Blizzard Entertainment, the folks behind such successful games series as Starcraft and Warcraft, have another way to get some money out of their fans. When Diablo III is released, players will be able to use real cash to buy digital items.
Essentially, Blizzard is creating an in-game Ebay system that it will oversee, and take a nominal fee for each transaction. Players will be allowed to buy and sell items using in-game gold, or purchase and sell virtual goods using real cash. Players can sell in-game items and then use that money towards subscription payments or other in-game purchases, or cash out and pay a fixed percentage-based withdrawal fee. An unannounced third-party financial institution will handle transfers of virtual sales to players’ real bank accounts.
Trading real currency for digital goods isn’t entirely new — users of Second Life has been doing it for years — but a game publisher doing it themselves for one of their titles is new. There’s been an after-market for gold or rare items among fans for a while; personally, I remember hearing stories about items from 1999’s EverQuest getting sold on eBay and causing all kinds of problems when a seller wouldn’t deliver. Now, Blizzard can manage it themselves, making sure you get your bejeweled ax and that they get a cut of the profit.
But that wasn’t the first thing I thought when I read this story. Immediately, I wondered if this would prevent situations like the alleged World of Warcraft gold farms being operated in Chinese prisons. The blog techyum has a good rundown of the situation, where prisoners would repeat monotonous tasks over the course of twelve hour shifts to generate gold, so the prison guards could sell it for real money.
If Blizzard can keep 100,000 prisoners — the number techyum quotes from a Guardian article — from destroying their wrists and eyes while making a profit, that’s probably a good day for them.