After some great discussion, I'm going to take a break from long responses to this thread. I've made one edit to this post to reflect my updated perspective. I don't think the RMAH should be wholly demonized. And I'd enjoy reading a comprehensive outline of the benefits of the RMAH for Blizzard (not just financially in pocketable gains, but how it may have helped them strategically), as well as for the player base. Comparing such a thread to my own would be a fantastic way to find faults, contradictions, and possibly even harmony.
I do still feel that it's sad to put so much effort into a game's design, when the challenge-victory-reward model is weakened by an accompanying purchase-reward model. Why not just reward players who don't kill a monster? Isn't it the same thing as rewarding them for dollars, except it benefits the players more and the company less? This probably sounds absurd because you would say, that weakens the infrastructure of the game, that affects my desire to play. Precisely.
I don't believe the assertion that this is an "elitist" perspective. If my desire to continue an exclusively challenge-victory-reward model (which can be on normal difficulty or Inferno) impairs your enjoyment of the game, any desire to force a purchase-reward model equally impairs my own. I wouldn't call you a socialist so please don't call me an elitist for wanting what's a pretty standard progression in most challenges we choose to tackle in life, for fun or otherwise.
Final say, which I think I may be quoting from another person, but using because it's a great line: RMAH trivializes the goal and the journey. But if you're loving D3 then I say everything in its right place.
Important! I've spent many hours responding to counterarguments in this thread. If you're really interested in the topic, I encourage you to look over my responses; you can find them pretty fast as they're usually big long quotations. A lot of responses to the psychological motivation argument have cropped up and I've detailed that part to the best of my ability at this point.
I also encourage people to check out some of the equally long quotation posts from RMAH apologists in this thread (hopefully they don't mind the name!). Some strong arguments here have made me explore my own to greater depths and have compromised some of my arguments and made others less tenable. They're worth reading and contemplation.
Clarification: "apologist" not meant as a derogatory term, here means defender or proponent of
Clarification: not calling people currently using RMAH cheaters; term cheater used herein is open to challenge if you feel it's been improperly used
Just some things I wanted to point out. Totally open to rational refutations:
Apologist: RMAH doesn't affect you.
Reply: It affects gameplay; think of Inferno's difficulty and the purpose of the GAH. If the GAH affects gameplay, the RMAH also affects gameplay. So not using it isn't much of an option. The poor drop rates (potentially to be improved, though not necessarily fixed in 1.0.3) also complicate this issue. I also have to wonder about RMAH's impact on pvp later in the game's lifespan.
Apologist: You can simply ignore the RMAH.
Reply: The very existence of the RMAH, the knowledge that the gear we're chasing, the gifts we're opening, can be bought for money which is foreign to the game design... this has a psychological affect on players. This isn't going to compromise every player's enjoyment, to be sure. Still, you can't claim that it's a simple thing to turn our brains off and therefore feel no consequence from the RMAH's existence. Would you still value your trophies and medals as much if they could be bought for dollars? It could still feel great to run that marathon, but if you're running it competitively to get the gold, and others started to buy the gold, so that many people had one (without participation)... well, running in that context would feel a hell of a lot less thrilling.
edit: This analogy is a bit of fail. I made it to support a point about the trivializing of the journey and goal, as mentioned, and instead it's really just turning the motivational argument into a competitive thing because of poor wording. It's not about that. I can see now where some of the arguments on this point were coming from and I should have come back and fully reread my OP awhile ago. I think if you look through the thread you'll find I stay away from argument that emphasises competition and detail the psychological motivation premise in more informative ways.
Basically, I was grasping at an analogy that would fit a common thing people do that has the challenge-victory-reward model. But in my mind, the victory part is about overcoming the game's challenges, not beating other people as this suggests. This game doesn't support that type of competition so it would be moot (I'm sure many a reader has thought this). So to finalize: I stand by the essence of what I'm saying about motivation, but this is a misleading rather than helpful analogy. Stick with the first part and what I say later in the thread.
Here's a new example that may work better to demonstrate the effects of player motivation, so you understand that it exists and how it works. Say Blizzard turned all of the demons in this game into garbage cans. Many players (most?) would immediately lose interest in D3. This is the kind of effect I'm talking about. Although the RMAH situation is different in that the players purchasing gear isn't happening on my screen, that doesn't diminish the fact that I'm well aware that the fundamental game design has been altered. Previously, my mind was intent on slaying monsters, in part because it's just fun, in part because of the challenge of combat (major reason), and in part because they possessed the coveted treasures (major reason). Well, now RMAH has opened up in-game and those treasures, many of them better than I could get from forty hours farming a monster, are there to be bought by anyone with no effort required. Just like the demons turned to garbage cans, which is nothing more than a visual change I could simply ignore if I wanted to by focusing on the gameplay, the treasures have also turned to garbage cans, because the in-game labour required to get them has tanked.
To me, this is similar to the reason why cheat codes were removed from games (as far as I've seen) a long, long time ago after the years of Game Genie and such. Whether you like it or not, there is a definite and widespread valourization of the "fair playing field" function of games--including single player games. For many people, all it takes is the knowledge that a way to break someting exists (here, to bypass the challenge-victory part) and it loses a lot of its flair.
Think of it like suspension of disbelief. My suspension of disbelief is intruded upon by the awareness that what I'm working so hard to get is being sold around the corner for a few bucks. It's immersion-related psychological motivation at least in part, I guess. I've gone on to further explain this in a few ways, because it's a dynamic element of the argument.
Apologist: You knew about this since release and well before.
Reply: Yes, I did. I also hoped they wouldn't release it. I hoped that external or internal pressures would prevent its release. It's also not farfetched to believe that the actual emergence of any contentious thing is going to spark debate, foreknowledge or not.
Apologist: People were just going to third party sites, which was insecure.
Reply: Think about this for a moment. Why were people going to third party sites? Because it was against the rules to sell items and gold for real money. Why was this the case? Why is that principle suddenly abandoned by the company and ignored by the apologists? If someone was caught purchasing gold in D2 or WoW, I'm pretty sure they'd get a ban for cheating, no? So now the company has implicitly condoned cheating and abandoned the principle to... protect the cheaters?
Edit: This particular argument is, I think, after some strong arguments against it, weak. I definitely went into it with some presumptions that weren't fully based on either fact or even thorough reasoning. Blizzard may have never been against the idea of purchasing items with real money; the bans may not have had to do with "cheating", i.e. subverting the level/slay gameplay dynamic.
Apologist: They're a business, businesses make money. It's what they do.
Reply: Yes, they do. But this business model is affecting gameplay in ways already described. If a company decided to implement a new way to make money from films or novels which negatively impacted, or simply destabilized the product, I would be unhappy.
Apologist: Blizzard is in this to help the players.
Reply: If that were genuinely true, and the goal was to improve our play experience as well as shut down third party sites, they could have implemented the RMAH without a tax. I'm sure whatever burden it would put on the company would be nothing compared to that of the game itself, and certainly won't align appropriately with the money they'll make.
Apologist: This happens in tons of games.
Reply: If you're willing to at least tentatively accept some of the reasons already given, can you empathize with those of us who think this statement is not only a shame for any truth it has, but for the argument that it's a reason to just accept the trend? Blizzard's employees have produced some great games, and they realize they're watched by other gaming companies. So as one of the leaders of our gaming community writ large, they must realize that they're condoning what was once frowned upon and penalized, and sanctioning this new behaviour for generations of games to come.
Apologist: Wahhh, cry more, it's just a game get over it, you're stupid and/or 12, get a life, get laid.
I also want to repeat that I understand these reasons won't appeal to everyone. I just want there to be some understanding of the reasons many of us have (no idea how many) for disapproving of the RMAH, but delivering them in a comprehensive format.
I have applied for a refund, in large part because I was sold an EU copy of the game that's caused me several headaches. But I'm quitting the game because it's the best way I can protest the RMAH.
The best thing to do now is to wish you all a great gaming experience. I love many things in life, and games, for good or bad, have been one of them since I was a very small boy. :)
edited for clarity