You know what the second article reminds me of, some facebook games. I know some people who spent quite a bit of money on some of them for in game stuff.
You paid real money directly to the game though, not in game players. Trades took place (you could send items to and from players), but no money between players in game (I'm sure there was a huge blackmarket there too).
This, honestly, seems like the next step in that evolution. I think online economies aren't going to go away, I think they will continue to tie to real world currencies even more in the future.
I think Blizzard's extra 15% fee to put the money in an external account is total crap and my actual problem with the RMAH, I do hope they are forced to abandon the double tax.
Personally, I'm not actually opposed to this happening.
But it needs to be done more responsibly - closer to what happens with tangible goods, a commission based sale where the 'store' takes a piece of the profit and the seller walks away with the rest, no hassle.
You get enough people in the climate complaining about the second fee and they may be forced to drop it.
"It's too early to judge the relative success or stability of the platform, but one thing is abundantly clear: Blizzard is poised to reinvent both the internal economics of virtual game worlds and their corresponding precedent for legitimate digital rights management. And, as fellow industry leader Tim Willits said in support of the company, they're using a "juggernaut" title to FORCE GAMERS TO ACCEPT THIS.
The need for gamers to assert their rights becomes immediately apparent now that real money has been introduced to the Diablo world."
(All caps emphasis added)
The wallet and hobby you save may be your own. Don't use the RMAH. Get a refund from Blizzard if you can. If you can't, quit playing the game and tell Blizzard why. The time to stand up for ourselves is now. Once every developer is doing this, it will be too late.
How do you develop a Bill of Rights for something like video games, and how would it be different in scope or function than any rights that protect consumers now?
Those articles were well written, but they don't really give much insight as to what sort of protection customers actually lack now. I think closing your wallet and having the opportunity to return a product makes for a very powerful consumer. Usually this is already possible.
If you're going to make the case that what Blizzard is doing is bad for the industry, wouldn't it make more sense to present it as a need to protect them from themselves, rather than making consumers into victims?
"How do you develop a Bill of Rights for something like video games, and how would it be different in scope or function than any rights that protect consumers now?"
I think you begin by getting out of the licensing model and get back into the purchasing model.
I don't think the case is being made that what Blizzard is doing is bad for the INDUSTRY, quite the contrary. I think what they are doing is good for the industry, but very bad for consumers. This licensing model along with always on makes for a very consumer unfriendly set up that only favors the industry.
The wallet power only works if consumers use it en mass. The argument one of the articles makes is that we don't yet have that critical mass of informed/militant consumers in the gaming industry. The organizations don't yet exist to put pressure on industry, and that's due mostly in part to the youth of the market and I think the notion that "it's only a video game". Just look at the split right here in these threads. We can't get consensus here.
The problem is the underlying licensing model, Gordon. Since you don't really own the game, you don't really own any of the digital items (the EULA gives Blizzard the right to cut you off at any time). In this model, Blizzard has all the rights and you have none. When real money comes into play, that is an extremely troublesome concept.
The growth of real money microtransactions in gaming is a broad one, and is the trend of the future in gaming. Diablo III's RMAH is the first foray in a mainstream non-mobile, non-Facebook, non-F2P game, but it won't be the last. This is the new monetization concept for gaming. Boycotting it won't make a difference -- the business model has been well established in gaming for several years now, and it isn't going away.
Don't think that is happening. 1200 plus one star reviews here, usage rates dropping by 2/3rds on xfire, FTCs in at least two countries hounding Blizzard (with at least one corporate office raid), lots of press articles slamming Blizzard for trying to ram this down our throats, etc. Your "future of gaming" is not looking too good right now, and I am perfectly dry.
There is a growing list of games that have been embraced by more serious and mainstream players (I absolutely loath the casual v hardcore delineations). Examples:
Team Fortress 2 League of Legends DoTA 2 MapleStory Guild Wars 2
And a huge list of others: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_free_massively_multiplayer_online_games
All of these items have a cash shop. While they may have varying degrees of impact on the game, they are all examples of players using real money to modify their experience in some way.
Diablo 3 does fall into this category, but the more interesting aspect is that players can use money as a medium to trade between one-another, whereas almost all of the aforementioned titles only support purchasing directly from the company.
This isn't a new phenomenon, and it was an outside market system that was put in place before Blizzard ever integrated it. Personally, I think it's cheating, but the community wanted it. Blizzard added it.
It's very difficult to convince the community that something is wrong when they basically created the system in the first place.
Maybe the time has come to stop playing these games? The problem is that too many people are willing to put up with their nonsense and not enough people are refusing to buy. Ya know, if people stopped purchasing these games then the companies would either change their policy or go out of business, which is something I don't see happening. They think they have a cash cow that is so wonderful you will do anything to play their game no matter what hoops you have to jump through, and so far they are right. Send them a message and just don't buy into their scheme. Its the people who must have these games that ruin it for us all.
The "new" aspects of this in Diablo are that (1) D3 is not free to play, like most of the games that feature item shops and (2) the trading is, as you point out well, between players with the company getting a facilitating fee for each transaction. That's an extension of the common F2P/item-shop model, which is why it is controversial -- people expect item shops in games that are "free" to play, but haven't expected them so far in games that are B2P like D3. Until now. That will change now, after D3, and we're going to see more of this kind of thing going forward. Personally I don't think it would be easily viable to have a cash item shop (i.e., buying from the company directly) in a game that costs $60, but I think as you slide down the scale to your $30 or $20 games, it may become more viable as a way to supplement revenue.
Basically there are two different business models at play here. The F2P model really is based on grabbing attention to the game due to its freebie nature and drawing the player in, and then, once they enjoy the play, enticing them to spend -- if they do not spend, the company doesn't make any money (apart from ads which may be in some of the F2P games). The D3 model is different in that it assumes a box sale net revenue number at the outset, and is looking through a cash shop/RMAH type thing to supplement that so that the revenues for the game are much less "lumpy" -- something which the market generally dislikes as a revenue characteristic as compared with steady revenue. This is why so many companies have been chasing Blizzard's six in the MMORPG space -- it's one of the few examples of good, steady, streaming long-term revenue from an IP that isn't lumpy in nature (i.e., tied to a "release", be it of a movie, game, DVD, etc.). That's the golden goose of the entire entertainment industry, and so I expect that we will see other games trying to come up with models that incorporate a cash shop/cash-trade-with-fees model to give the games a bit less lumpiness in revenue over the course of a number of months at least (for non-MMOs). It really is the wave of the future from the perspective of gaming industry economics.
I agree with what you've said, and such a game is already on the Horizon.
Guild Wars 2 will be a $59.99 game, and it features a cash-shop. Unlike Diablo 3, however, the items for purchase are sold directly by NCSoft to the customer, and leaked info indicates that they include things like bags, extra character slots, XP Boosts, and cosmetic items. Source:
"For gamers who aren't gamblers, money crazy or completely devoid of sense, it became apparent that Diablo III was a pathetic attempt at a cash grab instead of a long awaited sequel to one of the most celebrated action-RPGs of all time. All those years of waiting was basically to be introduced to a seemingly fun game where the entirety of the focus centers around the Real-Money Auction House. "
You have spent $200 to upgrade your "Barb"'s armor and weapons. You also have some Monk gear, useless for you but valued on the RMAH for $150. Your account is hacked or some mysterious glitch happens on battle.net servers and you loose all these items. For some you spent $200, others can get you $150. You loose money, possibly by theft. Someone else might be selling your goodies on the RMAH and get money for them, Blizzard taking a cut of course.
Shouldn't the police investigate this? Or maybe you pay real money but you actually own nothing. Well, I guess you are paying for the fun.
It has nothing to do with ownership of 'the game' in question.
Blizzard taking a cut of the transaction process to move good from one player to another (regardless of who owns it) is fine. It's part of a normal consignment based transaction.
What I'm taking issue with is the second cut Blizzard thinks it's OK to take when you transfer real dollars (which they do NOT own) to a personal account like Paypal. That is a secondary transaction fee that is completely unethical.
The goods may be ultimately 'owned' by Blizzard, but the money is very real, and very much not owned by them - a user was paid to help Blizzard moves it's stuff around, even if the "ownership" of non-existent stuff is illusory to begin with.
Though I find it slightly ironic as all the money moving around is also digital only.
(edit: I meant consignment based, not commission based)