Diablo III RMT
Real-money trading (gold selling to all you WoW players out there) tends to belong into the gray realm of activities that are against the terms of service of most online games but are still participated in by many players. Personally I’m not one to buy in-game advantages with real money, but the only reason I haven’t sold my Diablo II possessions when I stopped playing is that the market had crashed by that time. Now Blizzard has announced that they will be taking RMT out of the gray zone and place it smack in the middle of their upcoming Diablo III. You will not only be able to sell your unwanted items through the in-game auction house for gold (which by itself is an incredibly useful feature for a Diablo-style game to have) but also for real money.
There is a chance that this will facilitate gold farming, sweatshops, and botting. I would guess though, that the more criminally inclined have already been performing RMT when it wasn’t legal. It feels to me as if this move is likely to actually reduce the influence of gold-farming businesses due to the influx of legitimately acquired items and gold on the market. Suddenly my purchase of that Windforce doesn’t directly support some shady individual running a minimum-wage sweatshop but might just go to a real player who got lucky on a drop instead.
I’m more afraid of what this move will do to the psyche of the players. Once you assign real world value to in-game items, you add a layer of seriousness to the game that might not be appropriate. We can see a bit of this in Magic Online, where players will pick valuable cards in booster draft instead of cards that would improve their game play experience and will use every available avenue to win games, even if that means stalling the other player until they run out of time. Furthermore, players are far less likely to do something that does not net them money (or might even lose them some.)
The Diablo III model is a bit like F2P that way. In a F2P game, you can choose to spend real money to improve your character. In Diablo III you can choose not to sell an item to achieve the same goal. While a bit harder for players to understand, that opportunity cost is essentially the same as the cost in an actual F2P game. Whether you spend $100 on that magic sword or find the sword and choose not to sell it for $100, you are out a Benjamin either way.
Luckily, most players don’t actually understand opportunity cost (“How can you sell your enchants this cheap?” – “I farmed the mats myself, so they were free!”) and will therefore not be swayed by the fact that using that sword instead of selling it hurts them financially. In my own case, I hope to be able to just ignore the whole cash-based auction house while I’m playing. And Blizzard is right, this is definitely something that a certain percentage of players desperately want and it already existed anyway, so making it legal and using it to monetize the game is certainly not a bad idea. It still feels dangerous though, from a player’s point of view.
From a scientist’s point of view, I’m excited. My bachelor thesis dealt with economies in MMORPGs (and Diablo II) and I’ve been following the research on it ever since. This is, scientifically speaking, a very interesting experiment and I can just hope that Blizzard will make it possible for us to track the market data in some way (or publish it for scientific use!).