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The psychology of  Diablo III  loot
The psychology of Diablo III loot Exclusive
June 25, 2012 | By Jamie Madigan

June 25, 2012 | By Jamie Madigan
More: Console/PC, Design, Exclusive

Oh man, you all, I've been playing a lot of Diablo III lately (click click click click click...). I'm sure that many of you who have played have been through the same scenario I have time after time. After running around avoiding AOE attacks, dashing in to rez fallen teammates, and swatting aside trash mobs, you and your co-players finally deplete some boss's health and immediately gather around the newly created digital corpse to answer that all-important question: Did it drop anything good?

In some of the most important ways, Diablo III is a game about hitting monsters with weapons until other, hopefully better, weapons pop out of them. That is, it's a game where you try to maximize the outputs of a system through optimal combinations of your character's skills and equipment.

This puts acquiring new gear first and foremost (especially once you hit the level cap of 60 and start running Hell or Inferno difficulties) but unlike previous games in the franchise, Diablo III complicates that process by having auction houses where you can buy and sell equipment so that loot drops aren't the only way to deck yourself out with phat lewts.

As is my habit, I've been thinking about how different psychological theories explain our willingness to buy things in the auction house and grind for new equipment from in-game drops. The game's developer, Blizzard, probably has two goals among others: First, to get people to spend their in-game gold to keep the game's economy moving (or real money in the case of the real money auction house), and second to keep us playing the game over and over again in order to find stuff the old fashioned way.

In pursuit of these goals and in light of certain psychological phenomena, I have three suggestions for Blizzard or anyone else developing a similar system.

By default, sort the auction house by buyout price, high to low.

Consider these two questions:

Is the height of the tallest redwood more or less than 1,200 feet?

What is your best guess about the height of the tallest redwood?

What do you think? These are questions that researchers asked of some visitors to the San Francisco Exploratorium. Other visitors were asked a similar pair of questions, except that the first one asked whether the tallest redwood was more than 180 feet instead of 1,200.

Both limits are pretty extreme, in that 180 feet is obviously way too short and 1,200 feet is crazy tall. Nonetheless, the answers to the second question, which was consistent across both groups, were pretty amazing. On average, those who had been primed by the 1,200 feet figure said the tallest tree in the forest had to be 844 feet, while those who heard 180 feet off the bat thought the tallest had to be only 282 feet. These were the same people, looking at the same trees; the only difference was the figure in that first question.

This is a clear cut example of what psychologists call "anchoring," one example of which is presenting us with a number to change our estimates of an other, possibly unrelated number. Simply seeing the numbers 1,200 or 180 caused people to anchor on that number and to then adjust their estimates of the tallest tree instead of picking a more sensible starting point. This kind of effect shows up everywhere once you know to look for it. It's the basis of lowball sales pitches that get you to anchor on a low price and then negotiate up. It's the reason why many fast food restaurants list bigger, more expensive drink prices first on their menu. It's why the "But wait! There's more!" brand of infomercials list absurdly high prices for their wares first before slashing them down for a limited time if you act now.

And anchors can still have an effect if they're nonsensical or random. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely and his colleagues conducted a study where they used anchoring in an auction simply by having bidders write down the last two digits of their social security number at the top of their bid sheets. Those whose numbers ended in the 80s and above actually were willing to pay up to 346 percent more for things like wine and chocolates than were those whose social security numbers ended in the 20s or below.

This is why I think that if Blizzard wants more money spent in the auction houses, one way to effect this is to pre-sort the buyout prices so that we see the big fat numbers first in our search results. Even absurd ones like where that one numbskull obviously just held down the "9" key for 30 seconds. Seeing larger numbers will prime us to inflate our estimates of what that item is worth to us. If Blizzard wanted to get really sly about it, the company could show you the most that an item has sold for over the last 7 days.


Of course, savvy auction house shoppers can use this information to avoid the anchoring effect. Setting price limits in the auction house filters would mitigate it, for example. Me, what I typically do is set some price limits with the filtering tools, then sort by ascending price rather than descending. That way, I anchor on the low prices instead.

But what about getting loot the old fashioned way -- by grinding for it? What can Blizzard do to keep us grinding? That brings us to the second suggestion.

Activate the availability heuristic with 'Phat Lewt' notifications

There's a setting in Diablo III that lets you see when someone on your friends list pops achievements. For example, when your buddy beats Diablo (OMG SPOILARZ!!) for the first time on Hell difficulty and earns the associated achievement, you get a little notification near the chat area, along with an icon. It's a neat social system that I think could be expanded to make people keep grinding for super awesome Rare or Legendary item drops.

To illustrate why, consider a simple, 1973 experiment by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman where they created a tape recording of 39 names. Nineteen of these names belonged to famous people, and the remaining 20 did not. When asked, 66 percent of the subjects were able to recall more famous names than non-famous, and the vast majority --80 percent -- incorrectly claimed that there were more famous names on the list than non-famous.

The reason for that last result, the researchers argued, has to do with what's called the availability heuristic. In short, it refers to the fact that to the degree that recalling instances of an event or class of things from memory is easy, we will judge them to be more frequent or more numerous. In his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow Daniel Kahneman digs even deeper into the phenomenon, arguing that it's an example of how part of our mind (the eponymous "Fast" part) will slyly substitute an easier question (How easy is it to recall an example of this phenomenon?) for a more difficult one (How frequent is this phenomenon?).

There are many factors that make an event or thing easier to remember. For example, it may have happened in a very dramatic manner, it may have just happened recently, it may have affected you personally. The availability heuristic is the reason people thought school shootings were more common right after the 1999 massacre in Columbine, Colorado. It's the reason most people overestimate the divorce rate in highly visible Hollywood couples. It's why you think the Xbox 360 "red ring of death" failure is more frequent after it happens to you.


This is why I think that the achievement notification in Diablo III is a good start. It makes the number of people getting the achievement seem larger because it happened recently and to someone you know. The same effect could be used to make players think that the upper tier of Legendary item drops are more frequent if they saw a notification every time it happened to a friend. This would motivate players to keep playing in the (perhaps inflated) hopes of getting a similar drop. Blizzard could also post similar notifications about crafting high-end gems or blacksmith items. Or cracking the 10,000 DPS threshold for the first time. Seeing notification of these events will make them seem more frequent and thus more likely to happen to you if you just keep at it.

So far we've talked about the auction house and about getting loot drops from playing the game. Thinking about the interaction between the two brings us to the final suggestion.

Create dopamine rushes with bind on pickup items

Instead of Tristram, let's head to Sweden to begin. Wolfram Schultz was working there as a neuropsychologist studying Parkinson's disease in lab monkeys when he almost accidentally started a line of research that ultimately suggests a way that Blizzard could encourage us to keep grinding for new loot. Schultz's research involved dopamine and dopamine receptors in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical that's released when we encounter something pleasurable, like a piece of fruit or a Legendary Mighty Weapon for our Barbarian. The chemical is hugely important for learned behavior and motivation to persist in a task, since when it's released certain brain cells go bananas and make us feel good -- maybe even euphoric.

What this means is that dopamine receptors are part of a system that's about pattern recognition and figuring out how to get more good things out of life. Schultz and his colleagues discovered that presenting a lab monkey with a bit of fruit caused the creature's dopamine neurons to light up. They also discovered that when they repeatedly preceded the treat with a light or a sound, the neurons would start to fire when the monkey saw the light or heard the sound, but then remain relatively inactive when the fruit showed up. The system they had discovered was, at its core, about anticipation and trying to predict rewards based on what was happening in the environment.

What's more, it turns out that unpredicted gushes of dopamine really get us fired up. This is because unexpected dopamine rushes highlight failures in our predictive system, and it's a system that's designed to help us figure out why we didn't see life's good things coming and thus how to find them again in the future. This is why the random nature of loot drops in many games is so effective at getting us to keep playing: it capitalizes on our brain's attempts to predict the unpredictable. (See here for more on dopamine and loot drops.)

Loot drops were indisputably core to the Diablo and Diablo II experience for all these reasons. Hearing the little "ting!" sound and seeing the beautiful, colored text indicating that a unique item had dropped produced a rush that every player looked forward to.

Only, not so much with Diablo III.

The reason is that the auction house is actually a far more effective but much more predictable way of finding better gear for your character than hoping for good loot drops from fallen enemies or treasure chests. In my experience it was super easy to buy equipment so good that the magical "ting!" sound soon lost its effect because the loot that dropped was no longer a reward. It was just gold in a slightly more inconvenient form, destined to be sold to a vendor or at best on the auction house for a little more. In effect, the auction house system excised the entire dopamine rush, loot drop appeal of the game. Yes, high quality items still mean big returns on the auction house, but the whole process of listing, selling, and transferring the money is too far removed to elicit the same dopamine rush.

I suspect that the execs from Blizzard are too busy cackling and having money fights with the cuts that the company takes from real money auction house transactions to care, but this seems like a huge part of the game's core appeal is now lost. I think there's some middle ground, though, which is why I think the game should have a class of super items that are bind on equip.

In MMO parlance, "bind on pickup" or "BoP" items are treasures that bind to your character's account once they're equipped. This means they can't be given away, sold, or otherwise transferred. You can just equip them, break them down for crafting materials, or just sit there and stare at them in your inventory. Finding a really good, color-coded item that's BoP would restore some of that "ting!" feeling and dopamine rush, because it will be something that you won't be able find on the auction house. Making the best items in the game BoP would go a long way towards creating those familiar dopamine rushes because they would signal a clear and strong reward, but even making them run the full range of quality would probably still work, since seeing one drop would signal the tantalizing possibility of something otherwise unobtainable. Suddenly, the loot drop would be back, baby.

So there you have it: three suggestions for tweaking Diablo III loot based on psychology. If you're a game designer I'd love to hear your thoughts on these, especially if you've experimented with anything similar.

[Dr. Jamie Madigan is a psychologist and a gamer who writes about the intersection of those two topics at He is also a level 54 wizard.]


Ariely, D., Loewenstein, G., & Prelec, D. (2003). Coherent arbitrariness: Stable demand curves without stable preferences. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 118, 73-105.

Jacowitz, K. and Kahneman, D. (1995). Measures of Anchoring in Estimation Tasks. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 21, 1038-1052.

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow New York: New York.

Tversky, A. and Kahneman, D. (1973). Availability: A heuristic for judging frequency and probability. Cognitive Psychology 5, 207-232.

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Dave Mark
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For those interested in more of this sort of mind fun, I am giving a lecture at GDC Online titled, "Psychology vs. Structure: The Power of Numbers in Game Design"!

Rodolfo Rosini
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Also 'Behavioral Mathematics for Game AI' on Amazon is a great place to start.

Juha Kangas
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Interesting. Sorry to derail but I was wondering, have you ever written anything regarding the psychology behind "one more turn" in the Civilization games?

Joshua Sterns
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I'd like to see a more focused loot distribution system. Namely boss drops. I liked D2 and WoW boss encounters. They were a challenge and offerred some reward. D3 has the challenge part down, but many of the boss drops have been pathetic.

We'll see if things change on Inferno, but my experiences in Act I do not give me hope.

I find it sad and disappointing that my two highest characters (Wiz 34 & Monk 60) have no gear from in game drops. All AH because I got sick of dying, and backtracking didn't guarantee better equipment.

Cordero W
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I've played this game for a good week or so now, and I already got a character to level 60.

This game "bores me." There is nothing to satisfy me other than "my character looks good." I suppose I've lost that essence of trying to make my character this awesome avatar cause I've matured. So when I played Diablo 3, I didn't play it for the game. This time around, I played it for the Auction House, both gold and real money. I managed to get to 1 mil before I even hit 60 mainly because I was playing the AH. Now my goal is to at least make $60 off the RMAH so I can have a minor justification for even buying the game.

This game is, at its core, an arcade game where you blow stuff up. And that's it. Hack n slash. It just lacks the fulfillment since most of the mechanics cater to the Auction House, and thus, the game is a money machine for Activision/ Blizzard. I knew the game was of this nature before I bought it, and read many reviews on it. But my curiosity had me purchase the game, only so I can study what essentially is the modern pay2win technique.

Jonathan Chan
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Diablo 3 is not a game. It's a method of funneling money through the auction house. It's evident that the auction house was a system designed to work in conjunction with game flow and not as a secondary service to facilitate the economy. It's an endless grind of +do gooder with no feasible end. And that people gobble this type of circular gameplay up is both frightening and disgusting.

Matt Robb
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Author hits the nail on the head. I can't feel the need to finish working through Inferno because there's no draw. The instant I had trouble, I visited the AH, doubled my stats with the gold I had on hand, and was more than viable again. What's the point of playing after that?

JB Vorderkunz
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Matt R. - 'viable' on which Act of Inferno? My thoughts on D3 - which I love - are as follows:

People are comparing Launch D3 with the Final D2. Totally unfair, but completely understandable. The issue here is that it's impossible to balance a game internally and meet all audience expectations - I think Blizz has handled some of this poorly, for sure, but overall they've done a commendable job (and this is coming from someone who stayed up late to play opening night only to get the infamous Error 37).

The strangest part about people's expectations come from loot and the AH - Blizz undoubtedly messed up with the Legendary and Set items - I did not need the AH to rock through Hell, but did for Inferno. and that's fine with me. This game was designed to keep people [THE SAME PEOPLE WHO LOVED TO GRIND FOR LOOT IN D2 AND WOW] busy for months and years to find the absolute best gear. So why do so many folks get pissed that they didn't get a phat rolled Rare the second leet group they killed? Seriously folks.

Do some people overprice crap ridiculously on the AH? Yes. Can you find bargains to fit your build, at various price points that match the rolls on the items? Yes. So why all the hate? The most interesting psychological mechanism at play here is the serious anger and disappointment directed at Blizzard yet based upon people's unrealistic expectations. WHERE'S MY PERFECT F'ING GAME, BLIZZARD? <-- seriously, guys, that's how alot of you are acting.

Matt Robb
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It's not really a question of expectations. I think they did a great job balancing things out of the gate. Gameplay was fine, no real complaints there. In my opinion it's blatantly superior to D2.

I suppose a good part of the problem is that I'm far from a casual gamer. Getting to 60 was fast and trivial. But since I was right behind the super-hardcore curve, all the gear I needed to progress was right there on the AH for cheap. It's by no means the best gear, but I'm not really in to getting the best gear to no end. I'm into getting the gear needed to overcome the next challenge. If all it takes to do that is to spend a few minutes on the AH, the drive to keep going fades quickly.

By making the game so "accessible", it's just too easy for me. Same issue with World of Warcraft. Blizzard has become extremely good at allowing the widest audience to enjoy as much of their product as possible. Unfortunately for those like me, that removes most of the challenge. If anyone knows of some kind of online RPG that maintains the challenge, hit me up.

JB Vorderkunz
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I'm on the cusp of farming Act II (inferno), and although I hear that the I-to-II gap is the biggest, and thus may be approaching a downhill run to final endgame, I'm still having a blast.

To your point about challenge - I'm not really sure that D2 was in anyway more challenging in terms of tactics, strategy or skill: it was just waaay more of a grind in certain areas. Not saying this is you, but I think for a lot of folks D2 is seen through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia, making it something that it actually never was...(although it most certainly was AWESOME!)

Bradley White
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I think you maybe missing the point of this article.The author was giving a psychological analysis of the different aspects of Diablo 3 that makes it less addictive, and by virtue less fun, then its predecessors. The rose colored glasses that you are referring to was the Loot system that made it so addictive, not really anything dealing with combat or actual active game play.

Think of it like what Coca-Cola did back in the 90's when they tried to redo the formula for Coke. When they came out with the new brand of coke, the backlash of it was so negative that they re-released the older formula as "Classic Coke" and sold even more of it. This backlash could be considered irrational because it had nothing really to do if the taste was awful or bad, it was just different then what they had come to enjoy.

In the Coke analogy classic coke is the D2 loot system that included a gamed designed for boss grinding, BOE items, no auction house, and a fair chance at greens. But in this case they didn't get any of that. They instead received the opposite and along with it all the game play tweaks to support it. While from a game play perspective the game is better in a large number of ways, from a Diablo series perspective the game has lost the "Classic Diablo 2" feel in reference to what really made the game addictive, and by virtue fun, to begin with.

E McNeill
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> What can Blizzard do to keep us grinding?

A better question: Should Blizzard engineer their game to maximize grinding?

Thibault Coupart
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(I apologize for some languages mistakes; english is not my nativ language...)

Blizzard has imported a free-to-play business model dedicated to zynga' +35 years old "whales" on a hardcore gamer game played by 14 - 35 years old people.

I strongly believe that in short terms this will be good for their revenue, but in mid/long terms it will be a real fail for the game itself and also for the next generation of their games.

Actually they are disgusting and then losing the hardcore evangelist audience, the mood of the game community is currently quite negativ, spread between several tendancies and several opinions.

Pay to win = not good with gamer audience. Look at league of legend, this is certainly the only F2P of the world (or atleast the most famous) which has understood this : virtual goods are only cosmetics, you can't rock the game, your ranking or your friends with your money. You can go faster in progression, but you cannot be stronger than other players at the end.

The real shame is that the mechanics of this business is really visible once you've reached Inferno act II; loots are too weak compare to the difficulty, repairing stuff is really expensive now, you earn less gold than before, real money auction house has provoked an inflation on the classic gold auction house, and so the whole game flow of your experience seem to pull you toward the real-money auction house.

And that's really annoying for a gamer audience. Where is the fun?

Maria Jayne
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My concern for this system is that none of the players really know if Blizzard decides they aren't making enough side profit from the Auction House and so fiddle with the loot distribution on occasion.

Does your character have a trend for selling items on the auction house? maybe we'll just squeaze another % onto the legendary drops not for your played character.

The whole "behind the scenes" potential for such a system stinks.

Glenn Sturgeon
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Every game i've played with an AH (real money or not), it tends to degrade the buzz of drops. AH games tend to boil down more to an economics game rather than just a kill, level and loot game. I like AH games for a bit of a different feel to the genre.
Also there is a differance between bind on pick up & bind on equip items. I know Mythos had both types of items and i hated BOP but not BOE items, since you could trade off BOE items in the AH if you wanted to.

Harlan Sumgui
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I would argue that the dopamine rush for some people is going to be a hella lot stronger because it will involve real $. I imagine there will be plenty of people with the Las Vegas-slots-dead-eyed-stare playing this game.

The only way it will continue to work, however, is for a continual influx of new players who are willing to spend $ buying these items. If the only people playing are the addicted slot players, there will not be enough payouts. So I imagine that in a year or two (depending on RMAH turnover), the price of the game will be dropped to get a new crop of players; then dropped again; and finally ending with f2p. Or I suppose, they could offer periodic sales then move f2p. And, of course, if they can get this system onto consoles, well Ka-ching!

In terms of monetization, it looks to be a brilliant move. They have total control over the game through online drm and a constant stream of income via the RMAH.

Long term, I have my doubts. The fact that Vivendi is trying to unload their stake in Acti-Blizz makes me think that Blizz may have peaked in terms of revenue. The big threat to the Diablo money machine being govt intervention like in S.Korea, as making a videogame with a real money gambling mechanic is a no-no. But then of course, there is the threat of f2p online shooters torpedoing the COD money machine, so maybe that is Vivendi's thinking...

Tyler Shogren
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The base game will probably go F2P with an expansion. However, the hardcore audience is now jaded by the lack of end game and the bald money-grab of the F2P model (in a full price game). Additionally, the game is far less innovative than it's predecessors and has tarnished Blizzard's can-do-no-wrong reputation, like driving a new car off the lot.

Stephen Chow
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If u wondering why Blizzard make F2P mode sacrifice game retention. Here is my guess:

1. They made game so casual, retail sells record can prove it. Player never face the wall before reach hell mode. Most of casual player lost before end of nightmare.
2. For hardcore players, they using inferno and hardcore mode to keep retention.
3. To make money from hardcore players, they reduced loot drop rate and introduced RMAH.

How ever, RMAH still facing some key issues:
1. RMAH paying conversation rate is low: Only player reach hell mode will have incentive to purchase in RMAH. By right, casual player will drop before or finish nightmare. Normal player can get gold items pass hell.
2. Life time value for new cohort dropping: as long as more players loot rare or super rare items. The price in RMAH will drop which impact on tax. All players in different game age are joined shared same auction house. I suspect LTV for new user is much lower than first cohort user.
3. Whale paying user drop after 14 days: They whale paying user will crazy purchase 1-2000USD equipment and pass the inferno mode. Before Blizzard release new content such as new difficulty, PvP or expansion package. Those players will get bored and leave the game.

Here is my guess about how much money Blizzard made in 2 Weeks:

Sells record in US 3,500,000 Units
Retail revenue $252,000,000
RMAH tax revenue in 14 days $6,053,250
RMAH tax revenue average per day| $432,375

User group | Paying Conversation | Total spend | RMAH LTV 14 days | Sub total
Non-payers | 0% | 0 | 0 | 0
Spent <=10$ | 10.00% | $10 | $10 | $3,500,000
Spent <=50$ | 5.00% | $50 | $10 | $1,750,000
Spent <=$100 | 1.00% | $100 | $15 | $525,000
$100 - $500 | 0.10% | $500 | $75 | $262,500
$500 - $1000 | 0.01% | $1,000 | $150 | $15,750
Life time value 14 days | $6,053,250
Revenue per day| $432,375
RMAH 14 days revenue/RETAIL revenue| 2.40%

Key takeaways:

* Conversation rate is low but stable for all cohort users. Current conversation rate is too low because the game lack incentive in normal and nightmare mode. Most player will drop the game before reach hell.
* New cohort LTV will drop quickly, since all user shared same auction house. This is #1 issue Blizzard has to fix if they want to maintian RMAH for long run. I am wondering how they gonna fix it.
* Acquisition cost is hard to cacluate since it's brand marketers. Hard to measure CAC.
* High-end paying user will leave the game after 14 days due to out of content. This is the #2 issue Blizzard has t fix if they want maintian their whale.

JB Vorderkunz
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not sure what conversation rate is: is it related to Barrens Chat?


Aaron Casillas
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What do you see the churn like? 50% drop off after 14 days?
My guess is the conversion is probably less...I'm betting most of the players are competitive enough to want get their own items before buying them? It's easy to see the 14 day rev with smaller conversion rates.

I bet they're experiencing retention and engagement issues in the higher diff settings. I would recommend they retain loyal users by manipulating the loot tables and increasing the % of better loot per kill. Second, drop set items more often.

Against what the cost of production...was the AH worth the production sweat?

Andy Mussell
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Perhaps I'm missing something here, but...

$272m / 3.5m units = $72/unit, which is not only much quite a bit higher than MSRP but I don't believe Blizzard sees that much from a retail sale. I would guess maybe more like $20-$25/unit, after the cost of the manufacturing and distribution of boxed copies is deducted. Let's say $25, which gives a new retail revenue of $87.5m, and a new RMAH/Retail ratio of ~6.9%.

($25 might be high, as a good fraction of those 3.5m "sales" are probably free copies of the game from WoW yearly subscriptions, but this is somewhat balanced out by the fact that non-WoW-related digital sales have a higher margin, with no manufacturing costs. There is a higher margin on the Collector's Edition of the game too, but I am not sure if they sell enough of these to make much difference.)

Stephen Chow
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Sorry about confusion. My points is current D3 RMAH has 3 key issues:

1. D3 RMAH paying conversation rate is low: Only player reach hell mode will have incentive to purchase in RMAH. By right, casual player will drop before or finish nightmare. Normal player can get gold items pass hell.

2. Life time value for new cohort dropping: as long as more players loot rare or super rare items. The price in RMAH will drop which impact on tax. All players in different game age are joined shared same auction house. I suspect LTV for new user is much lower than first cohort user.

3. Whale paying user drop after 14 days: They whale paying user will crazy purchase 1-2000USD equipment and pass the inferno mode. Before Blizzard release new content such as new difficulty, PvP or expansion package. Those players will get bored and leave the game.

I am wondering how Blizzard gonna solve those 3 key issues for RMAH.

Jeremie Sinic
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This article shows exactly how to fix the game. Please Blizzard check this out seriously. The BoP system would indeed make item looting more exciting.

What kills the fun to me is the simple knowledge that:
- "anyway, I can check the AH when needed"
- "I am never gonna find a better item than there is already in the AH".

I also found the game a blast in Normal, Nightmare and first act of Hell.
However, I checked the AH out of curiosity and found a relatively cheap-though-way-stronger-than-my-previous weapon. And then suddenly the fun of drops waned, since nothing I found after could come close to my new weapon. Now my main reason to play is still to reach lv. 60 (I am 57) but then after that I don't think I am going to stick around if nothing changes.

Mike Weldon
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This echoes my experience as well. I worked really hard to get my dps to the 1000 mark, while I was leveling up. That seemed like a good milestone to shoot for. Shortly after I got there, I went to the AH for the first time and spent 5000 gold (not very much) on 1 item that made my dps jump to 2000. Suddenly all the 10, 50, 100 point increases I had been excited about before, seemed irrelevant when I could pay a trivial amount of gold for a 1000 point increase.

I soldiered on to level 60 and then to Inferno, but all the fun was gone after my first AH experience. The best part of the game was hunting for items, but the AH makes that pointless.

David Lee
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My friends and I completely avoided the Auction House and had a blast playing through the main game with several characters. We haven't crossed Act II in Infernal yet (that might change things) but I found it pretty much as fun as Diablo II. The appeal of loot drops does seem less (maybe it has to do with frequency or maybe it's the audio cue that rocked so much in D2) but the basic gameplay is as good as ever--basically taking very simple user input actions and making them seem awesome in terms of their effect on the game world. If the skills could not be continually re-mapped in search of the best combination for the current monsters, there might be some more fun tension about making skill decisions, but I'm not sure if that would make a huge difference in the game.

If I had checked out the AH, I might have had the disappointment Jeremie experienced--not going to do that right now though as I'm still having fun.

Jonathan Chan
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if i recall correctly in Mythos BoP items had more modifiers/higher ilvl than their BoE counterpart of the same tier?

As much as I expected from Diablo 3, it wasn't based on Diablo 2. It's not even expectations of gameplay, their core systems are unpolished and lacking. I expect the company's total experience across all of their games, including World of Warcraft and Starcraft 2, to be reflected in Diablo 3. Their inability to manage their servers at launch (including the complete lack of a queue system), the terrible usability, UI and search functions of the AH (they already had a perfectly good interface from WoW), the combinations of DEX/INT and STR/INT on items, which was done away with in both Diablo 2 and World of Warcraft. It's almost like Diablo 3 was developed in isolation and took nothing away from their other titles, other than an overly robust and confusing achievement system.

Matt Cratty
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D3 is a massive disappointment (in my opinion only). But, the real issue is that I hope to God that no one in any decision-making capacity ever reads your thoughts about how to get more money out of us.

Brandon Davis
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Neat article Jamie!

From a behavioural scientist standpoint, it all boils down to the power of intermittant reinforcement. As noted, the Auction House takes this power of human motivation out of the dopomine response equation.

Tyler Shogren
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Now how about an article on the Ethics of this brave new world? The word 'cynical' doesn't seem to fully cover the agreement players must sign stating "in-game items have no real value" before they can see the real money auction house.

Julian Gosiengfiao
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Really valuable lessons in this article.

Thoroughly enjoyed reading it, too - I always knew I loved lootfest games (in fact, I find myself searching "loot" on the app/steam store oft times), but it was really interesting to have it spelled in psychological terms why my mind would react the way it does.

Bart Stewart
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What I find most interesting that, unlike the first two psychology-specific suggestions, that third suggestion lives in the intersection between psychology and economics.

Grind vs. buy is a value decision. Players must assess the weight and importance of input factors (e.g., the rush of scoring a useful drop, which feels like a satisfying reward for "hard work," versus the utilitarian satisfaction of maximizing effectiveness for minimal time cost) and judge which combination is likely to yield the best payoff.

Psychological phenomena can affect that judging process by altering how weights are perceived (as the "priming effect" does). But the process of making value choices is still an economic one.

What makes this worth pointing out (to my mind, anyway) is that economic behavior, individually and in groups, has its own set of phenomena distinct from purely psychological effects. So the likely consequences of implementing a new value-modifying behavior like Bind on Pickup can't be assessed accurately just on psychological grounds -- you also have to consider player reactions with respect to economic decision-making.

What's the most rational choice when the payoff matrix is tipped more toward grinding, but there's an opportunity cost in no longer being able to sell some good items in the auction house? To what extent does rational-choice even apply in this game setting, which attracts a certain kind of gamer rather than a representative subset of the general population?

For questions like those, psychology is valuable, but I think economics has something useful to offer game designers as well.

Gil Salvado
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I actually hoped to read something else, because what annoys we about the loot system are drops that sometimes are total crap. A mighty weapon with Int Bonus for example. But to fix those kind of issues within a randomized loot system you would more exceptions than rules. Although there are already some, like Helmets can't have +movement speed and so on.

Anyway, it was a nice and interesting read, but I do have some problems with your thoughts.

What do you do with users that don't have enough friends in their lists to get enough notifications about "phat lewt" drops?

And how do determine bad loot from good loot? Is an orb with 1k+ damage, attack speed, etc. ... but 150 strength instead of intelligence a bad loot? Some rare drops are even better than legendary and those drops have the lowest chance. And even if you go for legendary drops as good loot only - is a lvl 30 legendary item a good loot for a Level 60 character?

And even in BoP's would be the best items ingame, they also could have bad stats if they're randomized.

In my opinion it's not about the symptoms of the loot system, its about its core design. E.g. Intelligence is almost useless for a Barbarian, but why does it need to be this way? Imagine an Int Barb which just plays differently from an Str Barb. Instead of going for main damage bonus you could go for crit chance and bonus.

And I don't mind Blizzard making with its auction house. They certainly are going to spend well on drugs, hookers and other total nonsense. They made Diablo because they are a vicious company and we are right to be jealous about it.