Where's PayPal?

Posted by Daeity On Monday, January 23, 2012

As you know, I'm still waiting for that Battle.net Balance to be implemented, and I have suspected for some time that Blizzard may be having some PayPal or RMAH/Balance integration issues.

Coming Soon: Battle.net Balance
We’ll be rolling out the new Battle.net Balance feature in the weeks ahead.
It's been over 7 weeks now, and the Battle.net Balance feature has still not been rolled out.

I also noticed something else related to this delay. About a week before Mike's "Soon Was Too Soon" post, Blizzard also revealed that they were going to allow PayPal to be used to purchase Blizzard products and services on Battle.net. However this time, it would be available for several regions, and not just limited to WOW Subscriptions for NA users only.
PayPal will also soon be added in several regions as a payment option on Battle.net, providing another convenient and secure payment method for digital purchases of Blizzard products and services.

We’ll share region-related specifics, as well as further details on everything mentioned above, in the near future. Stay tuned!
This information was supposed to be revealed in the "near future". And, I assume that based on what they're saying, that both the RMAH Region Information and PayPal integration details would be revealed at the same time. Some of the RMAH Region details have already been revealed, but what happened to the PayPal system? It's been 5 months now.

Finding Delays Where They're Not Telling You

It's been made quite clear that the past (and current) delays have not been a result of game development process. They've had the luxury of extra time to add new features and content, there's been no crunch time, no rush, and due to Jay Wilson's recent "major update", we've learned that they're not even adding new content, but rather just making minor changes and deleting content.

Since we're left in the dark, there are other signs of delays to look out for that might give us an idea of what's going on. For example, if we discovered that they were having major hiring problems, not enough customer support, or enough developers on a game, we would know that it would be a reasonable explanation for delaying the game.

The South Korea Approval issues definitely had an impact to their timeline. And these other delays in announcements are also confirming my suspicions that PayPal and B.Net Balance systems have also caused a major delay in their release schedule.

Even their special definition for future time was changed. Mike said that "Soon Was Too Soon", admitting that even their expectations for "Soon" had to be pushed back significantly because "Soon" didn't end up being what they thought their "Soon" release would be. I hope that made sense.

As well, both "Near Future" and "Coming Weeks" have always meant about 2-3 weeks for Blizzard. But in the case of PayPal and the B.Net Balance roll outs, they became several months instead.

So, the Battle.net Balance system was delayed (we can't charge up our accounts with PayPal or any other credit system yet), the RMAH Cashing Out feature with PayPal was delayed, and the PayPal system for purchasing Blizzard Store items was delayed.

Are there internal problems with PayPal? Is this a technical or systems integration issue? Are there legal problems? Is PayPal getting cold feet after hearing about the SK Government Gambling issues? After all, online gambling (in itself) isn't illegal in most US states, but the transactions to/from online gambling sites are illegal. PayPal would be taking far more risks (UIGEA) than Blizzard in this case.

Or, perhaps Blizzard is implementing new security systems internally (and with PayPal) to ensure that prohibited countries are not able to participate in the RMAH? (A difficult task considering that SK players can register a US B.Net account, and it's a region-free game.)

I've talked about these subjects before though. When PayPal is finally implemented, I suspect that there will be new security or regional payment restrictions in place to limit players to specific countries (both through their B.Net Account and PayPal.) I don't think there's anything stopping users from buying the Region-Free Diablo 3 from overseas retailers, though, and playing it in their own country. That's if they even know it's region free. It's something that still hasn't been officially announced.. and for good reason.

Selling Skills

While on the subject of these PayPal announcements and the RMAH, there's one subject that I'm surprised more people haven't talked about. I've known about it for a really long time now, but I never really had a reason to talk about it; Blizzard wants the RMAH used for selling skills and not just items.

It's actually a really smart business move. Rather than limiting yourself to selling items (which improve the damage of skills), why not just sell the skills and their effects too?

When PayPal first announced their partnership with Blizzard, they pointed out Blizzard's intention to sell runestones (which represent skills) on the RMAH:
They’ll also be able to use PayPal to cash out any real-money proceeds they receive from the sale of items — such as weapons, armor, runestones, and other loot obtained in the game world — via the currency-based auction house. (There will also be a separate gold-based version of the auction house that uses in-game gold for item transactions.)
By the D3 Dev Team wanting to make runes so that they could be sold on the RMAH, I think that this was the reason why they had so many problems deciding on an approach, and why they had so many iterations of the rune system.

I imagine that the business department told them what they wanted done, and how they wanted to ensure that the runestone (skill) system had a monetary aspect. Because of this pressure and restriction in place, it changed their design principals and they had to work around the limitation rather than having the freedom to innovate. It's no surprise they had a lot of problems creating the rune system.. it had to be something that Blizzard could profit from.

The problem, though, is that the RMAH was designed for only high-end items. So, they would have had to give runes low drop rates in order to make them rare enough to sell on the RMAH. This would have seriously limited the development and growth of players causing frustration knowing that they would have to shell out cash for skill upgrades (buying rare runestones from the RMAH.)

I wonder if there's more of this planned or in another format? More testing of new concepts in D3 to see if they're successful enough for future games possibly? :)

Skills vs Items

If I was responsible for a game design, I would want to leverage the RMAH as much as possible and I would (try to) create a non-obvious method of selling skills/abilities without actually selling them directly as "skills". :)

For example, as players level they are rewarded with new skills when they hit certain milestones. However, for the skills to actually be useful, I would want the players to purchase upgrades to the skills that add new strategy, different behaviors, and new visual effects. On its own, "Kick" is pretty mediocre.. but when you purchase "Fire Kick", it's suddenly a great AOE attack. Makes sense right?

Collecting items is a lot of fun, but there's much more enjoyment to be gained when you are rewarded with new abilities. It's something you can see, it's unique, it's something you use actively (not a passive effect), and it can completely change your strategy or gameplay. Because skills change your gameplay, it's also a method of appeasing the players need for content consumption. Basically, gameplay needs to be "mixed up" to keep players interested. (Which is why I'm really worried about Diablo 3's "dead zone". There are no new skills to be achieved, and the grind won't be as much fun anymore without clear rewards and achievements with each new level.)

Gaining new skills is actually a more enjoyable reward system than items, leveling, pets, or achievements. Selling items or pets are easy, but trying to "sell skills" is a very difficult task since players associate it with necessity for growth. If they work hard, they should be rewarded.. there shouldn't be another limitation (monetary at that) on necessary growth. "I have to PAY for that skill? WTF!"

Players should be sort-of used to this, though. When they hit a certain level, they visit vendors, and they pay for the skill. But that's all part of the game, and it's much different when they see a skill being sold for cash by another player who has it.

Even though it's a really great idea to sell skills (from a business perspective), it's really hard to pull off. If they were to lower RMAH fees, low-medium rarity items and skills could be worked in, but that cuts down on their profit. And even then, it's skills for cash.

I think the only way to do it, that would appear fair to customers, is to make skills a reward system from hard work. You can have three options available: work hard to get it yourself, work hard in something else (gold farming) and buy it, or simply pay cash for it. So, skills could be obtained multiple times by the same person and sold to other players, but they need to work hard to get it each time and it results in cash payment. It's something that CAN NOT be left to random chance, it must be a clear goal at the end of certain timely tasks. Items can be random, but skills can't.

Rather than selling skills, perhaps developers should view it instead as an important piece of content consumption. You might not make money from it, but you can reduce future expenses (eg, development time, creativity, hiring staff.)