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ipaqi avatar 2:40 PM on 05.20.2012  (server time)
The possible diabolical nature of Diablo 3's real currency Auction House and DRM

Disclaimer: I begin writing this post at 19:30 BST, 20/05/2012. The information, suggestions and suppositions written heretofore are a result of my personal experience playing Diablo 3 over the past few days, as well as my own experience as a program designer and programmer, and cannot be proven by myself at this time. This is theory and conjecture, be it convincing or otherwise. DO NOT TAKE MY WORDS AS FACT, BUT AS THEORY ALONE.

Right, now that we're done with that, let get to the nitty-gritty. I'm writing this article/post to put forth a theory, according to which Diablo 3's always-online DRM and real currency Auction House have a more "sinister" purpose than we've been led to believe.

First off, I put forth the following supposition as to the working of the DRM. Diablo 3 works much like an MMO with many lacking features. Every action is synchronized to the server, be it physical travel, ability activation, item activation, merchant and artisan interactions, etc. Whenever an action is made in-game, the game client interacts with the servers, obtaining whatever information it requires. Germane to the issue I bring up, is that the game contacts the server whenever loot needs to be distributed.

Having recently experienced a lot of lag on a high-latency connection with the game, and having observed that the lag was most visible and game-breaking when loot was to be distributed (killing mobs, opening chests, destroying destructible items, etc.), I theorize that whenever loot is to be distributed, the game client requests a loot drop from the server (that is, which items to drop, if any). Assuming this is true, it would mean that Activision-Blizzard is poised to control which loot is distributed, how much, and even to whom.

And, since every player-action is apparently reported to the servers, it seems likely that if they would wish to, Activision-Blizzard can track player's usage of items, as in sale, salvage, equipping, stashing, transfer to alternate characters, transfer to other players, sale on either Auction House, and even dropping on the ground.

With the item usage tracking information Activision-Blizzard could accrue and aggregate, it's very likely that they could then analyze which players are more likely to sell unneeded items and on which Auction House, and, given that they made the game's systems, it would be very easy then to give a player with a Witch Doctor and with no alternate characters an extremely rare and high-valued item, with the expectation that he'd sell the item for a large sum, of which Activision-Blizzard is entitled, as per the TOS, to 15%.

Having manufacture an economical system that can be so efficiently manipulated to provide Activision-Blizzard with additional funds beyond the money paid by gamers to merely play the game, they would be either foolhardy or exceptionally honest not to engage in any of the aforementioned manipulation.

After all, WoW subscriber numbers are slowly but steadily declining if I recall correctly, Diablo 3 and Starcraft II have no subscriber models that we know of, and Blizzard's project Titan is nothing more than a name on a two-year-old release schedule. A market completely controlled by Activision-Blizzard, where demand is closely monitored and supply can be manufactured on the spot, is a cash cow that I don't believe can so easily be left unmilked.

But in order to completely and utterly control this clearly valuable market, strict DRM has to be enforced. Whether or not Activision-Blizzard analyzes all player actions and in accordance with that distributes loot, they have to be able to regulate the rarity of items on their market. If due to a duping glitch or hacking large amount of previously rare items could be brought onto the Auction House, it won't be long before the value of these objects declines, and thus Activision-Blizzard's profit margin off of the real currency Auction House suffers.

If my theory is correct (and I am no more sure of that than I am sure of the shape of the back of my head), then whether or not Activision-Blizzard is actively spying on what Diablo 3 players do with their items, it's clear that Activision-Blizzard has the capability, if perhaps not the willful intent, to fully and frequently manipulate the market of Diablo 3 items, in which every transaction is profitable - to them.

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