In June, games developer Activision Blizzard announced that its best selling game title, Diablo 3, the third instalment in the popular franchise would be introducing quite a different game experience to players, allowing them, for the first time, to actually make money off of the game, giving them a real money auction house where players could buys and sell the various items and characters that they accrued during the course of the game.
Of course when it was released, Activision was keen to note that it would be very particular about how it handled potential ‘cheaters’ on the auction house, prepared to impose lifetime bans on those found guilty. And it seems that this is indeed a sound measure as since the auction houses launch, it has come to light that gamers are finding a way to exploit the auction house and cash in.
According to reports, certain items on the auction house are commanding very high demand and in turn mean that when sold will generate money. In particular, gold is such an item and so called ‘gold farmers’ have arisen who ‘deal in’ the virtual currency but also make considerable earnings from their ‘trade.’ These gold farmers hoard the currency and then sell it for real cash to players, most often on ‘grey markets’ which are not monitored by Activision. According to a report, the gold farmers are able to sell around 60 million game gold or in real cash, $90 an hour and operate hundreds of Diablo accounts. And this, according to experts, is only the medium range of what the famers can earn.
Speaking about these gold farmers, Games consultant Markus Eikenberry told the BBC, that Diablo 3’s auction house had, in a way legitimised this exploitation saying, "Every farmer dreams of going legit and being able to do business without someone trying to stop them. I'd say 90% of the farmers out there are looking at Diablo 3 right now."
Activision Blizzard has tried to increasingly make it difficult for people to exploit Diablo 3’s auction house and has even banned the most ‘blatant’ of abusers but Mr Eikenberry says that monitoring the auction house will be difficult, "I can see a lot of the pain they are going through. I knew they were going to have a bunch of these problems. Diablo 3 is the first really big title to do a real-money auction house."
But regardless of this problem, it seems that more and more multiplayer online games are turning to other means of revenue in order to stay afloat and the success or failure of Diablo 3’s auction house is being closely watched by the industry.