Diablo III Will Make Gold Farming Legit

By  |  Monday, August 1, 2011 at 6:00 pm

With Diablo III, Blizzard will attempt to legitimize a black market tradition of gold farming by letting players auction off virtual items and gold for real-world currency.

The feature, called Auction House, aims to wipe out sites like D2Items.com and D2Legit.com, along with scam artists and spammers. Blizzard says it won’t be selling any items on its own. Instead, the market will be determined entirely by the players, with Blizzard collecting a listing fee, plus a transaction fee if the item or currency is sold. Money from sold items will appear as credit in players’ Battle.net accounts, and players can convert that credit to cash using an unnamed third-party payment service. (Paypal’s my guess.)

A separate version of Auction House will use in-game currency for transactions, so players won’t have to spend real money on virtual goods.

Auction House is a fascinating move that’s sure to divide Blizzard’s fans. On one hand, it encourages players to pay their way to the top of a game, cheapening the experience for players who’d rather put in the effort on their own. On the other, it’s a new kind of hook for an already addictive franchise. Even if this stuff was happening before, Blizzard is now sanctioning it and making it dead-simple.

That raises a bigger concern: Gold-farming — the act of playing a game solely to raise in-game currency that can be sold for real money — is a serious problem, with horror stories about forced prison labor and sweatshop playing conditions in China. The idea that Blizzard could profit from this activity seems unsavory at best. In an interview with PC Gamer, Diablo III’s executive producer Rob Pardo dodged a question on whether Blizzard was encouraging the exploitative side of gold farming.

Diablo III players may also face a higher risk of hacked Battle.net accounts, as every player’s progress will be worth a certain amount of real-world currency.

These aren’t unsolvable problems. Blizzard could implement safeguards to fight egregious gold farming and to prevent hackers from buying or selling goods on behalf of their victims. I understand it was a big day for Diablo III news, including the announcement of a beta and the controversial decision to require an Internet connection to play the game at all times. But in time, I hope Blizzard circles back to address some of the issues that Auction House has raised.


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14 Comments For This Post

  1. OnlyShawn Says:

    Interesting article, Mr. Newman. One thought I had while reading it, in regards to Blizzard's involvement in the apparently already existing market: The only way to have a black market is to have things declared illegal. Now, I don't play Diablo or any other m3qpa&RPG (or, however that acronym goes) games, but it seems to me that Blizzard's involvement just drastically reduced the price of trading gold, thereby increasing the supply of gold available, thereby decreasing the profit available to "illegal" or illicit gold producers. Basically, now, gold in the game gets closer to the actual marginal cost of producing gold, and therefore should cut out a lot of the illicit stuff.

    IF that line of reasoning is correct (and I stress the 'if,' because I don't know the ins and outs of the gold-creating process or the market for it), Blizzard's involvement is actually good for those who are currently being exploited as gold farmers…no?

  2. JaredNewman Says:

    Interesting point (although I think it would work the opposite direction from how you describe it: the increased number of ordinary gamers selling their wares increases supply, thereby driving down prices). I could see that making the illicit market unsustainable. Or it could make conditions even worse for gold farmers as the pressure to produce is higher. Like you, I don't know the ins and outs. That's why it'd be great to hear from Blizzard on the matter.


  3. Paul Puri Says:

    This will open up the market to more people. The only thing holding most people from gold farming was the risk of losing an account. Now it is sanctioned by Blizzard. The possible outcome is to open up competition and potentially turn it into a hobby for extra lunch money. This could actually kill the illegal gold farmers.

  4. Onlyshawn Says:

    I’d think that, as costs (and subsequently, prices) go down (we’re saying the same thing there, I think), illicit activities will just stop providing THIS PARTICULAR subset of the good. Since there’s still demand for in-game cash elsewhere, in other games, they’d probably just shift to making gold there. If Blizzard’s action catches on with other game makers, this revenue stream would mostly just dry up for the black market.

    That said, given the vast difference in opportunity cost between western game players and Chinese gold-farmer’s time, there will always be a market for those Chinese willing (or forced) to sell their time. Hopefully the reduced transaction costs provided by Blizzard’s actions will allow more money to flow directly to the farmers themselves, rather than any “slave drivers” (it’s shaming to compare clicking away at a computer to actual slavery, but the figure of speech is what it is…)

    The most interesting bit of economics here, to me, is that it’s the sweatshop/prison labor owners who would lobby hardest (undercover, of course) to take just the sort of actions you suggest (making farming more illegal, stiffer penalties, etc.). Bruce Yandle’s got some fascinating stuff on this in a paper called “Bootleggers and Baptists”…there’s a great interview with him on the EconTalk podcast, if anyone’s interested.


  5. WontonSoup Says:

    I see, as OnlyShawn said, prices going down. You say that farms might put their workers under more pressure when their gold sales drop. I see the whole market becoming unsustainable. As it was, those exploited for gold farming were overworked. If the market got worse, the exploited would be worked beyond their threshold — the operation would fall apart. Farms' options seem limited to dramatically growing their operations, so that they could continue undercutting regular players' sales. I dont think it's realistic to think farms have enough wealth to grow their operations enough to stay competitive.

  6. Ray Says:

    Is this game out now? I can't wait to play it XD

  7. Preman Says:

    Is this game suitable for all of ages? it will be fun if can be playing with my son…

  8. RPG PC Games Says:

    Definitely not suitable for all of ages. The good news: Diablo 3 will be very likely still popular by the time your son is old enough to play with you. 😉

  9. Rizki Says:

    perhaps for some future time, this game will be booming. but just like other games, will be replaced with a better game.

  10. Legendro Says:

    Maybe it would be a new challenge for game lovers.. XD

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