|And Lo! Lord Pardo decreed that their bank balances shall tremble!|
The Washington Post covered this story in their business section, presumably they consider this news may affect Activision Blizzard's share price.
Gamasutra heard it straight from the horse's mouth, Mr Rob Pardo explaining the details in a press conference at Blizzard's Irvine CA office.
Then for the big news. Pardo began by discussing the importance of trading items in Diablo, how it had been done online in Diablo II: via manual exchanges, forum posts, or IRC, and "shady third party sites full of gray market stuff." He said, "We can make it better."
With the Diablo III Auction House, players will have a fully-integrated marketplace that allows them to buy and sell items, gold, and components with real-world currency (tentatively divided into U.S. dollars and euros, among others) in their respective territories. According to him, it's based on the World of Warcraft Auction House, but with refinements. Diablo III's iteration allows for auto-bidding and instant buyouts, smart searches based on class, a shared stash, and secure item transfers.
Pardo was swift to mention that it's not an official "Blizzard Store," but a clearinghouse for players to have an open market to facilitate the trading of in-game items with each other. Players will be anonymous during trades, and there will be restrictions on the buying and selling of goods with real-world currency for those who choose to play in Hardcore mode.
He then outlined initial details of transactions. There will be a fee for both item listings and sales. Should players accept in-game currency, their payment will go toward their Battle.net e-balance, which covers auction items, WoW subscriptions, and pets. Should players decide to cash out their items, a currently-unannounced third-party payment provider will handle the transaction and take a percentage of the sale. There won't be any limits on item trading, but there will be a 24-hour cooling period before players can resell a purchased item.
Pardo intimated that if Blizzard didn't take the steps to bring e-commerce in-house, someone else would step in and profit from it. "Players want this... We could take a harder stance, but with Diablo, we think [the Auction House] will end up being a good thing," he said. The fact that in-game bartering and selling had "become a metagame of its own," in his words, was another motivator for launching the new feature.
|This post was brought to you by the Activision CEO and the Powers of Darkness.|
This move incurs a number of legal risks which I believe Blizzard is prepared for and wants to tackle head on.
This article on Eve Online covers some of the implications that follow virtual money becoming real money.
In particular I would draw your attention to the part where the author discusses the games developer becoming effectively a bank.
Under Blizzard's proposed system a player would send them real money, that they would keep in escrow in an account assigned to the player until s/he found items that s/he wished to purchase whereupon they would transfer money from his/her account to the seller.
If it's a real account with real money in that rather sounds like a bank, doesn't it? Sure it's a bank with rather unusual restrictions but I can put money in, take money out and authorise payments to third parties.
There's also the gambling issue. If I do a Pindleskin run knowing I will probably get nothing but I have a 1 in a million chance of a Windforce worth $2000 then isn't that essentially just a reskinned online fruit machine? Do gambling laws apply?
I think that Blizzard is trying to push back the legal restrictions on what is acceptable. This may result in no one really complaining in which case practices considered somewhat shocking now will become commonplace and can later be defended on the grounds that they are usual practice. They may be bitterly contested by lobby groups or class actions in which case Blizzard is likely to throw an army of lawyers into the arena (and they'll be able to afford to from their cut of all the transactions). Blizzard may lose in court in which case they may try to lobby the legislature for law reform.
It's even possible that Blizzard may establish this as normal practice by buying off court actions by settling them. If what they are doing is enforcably wrong but no cases ever get to court because they always settle then after a while what they are doing becomes standard industry practice, is adopted by their competitors and is suddenly much harder to root out.
It makes sense for games companies to take over the third party market. It wouldn't surprise me if more money has been made on World Of Warcraft by people who are not Blizzard than the company itself. It's worth a lot of money to take control of this business.
Whatever happens the MMO hobby will change. I do think the rest of the industry should let Blizzard be an early adopter in this and let them take the risks. But imagine if in a few years this is a battle Blizzard has won for the developers. Imagine crafting in Prime knowing each master crafted epic is worth $5 real cash that will clear a few days after you sell the item. Very interesting eh?