Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Diablo 3: Who's who in the economy?

The Buyers

The Veteran - Most buyers I think will be ambitious experienced players wanting to be a little bit stronger. Someone like me in fact - if I spot a good deal on a +magic find item I don't mind dropping a few pounds on it. Maybe it'll pay itself off. Some of the systems in the game seem very cleverly designed to get people to spend just a little. For example the skill planner I've been playing with recently uses level 7 runes which are ilvl 58 and presumably only drop in Inferno. Some of the builds I made need the full bonus of the rune to make the build work, my Teleport build would be much less good if a cheap rune was in the Teleport spell and that meant you had too short a window to find your next destination. So you can build something on the planner, get all excited, realise you can't make it work with what you're finding and be drawn to the RMAH to make your build work. People will get sucked in.

The Noobs - Tobold thinks the market will be driven by people who are not very good but want to disguise that by paying for success. He's right that it's a factor, I'm not sure this will be the biggest driver of the economy though. They can pay huge amounts. One DDO player spent $200 on mana pots from the cash shop in the first month of free-to-play. He could have kept them healed using wands bought from vendors cheaply for in-game gold. He didn't know about that and didn't want to tell the others he couldn't keep on healing them.

The Traders - some people will buy items they have no intention of using simply because they think they can sell at a higher price. Sometimes they will be right and make money, sometimes they'll get it wrong and lose out.

The Narcissists - some people will buy items because of the appearance. Dyes, flashy spell effects and cool looking armour will have value to them.

The Big Spender - anecdotes abound of That Guy. You know of him, you've heard about him. He's the guy who spent $6m on his house in planet Calypso; the guy who bought over $100k of plex in Eve or the celebrity whose wife owns a Spectral Tiger in WoW. Of course what these people are really buying is celebrity, the fact that they value owning something that other people can't afford is a phenomenon that gave rise to the unfortunate cash shop monocle in Eve. Count on hearing stories of spectacular extravagance in D3 (because the whole point of spending 1000 times more than anyone else is to have people notice "wow, that guy spent 1000 times more than me").

The pvper - competitive pvp generally forces people to min/max. While there is some scope for coming up with an original and powerful build early on the scene quickly becomes a matter of using cookie cutter builds with specific optimal gear. Anything on the gear list of the most successful cookie cutters will be in high demand.

The Sellers

The regular players - by far the biggest RMAH input will be from normal unremarkable players turning surplus loot into cash. Most of the time these people will never use the AH either to buy or sell but occasionally one of them will find an item that people tell him is worth a decent sum. And he doesn't want to use it. Not individually very economically busy but so many of them that they will dominate the market supply.

The amateur farmer - someone who farms and sells it because it's a minigame. The profits are a way of keeping score. This will be a popular playstyle and a significant source of supply. This is where I'd classify myself.

The trader - buying from other players and re-selling at a profit. I think this will start off quite popular but will burn a lot of people. There are players who think they're incredibly shrewd based on WoW or Eve who are going to get burned when they start playing for real money. It's like someone who usually beats the family at cards over Christmas thinking he'll be great at Poker in the casino. Some people will make money of course and quite possibly a handful of people will make a lot of money.

The Chinese gold farmer (blue collar) - traditionally MMO gold farming has been a low skill low status job in the Asian economies where this has become an industry. The worker moves his character to a zone with non-elite monsters intended for soloing, presses a couple of attacks and collects loot. For hours. At the end of his shift he sells off his loot for anything he can get and a replacement worker starts a shift (selling off anything his colleague failed to liquidate). I think this business model will fail in Diablo 3. Not completely, these guys can farm Nightmare or early Hell but late Hell and Inferno will be too hard for them. The way they share the characters in shifts means workers will sell off all of the character's gear at the end of their shifts which will really mess up the character's ability to farm. The tendency to solo hurts them and the tendency to view this as skillless menial work. There simply won't be much money in mindless farming. We may see these guys turn up in random pugs as magic find leeches.

The Chinese gold farmer (white collar) - currently white collar work in the industry includes things like customer service where the worker has to be a bit more switched on and clued up. (Especially if the exchange of goods is accompanied by social engineering aimed at getting the client's password). Diablo 3 will surely see a new era of professionalism in gold farming where gold farming teams start recruiting good players, where people have sole access to a character, where they keep some of their good gear, and where they play in synergistic teams. I don't think many such teams will be ready to go on Day One but I do think we will see a transition to this format during 2012 and 2013. A feature of this business will be that they trade through Blizzard's system, effectively they're real players who just farm all the time and don't do anything outside the EULA nor behave different from most other players.

The Chinese scammer - scamming, phishing and hacking is the fastest growing part of the RMT industry. This business model is dishonest all the way through. Typically they pay for an account with a stolen credit card number, offer item selling or power leveling that is mainly an attempt to get passwords, phish for passwords, then after a few months log onto their clients' accounts and strip them. These guys will sell D3 items cheaper than the RM auction house to get people to visit sites where they'll use trojans and keyloggers to steal player accounts. They'll get cleverer too so we'll start seeing informational websites and forums that look like they're done by an English-speaker which are actually attempts to steal people's information. Do be careful, I think this sector will get more sophisticated and more desperate because I think Blizzard's model marginalises them. A lot of people buy items in games, most of these will use the obvious in-game system. These businesses can't trade on that system if I'm right in assuming that Blizzard won't let you take real money out until your credit card has cleared. They have to lure people to third party sites.


  1. I would definitely pay for runes if it would let me try out a cool build I wanted to experiment with. I might swear at Blizz in the process but ... yeah.

  2. I find it interesting how these days some players associate cosmetic/vanity items in MMOs with a casual/unserious approach, or "narcissism" as you just called it....kinda shows what a long way the genre has come since the old UO days. things like dyes etc. respond to the wish of more character customization and individuality in MMOs which are after all also about simulation.
    so, I don't understand where the negative connotations come from and what part of the "next gen playerbase" created the idea that cosmetics are for the lessers in MMOs. seriously, who does not care about cool spell effects? :D
    just as an aside, anyway. I have a topic about this in the pipeline already, so this gives me extra food for thought!

    As for the buyers; I agree more with your theory than Tobold's; the willingness to spend money should increase in relation to how competitive and ambitious players are to begin with. I can very well see the "top bracket" players being those who spend the most, driven by perfectionist mindset, wishing to squeeze out the max and also gain time for the "more important things" this way. they will therefore focus on items that create a time gain, rather than mere status or looks.

    Obviously this also depends on the variety of wares the shop will feature.

  3. The infamous spectral tiger, I have sold a handfull of those and never met someone famous:(.

    Most of them were sold over ebay, but i had contact with a few buyers.
    They were average people, with a normal job whose main hobby was World of Warcraft.

    When the tiger was released the game world was plain, a tiger really made you stand out and a friend who got his toon one said that he got a lot of whispers because of the tiger. Today everyone travels on a flashy flying drake, so the uniqueness of the tiger has droped and consquently its price.
    New mounts from the tradingcard game fetch around 80€/120$.

  4. @ Syl sorry it wasn't a meant to be a put down. I have no problems with someone preferring to play a different way to me. Just for myself I very rarely worry about character appearance. I'm more a numbers person than an aesthetics person. But in the end it's all just pixels whether it's a bigger hat or a bigger dps.

    I really don't think someone who spends their energy being stylish is playing the game "worse" than me. They might score lower on certain metrics which could be an issue if we share a group challenge. But someone I don't play with? Do as thou wilt.

    @Christof Well a lot of celebs keep themselves anonymous. Maybe you did meet some but never realised.

  5. Thanks for all your comments on my blog. They were great conversation starters.

    For this post; I think you are moving in the right direction with the right mindset. Really looking forward to seeing how the two of us analyze the ah and where we will differ.

    Should be fun!

  6. The way they share the characters in shifts means workers will sell off all of the character's gear at the end of their shifts which will really mess up the character's ability to farm.

    I don't understand why everyone seems to think that this is the way it is, and so it will always be that way. It's silly. Think about if you were in charge of a group of gold farmers, you're the manager in their little sweatshop. Do you make more gold by having a bunch of naked characters farming lower content, or by keeping some moderately geared characters, do you make more gold being able to farm higher end content? Probably the latter, right? So why the hell wouldn't gold farmers (or at least some of them) just stop selling the gear the character is actually wearing??? The sweatshop manager says "if you sell the gear, you're fired". Hell, maybe the farmer who sells the gear ends up dead in a ditch somewhere, who knows. So the farmer stops doing that. Why does everyone seem to be so fixated on this point, and unwilling to consider that it will very likely change???

  7. @Markco thanks buddy :)

    @Joe I'm saying I think it will change.

  8. I just wonder whether or not there's going to be any major market. Seems like a ton of sellers fighting over the buyers will quickly collapse prices aside from the occasional spike due to newly released items. Though maybe I'm biased by my own lack of interest in spending real money on the ah

  9. All the data we have tells us the market is absolutely huge. I sympathise, at one point I would have felt very tacky buying progress in a game about progress.

    It's clear that a lot of people don't feel that way.

  10. If you look at the market for trading card games, up to a plateau (you have every good card) they are "pay to improve you chances".
    The highly competive tournament players are only a minor fraction of the tcg players. The casual players buy lots of cards on the secondary market.
    So in conclusion, if buying becomes socialy acceptable, it will be done in a huge volumne.

  11. Interesting breakdown. I was thinking I wouldn't be a buyer or a seller.

    I wouldn't buy because anything less than end-game gear is likely to be rendered obsolete as I level, and buying end-game gear is pointless because the only fun (for me) at end-game is to farm for end-game gear.

    And I wouldn't sell because I'm an altoholic and tend to throw any rare item I find on a mule until I have character that can use it. Its extremely unlikely that the time I spend farming any particular rare item would be worth the real money I could get selling the item because if I'm able to find extra such rare items, then they probably aren't that rare and probably won't be worth that much.

    However, your "veteran" category was something I hadn't thought of. I love to plan builds and I can easily see me buying items if they are central to the build itself.

    Nice post -- I can't wait its released...

  12. @John Andrew
    You should read Stabs' blog post on liquidity. Unless you have a certain sentimental value to an item its probably not a good idea to stash it for the long term. Especially when the game first comes out. (Before the market gets saturated)


    Scammers will definitely be on the rise in D3. That is why I would suggest to everyone to get an Authenticator for their account. So if your PW does get hacked, your account is still relatively protected. Its free on your mobile device, or you can buy one for 5 USD on I would still advise scanning for viruses and malware frequently and changing your PW every so often. Especially if you find any on your computer.

    In terms of asian farming groups, I hope D3 will make it hard for them. I feel like its too early too tell till we have the end game content in our hands. I don't think you can stop them, just try to mitigate their effects on the game. After all, scarcity of the higher quality gear is what makes the game enticing to play.

  13. @ Christof I was very keen on Magic: The gathering just after it came out and we played in pubs. If you're spending £20 on beer for the evening it seems trivial to pick up a card too.

    @ John Andrew I'll admit you have caught a mistake, a category I missed. There will be people with no economic participation whatsoever, who will find big ticket items and throw them in the stash with no idea of their value.

    In Diablo 2 because of widespread duping many purists were playing live off the land style just using what they found. I'm sure some people will do this, essentially playing D3 as if it were an offline single player game or a LAN.

    @ Leonidas I really hope that they make life harder for pirates. We can also help by only trading in the game, not on third party sites and as you say by using authenticators and good security practices.