I wouldn't say the RMAH "legitimized" things...however, it did put one thing into the spotlight: the fact that idiots wanted to be considered elite so badly that they were willing to throw down hundreds of real dollars to buy in-game items without thinking about the consequences, the main consequence being that when you buy ENDGAME gear, you make FINDING that same gear less rewarding.
Let's say I buy an entire Zunimassa set on the AH, window shop till I find the exact rolls I want...then I find one Zunimassa piece out in the field, with rolls that aren't ideal. Obviously, it's gonna look sucky.
So far, I've bought one set piece on the AH, a Chantodo's Force, I think, couldn't have been all that great because I have other gear in my stash that I've FOUND that's better than that. But the point is, there are still a bunch of sets I'm yet to find, once I get to higher MP levels and higher Paragon levels.
People BUY gear (with either real money or gold), then they wonder why they aren't finding upgrades. Gee, I wonder why.
That's one big thing I never see when trolls hit the forums complaining that the game is unrewarding...how much time and effort was spent in the Auction House buying stuff they should've found. "But drop rates suck!" Yeah, if your MF, MP and Plvl are all stupidly low. Hell, even if they're low, you can still get good stuff. My level 53 Softcore Barb got to Hell this morning, found a Blackguard legendary. Not epic or godly, far from it, but it was still an upgrade. Most people would've found that and said, "crap, won't sell for more than 100k, if that." But it upgraded what I had on my weapon slot, and that's what mattered.
The issue is that if you want to be end-game geared, you almost have to spend real money. I refused for as long as I could to spend real money, until one day I had it and spent $50 on some gold to gear up my DH. (and $50 only got me a 100k dps MF glass cannon)
I spent around 400 hours playing this game and have found nothing that even resembles an "end-game item". That doesn't make sense at all. Keep in mind that I've always ran at over 330%MF and have been farming act 3 since a week after release. Yeah, I find tons of rare items and have found a fair amount of legendary items, all of which are not even that good.
That's just sad. After 400 hours, I should have one character very well geared or at least a decent amount of pretty good gear over all my characters. Unfortunately, most of the gear on my characters currently were obtained from the GAH (only the DH has used bought gold), but it's still ridiculous that I can't find any real "good gear" after hundreds of hours of farming.
That's why people don't like this game. It's highly... highly unrewarding.
That's the main problem with D3. Reaching that sweet spot in terms of gear gets harder and harder depending on where you're at in the power curve. They decided to get rid of season play in favor of it taking a very long time to progress that far on the power curve. If you decide to simply ignore season play then you'd better think pretty hard on how to keep your players happy in between. How are you going to keep your players happy in terms of rewards?
That's where things go wrong. For people using the AH to move along the power curve that flaw becomes noticeable sooner than those that don't. That explains why some people have no problem with the loot and others have. Improving drop rates doesn't solve the issue at hand, it only prolongs the inevitable. The inevitable being the garbage you will find most of the time with the very very rare bis find.
D2 had ladder play and decent drop rates. Of course you had the days of dry runs, but eventually it was pretty consistent with its rewards. You have the choice of playing OP'ed all the time (non-ladder, just like D3 is now) or start fresh (ladder). They so desperately try to reflect real life economy into this game, which failed miserably btw, that they lose sight of what's really important.
It's important to consistently provide the player with useful rewards. This game needs less useless drops and better quality drops. This can't be fixed by improving drop rates alone. It's not the amount of loot available, it's the quality. There's very little variety in what you want on your items. Most legendaries are still useless. Quite a few legendaries can't be beaten by rares. Legendaries in general are not rewarding enough. At some point you're going to hit that brick wall where the game becomes mind-numbingly boring. It's inevitable. I don't understand why they dislike the idea of having season play. I really don't. It's a good solution to keep everyone happy. People can choose either way, whatever they enjoy.
We find tons of white trash items. What's the point of (cracked/normal/superior) white items currently? Why drop them at all? D3 already has too much garbage magical/rare items. Make them useful in some way or remove them. I could run around with a cracked javelin in D2 hell difficulty with my javazon (impossible in D3 due to weapon based DPS so another solution is needed). 4, 5 and 6 affix rare crafting plans. Well, pretty useless at the moment. Waste of time since farming for stuff is much more efficient. The crafting system could use an overhaul.
Give white items a quality level. Higher qlvl being more rare. Use whites in crafting recipes. Get rid of rare blacksmith plans and let the quality level determine the number of affixes. Allow damaged items (qlvl -1) to be repaired at the blacksmith with a small chance to get a qlvl > 0.
Instead of rare blacksmith plans introduce crafting runes that can be given to the blacksmith to be used together with white items at the blacksmith to create all kinds of crazy/fun combinations not found with drops. You could introduce bonus affixes with certain rune combinations you collect. Way better than all the random crafting garbage we're getting right now, which simply can't beat loot that drops.
Blue items are worthless at the moment. Allow 1 - 3 affix blue items to drop. Boost the affixes that can spawn on blue items so they can somewhat compete with rares. You could choose a blue over a rare if you need a specific stat which then has a potential to be much higher on a blue item. You could still have the choice of salvaging the blue or yellow items to craft items.