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World of Warcraft Column: The Diablo Effect

By Garrett Fuller on May 21, 2012

This past week we saw the launch of Diablo 3. There has always been talk of Blizzard being their own worst enemy when it comes to games. Well Starcraft definitely has its own audience, but WoW players cannot deny the action-RPG of Diablo. More than just a game though, Diablo will likely have an impact on WoW in many ways, so let’s see if we can come up with some future predictions on how the Diablo Effect will impact WoW.

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The largest impact will come in the next few months as players move from WoW to Diablo before the expansion. It is only a guess that population numbers will go down for a while as people enter Diablo over the summer. This in some ways gives WoW a break. The big win for Blizzard here is allowing for chat across games. This technology allows for WoW Guilds and Diablo players alike to chat and plan their schedules accordingly. I think Blizzard made the right call with cross game chat through Battle.net as it keeps their community together regardless of what game they are playing.

Another massive change that is coming is the real cash auction house (RMAH). This will go into effect soon on Diablo 3 and has the entire video game world talking. It really is Blizzard’s answer to micro-transactions and in many ways it works very well. For those who may be upset about it, don’t use it. If you want to spend some cash, go for it. So many players in WoW had paid for gold to third party farmers it got ridiculous. Now it seems like Blizzard has created the market with Diablo 3. The big question is…when will this system be implemented in WoW? There are no real plans, but it is impossible to ignore the fact that if the real money auction house is a success, there is a good chance it will come to World of Warcraft in some way.  If Blizzard’s smart, it will only affect PVE and not competitive play (PVP, Challenge Modes). Of all the elements of Diablo 3 the auction house is the big pink elephant in the room for WoW players.

In many ways as the first generation of MMO players from the last decade move into these games, the generation who are playing now will grow up knowing full virtual economies which are tied to real money. Gamers in the next few years will be used to spending some real cash on weapons and armor for their characters as it will ultimately become more common. Also as branding becomes more popular in games and virtual worlds, you will see players buying items from companies to flaunt in their games. Now, Warcraft and Diablo really are not the place for this type of showing off. However, they do represent a new economy for games that will become much more accepted by gamers in general. Just as the MMO grind was something we all faced in the 2000s, the microtransactions will be the norm in the 2010s.

Looking towards Mists of Pandaria I think you will see a massive rise in WoW players again. People who will be coming back to level their characters, explore the new world, and yes even collect every pet in the game for battles. Just when players will have enough of Diablo in their blood they will make the switch to WoW again in time for the expansion. Blizzard may take time to release their games, but this schedule is becoming more regimented with the success of their expansions and community involvement. Let’s not count out Starcraft 2’s expansion Heart of the Swarm as well which hopefully will hit this fall.

Overall, I think Diablo 3 is a great game and I have spent many hours this week bashing undead and demons with my Barbarian. The one thing it does teach is that games can be simple and still keep players engaged. I am following the story and enjoying the dark creepy world of Sanctuary all over again. In terms of its impact on MMOs, I am sure a lot of players have put down their favorite worlds for a chance to step into Sanctuary. That is the best part of MMOs, you can go back to them at any time. For now, I think WoW will get a sigh of relief as Diablo becomes the big fish in the Blizzard pool, at least for a while, until Pandaria hits the fan(s). Oh, and let’s not forget that hopefully at BlizzCon 2013, we will finally get a look at Titan… I wonder how much of each Blizzard game we will see in it?

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