Well, this is a surprise. During a panel talk at GDC (via Joystiq ), former Diablo 3 Lead Designer Jay Wilson addressed head-on the ongoing controversy of the game's gold and real-money auction houses, saying the markets ultimately "really hurt the game."
The crux of Blizzard's troubles with the auction houses arose from an underestimation of user numbers and the scale of item pricing, according to Wilson. He also said the team initially thought the player-driven economy would combat scams and provide a useful service.
Eventually, Blizzard became strongly aware of the differences between its expectations and the actual performance and reception of the markets. Wilson claimed the entirety of Diablo 3's community—1 million players daily and around 3 million per month, he noted—used either auction house at some point, with "over 50 percent" of players using them regularly.
The convenience of amassing a fortune in gold from bartering items dimmed the game's primary motivation of experiencing its story and killing Diablo, Wilson explained. That echoes a previous sentiment from Blizzard Game Designer Travis Day earlier this year , who wrote on the team's efforts to "refocus players away from farming the auction house and onto farming monsters."
In hindsight, Wilson stated, Blizzard would "turn off [the auction houses] if we could." Whoa. However, Wilson went on to elaborate that the size of Diablo 3's playerbase makes the problem "not as easy" as abruptly unplugging item bartering. He said a solution is being worked on that avoids eliminating an existing feature entirely, but he didn't go into details.