I’ve not been as active playing Diablo 3 as I was at launch and even in the beta. It’s a natural response to buying a new game, playing it – full of excitement – then completing it. There’s not much new I can do, bar levelling more characters to Inferno and clearing it. When the mood takes me I do this with gusto, but more often than not my play time is restricted to auction perusal, money making and bargain hunting. That novelty has yet to wear off and I am as enthusiastic and as active in this respect as ever! All the same, some players are reporting that their auctions are moving slower. In this post, I want to think about whether this is possible and what this means if it is.
It seems to be ‘the in thing’ to claim that Diablo 3 is dying… but this isn’t the correct terminology for a single player game with online elements. Take off that pessimist hat and ignore Blizzard’s “always online” requirement, Diablo 3 isn’t an mmo. It’s not a game you pay a subscription for. A game that you can play alone. A game that does not suffer from a ‘lapsed audience’ in quite the same was as an MMO would.
Let’s talk worst case scenario: the majority stop playing Diablo 3 today. There’s nothing to prevent these players from sampling new content when it’s released weeks, months (likely time frame for PvP and legendary item reworking), or years (expansions) down the line; from returning when the mood takes them; and so on. It’s more likely that players stop in waves and then start again in waves (based on many factors – what content is new, how long they played for and so on).
What do ‘waves’ of users mean? Well, when you’re playing alone – nothing. When you want to play in a party, it means very little (I’ve yet to not find a game within seconds when looking for a public game – a telling fact in and of itself). But if you’re looking to make regular auction house sales at the inflated rate of the post launch months… well that’s a different kettle of fish.
Now, I’m still selling items on the gold auction house and the real money auction house but some prices are shuffling – mostly lower rather than higher. Is this an indication that the audience is shrinking? It might be. I don’t have the statistics to fully commit to that thesis and there are other factors at play, but it’s certainly an element in the calculation.
The current itemisation system for me is probably more harmful – it promotes a strong 6 affixes with the rest being sub par and most players do not want to touch sub par. This is reinforced by the way the end game (inferno) forces a finite (and minute) range of skills and runes. Combined with the influx of more and more items as players play, the demand for a lot of ‘good’ items is dwindling. With dwindling demand comes lower price. If you don’t change your strategy based on what’s happening in your environment you will fail and I think this is at the heart of most complaints about the D3 auction houses at the moment.
Has Diablo 3 lost users? Yes, I think so – much like I stopped playing Skyrim once I got a lot of entertainment out of it. Will Diablo 3 have a substantial audience in 6 months to a year? Again, I think so… But here’s the kicker, the question that I think matters most: Could Diablo 3 have had a longer “honeymoon period” of activity before players started dropping off? Yes, I think so. Blizzard made a few mistakes (uncharacteristic of them) in the launch of this game, no doubt of that. It was never going to live up to the hype (a good game viewed nostalgically will trump the very, very best games every time) the community generated before launch, but I don’t think anyone can disagree that Diablo 3 brought some “quirks” of it’s own to the party. What do you guys think? Are you still playing?