Posted : 2011-09-25 16:04
Updated : 2011-09-25 16:04

Blizzard’s rush for cash?

Blizzard Entertainment CEO and cofounder Michael Morhaime, center, speaks together with Blizzard Entertainment Korea Managing Director Paik Young-jay, left, and Vice President of Online Technologies Robert Bridenbecker about features of its latest video game Diablo III and its controversial “auction house” feature during a news conference at the Imperial Palace Hotel in Seoul, Thursday. / Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

US firm to make Diablo 3 ‘cashable’; Korean authority to say no

By Kwaak Je-yup

When does video gaming become gambling? To critics, it is the moment players start spending real money.

Blizzard Entertainment, one of the world’s leading video game companies, plans to introduce a real-currency marketplace in Diablo III, the much-awaited second sequel to the megahit series of the same name.

In a country where young people play games for hours in “PC bang” or Internet cafes, the prospect of a government approving such a trading platform seems out of the question to many.

The “auction house” feature in its current form is expected to fail in its bid at the Game Ratings Board, especially after Korean company IMI’s “Emperor Online” was rebuffed for promoting a similar feature. Without a rating, the game cannot go on sale.

The board’s spokesman declined to comment, saying nothing has been submitted for review. Michael Morhaime, Blizzard’s CEO and co-founder, called it “premature” to speculate on the outcome.

The auction house is a potential jackpot for Blizzard, especially with separate fees for listing, selling and real cash conversion.

According to Robert Bridenbecker, vice president of online technologies, the auction house will exist in a double-tier structure, one based on Diablo-only unit “gold” and another based on real money. The former will use only “in-game” gold while the latter will use Blizzard proprietary unit called “battle coins” as well as cash.

Blizzard is apparently reversing its previous policy: on Diablo II’s FAQ website, it states that “selling of characters or items is not a feature supported,” and that “Blizzard will not facilitate nor mediate in the sale or trading of characters/items.”

The issue of gambling, illegal for Korean nationals, is a sensitive one, especially after a 2005-06 nationwide scandal over the Sea Story game machines that first passed the regulatory body inspection but were removed after the police discovered excessively speculative and addictive behavior among the players.

Due to this controversy, the watchdog and approval committee was created in the Game Rating Board.

A body under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, it is scheduled to go under parliamentary inspection next Friday, with the issue of real-money trading in video games expected to take center stage.

The country’s attitude toward gaming involving cash transactions has irked Blizzard’s local staff who are reluctant to deal with the controversy expected with the introduction of the auction house but are forced by headquarters to launch the feature, an industry source familiar with the matter said.

Before the as-yet-undecided date of the official launch of Diablo III, the U.S. games subsidiary of Vivendi invited journalists Thursday to rebut the accusation that its auction house feature is a virtual casino.

“We’ve heard speculation comparing item some form of gambling, but in gambling you’re putting something at risk to win,” said Morhaime.

“Items” are won by individual players during the game when they complete a mission. Critics say they come through a randomized selection process, which is based on uncertainty like a card game, but Blizzard says it is a product of the player’s efforts.

“(In Diablo III), you’re not risking anything. You’re just investing your time (to win items to sell). It is an important distinction.”

Morhaime and Bridenbecker said they are only providing a “safe and secure environment,” a replacement for outside markets

“They have allowed...unscrupulous behavior, fraud,” said Morhaime.
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