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'Diablo 3' getting free-to-play features, but not in the US or Europe

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Blizzard may have shut down the Real Money Auction House after contention from the community, but it's opening up a new way to potentially use real money for in-game items. The difference here is that it's doing it in territories that are pretty accustomed to this sort of thing already -- most likely China. On the developer's American and European forums, an employee writes that an upcoming patch will add a new currency ("platinum"), timed experience boosts, cosmetic items, character slots and a tweaked UI to handle all of the above. Basically, the type of microtransactions that are fairly common in free-to-play games. As Gamasutra notes, Blizzard already has a partnership with NetEase (a Chinese internet company that has a web portal and its own massively multiplayer role-playing game), which operates a version of Diablo 3 in the country. All that to say, this makes sense for Blizzard.

How's it going to affect players stateside or in Europe, though? Well, Blizzard says they'll benefit from the UI changes that are being implemented, and that's about it. Forumgoers are worried, however, that the free-to-play elements will come to roost in their game, devaluing their progress (a complaint levied at the RMAH) and transforming the game into a pay-to-win scenario rather than skill or luck-based.

It's a stark contrast to how we view gaming in the United States, and Blizzard's upcoming additions to Diablo 3 reflect that.

But given how different the Chinese gaming market is from the domestic and European ones, the community's initial worries are likely without warrant. Free-to-play games are bog standard in China because, as this VentureBeat story illustrates, internet cafes are more affordable than having computers at home, and that's coupled of course, with the fact that video game consoles had been banned (soft of) for over a decade in the country. That's to say nothing of China's economy either (or how quickly microtransactions can add up), which makes shelling out a pretty sizable chunk of money up front for a console and games difficult for many.

It's a stark contrast to how we view gaming in the United States, and Blizzard's upcoming additions to Diablo 3 reflect that. The developer's experimented with different business models in the past, including making World of Warcraft free to a point; the multiplayer portion of StarCraft 2 is largely gratis as well. It wouldn't be the first time Activision Blizzard has tailored one of its games for the market, either -- Call of Duty Online is a region-specific free-to-play version of the wildly popular shooter. Where the microtransactions will appear hasn't been confirmed, but we've reached out to Blizzard for more detail and will update this post should we hear back.

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