On the Drawing Board #14: Diablo III Trading


Trading is one of the most important activities in Diablo II, or any RPG. Diablo III looks to do things differently, implementing a WoW Auction House, and a gold currency more similar to WoW than Diablo I or Diablo II. How will this affect the community?

We have been promised systems that will work very well with Diablo III, and nothing will be implemented from WoW that does not fit, but fans are naturally afraid they will bollocks up something anyway. I mean it’s not every decade we get a sequel!

A lot of trade-related issues are discussed in this instalment of On the Drawing Board. Click through to read the whole article.

On the Drawing Board #14: Diablo III Trading

Trading is one of the major aspects of any self-respecting RPG, and Diablo is the prime example. While it’s possible to make monster runs to get your gear, it’s far more likely one of the thousands of players online has exactly what you want. It’s also quite probable that you have something a third person needs. In theory, trading will provide a means to satisfy all three of you. In actuality, it can be tough to manage.

Bartering in RPGs has the same drawback as bartering in a souq — a public market — it becomes pretty loud pretty quick. Trying to find the perfect match for your prized treasure is hard work. Not only do you need to find an interested buyer, but also someone who has items you can use. In terms of a Battle.net chat channel: It’s a lot of spam.

Alternate currencies often evolve in games (or countries) when the natural ones becomes meaningless. In Diablo II, the SoJ (Stone of Jordan) or higher level DiabloWikiRunes are good examples. An item with a value that others recognise, and that’s easy to carry and transfer is excellent to pay items with. Even if the receiving player has no immediate need of SoJs or Runes, he knows that those items will retain their value and that he can trade them when he does find an item he wants.The problem with alternate currencies is that newer players don’t understand the system, and don’t know how to obtain them to get their foot in the door. Another problem is players trying to exploiting the gathering of these items using bots or exploits.

Any form of stable trading requires a level playing field. At the very least it requires everyone to play by the same rules. If a game changes, or a new exploit is found, the effective market will be upset and currencies like SoJ might increase in value or plummet with the change of a drop rate percentage. Commonly known as DiabloWikimudflation, this can be the undoing of any trader. The equivalent fluctuations in economy naturally also happen in the real world, but it’s not really comparable to the frequency of the virtual marketplace.

If no major changes occur, there is still the balance of character levels. A high level character will more easily be able to gather items for a lower level character, but at the same time would not receive the payment a higher level item would give. The curve of quality/availability when leveling needs to be pretty balanced.

While most players certainly don’t think about it, treating the game economy as a “real” market similar to the real world is very good to make a game fun to play. While the items themselves would never be found at Sainsbury’s, the balance we take for granted in our world is subconsciously something we like. It just makes very good sense.

The developers need to treat every resource gain with some sort of “drain”, balancing the two while allowing players as much freedom as possible and keeping it simple< (not turning the game into a maths lesson). The nature of how a player gains resources and how they are spent is also important. There are fun ways to spend money (Alton Towers) and boring ways (council tax). These are strong influences on how players perceive the game as a whole. Would you rather be reminded of something fun, or paying your taxes?

Some games have a minimal input/output of currency or resources, relying on players to do all the trading and running the market. The science fiction MMOG EVE is such an example. Almost the entire economy is run by players, joining up in corporations. This sandbox type of game has yet to take hold among traditional role play games, however and perhaps there’s just more maths graduates in EVE than Diablo…

Gooooold!

Whether Diablo I and Diablo II got their gold economy design on purpose or by accident isn’t really important. Both games have a pretty limited use of the yellow, glimmering substance which is more or less useless at higher level. The only use of D1 gold is buying magical items from Griswold or books from Adria. In Diablo 2 there are very few items worth buying from NPCs (at higher levels) and while gold is needed for repairs, the main purpose for gold in the end game is gambling. Even with gambling added, gold becomes largely irrelevant to most players in the late game. The best items must be found or made from found ingredients. Or traded for, but to trade you’ll need… the alternative currency.

Blizzard has already stated gold in Diablo III will be handled differently, and the development team is looking closely at income and expenditure sources from a design perspective. This is a great relief since the currency will be easy to handle, easy to find and easy to use. This does not mean gold will be easy to gain in large quantities though, in fact it will likely still be a grind. Regardless of exactly what mechanics we’ll see gold in, the change from previous Diablo games will simplify all sorts of trading significantly with a single, logical and easy to use currency.

One great disadvantage of using a currency so easy to store and transfer is the emergence of gold farmers and sellers. A commodity that takes time to gather, but otherwise is indistinguishable from other units of the same item will be grinded and sold for real money. Some players are just lazy, others just make a choice to spend what they earn in an hour of real life work to purchase an amount of gold they’d need to spend ten hours grinding away to accumulate.

China recently banned gold farming, which might have a limiting effect on real money trading (RMT) in computer games. Or it could just turn those Chinese sellers into account hackers, looking to obtain more valuable resources directly. (Hacking has increased noticeably over the past few years.) Reports conflict, so who knows what actually will happen…

Perhaps reliable gold currency is completely detrimental to Diablo III? One can argue that the best trades are done with items alone. You can see exactly what trades are available, you get exactly what you want when you agree on a trade. This could be better than a sum of cash, which may or may not be enough to buy the item you actually require.

Another question is if the ease and comfort of a single working currency would possibly increase the number of bots, farmers and hackers? Another question is if all these troubles would be solved by just allowing gold selling?

Automated Trading (Auction Houses)

Players with an ounce of patience can usually get the best of both worlds regardless of bartering or a market based currency. They simply log on to a trading forum of some well established Diablo community, and put their wares out on the web for the public, arranging a meetup to conclude the deal at a later date. Smart trading systems will keep track of previous sales from the trader, and if it’s a known member, a new player can feel safe that he’s not being tricked.

Organising sales out of the chat rooms is good for all players. It means less spam and more freedom to actually chat! Unfortunately, many gamers are impatient and the prospect of waiting several days, holding on to an item in their DiabloWikiinventory or on a mule, is not a very desirable one. The impatient player will spam in the chat channels in the illusion the right person will come along in “just a minute”.

Blizzard has a solution to this as well: the DiabloWikiAuction House (AH) imported from WoW. However, Diablo players have been very negative to any form of influence from World of Warcraft in their favourite game, despite the fact WoW itself is heavily influenced by Diablo II. Many Diablo players dislike everything about WoW simply because of the community surrounding it and the design decisions made for the game. However, it’s important to look at the difference between WoW-features fitting the Diablo III gameplay and features that don’t fit at all. If Blizzard would just exclude ALL features appearing in WoW on principle, Diablo III would be a very poor game. Especially since many of those features were not invented in WoW, and have proved useful in many past games.

An Auction House is arguably one of the features that would do Diablo III trading the most good. It’s a way for players to automate their trading from the game without writing down item names or stats and posting it externally. An Auction House will also let a player do most of his trading offline, leaving the auctions to brew during sleep or work. The system will (hopefully) also present trading in a user friendly interface, rather than the pretty cumbersome way to trade in Diablo II.

A Diablo III AH will probably need a few tweaks to fit in the Diablo community and game engine. The fact that the D3 Team has said they’re philosophically opposed to making very many (if any) Diablo 3 items “Bind on Equip” should work well with trading. Will the game break without item-use limitations, or how will Blizzard stop this from ruining the game?

Despite all the advantages of an AH, there’s still a lot of spam going on in WoW’s trade channel. This spam also spills over to general chat and other popular channels when the seller tries to find his market. Making mass trading easier is also an opening for full-time traders, like in WoW where an efficient AH trader even found the maximum gold limit without farming for a single item. This is not without controversy though, since some players dislike the fact that fortunes can be made in the game without killing monsters or finishing quests.

Finally, we are also troubled by our fond memories of Diablo II trading (or rather memories of occasions when the trading went well, like the ever sunny summers of our childhood). Many players refuse to consider change because of nostalgia, and continues to look at any change as bad, especially if it’s inspired by WoW.

At the same time, it’s easy to dismiss all critical voices as “WoW-haters”, which is certainly not the case.

There are some negative aspects with Auction Houses but also potential for a lot smoother trading, giving players more time playing the game, and less time trying to shift your goods. One thing that remains unanswered is WHERE would it be located?

Free Trading

In the end, the Auction House did not undo the traditional “face to face” trading of WoW and is unlikely to do so in Diablo III. There will be room for trade forums, personal trades and (unfortunately) channel spam regardless of our wishes. Only a strong outcry from the community could make Blizzard change their minds about the Auction House, and there has not been such an outcry. Whether the fans got tired of shouting after the DiabloWikiart controversy, or if most players would really like an Auction House service is irrelevant.

There will be personal trading on a smaller scale than Diablo II, and people will find it easier to get what they want. The question is if removing the compulsory bartering will make the game less personal, or better over all?



This installment of On the Drawing Board was written by Leord. These articles examine crucial game design issues and decisions in Diablo 3 by explaining the issue and presenting arguments for and against. On the Drawing Board aims to spur debate and further the conversation, rather than converting readers to one side or the other. Conversation and disagreement is encouraged. Have your say in the comments, or contact the author directly.

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