After a couple of delays, there's now some real money to be made -- and squandered -- playing Activision Blizzard's (Nasdaq: ATVI ) Diablo III.
Yesterday's launch of the real-money auction house will give players the ability to buy and sell (using actual money) the virtual goods that they find during the course of playing the online game. This could be a game-changer for Activision Blizzard, since it takes a 15% cut of the transactions when gamers decide to cash out.
Diablo III's marketplace was supposed to roll out a week after the game became available last month, but server outages bumped the launch twice. Yesterday's launch is restricted to the Americas game region for the U.S. dollar, Australian dollar, and Mexican peso. Other countries and currencies will come online later.
It remains to be seen where supply and demand will meet here. After shelling out $60 on the game, logic would suggest that most gamers are interested in making some of that back by being sellers instead of buyers. There are also reports of players in emerging markets treating this as a full-time endeavor, and that's another development that will likely drive prices lower in what should be a buyer's market.
It also remains to be seen if the marketplace will attract or dissuade gamers. The sale of virtual loot in massive multiplayer games has been going on for years, but here we find the actual company behind the game cashing in. If gamers feel that this will give rich gamers an unfair advantage, the experience may prove to be less than ideal for most of the players.
Activision Blizzard needs this to work. It hasn't been as aggressive as its nearest rival -- Electronic Arts (Nasdaq: EA ) -- when it comes to the fast-growing niches of casual and social gaming. Yes, Zynga (Nasdaq: ZNGA ) has seen its stock cut in half since going public six months ago, but social gaming is still growing in popularity on social networks and as smartphone apps. Traditional video games have been sluggish since 2009.
Hoping to make up for lost time, Activision Blizzard is also teaming up with analytics firm Flurry to launch a third-party publishing platform for mobile games. It remains to be seen what app developers can gain by going through the Activision Publishing gateway instead of striking out on their own, but at least the company's trying.
Digital delivery is the inevitable future of gaming. The industry is moving that way. The next trillion-dollar revolution will be in mobile, but the best investing play isn't necessarily Activision Blizzard. If you want to cash in on the hot trend, a new report will get you up to speed. Yes, it's as free as this article, but it won't last forever, so check it out now.