The shady gangsters at Blizzard have now ensured Diablo III’s infamous real-money transactions are available in Europe, offering gamers (or maybe the odd hacker too) the ability to trade-in virtual items for real money. This is something that has amazed me for sometime, the fact that items that don’t actually exist are now a billion dollar industry.
Despite my reservations, the hawking of virtual gear for real money has been around for sometime now and is not going away any time soon, so maybe it should be of no surprise that rather than tackle this problem head on, Blizzard themselves could get a nice slice of the pie too.
This is where the line of best practice and knowing right from wrong becomes a little blurry, as Blizzard can potentially act as a pimp of sorts, by taking a cool 15% of each trade and looking the other way. If they were then to clamp down hard on suspicious activity, then they are also cutting into their own profit.
To give you an idea about the kind of money we are talking about here, a friend of mine entered a pub recently with the biggest smile I have ever seen. “You won the lottery?” I asked.
“Close, I have just sold a virtual one-handed mace, shiny ring, wizard hat and a shield for £800!” he replied.
As he went into more detail, I was quickly made aware that both Blizzard and Paypal (yes, them again) will be taking a hefty cut of the sales, but this still left him with over £500 in his pocket for selling four virtual items. Ultimately, everybody walked away from this deal very happy.
He had spent over 100 hours of gameplay to earn his bounty, which you could argue paid him £5 an hour for playing a game, and there are much worse ways of earning money. However, when this kind of money is at stake, there will always be unscrupulous characters that will always look for the angle or loophole on how they can make quick easy money.
The harsh truth is that hacking is much more widespread than some would have you believe. Just like real life, there will be people who have plundered thousands of accounts, waiting for their day to strike like a cobra to fence their stolen gold for real money, as long as they stay under Blizzard’s radar.
A quick read of how China has used prisoners in lucrative internet gaming work, where it is thought that there are 100,000 full-time gold farmers for World of Warcraft, quickly opens your eyes to just how much money is involved here.
Call me old-fashioned, but gaming should be about fun and not about scavenging an online world looking for swag to make a few quid. Shouldn’t Blizzard concentrate on making the best possible game they can, and move away from milking their cash cows until they run dry? Their behaviour is becoming incredibly boring and predictable now.
How many other publishers are watching this very closely and thinking about introducing their own real money auctions, with a tasty 15% cut to maximise their profits? Could this open the floodgates and quickly become common place?
Microsoft hinted only a few days ago that this Autumn, Xbox 360 achievements could soon be used to earn real-life Microsoft Points, when they Tweeted “Coming Fall: a new way to earn Rewards based on your Achievements“, sending the internet rumour mill into overdrive.
If something like this really does take off, we could end up in the situation where to be successful in an online game, you will need to have bloody good hacking skills and an army of bots at your disposal or a bulging bank account. The alternative would be to face a fate of getting your ass kicked night after night by people who prefer to take the shortcut to success.
What are your thoughts of the real money auction house? Is it harmless making a few pounds from your hard-earned gaming hours, or will it simply open Pandora’s Box and ruin gaming as we know it?