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Diablo 3's Economy - Success or Failure?
Diablo 3's economy is extremely important to it's overall survival and general population. Item drop rates are set specifically to work in conjunction with the Auction House. Not only is the Auction House important to every player's overall progression through the game, but it is also a main contributing factor to Diablo 3's identity as a MMO. Without the Auction House, the game would simply be a single player game with the option to have up to 4 player co-op.
There are many different aspects which impact the economy in Diablo 3. Most of these factors are negative in their interaction with the general population, which are currently causing major issues in item price as well as unrest in the player base. One such factor that is currently degrading the integrity of Diablo 3's economy is gold. On it's own, gold earned through normal means isn't negatively impacting the economy. The problem with gold lies in the combination of bug abusers and botters, who inflate the amount of gold in circulation. Yes, some of these cheaters are simply regular players trying to get ahead, but most of the inflated gold comes from gold selling websites. These botters can and will run up to a couple hundred accounts at once, 24/7. Of course this gold does not go into circulation immediately. Instead it waits on the side lines for a regular player to purchase the gold through a 3rd party website. Once this takes place, gold that was never supposed to be there becomes introduced into the economy, inflating prices everywhere. Think about how many millions of gold are purchased each day from the gold selling sites. Now realize that that doesn't even dent these site's stash of gold. They have billions of gold stocked up, ready to sell.
Why is this bad for the economy? Well, the regular player who makes gold at a rate of only a fraction of a percentage of the gold sellers, can no longer afford to purchase items at a reasonable cost. Players who bought gold from websites purchase and resell items all the time to ensure they continue to make profit. Even if these rich players are only buying items that they use, there is no way they will resell and lose profit. Neither will regular players, who have to scrape together every last gold they have in order to afford a fraction of what rich players can afford.
Price inflation impacts Diablo 3 so severely because regular players will always gain gold at the same rate as they did months before. Their only hope is to find a very rare item and sell it for one big jackpot. This leads into the factor of drop rates and their role in the economy. As it stands now, drop rates are designed around the entirety of Diablo 3's player base. This means that Blizzard must adjust item drops in accordance to the country's region that hosts an auction house. The drop rate is set to the millions of players killing monsters, instead of just each individual. In essence, this method of distribution is similar to a lottery where a large population of players take a chance at the jack pot and only a lucky few hit the jackpots.
Items that are at the top end of the spectrum become extremely rare while at the same time having immense demand. Large chunks of the overall percentage of the population desire an item that only a fraction of a percentage will find. This means that when an item of high rarity is found, it is priced even higher than the average player will ever hope to afford. What happens next is obvious. Players will be driven to their only source for the extreme diablo 3 gold amount of gold they require. Gold selling websites. Hence, the vicious cycle of inflation begins all over again and continues to impact the overall moral of players who attempt to acquire power. This depression leads to a dwindling population, which in turn increases the rarity of items that were once set at a drop rate for the previously higher population.
When you look at all of this information and you try to grasp it's long term repercussions, it's difficult to imagine what Diablo 3's future holds. Can Blizzard do anything to stop this vicious cycle? It's unlikely. The only hope players have lies in normalization between the balance of items in circulation and player population. The number of items needs to increase while the population decreases. Although this is counter to how the system is set to work, keep in mind that items are generally not lost in circulation, but instead recycled back into the Auction House. The only factor that would stop an item from circulating is if a player keeps it on their account forever, either due to wanting to keep it or having quit the game with it collecting dust in their storage.
So many factors play into the overall success and failure of an economy like Diablo 3's. There is no way for a person to predict what will happen over time. One can only hope it doesn't adversely effect their own experience in game progression. Best of luck! You're going to need it.
What didn't I cover? Gold sinks. To be honest there isn't much there, at least not enough to combat gold farmers. 15% fee on the auction house, some vendor purchases, and durability repair costs barely factor into the overall economy. I'm not saying that Diablo 3 needs massive gold sinks, because it will destroy the average player. Fixing the economy with extreme gold sinks is not the answer.
I was also going to link various threads on the Diablo 3 forums that attempt to cover the math behind it's economy. Unfortunately it seems to be a crap shoot as to whether or not these people know what they are even talking about. It's not wise to arm yourself with potentially false facts. Although I do suggest using the forums to get an idea on what items are worth, as not everything in circulation is posted on the Auction House.