With the Diablo III Auction House, players will have a fully-integrated marketplace that allows them to buy and sell items, gold, and components with real-world currency (tentatively divided into U.S. dollars and euros, among others) in their respective territories. According to him, it's based on theWorld of Warcraft Auction House, but with refinements. Diablo III's iteration allows for auto-bidding and instant buyouts, smart searches based on class, a shared stash, and secure item transfers.
Pardo was swift to mention that it's not an official "Blizzard Store," but a clearinghouse for players to have an open market to facilitate the trading of in-game items with each other. Players will be anonymous during trades, and there will be restrictions on the buying and selling of goods with real-world currency for those who choose to play in Hardcore mode.
He then outlined initial details of transactions. There will be a fee for both item listings and sales. Should players accept in-game currency, their payment will go toward their Battle.net e-balance, which covers auction items, WoW subscriptions, and pets. Should players decide to cash out their items, a currently-unannounced third-party payment provider will handle the transaction and take a percentage of the sale. There won't be any limits on item trading, but there will be a 24-hour cooling period before players can resell a purchased item.
And why are they doing this? According to Pardo, because, well, if they didn't, you would.
"Players want this... We could take a harder stance, but with Diablo, we think [the Auction House] will end up being a good thing," he said. The fact that in-game bartering and selling had "become a metagame of its own," in his words, was another motivator for launching the new feature.
Left unspoken of course, is that with the arbitrage fees from Diablo III Blizzard will make enough money to fix the Greek debt crisis. I'm sure that was a very minor consideration, though.
As a game developer, I can see Blizzard's logic behind this move. There's obviously plenty of a market for RMT transactions, and in the long term a clear benefit over and above the strictly financial in channeling them into an outlet controllable by people who at least theoretically have the game's best interests at heart. And given that it's similar to a system I had designed for a free-to-play title, that makes it even more difficult to argue against!
But as a player - I have no interest to pay to win. At all. For me the ideal F2P experience is one offered by titles such as Lord of the Rings Online - one where I can play on or off at a whim, and occasionally dig into my wallet for conveniences such as a horse or such, but never feeling as though I was missing a huge chunk of the game play by keeping my wallet in my pocket. Explicitly pegging the in-game currency to a real-world analog (the implication of Diablo III's announcement) -- well, that certainly is a fairly huge chunk of game play to bypass.
Is this a good decision? For Blizzard's business, yes. For Blizzard's design, yes. For Blizzard's players? Probably not, though the actions of people who can't resist the immediate gratification of RMT make it inevitable.
From a long term standpoint, I think this also makes it fairly clear that World of Warcraft and Starcraft II will be the last Blizzard titles that aren't driven by RMT. Thanks, usual suspects!