In this somewhat lengthy editorial I'm going to talk about Diablo economy and especially its player economy. Or rather reflect on the economy original Diablo I hadn't and Diablo II had and combine that to what we know of Diablo III and its economy-to-be.
Economy in the real world is currently one of those concepts strongly associated with words like "herpes", "leprosy" and "Ebola". Thanks to some balmy bankers it's gone a bit bonkers. Luckily this is not an editorial about the real world economies, but one about the economy of Sanctuary.
Official Blizzard Quote:
[Jay] Wilson: [...] Most of our focus on Diablo is as a trading game. So, if you take trading out of the item space, you ruin the core of the game. Finding a really great item that is not for you is still a great event because it means you have a bartering tool to get the item that you do want. We definitely want to make sure that that still exists.
Diablo II could arguably be said to be a half bartering, half monster-slaying game for a large share of its players. And as the above quote from a G4TV Interview posted on August 24th 2009, two days after BlizzCon '09, shows that Blizzard is aware of that fact and is taking it in consideration when developing Diablo III.
Diablo II is a game made by its items for many of its players. They're the sweet reward for slaughtering hordes after hordes of Diablo's (and his brothers') minions. Wussy, unmanly games will consider saving the princess itself an adequate reward, but if princesses existed in Sanctuary nobody would save them without befitting royal remuneration.
Here's what Jay Wilson had to say about what is their current plan on the role of different item qualities, taken from DiaboFans' own exclusive Jay Wilson interview on November 24th 2009:
Official Blizzard Quote:
DiabloFans: How will you balance the power of an item in comparison to its drop rate? In Diablo II runewords were extremely powerful, yet the required runes were also extremely rare to come by, or at least were supposed to be. Will there be items as rare in Diablo III that are as powerful from the start, or will players have to slowly improve the quality of their items, through crafting/runes/other systems?
Jay Wilson: Throughout the history of patches on Diablo II, there were a lot of updates to runewords and they really powerful from when they were introduced. At one time or another though all of the different item types were the most powerful, like unique items were the best, or rare items at some point. Our general approach for Diablo III is to make sure that every type of item has a place to be useful. For example, maybe we'll have a legendary item, which is the new name for our unique items, be the best helm, whereas rares will have the most powerful chest armor, and so on. Having a spread like that will allow for a more varied itemization system we hope.
And here's what Jay Wilson had to say in the same G4TV interview about where itemization and economy fit in the development process:
Official Blizzard Quote:
G4: On multiplayer, how much thought at this stage of development is being put into the player economy that will be created online, as far as item bartering and the value of gold goes?
[Jay] Wilson: So, player economy and itemization are two of the last things you do. Mostly because nothing waits for them, but they wait for everything. Until you have vendors in working the way you want, until you have a lot of progression through your game, all your support systems and different items that you find - until you have all of those things - there's really not a lot of go hpoint to doing any in-depth economy or item math. Most of the items that we've done so far are so there are actually items in the game. [...]
As Wilson stated it, itemization and economy are tasks that are done fairly late in the development process, so most of the little we know about them in the next installment will most likely change in due time. However, that does not stop me from reflecting on the past and speculatively writing about them. As with my fifth class speculation editorial, educated speculations is what I do best (in case you have for whatever reason missed that, now is a good time to read it).
The Economy of Diablo I (and the lack thereof)
As any of its players will know, maybe the biggest single flaw of the online experience of the original Diablo game was that it lacked basically any anti-cheating methods for the multiplayer. This can mainly be attributed to the fact that Diablo was not originally designed to be a multiplayer game. Battle.net was an idea that Blizzard came up with only 6 months before the release of the original Diablo, and the multiplayer feature that shipped with it was added quite hastily, without considering what kind of security measures should be placed in it.
Battle.net was originally expanded from the open LAN games Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness (which, by the way, was one of the world's first RTS games played online besides Westwood's Command & Conquer) had. It operated much like an easy to use LAN matchmaking service. When a player connected to a game, they would be connecting directly to the other players in the game. No data was sent through the Battle.net servers. While this made the service quick and easy to use, it quickly led to rampant cheating since players using cheats could modify their game data
Alas, while it gained a notable player-base online, it did not develop a proper economy. This is mainly due to the game not even having a trade window in the first place and to add insult to injury dupes were a rampant problem in the original Diablo, because it was so easy with no closed realms. Players generally just duped the items they needed instead of having any incentive to trade. Gold in it was mainly used to various NPC interactions ranging from buying potions and scrolls and recharging, repairing and buying items. Gold did however play a notable role in the game. I myself remember refreshing the witch Adria's shop inventory countless times to be able to buy that elusive book I wanted.
Adria selling a Book of Telekinesis.
The Diablo II Economy
Gold was just this useless.
http://diablofans.com/forums/picture.php?albumid=86&pictureid=464&thumb=1All this changed when the next installment Diablo II was released in that fateful summer of 2000 and followed by the expansion Lord of Destruction exactly 365 days after. Unlike it's predecessor, Diablo II was designed from the get-go to have an integrated multiplayer in it. It was designed to be a client/server-based game, which allowed for a fairer and safer multiplayer experience for its players than what the first game had. Diablo II was Blizzard's first true client/server game, and lessons learned from making and running it later contributed into World of Warcraft's success. Characters were saved on closed servers, and strong anti-cheating measures such as the Warden and rust-storm were introduced.
This design change created a venue for a trading economy to emerge. Gold was pretty useless in Diablo II beyond few starter items, gambling, repairing items and resurrecting dead mercenaries. At first in the vanilla game rare quality items were the most sought after and a unique ring called The Stone of Jordan, commonly abbreviated as SoJ, emerged as the dominant currency because of its large demand.
Later on, or more specifically when patch 1.10 arrived, runes became the trade medium because a surge in demand for them was created by the plethora of sought after Rune Words being introduced into the game. Runes as a trade medium were later on complemented by the growing popularity of Perfect Gems as the less valuable trade medium.
Dupes have always been a serious problem with Diablo II and as a method gets patched, another is spawned. This has resulted in high runes somewhat dropping in value in relation to the rarest and most sought after uniques ( Crown of Ages, Tyrael's Might, and so forth). And before runes pre-expansion rare items (e.g. boots and charms), such as the infamously good "Soul Shanks" (of USEast) and the 3 max damage, 20 attack rating 20 life small charms (known as 32020's), were duped into a great extent.
Soul shank, a pair of extensively duped pre-1.08 boots.
The Diablo III Economy and Battle.net 2.0
Luckily, Blizzard is trying to rid hacks by taking security into a new level with their new and improved Battle.net 2.0. Valuable experiences from World of Warcraft server infrastructure will most likely yield in hopefully at least a dupe-free and most importantly moderated Battle.net 2.0 experience that is a safe and a friendly environment to play our favorite demon slaying game in.
Official Blizzard Quote:
[Jay] Wilson: [...] So, that being said, the key to doing a good economy is pulling out money at roughly the same rate that you're putting it in. I say roughly because a little bit of inflation is okay, but deflation is generally bad.
As long as you've got a way to get it under control, you know, with DLC or an expansion, make an adjustment. So, having a lot of things for people to spend gold on is really important. Every system that we design, we go, "Oh, how can we spend gold here?" People have asked about a respec system, for example. We will have one. We haven't designed it yet, but I guarantee you that you'll have to spend a lot of gold. I can guarantee that because that's one of the places we'd look at to try and balance the economy. There are a whole bunch of systems like that that we haven't announced or are in progress. "Will you be able to remove gems from items?" Yes, you will able to and I guarantee you it will cost a lot of gold. Those are part of the ways that you handle and make gold valuable.
A thing to note about currencies in a game like Diablo II is that they are what is called a commodity money i.e. something whose value is derived from its use is also used as the trade medium. Gold would have been commodity money as well, if it had some uses to have a value in the first place.
This is in contrast to what kind of a currency there exists in real life. Dollars, Euros, pound sterling and so forth are what is known as Fiat currency. Their value is not derived from a practical use, but is rather based on a government declaration and upheld by government and central bank regulations. And because implementing the Central Bank and/or Government of Sanctuary would not only be ridiculous from a lore standpoint, but unnecessary as well, currency in Diablo III, too, will be commodity money.
The biggest problems of the economy of Diablo II were that it is not a proper free market, because there is no dynamic supply, and that it had no efficient means of in-game trading besides flooding the chat channels. Supply was artificially being created by drop chances and there were no means of having it follow demand. Think of the system as if demand was developed in a free market but supply was decided beforehand much like in the (failed) planned economies that existed in former Socialist countries such as the former Soviet Union.
Another huge issue was that because items that could be found were infinite and only limited by the time that had passed from the last ladder reset, the market was experiencing some heavy fluctuation and deflation over time. Heavy duping ran rampant, which ended up in exponentially increasing the supply of certain items such as high runes. It was certainly not fine-tuned by Blizzard to be a working economy.
Official Blizzard Quote:
G4: Will any items be, to borrow a World of WarCraft term, "Soulbound" or is everything freely tradeable?
[Jay] Wilson: We have no "Soulbound" or bind-on-pickup, except for quest items. We do have bind-on-equip for the highest end items in the game. We targeted, roughly, any item above level 85. These we will do as bind-on-equip. The reason for this is that we want people to be able to trade them, but we also want to remove the high-end items from the economy. One of the greatest ways that you can do that is with bind-on-equip. What we don't want is to have a situation where you find something on the ground like, "Oh, man. This would be a perfect weapon for my Monk. Oh, but I just picked it up and now it's on the wrong character." We don't want that at all. [...]
As the above quote points out, the best items will be bind on equip. This, if balanced correctly with drop rates, will mean that the amount of items on the market won't increase ad infinitum.
Blizzard has also stated that they intend the main trade medium to be the in-game gold. This, as I already pointed out, requires it to become commodity money. Gold has to have superfluous amounts of uses.
To take another game made by Blizzard as a point of reference, gold in World of Warcraft is the trade medium of choice because it's constantly needed in excessive amounts for mounts, item repairs and various other purposes.
Official Blizzard Quote:
G4: To that end, are there plans for any type of auction house functionality to allow for bartering and trading outside of game sessions?
[Jay] Wilson: We haven't made a decision about something like an auction house, but we want a better trading system than the one in Diablo II. It could take the form of an auction house or it could take the form of a new trade system that is easier, facilitating trades through Battle.net. That could be another way that players could trade items without having to actually go into the game. We haven't made a decision on any of that, but we are going to do something to that end. We consider it really critical to the game.
This quote strongly suggests that Blizzard has some great plans in motion and various ideas are being thrown around as the merciless Eye of Sauron of Blizzard is scrutinizing the alternative options.
The most obvious concept would be an in-game Auction House operating via NPC(s), or a sort of Battle.net 2.0 trading market within the game. This is purely speculative but it also could be like a trading forum integrated to Diablo III and you had a list of all the items that were on your characters available for you to browse, so you would be able to show them to other traders with ease.
At least they want to be done with haggling, or at least how I interpret these two quotes below, they want Gold to be the currency of choice among players. As Bashiok points out in this post made on July 10th 2008 below, haggling has its own problems:
Official Blizzard Quote:
Bashiok: One of the largest issues with a bartering system is that it prevents any ease of entry into the system for players. I have an item and I think it's probably worth something, but I have no idea what its worth and no easy way to find out. You have an item I want, but I have no idea what you may want for it or if I'm going to get a fair trade for it. You may throw a bunch of acronyms at me, get frustrated I don't know what I'm doing, and then leave. That's not going to be a positive experience for either of us, and neither of us get what we want out of it. With a stable economy and currency, there's at least a common language that anyone can understand regardless of their game knowledge.
Also, on a planet Diablo interview on October 13th 2009 Diablo III's Lead Technical Artist Julian Love had the following to offer about gold as a currency:
Official Blizzard Quote:
PD: Can you talk about what you're doing to keep gold as valuable for trading?
Julian [Love]: Here again, I can't get to actual specifics because it's getting a little bit ahead of the timeline but I can give you the overview, the big picture, which is that gold needs to be valuable to the player: They need to be able to spend it on things that they want. Just as in the real world, if you took your own dollars to a car dealer and he didn't take them the dollars wouldn't really have much value to you. So that's the first thing -- To give players something that they want to buy with gold that's really cool.
The second part is probably to put better controls on how much gold they're able to get. Any experienced Diablo II player knows that once you get to Hell [difficulty] level, you can turn in three helmets and make, like, 100,000 gold and that's a little lopsided, so it really drives the value of gold down quite a bit. So we're going to look at that situation and tighten up the economy from a general high-level sense like that.
Based on all the above I would conclude that it seems Blizzard is trying to learn from the earlier Diablo installments in creating a more seamless economy for Diablo III. They plan to have players wearing about equal amounts of different quality (e.g. Legendary - former uniques - and Rare) items and make them somewhat equal in power.
They will try to make Battle.net 2.0 a secure, player-friendly environment and hopefully this will mean that duping will be made impossible. Lessons learned from errors made in their previous game designs could yield in making hacking harder or at least make it impossible to influence game breaking aspects as they were able to in earlier Diablo games.
Gold will have a larger role than the unimportant one it had in Diablo II, plans currently are to make it the trade medium of choice for player interactions. Nothing will prevent players from bartering, but because of the sheer ease of use a proper currency will bring gold, if done well enough, will be the favored method of trading. Especially if they can come up with a more convenient trading method than in-game bartering.
All this bodes well for all of us who got addicted in the item trading aspect of Diablo II.
I just can't wait.
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