PC Gamer had a recent Q&A with Diablo/Diablo II lead designer Stieg Hedlund to hear his opinion on Diablo III. While the tone is very polite (and Hedlund admits being objective is difficult for him), it's difficult to call it positive in any way, shape or form:
The auction house was a huge point of contention, to the extent that eventually [former Game Director] Jay Wilson said, (I think we would turn it off if we could.) They saw it as a liability or something. Did you have similar feelings about the auction house?
Hedlund: I think it had detrimental effects on gameplay throughout. They did want to reserve a certain tier of loot for the auction house, and therefore it wasn't dropping in the game with the kind of frequency that people were looking for it. But at the same time, I get. I don't think it's a matter of being greedy. Game developers, we work hard, and we want to be rewarded for what we do. The fact that Diablo II was still on shelves and still being played, in Korea particularly, 10 years after the fact of its release was something that I think Blizzard was kind of like. (Hey, we got the price of the box and not much else out of that.) That doesn't respect the amount of gameplay that people were clearly getting from it. So I can definitely see that point of view, where they say, (Hey, we should be rewarded for what we're giving the audience,) and then think about ways to do that. That's the world that we live in, too, particularly in free-to-play games. You have to think about how you. We're still a business. We need to make money. But we need to do it in a way that feels natural and doesn't feel bolted on and forced on the player, but that actually makes sense to them. The value proposition has to be there.
And Blizzard was solving an issue that existed in Diablo II. People were going to sell items. So why not bring it in-house?
Hedlund: It definitely makes sense on that level. They're providing something to players and trying to get value for the company as well. It's just that the actual way that it was done is what didn't quite come together.