Recently, Activision Blizzard released some new information about the upcoming game Diablo III. The company will soon conduct a beta test to get community feedback about hardware compatibility and game content as well as mechanics. Blizzard uses this information to give the game the polish that is expected from their fans. The other big news is that there will be auction houses supporting real money auctions, but more about that later.

The Beta Test Details
This initial beta test allows players to experience the first stage of the game content up to and including the Skeleton King encounter. Seasoned Diablo players will recall that this villain was already included in the original game in 1997. It is possible to play with any of the five character classes: Barbarian, Witch Doctor, Wizard, Monk and Demon Hunter. For the first time in the Diablo series, all classes will be available in male and female variants. The auction house will be available for testing as well, but only the in-game currency based one. More information regarding the test can be found at Blizzards Diablo III website.

Monk wreaks havoc on its enemies: Play is as a female or male, your call
Monk wreaks havoc on its enemies: Play is as a female or male, your call

As we assumed earlier, the beta test will be conducted in phases. In the beginning only North American servers will be available to test the new hardware infrastructure. Blizzard hinted that players from other regions may be selected as well for this phase but will likely experience increased latency. In future phases additional hardware will be rolled out in other regions to improve the experience for those players. Blizzard specifically aims to test the performance of their server infrastructure.

In general, people who opted in to beta tests in their Battle.net account may be selected. The selection process is based on the hardware specs to ensure a broad testing basis as well as a random component. If you didn’t make it into the earlier phases, there are still chances you may get your beta ticket later on. After the beta test ends and the game is released to the public, any characters will be wiped, so participation doesn’t give people a head start apart from knowledge about the game.

Good Bye / Good Morning Farmers: Real Money Auction House
The other big news is the auction system integrated into Diablo 3. While in previous installments of Diablo you could only sell to in-game vendors or via external means such as dedicated forums or eBay, now there is a integrated functionality for that. The auction UI can be accessed directly from anywhere within the game. It is possible to trade items via virtual Gold or via real money. Purchased items will immediately transferred to a shared stash that is accessible to all characters on the account. When you create an auction you will be charged a fixed fee, Gold for the in-game currency auction house and real money for the real money auction house. For each successful sale another fixed fee will be charged in the respective currency. Blizzard does not get a percent-based cut of the sale price.

Diablo III User Inteface brings memories of Diablo II mixed with World of Warcraft
Diablo III User Inteface brings memories of Diablo II mixed with World of Warcraft

In order to spend real money on items, you first have to transfer some money to your Battle.net account. This money can then be spent on in-game auctions. When you sell items you have the option to either transfer the proceeds to the Battle.net account or to a third party payment service, allowing you to cash out. Note that once you have deposited money in the Battle.net account it can no longer be transferred to the third party payment provider. However, it can be used to buy other items, buy digital versions of Blizzard games, pay World of Warcraft subscription time and other paid services. If you opt to cash out, another fee from both Blizzard and most likely also the third party payment provider will be charged.

At this point it is unknown which third party payment providers will be supported. PayPal seems to be a likely candidate, but this is speculation on our part. Blizzard also mentioned, that the specifics and availability of certain payment options and third party payment providers will differ regionally. Further details are not available at this point. We suspect Blizzard still has to finish some deals and it could be that some options will only become available after the game has launched in some regions.

The reason Blizzard adds a real money option here is, that this is what players have been doing for years. Blizzard thinks the current ways this was done are not very secure and this is why they implemented this functionality. Real money auctions are entirely optional, you can still choose to only auction items via in-game currency, sell it to vendors or directly trade it with players via a built-in trading interface. Blizzard explicitly states that it doesn’t plan to offer items via the auction house, only players will engage in this form of trade.

The Implications of Real Money Trade
There are a few implications resulting from the addition of a real money trade facility to the game, which might not be immediately obvious. For hackers, account theft might become much more interesting, since there is now another monetary component involved. Previously, apart from the access to games, the only interesting assets for account thieves would have been World of Warcraft accounts loaded with gold and valuable items. The thieves would sell the items for Gold and then transfer the Gold away to their accounts which they then use to sell it for money.

Farmers' dream: Kill a monster, get loot, sell it for real money
Farmers’ dream: Kill a monster, get loot, sell it for real money

With the addition of the Battle.net money deposit, the value is more directly attached to the account. Think of it like a PayPal account, only that it is run by Blizzard. While it’s good that you can’t directly cash out money charged to the Battle.net account, an enterprising account thief could simply use his own account to offer invaluable items for ridiculous prices which no normal person would buy and then use the stolen account to purchase it. Then he could subsequently cash it out on his account. Since we don’t know the applicable fees as well as if there are limits to the prices, we can’t assess how effective that strategy might be, but it could be an option.

We’d like to note that Blizzard did quite a lot for account security since the additional offering of authenticators. You don’t even have to spend money on one, since almost any modern smart phone can be used as an authenticator to the account. So at least there is some way to reduce the odds your account gets hijacked.

Another aspects of the real money auction house is the effect on Blizzards revenue model. Unlike World of Warcraft, Diablo 3 will not require monthly fees to play. After the initial sale of the game and possibly one or two add-ons, there is no direct source of income for Blizzard. Yet they have to operate a massive infrastructure to make online play possible. Blizzard said they only implement fixed fees and they hope that those fees enable them to break even with the cost of operating the service. But realistically, seeing as Activision Blizzard is always looking for ways to increase their revenue, this income will probably positively affect their bottom line.

Also you need to consider another, secondary opportunity for Blizzard to direct cash into their pockets. Any money earned via the real money auctions is very close to their digital software and service distribution. Since cashing out is connected with additional fees, some people might prefer to use the money in Blizzards online shop. This way the money will remain in Blizzards hands.

Permanent Internet Connection Required
There is one more new tidbit about Diablo 3, that might upset some players. Even if you prefer to play in single-player mode, you need a permanently active internet connection to be able to run the game. The character data is stored only on Blizzards servers. This is done to two ends ? to reduce the possibility of cheating (remember, people caught cheating could be permanently banned from Blizzard) and to reduce piracy.

However, for some people this is not a desirable feature. Think about people with limited connectivity or bad internet contracts. I’m not even mentioning the cases where the game will not work due to maintenance (WoW players know what I’m talking about) or works slowly due to server overloading. Note that at this point it is not known whether there will be scheduled maintenance for Diablo 3, but if WoW is any indication, it seems likely. Other reasons for degraded game performance might be technical problems at ISPs, etc. Regular players of online games surely experienced most of these things sometime in their career.