ve salvaged countless items that I know would be awesome for other players simply because my characters have surpassed that gear level. Now, if everyone is self-finding the same items and the same relative quality, then no one is really harmed by that salvage, but if there IS a little more randomization and specification introduced (i.e. many of these new passive effects), then even items that aren’t necessarily statistical upgrades will become useful because someone might want to take a hit to their DPS or EHP to gain a certain passive effect. And that means means keeping items around that might work in quirky builds will be essential… as would a way to disseminate these items quickly to friends and strangers alike.

    That sounds like a point *for* my initial argument. That you do miss some kind of trading system (if not the actual Auction House) since you’re finding lots of items that would be useful for most other players… but since they’re 1% worse than your high end gear they are junk. You wish there was a way to “disseminate these items quickly to friends and strangers alike.”

    I can think of one… and it’s an anagram of HA! But if that process is too quick and easy, then there goes the fun of finding upgrades on your own, when your rich friends can hook you up. Or rich strangers can sell to you…

    It sounds like a total cop-out, but I think we’ll really have to see how the system goes once it’s live. We can only speculate now, with no idea just how good the drop rate will be in Loot 2.0. At any rate, it sounds like starting a new char of a class your friend has been playing is a wise strategy, since smart drops means your friend will find great gear that’s not quite great enough for them.

    What I would ask you is whether you believe that there is a replacement system that can balance both maintaining the integrity of a loot system that is supposed to provide the enjoyment of slaying monsters for upgrades and power increases while still enabling robust social features and the possibility of lucrative trading, albeit in a limited fashion. What if you were only allowed to trade one item per week?

    I don’t think that would work, since it’s just too limited. Might as well not have the system at all. Five items a week? Three items listed at once? Or what if you flip it, and you can list all you want but you can only *buy* one item a week?

    I am not against the concept of limiting trading, but I’d do it more with individual items. I pitched this to Wyatt during an interview, but what if there was a self found bonus, and all items had say, 5% higher stats when first found, and that bonus vanished if the item was ever traded. Wyatt didn’t like the idea of limiting trades and thought the concept would confuse players (which it probably would), but I think it’s got potential.

    I know Blizzard is less likely to institute things that feel like limitations, but it seems when it comes to trading, we had the extreme example of “Have everything you want whenever you want it!” Everyone wanted it yesterday so they utilized that system. If trading becomes frustrated by the lack of a centralized location for doing so, will people be more inclined to play the game and find enjoyment, or will they be grumpy having to grind for items BECAUSE they have already lived in a Diablo world that knew the ease of an Auction House?

    Or will they just hit up third party trading sites? I have never bothered with that in D3 since the AH is so efficient, but if there was no AH I’d have been using trading forums and other less-savory options all along. But of course that’s in the current D3V, which is far from designed for successful high end self finding.

    The related issue is crafting. I mentioned earlier that crafting seems impossible in D3 without an AH, at least for some players. I certainly craft a vast amount more mats than I have ever found myself, and I like the ease of buying more mats and I like that poor or new players can bootstrap themselves up by finding and selling them. Dealing Tomes of Secret was the main source of all my early Hardcore gold, and I have no idea how I would have built up gold to buy equip without the AH. Or where I’d have bought the items I did. But again, I’m speaking from a D3V mindset. Loot 2.0 will probably change that.

    Crafting sits at an interesting place in Diablo currently. There is no denying the potency of the BOA plans on PC, but with the scaling up of low level legendaries on the console, there are potentially some items that STILL beat out those crafted items in their slots. As a result my high end chars are really are on a Legendary-Only hunt. I think that’s bad. I think you need to be able to put together the Best in Slot pieces from different quality tiers. There should be some slots that rares really are the top and best in, and there should be other slots where only the most perfect crafts will beat out anything else.

    We will need reasons to utilize the many systems and features they add in, but if they make one any more important than the other, then that’s what we’ll all funnel into. It’s going to be a hard balancing game. If the Mystic is too OP, you can guarantee there will be an outcry for a boost to whatever materials it takes to use her because everyone will constantly be seeking her services. So, I’d say it’s less about needing an Auction House for the materials than it is about balancing how those materials make it into the game and how needed they are.

    Maybe you just play normally and you get a nice stockpile of resources from doing the several various end game systems and by the time you really need an upgrade in a slot where a crafted item would make sense, you can do it in a nice big batch and the end result is something that pleases you. Then you go back to whatever activity it would take you to find a new slot upgrade whether that be gambling gold for a chance at a randomly awesome Rare, or loot hunting for that specific Legendary with a specific passive. We just need more diversity and a reason to maintain diversity, and I think many of the other problems will answer themselves that way.

    These emails were written for this purpose (we traded some IMs on the topic, realized it was a good one to debate, and fleshed out our original points for this ultimate purpose) and I hope to present more such email exchange/debates in the future. (I wanted to do Azzure and my Gold Value debate in this format, but didn’t think of it until too late.)

    If you’ve got a topic to suggest or you want to take part in a similar conversation, feel free to [email protected] your idea. Thanks to Katniss for his insights and finger-music.

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