Ten Years Later, The Lessons of Diablo III’s Auction House Disaster Haven’t Been Learned

There’s no denying that after more than a decade of waiting, Diablo III wasn’t the game hoped for when it launched 10 years ago. Aside from numerous launch-day issues highlighting its reliance on a persistent online connection—no offline mode was available—Diablo III suffered from a critical balance issue. In a game where loot progression is essential to its enjoyment, it was hampered by one big idea: what if players could sell in-game items to each other, even for real money?

Diablo III’s Auction House seemed like an interesting idea. The loot you’ve collected through traditional play could be put up for sale in-game, allowing you to trade for better, more character-specific items, or simply allowing you to earn real money for the hours you’ve spent to hack the demons. But the problems with this approach were quick to surface. For one thing, Diablo III’s loot system was unsatisfactory. You get a lot of them, with items popping out of the bodies of slain enemies, but most of the time they were low quality or useless for your chosen class. This frustration was compounded by the ever-present temptation of the auction house – if I couldn’t get the crossbow I wanted, why not just buy it? And if I can buy it, why play at all?

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Diablo, and action role-playing games like it, are all structured to elicit a reaction from its players: an almost insatiable urge to keep getting better and better loot. That’s the singular purpose that all of the other supporting gameplay mechanics serve, whether it’s effect-laden animations that bring out a new weapon, or math equations in the background ensuring you have always a consistent, yet engaging, challenge ahead, encouraging you to keep the grind going. The Auction House has removed this entirely. The ability to simply buy your way to the best gear made actual Diablo III gameplay completely redundant. Why spend hours upon hours playing when you can just buy whatever gear you want, especially when Diablo III’s initial loot system did a frustrating job of serving you whatever loot you could use?

The dissonance between Diablo III’s Action House and its underlying gameplay has added resonance today, given the growing interest in play-to-earn games. Although not new – many appeared right after the creation of the first NFTs in 2017 – these have become big talking points among major publicly traded game publishers and their plans to include blockchain technology in their future. Axie Infinity is arguably the most popular of them. Launched in 2018, it looks and plays a lot like contemporaries like Pokemon, allowing you to collect a range of monsters and battle against other players. Battles reward you with Smooth Love Potion crypto tokens, as well as Axie Infinity Shard (AIS) tokens, both of which can be exchanged for other cryptocurrencies or fiat currency (traditional currency like US dollars). The monsters used in these battles are also NFTs, allowing them to be sold and traded for the same income, creating an economy around rare creatures and players fighting battles for the respective tokens.

At his height, Axie Infinity has attracted many gamers mainly looking for a new way to earn money, not those necessarily looking for an engaging gaming experience. This is especially evident in regions such as the Philippines, where many young players used Axie Infinity profits as their sole source of income. Some pools were created where a single owner would provide players with the three monsters needed to start playing (a barrier to entry that cost hundreds of dollars) and take a share of the profits from the battles they were used in. Although initially lucrative, interest in Axie Infinity has sharply declined since late 2021 and struggling to recover from damaging hack which cost players millions of dollars earlier this year.

Although Axie Infinity uses blockchain and Diablo III’s auction house uses an ecosystem that is fully controlled by Blizzard, the design of both serves the same purpose. In Axie Infinity, all gameplay is designed around its economy – how much is awarded to players after a battle, the rarity of certain monsters, and which traits are most desirable. With Diablo III, you can see that Blizzard was thinking about the same things ten years ago. The game was criticized by players who suspected it had been balanced in a way that caused them to use the Auction House, thanks to overly repetitive and fairly worthless loot. By incentivizing players to spend money rather than play, all in pursuit of the discount Blizzard would take from all real-money transactions, it undermined Diablo III’s ability to be anywhere near of the same captivating dungeon-crawling and loot-hunting experience as the acclaimed Diablo II.

The good news is that with this realization, Blizzard has made two of the best possible changes to Diablo III. First, the complete removal of the Auction House, re-establishing the enduring trope of killing enemies for better loot. The other was the introduction of what it called Loot 2.0, which arrived a few months later and just before the launch of the game’s first and only expansion, Reaper of Souls. With Loot 2.0, Blizzard loosened the limits on character-bound gear, instead binding high-level items to your account and giving you a handful of chances to trade it between created characters. The algorithm behind the loot has also been overhauled with the idea of ​​”quality over quantity” in mind. You were no longer getting shards of lower level items or gear that were reserved for other classes. Instead, you always had gear that tempted you to equip it immediately, bringing back the fervor to keep grinding for hours on end.

Diablo 3

It helped immensely that this patch came before Reaper of Souls, which itself overhauled many aspects of Diablo III to give it a much stronger lasting appeal. Aside from a rather brilliant campaign and storyline that followed the events of the good, but safe, Diablo III, it introduced the endgame loop that many players still engage with today. Seasons were introduced to give players a reason to come back every few months, while Adventure Mode lets you explore Diablo III’s many maps and the rewards they offer outside the confines of the linear path of the game. campaign. With that came Nephalem Rifts – random dungeons that offered plenty of loot rewards and chances to open even more lucrative Greater Rifts. Paragon levels have also been changed to be account-based rather than character-based, allowing players to reap the rewards across a variety of playthroughs.

With this new base established, Blizzard had successfully fixed what it had set in motion nearly two years prior. And despite the bad taste it left in the mouths of so many players, Diablo III’s continued success shows that the work was worth it. To this day, Blizzard continues to update its ARPG with new seasons and support it with patches, as the developer moves forward with work on Diablo Immortal (originally announced as a mobile-exclusive entry now also coming to PC). ) and Diablo IV.

Diablo III was poised to be a disaster – a new-age take on the ARPG that firmly cemented why the genre had fallen out of favor since Diablo II was released. It embodied so many of the industry’s worst fears at the time, with its always-online requirement locking out thousands of people for days and its auction house confusing its goal of balance. It’s how Blizzard finally found its way out of the mess that should serve as a lesson on its 10th anniversary: ​​that players will suffer the occasional inconvenience and frustration if your game is just too fun to stay away from. . And, given the surge in interest in gambling-to-win games, it seems inevitable that others will also have to learn it the hard way.

Read more: How Diablo 3 went from a disastrous launch to one hell of a good time