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Especially with the huge load the Diablo III servers have currently during late afternoon/evening one usually does not want to disconnect as getting back in the game can take quite some time.

However, to auction items, I apparently have to leave the game. Is there a way to access the auction house without leaving the current game?

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Question should be close as there is no longer an auction house for diablo 3. –  z ' Mar 18 at 15:32
    
Question should not be closed. See this answer to your own meta question about D3. –  Billy Mailman Mar 18 at 15:56

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Unfortunately the Auction Houses are only accessible from the menus, not anywhere in the game via your character.

The Auction House is a new trading system introduced in Diablo III which shares many features with similar systems found in other games, such as World of Warcraft. Accessed through Battle.net and not from in-game, the auction house allows all players within a region (US, EU etc.) to buy and sell items easily and conveniently between each other. Almost all items other than quest items can be sold between players, and everything is run by the players: Blizzard will not sell any items.

http://www.diablowiki.com/Auction_House

Edit: Blizzard has since confirmed that this is a deliberate design decision (Source).

Contrary to MMOs like World of Warcraft Diablo III is not a game where the auction house meta-game is part of the in-game story.

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Bah.. they should have added a button in the menu you get ingame when pressing [ESC]. –  ThiefMaster May 16 '12 at 6:31
    
I have a hope that they might add it in down the track. It seems like a fairly obvious solution. –  dlanod May 16 '12 at 6:32
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Actually they probably prefer not to tie up the servers with thousands of instances of games with people just browsing the AH. You have to wonder how much processing time the WoW servers devote to people just standing in front of the auction house all day! –  Wikwocket May 16 '12 at 7:17
    
This wiki entry is actually way out of date, stating that you're supposed to access it over the web, as opposed to in-game menus. –  Theodore Murdock May 17 '12 at 15:26
    
I interpreted that to mean the menus when you're only connected to Battle.net, not actually in game, which is the case. Was it previously accessible only through the web in the beta? –  dlanod May 17 '12 at 21:46

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