By Dave Gilmore
10:27 AM EDT, August 9, 2012
As far as summer jobs go, one could certainly do worse than playing "Diablo 3."
One Reddit poster, "WishboneTheDog," sparked interest and debate about the hit game's "Real Money Auction House (RMAH)" feature with a post detailing how he or she has made more than $10,000 selling items.
Having in-game item economies that translate into real world bucks is an old concept for online games, but Blizzard's inclusion of the RMAH has institutionalized the process.
What was once the unregulated equivalent of a semi-legal flea market has been turned into Blizzard's own eBay, and "Wishbone" seems to be the first person who has invested serious time into making it pay off.
In the past two days, "Wishbone" has answered dozens of questions from other players and intrigued "Redditors" about the process for accumulating such a large sum of cash, the viability of doing this as a profession and the macroeconomic implications of selling in a digital economy.
"Wishbone" idolizes Warren Buffet, noting that "once driving across the country I made my friends take an hour detour so I could stop outside his house and take a picture. The man is amazing."
Taking a cue from Buffet's low-key approach, "Wishbone" states that the reason for posting the story in the first place was that "there are a lot of misconceptions about the markets in a game like this, especially now with a real money option in-game, and I hope I can clear some up."
While there's nothing pointing to foul play or hoax, commenters on several websites have floated the idea that this is just a clever marketing ploy by Blizzard to get people spending more money on their game's siloed economy.
Providing that the transaction details and "Wishbone's" reasoning and intentions are pure, this could be an example of how a player willing to put in the time can turn a decent side profit off of a properly regulated game economy.
One of the advantages of "Diablo 3's" semi-annoying "always-on" DLC is that transactions can be monitored more closely for irregularities and, more importantly, gameplay can be monitored to ban users who cheat to get rich.
The one thing that recurs in "Wishbone's" story is the amount of sweat equity involved in such an enterprise. While it seems like easy money -- simply playing a game you would've played anyway, grinding out gold and items in "Diablo 3" is tiresome, repetitive work.
When the game first launched, "Wishbone" claims to have played "more than 14 hours a day" and "never botted, scammed, used any of the number of exploits, or cheated in any way whatsoever." That is simply a lot of clicking.
Blizzard has been mum so far, but the company's position on this story -- if it turns out to be true -- could be fascinating. On the one hand, a success story like this could launch a thousand more hopefuls who will buy the game and log thousands more transactions in the RMAH.
On the other, Blizzard positioned the feature as a legitimate way to enhance enjoyment of their main product, not as a forum for people to quit their jobs and become full-time digital item traders.
Ultimately, what makes the "Wishbone" story seem plausible is that the numbers are relatively modest when put in proper perspective.
"Diablo 3" smashed records for PC game sales, so there's certainly no shortage of users in the game's environment. Considering that the game has been out for over three months and "Wishbone" could be averaging four hours of play per day, the rate of return to make $10,000 isn't inconceivable given the high-value item sales the Reddit post contains.
"Diablo 3" players, notorious for multi-day binges resulting in hospitalization and even death should take note that $10,000 seems like a lot of money, but it doesn't include taxes (which "Wishbone" says he or she plans to pay), health insurance or any guarantee of success.
In other words, don't quit your day job.
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