Blizzard has officially shut down the gold and real-money auction houses for Diablo 3. This puts an end to one of the company's most controversial design decisions.
There were some good intentions behind the auction houses. Blizzard wanted players to have a convenient method to purchase new loot for their character. The real-money auctions allowed players to earn some cash on the side for rare drops. It also removed the need for players to use a potentially risky third-party service.
However, it had its share of disadvantages as well. Blizzard had to make the game online-only to curb item duping and botting - activities that could severely disrupt the game's economy. The game still had its share of bots and dupers anyway but players still had to live with the disadvantages of the online requirement. Server shutdowns made the game unplayable while lag made it just plain unpleasant.
Maybe the most damning aspect of the auction houses was that they made the game less fun. The core of the Diablo experience has always been exploring dungeons, killing monsters and pulling great loot from their corpses. This gratification is removed when you can just head to the auction house and throw down some money for the best gear. This was the very point that Blizzard cited when they decided to pull the plug.
"We firmly believe that by shutting down the real money and the gold auction houses, it really paves the way to make sure that killing monsters in game is the most rewarding, the most satisfying, the most compelling way of getting your hands on those items," D3 game director Josh Mosqueira said last year.
Blizzard made the process of finding useful loot much easier with Patch 2.0.1. This update causes enemies to drop fewer items but they're more likely to be suited to player's stats. Furthermore, a greater percentage of the loot is rare or legendary quality. I played D3 for the first time in over a year after Patch 2.0.1's release and managed to replace most of my gear within an hour. Your results might be less dramatic if you had more level-appropriate gear. Nonetheless, the point is that you're more likely to get a steady flow of effective upgrades now that the patch is live.
All active auctions have been cancelled. Auctioned items were sent to the highest bidder at the time of the shutdown. If there were no bids, they were returned to the seller. Unclaimed gold and items from auctions are available until June 24th, at which point they'll be deleted as well. You can find out other fine details of the shutdown at Blizzard's FAQ.