WoW vs Diablo 3: Socialism vs Capitalism, and Entitlement

With all the hate on Diablo 3 in the official forums, most fervently about how difficult it is to find upgrades and how many millions of gold the next upgrade will cost, there is a strange sort of entitlement occurring that seems to have stemmed from many modern games. Entitlement in the gaming sense is basically the expectation to be rewarded for little effort or skill. In a game like Diablo 3, the reward is better items and progression. Since World of Warcraft is a similar enough game, which features an endgame where the reward is also better items and progression, and also have many other gameplay similarities, and on top of that being made by the same company, we shall take these two games into a somewhat surprising comparison.

Diablo 3 and Capitalism

The item system of Diablo 3 is capitalist. This notion will probably hurt a lot of forum-goers who complain about the item system as they don’t want to be viewed as complaining about capitalism, but that is precisely what Diablo 3 is. It’s all about obtaining items, and many vocal people for some reason want to do this through the Auction House, which requires gold, which in turn requires farming.

What is so capitalist about it? Well, the fact that drop rates for good items are so low means essentially that no one will find a full set for themselves in a reasonable amount of time. This promotes trading, which Blizzard embraced with the Auction House. Once the game was out, the Auction House allowed very free trade across millions of players, with the prices and purchases set by the players themselves.

Since probability dictates that you are far more likely to find an item good for someone else than for yourself, the most efficient way to obtain upgrades for yourself is to find items that are good for other people and trade them for items that would be good for yourself. This is done en masse through the Auction House, with clear patterns emerging from Week 1 that are clear signs of a free market at work.

Now, capitalism in practice is as much a social construct as it is an economic system. In capitalism, there is a social hierarchy based on wealth, which we have seen in Diablo 3 since the middle of Week 1. As the system started, the people at the top, i.e. those with the most wealth, were those who rushed to the higher difficulties and obtained items which were highly valued at the time. They obtained millions of gold in the first week.

There is a saying about capitalism that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. This is indeed what happened in Diablo 3. Those who made millions in Week 1 are largely those who possess hundreds of millions today. But those who have struggled, while they may nominally have more gold today than a few weeks ago, find themselves with less relative purchasing power.

As an aside, it seems that the botters who run hundreds of accounts simultaneously are like wealthy business owners in a free market. They hire a bunch of automatons for minimal pay (the electricity bill for the computers) and then make huge profits by selling the products of their labor (the good items) to the working class (a large percentage of Diablo 3 players who actually farm the gold for the upper class).

Another saying about capitalism is that it takes money to make money. This is no truer than in Diablo 3, where if you are stuck with level 54 gear, you are not going to making farming a lot of gold, and if you have amazing item level 63 gear, you will be picking up gold and items (which mean more gold) left and right.

Anyways, enough with capitalism for one section.

World of Warcraft and Socialism

The item acquisition system in WoW, by contrast, is almost entirely socialist. In Diablo 3, leveling even through Hell can get challenging and some may feel compelled to buy gear before they even reach Inferno. In WoW, you can easily reach maximum level without spending a single copper on the Auction House. This is because in WoW, all items at a certain item level have nearly identical power. In WoW, one level 359 belt is at most 1% better than another level 359 belt, while in Diablo 3, one level 63 belt might be 600% better than another level 63 belt.

In WoW, when you reach max level 85 (using early 4.0/4.1 Cataclysm as the basis), you are already in possession of a full set of item level 312/318/333 gear. If you completed a lot of quests with certain factions, you might even have enough reputation to buy a level 346 item the moment you hit 85. The gold you get from quest rewards far exceeds the gold to purchase these items from vendors.

Then you move on to normal-level dungeons, which reward item level 333 gear, and once your average item level is high enough, you move onto heroic dungeons, which reward item level 346 gear. A level 346 piece with the right stats is strictly better than a level 333 with the same stats. Note that each time you move up, you are guaranteed to get upgrades.

This is one reason WoW can be so addicting: players are rewarded at guaranteed intervals. But this post is not about how WoW is addicting and Diablo 3 is not. Moving on…

Even in heroic dungeons, the slacker/entitlement phenomenon appears. A dungeon group is a 5-man group, and usually in random groups there is at least one person who is of extremely low skill, undergeared, or flat out contributes nothing to the group. Yet this person is the one most rewarded by the system. In WoW dungeons and raids, an item will drop for the entire party/raid to roll on or distribute. In dungeons, it is most likely that the least geared person/least contributor will find an item drop to be an upgrade, and thus get the upgrade, while the person/people who did all of the work are rewarded with only tokens (Justice and Valor points) which the slacker gets anyways. Thus the system rewards slackers the most.

Due to this happening over a long period, the slackers feel entitled to get gear upgrades every time a content patch comes out, a feeling that is to the detriment of the actually skilled players. Compare this to a farm or factory where every person receives the same reward no matter how much work they did. Of course people would start trying to get away with doing as little work as possible, and to meet the production quotas, the people who actually do the work need to work extra hard. This is like how in WoW, I sometimes have to heal much harder/intensely in a dungeon than in a heroic raid because no one in the dungeon group is trying.

Another thing is the weekly Valor point limit and raid lockout. Due to these restrictions, the gap between the upper and lower classes (say raiders and non-raiders) was much smaller than it would otherwise have been. Had there been no raid lockout, the raiders would obtain full best-in-slot sets after a week, while the non-raiders would have nothing. Thus, the lockouts and weekly limits served to lessen the gap between the top and bottom, another strong property of socialism.

In WoW, virtually all high-end items are Bind on Pickup, which means they cannot be traded. Thus there is no market for top items. Sure, there are some ways around this, such as paying a guild group to run you through a raid and give you loot, but this is extremely rare, and isn’t really a significant way of gearing up. And sure there are people who play the Auction House with commodities such as ores and gems, but this doesn’t really affect the endgame of gear acquisition and progression. Thus, WoW can be thought of as a socialist system as far as gear is concerned.

The Entitlement Mentality

Note that I have not said that capitalism or socialism is good or bad; I am just saying how each fits Diablo 3 or WoW. Regardless, one consequence of the socialist system of WoW is entitlement. People expect to have the best gear handed to them, that they are somehow entitled to the best gear. I am not saying this is good or bad either—I am reporting on facts and not opinions.

The fact is that this mentality combined with the pure capitalism of Diablo 3 results in near immediate failure. People expect to gear up for one Act of Inferno, finish the Act, and use the upgrades found in the Act to move onto the next Act, much like the quest to dungeon to heroic dungeon progression in WoW, which might take a single day or less after reaching max level.

However, this is where it gets tricky. For casual players, these heroic dungeons were the end game, as they gave Valor points which were used to purchase level 359 epic-quality gear. (The heroic dungeons only dropped level 346 rare-quality gear.) But for less casual or hardcore players, there were two stages left: normal mode raids (level 359) and heroic raids (level 372).

This is where the crucial difference between WoW and Diablo 3 lies.

In WoW, the only way to obtain level 372 gear was to do heroic raids, which many people simply could not do, for a number of reasons.

In Diablo 3, by contrast, anyone can obtain level 63 gear by purchasing it from the Auction House. There was not a requirement to actually get to Act 3 Inferno before using level 63 gear. You could use it to progress through Act 1.

Since the high-end gear in WoW was so hard to obtain for the casual player, due to the raiding requirement, casuals simply did not care that other people had 372s, nor did they feel entitled to have 372s. They may have felt entitled to 346s, and some 359s, but not 372s.

But in Diablo 3, pre 1.0.3, you could buy level 63 gear, which dropped in Acts 3 and 4 Inferno only, in order to progress through Act 1, which drops only up to level 61 gear. In WoW, this would be like buying 372 gear to progress through heroic dungeons, which drop 346s. Quite absurd.

This is the fundamental flaw.

The Diablo 3 Auction House at release should not have allowed unrestricted purchase of item level 62 and 63 gear.

Buying level 62 gear should have required that you complete Act 1 Inferno first, and buying level 63 gear should have required that you complete Act 2 Inferno first. This way, people would not have just skipped over the difficulty of Act 1 Inferno by way overgearing themselves for it. And this way, people doing Act 1 Inferno would not have felt entitled to own item level 63 gear.

People would have had to do Act 1 in a “fair” way. Of every person on my friends list, there is not a single person who stuck to Act 1 drops or level 61 items in their first Butcher kill. Virtually every single person had a level 63 weapon and level 63 on a few other slots. This leads to many people claiming Act 1 is super easy when it is actually very hard if you are not insanely overgeared. And the popular claim that Act 1 is easy leads new players who have just gotten to Inferno to wonder what they are doing wrong when they find Act 1 to be very hard like it should be.

Of course, with 1.0.3, droprates have changed such that all of Inferno can drop level 63 gear. But at the start, if access to item level 62 and 63 gear was restricted, there would have been much more sense of progress. Right now, people just buy level 63 gear for Act 1, and then claim they never find any upgrades, when the reason is because they already have some of the best gear. If there had been a restriction on 62 and 63 gear, people would painstakingly but surely do Act 1 with Act 1 gear. Then bam, on their screen it would say, “Congratulations on defeating Act 1 Inferno. You have now unlocked Act 2 Inferno and item level 62 gear.”

Then they might actually find some upgrades because they are now searching among level 62 gear to replace their 61s. Or they can just buy some level 62s and finish Act 2, when it says congrats, you have unlocked Act 3 and item level 63 gear. Another sense of progress. And now they can start scouring 63s for upgrades to replace their 62s.

Since you were trying to emulate the WoW tier system at the Diablo 3 launch, you should have gated access to the higher level items.

Now because you didn’t restrict access to level 62 and 63 items, and because 1.0.3 made such high level items drop in all acts, there is little point in level 61 items, when everyone basically has access to level 63 items. And because the majority of people are using such items, a new player feels that it is the norm to have powerful level 63 items, and then is shocked when they are going for millions or tens of millions on the Auction House. Same with players who have hundreds of hours played. Since it seems just about everything is based on high-end level 63 items, anyone who doesn’t already have them or doesn’t have enough gold to afford them feels terrible and then go on the forums and threaten to quit the game. Almost all other complaints derive from this original cause.

WoW never had this problem because the high-end items were simply not available for the average player, so no one felt entitled to obtain them. Even sites like Elitist Jerks, when discussing high-end gear, often displayed stat weights in normal raid tier and in heroic raid tier. So even the elitists thought that the second-best tier of items was worthy of number crunching and min-maxing.

Diablo 3 is now all about the top tier, which makes the item hunt pretty boring. In the first step of your roll, you pretty much have to have a level 63 item. It is ironic how a game like WoW, with a much simpler item system, with all items in a tier being roughly the same, has more item depth than Diablo 3.

Solutions

Since the game is already released, people already have level 63 items, and lower Acts drop level 63s, it is impossible to use the gating system that I described above. And since people only really care about level 63s now, there will need to be a lot of work on this tier. So the plausible solutions are:

  • Buff legendaries into the stratosphere, so there will be more interesting item options. I know Blizzard is already working on buffing legendaries, but they need to buff them by a very large amount to make them interesting.
  • Add a lot more interesting affixes, preferably ones that have special effects rather than changing numbers. For instance, Chance to Frost Nova When Struck, or Chance to Mirror Image on Hit.
  • Buff the minimum for many of the stat ranges. They are far too variable as is, and one low number like +20 Intelligence can completely ruin an otherwise decent item roll, when it could have rolled +100 or +200 Intelligence. This absurd range makes the item hunt extremely unrewarding.

If you are ever thinking of releasing a Diablo 3 expansion with multiple item tiers, please consider the item restriction system I outlined above. Maybe it doesn’t need to restrict Auctions, just restrict the ability to wear such items until your hero is powerful enough, i.e., having cleared the previous Act or corresponding requirement.  That way people would not feel entitled to the highest level gear the moment they hit max level.

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