Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Implications of Out-of-game Access to the Game World

Blizzard has announced plans to allow players to "access the Auction House directly through the Armory website or Armory App". This changes a number of things:

1. Expect the inevitable local news story about someone who lost their job for playing the WoW AH at work. This isn't Blizzard's fault, or necessarily a reason not to implement the feature, but it's yet another chapter in the addiction narrative that all of us are pretty tired of hearing by now.

2. There will be an additional fee for this feature, and, in fairness, I'm prepared to believe that developing it will cost Blizzard some additional money. We're going to be having players accessing the same AH via two separate clients, and that's got to be an interesting database question. There is, however, a certain irony here. EQ2 had its armory-equivalent at launch, but for a fee. Then Blizzard added the Armory for free. Last month, SOE dropped the fee for the EQ2 site. And now Blizzard will be charging. We've come full circle.

3. My guess is that this feature will REQUIRE the use of an authenticator. Inviting players to check the AH from additional computers and (insecure) wireless networks only increases the odds of someone typing their password into a compromised environment. It's also nigh inevitable that the gold scammers will announce an improved Auctioneer program that just so happens to need your password so it can log into the Armory site and make money for you while you're offline. Finally, my understanding of the iPhone is that it cannot multi-task, and therefore the armory AH app would have to be integrated with the mobile authenticator app to be used on an authenticated account.

4. It's looking like Blizzard is trying to build Battle.net into its own version of Facebook. The Armory now has a non-optional Facebook-like feed of your activities in WoW. The new system will have cross-game chat for WoW, SC II and Diablo III, if said ever actually come out. And now WoW players will be day-trading the auction house. All of this means that players will be spending more time logged into Blizzard products, giving Blizzard a powerful advertising platform to leverage.

5. Oh yeah, and this is a fundamental shift on access to the virtual world from the offline one.

Consequences of Increased Connectivity
Historically, MMORPG's have been pretty reluctant to allow players access to the world by any means other than actually logging into the world. Cooldowns and timers tick away regardless of whether the player is logged in or not. Bargains may be posted on the AH at this very moment, where only alert online bargain hunters will have a chance to snag them. The latter, obviously, is no more.

Beyond the logistical concerns - will auctioneer bots run wild in the absence of the more restrictive environment enforced by the "Warden" security system on the WoW client? - this path is potentially genre changing.

On the plus side, it would be nice to be able to sign off with full bags and deal with the basic vendor/save/auction triage sometime at your leisure before your next play session. The next question would be whether this opens the door to other activities, such as instructing your character to take auto-travel routes while you're offline, so that you don't have to spend gaming time on AFK-travel. How about clicking the "transmute" button the moment the cooldown expires, an activity that would take all of 5 seconds to complete if you were able to log into the game?

That said, it is very easy to create a scenario where failure to check in on your characters on a regular basis places the player at a disadvantage. Even the AH utility starts us down that road - you might be way better off buying or selling during hours when you don't currently play the game, based on how the daily supply and demand curves work. The option to check in on the game at times when you can't normally could ultimately create pressure - real or perceived - to do so. This pressure will only increase as our games get more and more connected to the outside world, a trend which Blizzard neither started nor finished here.

In the end, this technology is neither good nor evil, but it probably will be used for a bit of each.


  1. Seems like a great way to enable even more bots playing the auction house.

  2. I hope this only allows for searching, not actually purchasing or selling. This gives an even bigger advantage to AH campers and seems that it would make botting even easier.

    I don't like this idea at all. Especially if it's an extra charge. Paying real money for a significant game advantage? That's a very slippery slope.

  3. Awesome post, I was wondering many of the same things.

    @Klep - I suspect that Matticus is right, and browsing will be free, buying will be "premium based". And I also think it's a slippery slope that provides game advantage.

  4. I wonder what effect it will have on the in game market? You'd think it would at least even out daily and weekly traffic fluctuations somewhat. In the long term I would also think it would result in a sellers market compared to now for many items. For example, you can buy ore from work but you can't gather it.

  5. If this enables selling stuff without being in the game I will be mad. Checking your mail, the ah, and maybe even buying I'm ok with. But remotely undercutting outside of the game is BS. I really don't buy the whole "players want this feature" line when it comes to this. Race change and faction change I believe... but playing the AH remotely?

    More people by far want an out of game chat system that lets you chat with players on your friends ilst or in a guild. That would be far easier to implement then the AH feature... but this seems to be a ploy by activision to get more money. All of these microtransactions seem like they are coming from Activision not Blizzard. They can and will kill the game if they take this too far. Offering a significant advantage for a fee is a good way to piss off your player base.

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