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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

How to fix DIABLO III (from a new Diablo player)

Late last night I finished Diablo II. That was my first time playing it since the game came out just over a dozen years ago. I chose a Paladin and got him up to level 41 - outfitted with a nice bit o' kit - before vanquishing the demon Baal at the end of the Lord of Destruction expansion pack.

Now I understand why the Diablo series has captivated millions of players. I also sought out and played - also for the very first time - the original Diablo from 1996 before going headlong into the sequel. I had a Hell (horrible pun intended) of a great time with each!

Unfortunately, unless producer Blizzard Games effects some drastic changes, it looks like it'll be around 2024, if at all, before I even consider purchasing Diablo III.

So if you're new to the scene, Diablo III came out two months ago amid insane hype and high expectations befitting a game series' latest chapter twelve years in the making. All well and good... except Blizzard decided for whatever reason to force Diablo III to always be connected to the Internet. Which makes no sense at all because Diablo and Diablo II, although they had multiplayer components, were by and large single-player games. Obviously the multiplayer aspect is going to require an Internet hookup but nobody's been obligated to be online with the first Diablo games at all to enjoy them. Diablo III however mandates this ludicrous requirement (and sucks to be those poor saps living in areas yet to be reached by broadband).

So what's happened from the very first moments of Diablo III getting released? Multitudes of players unable to play at all because the Diablo III servers are overloaded or down completely (the now-notorious "Error 37" message). Worse, many players are reporting that they have lost money... as in actual currency from their bank accounts... because of glitches, servers gone awry and just plain bad judgment on the part of Blizzard.

It all comes down to the Real Money Auction House (RMAH) that Diablo III incorporates. One of the bigger appeals of Diablo II was the looting: killing monsters for a wide variety of weaponry, armor and clothing, etc. You began Diablo II with one of several basic characters and during the course of the game you can "trick them out" and make it a persona all your own. And pretty early on, there began to be a for-profit trade going on through eBay and other venues for in-game items.

So Blizzard decided that it wanted a piece of the action when it set out to make Diablo III. And that seems to be the only reason why this game was produced at all, based on the complaints (many have been left on the game's page at Amazon.com). Blizzard set up the Real Money Auction House allegedly to counter in-game scamming and the like. It works like this: if you find a rare item, you can sell it on the RMAH. Other players can bid on it or buy it outright with a credit card or PayPal account or somesuch tied in to your Diablo III profile. The other player gets hard-to-find items, you get real-world profit... and Blizzard makes 15% profit from the item's sale. Different items drop at various frequencies, and the drop rate can be adjusted by Blizzard. I suppose it could be said that Diablo III is the most glorified Internet sweepstakes game around, but I digress...

The RMAH has caused unprecedented grief from a video game: One player lost $200 because of a snafu involving his traveling abroad. Several players using Linux systems were banned apparently because of their chosen operating system, leaving them high and dry and minus $60 they paid for the game at retail. There have been many players who have filed complaints on Blizzard's official message boards, only to find themselves banned and censored.

Blizzard had the opportunity to practically print money with Diablo III. And they wasted it all on what must be the worst case of corporate bungling of a video game in decades.

Look, I want to play Diablo III eventually. But I don't want to be online all the time nor do I see why a single-player game would require it. I don't want to have to worry about whether a remote server is up before I want to play. I don't want a video game to stop working entirely because it misconstrues some system quirk as "cheating". And I have far more important things to do with my time than to run around a nonexistent landscape trying to buy or sell objects which aren't real with my hard-earned money.

And it looks like I'm not the only one who feels that way either: Diablo III has seen a massive drop in the number of active players since its release just two months ago.

So let's sum up: Diablo III is a game that many would play except for the always-online requirement, or that many have already played and given up out of frustration and boredom. Blizzard is raking in serious coin from game sales and the Real Money Auction House right now... but having admitted that there is little to do after the game ends and without compelling new content, that will likely be considerably short-term profit. Meanwhile the word has already gotten out: Diablo III may not be worth the hassle for potential new players to invest time and money in... which will be needed by Blizzard to sustain the game over the long haul.

I think there are some very reasonable - and quite simple - measures that Blizzard should take to correct their mistakes with Diablo III and make it the game many have come to expect:

1. Remove the always-online requirement. That will draw in the more casual players who don't necessarily have time or desire to do multiplayer Diablo. But don't yank out always-online completely, because...

2. Give players the choice to "opt out" of the Real Money Auction House. I don't want to buy loot with real money. Neither do a lot of other people. Nobody should be forced to suffer technological penalties because of a feature they neither want or will ever use. If Blizzard wants to offer the Real Money Auction House, then fine. And they should keep the in-game infrastructure in place that allows for and regulates it. But don't let players who aren't interested in the RMAH be bogged-down to the point that they won't want to buy the game to begin with.

3. Charge a small monthly fee for the right to buy and trade on the RMAH instead of the 15% cut. Many players are wondering if Blizzard is "rigging" things behind the scenes to favor the dropping of sought-after items that command high prices on the RMAH. I can see how that would be something to consider. Enough so that many would be leery enough of the RMAH to avoid the game entirely. Instead, Blizzard should use microtransactions for the privilege of buying and selling through the RMAH. I can't see how Blizzard could lose out. If anything the company stands to profit far more than it can per the current Diablo III arrangement.

There are a few other things that I could suggest, such as tagging items looted in single-player Diablo III as unavailable for trade on the RMAH for those who've opted-out of it (but perfectly allowable between friends in multiplayer), using mandatory patching as opposed to always-online to fix exploits whenever they are discovered before engaging in multiplayer, etc. But those are relatively minor details.

I think that Diablo III could be a great game still. Some trusted associates have told me that when it works... emphasis on "when"... that Diablo III is a gorgeous thing to behold. I would like to experience that for myself someday. So would thousands, perhaps millions of other video game players.

It's not too late for Blizzard to do the right thing, assume some responsibility, look us straight in the eye and tell us "Hey, we screwed up. But we're listening to you and taking your complaints to heart and we're doing our best to make things right." 'Twould be a refreshing thing to see from a major company in this day and age... and it really would be to the benefit of everyone involved.


Anonymous said...

Bravo! & thanks for telling it like it is.

Anonymous said...

Read this review from the lord of terror. Best review ever.


Chris Knight said...

That has to be one of the best and *funniest* reviews that I've ever read! Whoever wrote it did a masterful piece of work :-)