There have been so many stories since Diablo 3’s launch highlighting various issues but many have not examined all the factors that contribute to its failure to meet many people’s high expectations. A new article on Forbes, Diablo 3 Needs an Endgame, and Fast makes a decent attempt at looking at the problems and why Blizzard need to address these as soon as possible.
Commenting on the drop in player numbers which was highlighted in the recent Xfire statistics, the author adds:
Why is this a financial issue for Blizzard? There’s no monthly fee for Diablo, and most companies would be thrilled with the kinds of sales numbers the game has put up so far. Once they’ve put in their $60, who cares if they play for four hours or four thousand?
But it’s different this time around. The new Real Money Auction House has changed all that. It’s an additional revenue stream for Blizzard which takes a cut of commodities and items sold in the game, generally around 15% of whatever’s put to market and pulled out through Paypal in real cash. If they could generate the kind of long lasting and established economy that Diablo 2 has had for the last decade, Diablo 3 could be a constant revenue stream for them. Items have been selling for the maximum price of $250 for weeks since the RMAH opened, and with Blizzard getting a cut of everything, that can add up to a significant sum if a large number of players are motivated to buy or sell the best gear.
The problem now is that they’re leaving, and less players means less sales on the RMAH and Blizzard’s experiment looks increasingly like a not-so-good idea. The Auction House was a gamble for them. They wanted a cut of the black market item and gold sales they knew would exist with or without such a feature, so they made the AH a central feature of the game. THE central feature, really.
The RMAH is probably the main reason the game’s design missed the mark in places. Because there was no monthly subscription model the only way to monetise the game was through a Real Money Auction House.
When the RMAH was announced last August I did feel a little uncomfortable about it because ultimately Blizzard would control the economy with item drop rates, which could be changed at any time. From the outpouring on our forums at the time I wasn’t alone in this uneasy feeling. However, after the dust settled, some began to feel it could become an enjoyable dimension to the game and in turn add longevity.
I don’t believe many Diablo 2 players were concerned about problems with the “black market”. Blizzard are keen to at least try and stamp it out, which so far has proved unsuccessful with the prices of gold on the black market likely to trump anything the RMAH could offer. However, there is a comforting level of security when using the RMAH which offers reassurance to players concerned with getting ripped off by third party sites.
With the rise in the free-to-play model, one option open to Blizzard was to release Diablo 3 for free and rely on the RMAH entirely. I think if that had happened there would be fewer complaints because people wouldn’t have felt out of pocket. It would probably have bought Blizzard extra time to continue development and avoid the sizeable drop-off in players.
Free-to-play gamer numbers now equal subscription gamer numbers for the first time (see story), and F2P is expected to surpass the subs model in 2013. With such a long Diablo 3 development cycle, and having restarted development of the game after Blizzard North was shut down, it would have taken far too long to recoup costs with a F2P model so was unlikely to have ever been on the table. It’s a nice idea though.
Blizzard have a lot riding on Diablo 3, their reputation for one, so I am confident they will make every effort to resolve the end game, items and economy. It will take a little time for the development team to fix the mistakes. I think fans of the series, like all of us here, are behind Blizzard 100% but its success could rest with fans’ willingness to be forgiving of the mistakes and patient enough to wait and return when the issues have been resolved.