Azuriel from In An Age launches the Diablo Annual Pass Challenge, where the goal is to finance one year of subscription for World of Warcraft (thus getting Diablo 3 for free) with the money earned from the Diablo 3 auction house. Less explicitly there is a general expectation in the blogosphere where many people talk about being net earners from the Diablo 3 real money AH system. And I wonder whether people realize how this constitutes a complete reversal of a moral high horse attitude against Free2Play games.
There have been years of discussion about the morality of Free2Play games. And a great number of people over the years expressed their belief that enabling people to buy advantages in game for real money is morally wrong. Now it turns out that there is a secret caveat: "Selling players in-game advantages for real money is morally wrong, unless of course the money is going to my pocket instead of that of the game company". Because this is exactly what the Diablo 3 real money auction house does: It sells players in-game advantages for real money. And Blizzard has cleverly overcome all moral objection to that by the sneaky means of sharing the real money proceeds from that with the kind of "time-rich" players who previously were most likely to object against the sale of items for money.
The Diablo 3 real money auction house is a negative sum feature: More real money goes in than comes out. For every player making X dollars from it, another player must have put X + something dollars into it. There are fees both for selling and for removing the money from the system, transaction by transaction. And Blizzard not only makes a profit from those fees, but also from a system which ultimately makes it easier to pay for a WoW subscription with Diablo 3 AH earnings than for a SWTOR subscription or other competitor's product.
The glee with which some players greet the Diablo 3 AH and it's earnings potential suggests a certain moral hypocrisy. It is very hard to condemn some Free2Play game for selling the Sword of Uberness for $10 if at the same time you are selling your Sword of Uberness on the Diablo 3 auction house for $10. From the buyer's point of view, there is no difference from where the Sword of Uberness comes, and who pockets the money. He will simply consider whether the Sword of Uberness is worth $10 to him, and make his purchase decision accordingly. If it was previously argued that this sale was morally wrong, because either it was selling people worthless pixels for money, or because it enabled people to get hold of rewards they "didn't deserve", the fact that part of the money now goes to another player doesn't change that argument at all. Or rather it shows how hollow these arguments were, and how quickly forgotten in view of a prospect for profit.