The Commodification of Play in Diablo 3 - Understanding the Real Money Market Place

Patrick Prax


This paper critically analyzes the real money market place, a feature of the game Diablo 3. To do so I compare the concepts of the audience commodity, prosumption, produsage and playbour to the model of Diablo's real money market place. The paper uses existing research about real-money trade, grinding, and other phenomena that lead to a discussion of the difference between work and play. The term "prosumption" is a combination of production and consumption (Ritzler, 2010:13). A concept similar to the "prosumer" who is consuming and producing at the same time is the "prosumer", a user who is producing a community or service while and through using it. "The concept of produsage is such a term: it highlights that within the communities which engage in the collaborative creation and extension of information and knowledge that we examine in this book, the role of 'consumer' and even that of 'end user' have long disappeared, and the distinctions between producers and users of content have faded into comparative insignificance. In many of the spaces we encounter here, users are always already necessarily also producers of the shared knowledge base, regardless of whether they are aware of this role-they have become a new, hybrid, produser"( Bruns, 2008:2). Kuecklich uses the concept playbour to discuss modding and player-created content and compares it to open source development (Kuecklich, 2005). In a similar way Goggin describes playbour as "'farming' and 'grinding' in 'virtual sweatshops' where workers are engaged in producing virtual items for sale on the internet for low wages"(Goggin, 2011).

The model of the real money market place is not totally described by any of the used concepts. Instead it is a hybrid that touches on all of the concepts but becomes something more than each one of them. The increase of the game and of the market place through the participation of other players is well described with prosumption and produsage. The act of creating virtual items through repeatedly killing monster to then sell the items to other players fits well into the notion of playbour. The structuring of leisure time according to labor models is a part of the model of the audience commodity and the working audience. The income from the market place that Blizzard seems to be expecting is not generated by Blizzard or their work but it originates in the work and the interactions of the players. This system of trading virtual goods for real money is not only exploiting the players by putting them to work to generate profits for the company. It also organizes the whole game world, culture, and play activity according to the logic of accumulating capital.

Using interview, participant observation and online media this paper then explains the consequences of this feature on the game and the emerging game culture of Diablo. The inclusion of real money trade as a central feature of the game leads to a structuring of the entire game, play, and game culture according to a labor and production paradigm that results in a commodification of play. The commodification of human attention that is sold to advertisers by private for-profit media broadcasters like television channels and the resulting introduction of a capitalist logic in our spare-time is not new (Jhally, 1986; Smythe, 2001). This logic has since been used to describe and analyze even digital media and web 2.0 services that exploit user participation to make a profit. This paper expends this line of thinking to digital games in general and the game Diablo 3 (Blizzard Entertainment, 2012) in particular.