Gameplanet: Is the real-money auction house introduced at a particular player level, or a specific location in the game?
Wilson: We haven't really made that decision yet, but there's a chance we might not have it available to a level 1 character. Primarily because there's no reason for them to really need to worry about that. Plus it's better for the system as a whole to allow people who want to get into the system to have a little bit of experience of the game before they do. But we haven't made an actual decision on that, and if we did limit it, it would be a pretty soft limit, like level 10, or something like that.
Gameplanet: Why did you decide to split up the two auction houses?
Wilson: Because they serve two different purposes, really. It's like asking why separate the US dollar auction house from the German auction house? You need a common language in currency for people to communicate with each other, and the gold auction house is really just a different currency, so when you go to change your currency one of the options is in-game gold. In doing that, if you post an item for sale in gold, and I want to buy it in real money, we have to figure out some kind of exchange rate, which means now Blizzard has an influence in the system that we don't want.
It's up to the players to really decide the real-world value of gold. Items that get posted in in-game gold won't show up in the real-money auction house, because we don't want to do the translation. One of our goals with the system is to ensure that Blizzard is not influencing it in any way, it's a player trading system, it's not something that we want to be seen as having incentives to, or requirements to manipulate in any way, which we'd have to do if we were transferring the balance of gold to real money.
Gameplanet: How does the currency selection work?
Wilson: Each currency is it's own auction house. If you select Australian dollars, you will be on the Australian auction house. Any kind of fees that you'd have for currency exchange that your credit card company, or bank would impose would apply. It's not something on our side, that's to do with management of money on your side. That's why it was so important we allow people the choice of what currency they want to trade in.
Gameplanet: Is there a danger that people will gravitate towards one regional auction house? There seems to be little point in using the New Zealand auction house when the Australian dollar is much stronger, and there are more people in that auction house to potentially buy items.
Wilson: There is a chance that that may happen, perhaps a good chance. I wouldn't use the word 'danger' because if, for example, New Zealand players prefer the Australian auction house because it's more profitable for them, even including the conversion rates, how is that a bad thing? If anything it's a good thing we've provided the choice. That's why we wanted to put the power back in the hands of the player. If they don't want to operate in the New Zealand auction house, fine. Don't. Operate in the one you prefer within your region.
Gameplanet: How will you educate players on the use of the auction house?
Wilson: We haven't really gotten to that stage yet, it's one of the last things we do in working through the system. We are designing it to be a very accessible, easy-to-use system, it looks a lot like eBay, and has a lot of similar features to the World of Warcraft auction house. It's a pretty easy system to get into, and there's a lot of automation within it. We talked about searching by class – one of the things you can literally do is point it at your character and say "give me more items like this", and it'll identify that you're a Barbarian, so it obviously won't give you any Witch Doctor items, and it may identify that you prefer precision, which increases your critical hit chance. It can then show you items related to precision and critical hit chance. You could then shift to more attack related stats, or fury, and the system will find those for you. So it's a pretty easy system to use, but if we decide people need some kind of tutorial system we will definitely add one.
Gameplanet: Is there any chance you could introduce, for example, an iPhone app for it at some stage?
Wilson: I don't think it's out of the question, but it's not something we're currently discussing. One thing at a time!
Gameplanet: Could you see this auction house system working in other Blizzard titles as an incentive to get players involved?
Wilson: The way we design games at Blizzard is that we design products and services first. Games that we think players want to play, and services we think players will appreciate. Then we think about how we can make those financially viable. We don't start with the financial model first, we never have done. We don't think "we can make a lot of money if we do this". We never start there, we always start by thinking about what would be really cool for the players. Is it something we won't lose our shirts on? Alright then, we'll do it.
Sometimes it's also something we can make a bit of money with, and that's awesome too. So is it possible that another game would use this system? Yes. But only if it was a system that catered to that game's design. Is there a chance we would take a current game like World of Warcraft and transfer this system over to it? In the case of World of Warcraft, I don't see that happening. I think it would really destroy the game. Luckily Rob and Tom agree with me on that.
Gameplanet: Why do you think it would destroy the game?
Wilson: Well, Diablo III is a game based around trading, it always has been. So the best items in the game come from people who trade actively with other players. World of Warcraft is not a game based around trading, the best items come from the raiding experience, so if you transfer the game over to one where you let people trade you'd have to overhaul it. You've taken what used to be the process for the most valuable items and you've altered it irrevocably, and you've changed the core nature of the game. The root of World of Warcraft is that it's not a trading game, it's more of a progression-based raiding experience. The two are not directly compatible.
Gameplanet: Do you have any idea of the value that high-end weapons might fetch online? Did your internal testing reveal that perhaps one player was prepared to pay a certain rate for a certain weapon?
Wilson: We had that, but depending on who that person is, that number vastly changes, depending on their personal desire to spend money. It's really hard to get an exact number on that. We've done projections and they vary wildly, depending on a bunch of different scenarios. One of the things we're really excited about with this system is that we don't know exactly what's going to happen, we don't know how much players are going to want to trade items for, and to us that's kind of cool. It's basically a system where players get to decide, they get to choose how the economy goes. They get to level it out through normal buy, sell, demand structure. We've very excited to see how it turns out.
Gameplanet: So you could buy an item in one market and sell it in another, based on simple supply and demand?
Wilson: As long as it's within your region. Different regions can't sell items amongst each other. But yes, within certain markets you could potentially do that.
Gameplanet: What limitations are there on items you can buy or sell?
Wilson: Our goal is to pretty much let you trade anything. We have talked about restrictions but we've never really decided on any of them. We have things we don't think players will value trading, but we'll still let them if they want to. We'll probably let people trade crafting plans, and crafting materials. It'll probably require blocks of material just to keep the auction house from looking crazy. We'll generally let everything trade, the only exceptions are like quest items, and those we don't even really insert into our normal inventory system, but even if we did we wouldn't allow those to be traded.
Gameplanet: Are there steps in place to protect players who trade poorly?
Wilson: Our goal is to not interfere in the system, so we don't foresee needing to do caps, or anything like that. If players trade something by accident, they shouldn't have put it on the auction house. It actually costs you money to put it up there, so it likely wasn't an accident. If we had some cases where there was fraud involved then we have customer service security policies that kick into place, but even those, we try to make sure that we limit the amount of times that we get involved.
Gameplanet: At what point did you decide that Diablo III would be only playable online?
Jay Wilson: It was a decision we crept into over the duration of the project. A big part of it is just to give the players the best possible experience. We felt like we'd reached a saturation point with online play and networking that prevented it from being a big concern. 99.9% of people out there have internet connections, even planes now have internet connections, so the old argument of 'I want to be able to play on the plane', well, the plane has internet now too.
We felt like there was enough pervasive online technology that the best possible experience we can give players was to offer them persistent characters that can play multiplayer at any time, that we can store forever, that don't get deleted, which is something we had to do for the previous system because of storage concerns. And also just the enhanced security we can offer in a game that's only online. A big problem with Diablo II was security, and security is a lot better when we don't have to ship all the server infrastructure out with the game.
Gameplanet: What happens if you drop out during mid-play?
Wilson: If you completely drop? Your character could die, but we don't have a case where the penalty for that is harsh, unless you're playing a hardcore characters, in which case I wouldn't do that with a bad connection. But then, hardcore characters are generally the type of characters people want to play online because they play them for bragging rights. You can't really brag if it's on a home computer where you could have cheated to create the character. So yes, you could die, but the penalty for death isn't really harsh, it's essentially a small durability hit on your items, which costs a little bit of gold, which isn't too bad. There's no corpse runs or anything like that, and even if there were like in Diablo II, they were not that harsh. You could log out of the game and log back in, and your body would be there waiting for you.
Gameplanet: Has piracy affected this decision?
Wilson: It's a factor, but it wasn't a deciding factor. Player experience is pretty much always our deciding factor. We ask what do we think will be the best possible experience we can give to players, and we really felt an online one was the best one.
Gameplanet: Did you toy with the idea of allowing offline play, but locking the player out and requiring them to start again for online play?
Wilson: That was the Diablo II way, and what drove us to this was how bad of an experience we thought that was. It was so common in Diablo II for people to start up a game, finish it, get to normal difficulty and want to play with their friends online, then realise that they can't actually do that without starting over. We did have the offline Battle.Net experience, but if your friends are on Battle.Net, which is where most people were, you didn't really get to actually play with them, so that was one of the things that drove us to that decision.
Gameplanet: How has the feedback been with latency on StarCraft II for the Asia Pacific area? Is that likely to be a problem for Diablo III players?
Wilson: Unfortunately I can't really answer that, it's not really my area of expertise.
Gameplanet: In terms of co-op, is it a drop-in system?
Wilson: The short answer is yes, it's dynamic, you can jump in at any time, so any game can instantly become a co-op game from singleplayer through to four player co-op. For example, if a friend comes online, you can message each other and then right-click directly on their name and invite them to your party. If they accept they'll come in, or they can send you an invite request. They show up in town, and each time a new player comes in, their banner will appear next to the waypoint. You can click on another players' banner to teleport directly to them.
Gameplanet: In regards to sharing the narrative components, is everyone exposed to the lore narratives equally?
Wilson: Yes, if you're nearby when lore books are picked up, they're automatically available to everyone.
Gameplanet: Will we hear from anyone soon as to the release date for the beta?
Wilson: Yes. It's close. Every day we get a day closer. We're definitely getting really close to being about to announce the beta.
Gameplanet: How long will the beta last?
Wilson: I don't have dates on how long it will last at this point, but I can tell you that when it comes out, we're focussing a lot on hardware tests, that's what we need the most of, so it'll be based around the timeframe we need to get that information, which I know is a complete non-answer, but I don't know the exact answer.
Gameplanet: Have you been exploring whether or not Battle.Net is a viable option for consoles?
Wilson: If we did a jump to console then our goal would be to offer players the best possible console experience. So we would try to make decisions that focus on that first and foremost. If we felt that putting Battle.Net on consoles would be the best possible experience, then we would work with console developers to make that happen. It depends on the experience we have working with them, and the console developers themselves.