The lights are on
Jay Wilson of Blizzard, director of Diablo III until he transferred to a different project within the company in January, said in his GDC talk that he feels both the gold and real-money auction houses "really hurt the game."
While the auction houses reduced the fraud and effectively killed grey-market transactions between players and item- and gold-farming companies that hurt the online Diablo II community, Blizzard did not expect players to use them on the scale that they started to as soon as the game launched. Almost every player uses one or the other, according to Wilson, and nearly half use them regularly.
Interestingly, Wilson pointed to the gold auction house as more damaging to the game's health than the real-money one, simply because far more people use the in-game currency version.
While Wilson says Blizzard is loathe to remove a system that he freely admits the company has no data on how many of its players love or hate, he did tease that the team is hard at work at a solution that it feels will be viable in the long term for keeping the more than three million unique players that still log in every month happy.
To date, Blizzard has used post-launch patches to add several account-bound (i.e. can't be sold on the auction house or traded to other players) high-end items and recipes to encourage players to kill monsters themselves rather than simply buying all their equipment.
Could this nebulous new feature coincide with the upcoming PlayStation 3 and PS4 versions of the game? How Sony will deal with Blizzard's Battle.net infrastructure and the auction houses remains an open question.