Virtual gold makes the world go round

Real Money Auction House

Image property of Forbes.com

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you probably know that Blizzard’s long-awaited best-seller Diablo 3 features a real money auction house, which was implemented recently after a delay of a few weeks. You might not think that a real money AH is a big deal, I’m here to convince you otherwise.

I’m sure you are aware of the fact that Blizzard is kind of a big deal in the MMO universe. As the creators of the biggest MMO to date and its unannounced sequel Titan (wild speculation), they pull a bit of weight. And when I say a bit I mean they bend the MMO space like a super-massive black hole. Whatever success they meet will most likely be imitated by other, smaller MMO companies. It’s just how it goes and isn’t likely to change unless a wily greedy soul comes up with patenting ideas (it’s bound to happen, with the mentioned company likely pioneering it).

Now with Diablo 3 being an RPG title with coop online play similar to an MMO, only on a smaller scale, I could imagine them testing out things. Like the real money auction house for example. Because the RMAH (as it’s abbreviated) is essentially an experiment. No one has attempted anything similar on this big of a scale before. As the results are practically impossible to determine without implementing it in a major game, BlizzVision went ahead and did just that. What is a couple million dollars spent on developing tech, costumer service and virtual banking anyway, right?

A week has passed since Blizzard implemented the RMAH and I think it’s safe to say that it wasn’t a failure. Items are being sold and people are buying them. Just how big of a deal the auction house is I have no idea but I do know how big of a deal it could become.

You see, with Blizzard making this giant step a fundamental change could occur in the concept of online gaming. What has happened is that suddenly your time inside the game has become monetized. The time you spend playing a game suddenly has real money value. No matter what you’re doing, it can be measured in terms of how much you could potentially have earned during that time.

Let me elaborate; you can sell items for real money. Say a sword is worth ten bucks (or euros). This then gives the average time you need to find a sword, say an hour, a value of ten bucks. Furthermore, since there’s ingame currency the sword has a different, ingame value. Say it’s worth a thousand ingame gold. This directly translates into thousand ingame gold being worth ten bucks. And there you go, you have a Blizzard condoned way of selling gold (farm gold, buy an item, sell it on the RMAH).

Monetized time of an individual is otherwise known as labour.

But that’s not the worst of it. Considering this is Blizzard and that the RMAH in Diablo 3 was only an experiment, we could very well be seeing a similar feature appear in WoW and any future roleplaying projects of this publishing behemoth. With any other MMOs following suit, should this real money trading prove to be successful, we could see some major changes in the way MMO economies work. A world where real money transactions are not only legal, but also publisher condoned through the way of taxing it (Blizzard takes a 15% fee from any amount of money being transferred to a PayPal account), could become a reality.

Strangely, I’m ok with people trading virtual currency for the real one (and inversely). It really depends on the developer/publisher on what they allow the player to buy and what they do to balance out the economy of a game. What terrifies me more is the idea of my time inside a game being valued by real money. “Oh, you spent an hour doing nothing but running around admiring the game world? You could have earned 50 euros grinding instead. Seriously, stop wasting your time man.” A entertainment or a past time could become just another way to earn some money on the side. I don’t want to feel bad just because I’m having fun instead of earning money by grinding.

Although I’m sure many MMO players don’t feel the same way. I’m sure that many are looking forward to the day when they can pay for their subscription with ingame currency, buy ingame items with real money or even earn something on the side simply playing a game they love. Although knowing what gold farmers do to game economies, I doubt any of those dreams can come to fruition. And where there’s legal real money trading, there are gold farmers aplenty. They’re already starting to infest Diablo 3, with Blizzard seemingly doing nothing to stop them.

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