Diablo III Auction House

It came as a surprise to many of us when Blizzard unveiled their new auction house feature. For years Blizzard has resisted the trend of free-to-play and real currency marketplaces. Now with-in a few short months they have severely altered course to embrace both of these trends. Last month they would extend all trial accounts from 14 day trials to infinitely free-to-play (up to level 20) – and now this open, real currency marketplace opens the door for changes many WoW fans never thought they would see.

Blizzards announcement caught most of the gaming community off guard. While there is an obvious and overwhelming trend towards free-to-play MMORPG models that rely on real world currency purchases of in-game items as the primary revenue source, Blizzard has always shunned the concept relying on a pure subscription model. However, in retrospect, there were signs of the coming shifts. Over the last two years or so World of Warcraft has introduced a number of ‘micro transaction’ opportunities including paid server migration, name changes, and faction changes. They have also opened the door a little wider for real world currency purchases of in-game gear with purchasable mounts and companion pets.

Still yet, these latest shifts in the WoW’s revenue model are bold and more than a little unexpected. But should it really surprise us?

Real Currency. Real Impact.

According to Bing Gordon of venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers gamers should generate $3 of value an hour – an incredibly interesting look at the value of our time and how we choose to be entertained. With the practice of real world currency transactions for in-game gear becoming ever more prevalent, the potential for earning real revenue from your entertainment time is a real, and tangible possibility.

Despite having no set release date, and only just recently entering beta testing, Diablo III already boasts an incredibly large fan base. Many of these fans have been anticipating a third iteration of the franchise since very shortly after Diablo II was released back in 2000 and many of them are active players of Blizzards flagship title World of Warcraft (WoW).

What could this latest shift in policy mean for World of Warcraft players in the near future? Will we see the real currency aspect of Diablo III’s marketplace introduced into the WoW environment? How will that effect in-game economies? How will that effect real world economies? The World Bank estimated that gold farming was a nearly $3 BILLION a year business, and that was in 2009. The potential overall effect of such a shift is staggering.

What are your thoughts?