Diablo 3 is a game that I honestly haven't been paying much attention to. Not only because it isn't a true MMO, but because I didn't see much about it that truly excited me. Dungeon crawlers are not my favorite sub-genre of the RPG world, and even though Blizzard's series is the unquestioned pinnacle of that category, I just never really followed its development. With my gaming time being all the more scarce these days, I can't afford to "invest" it in games I only feel half-hearted about. That all being said, most of the attention D3 is gaining these days has very little to do with how the game itself actually plays... no one is really talking about the classes, or the dungeons, or the graphics, or any of the usual things that gamers like to talk about. No, D3 is in the news for a much more practical reason... money.
The news that D3 would have an auction house where players could buy items for real currency (RMAH) has been around for a while now. But recently several MMO bloggers have picked up the issue and been writing about it. Folks like Tobold, Gevlon, and Azuriel have chimed in recently with their opinions on the RMAH and what it means for MMO's. You can read their posts for yourself and get their full opinions, but needless to say the MMO community is coming to the realization that D3's RMAH is going to have significant impacts on the MMO genre even though this game itself does not qualify as one. Tobold's point is an especially interesting one as it does seem to make a difference to gamers if we are getting a cut of "pay-to-win" instead of just the game company itself.
I have always believed that the implementation of the RMAH in D3 is Blizzard's way of "beta testing" the concept for their upcoming Project Titan MMO. I think Blizzard sees the potential in trying to change the traditional subscription model, but they do not want to embrace the current forms of "free-to-play." They know they are leaving "money on the table" with subscriptions only (hence the increase in sparkle ponies and other micro-transactions in World of Warcraft) but I think they also realize that their target audience will not support F2P in its current interpretation. So they need a way to tap into that segment of the market that is willing to pay more, without directly alienating those players who prefer the simplicity and stability of the traditional subscription. Enter the RMAH.
This is why D3 could be a potential earthquake to MMO's even though it isn't one itself. Blizzard remains the standard by which the industry is judged. If the RMAH is successful in D3 and if it is implemented as part of Titan's payment system, every MMO developer will have to take notice, and anyone who is still committed to the subscription model is going to have to consider a similar implementation in order to "keep up." It doesn't matter how profitable a game might be already. As we have discussed here already, the gaming industry is a case of "how much can I make NOW?" If Blizzard starts making even more money, everyone else will be scrambling to try and duplicate their latest effort. Nevermind the fact that all the attempts to clone WoW ended up falling flat for various reasons. Insert cliche about not learning history and repeating it.
So what do I actually think about the RMAH? Is it a good development? I honestly don't know just yet. As I've said before, I am big on the certainty of the standard subscription. I pay my fee, I get to play the game. Even in a hybrid F2P system I would never allow myself to spend more in a month than I would otherwise have spent via subscription. But are we looking at the end of the traditional subscription model? F2P advocates have been screaming this for months already and pointing at the recent F2P conversions as proof. I can't see the big players like Blizzard or EA abandoning subscriptions entirely, but if D3 is successful, and if they bring RMAH to Titan we may certainly see the end of "subscription only" as a payment model. Time will tell, and I'll certainly be watching.
What do you think? Will you be playing D3? Will you participate in the RMAH?