Daily Archives: August 3, 2011

Blizzard Waits Until I am on Vacation to Stir Up Diablo III Controversy

I go on vacation to Lake Tahoe  for a few days and Blizzard decides to drop a bomb shell.

(By the way, Lake Tahoe looks a lot like Evendim… if you substitute Anuminnas and the tombs of the kings for cabins, cheap motels, and a few casinos.)

Two bits of news seemed to set quite a few people off.  And while most everybody seems to have had their say on this up to now, I like to note these events on my own blog just mark them if nothing else.  Plus I haven’t seen any reactions that are exactly the same as mine.

The first was, of course, the fact that you will need to connect to Battle.net in order to play Diablo III.  From the FAQ:

Will I need to be connected to the Internet to play Diablo III?
Yes, players must be online in order to play Diablo III. Diablo III was built from the ground up to take full advantage of the new version of Blizzard’s powerful Battle.net platform.

Players will have access to several features through Battle.net, including an advanced achievement system as well as the Diablo III banner system; a powerful co-op and PvP matchmaking system; comprehensive stat-tracking; persistent characters that will not expire and are accessible from any computer that has Diablo III installed; a persistent Real ID friends list across multiple Blizzard games, along with cross-game chat; a shared stash accessible by all Diablo III characters on the Battle.net account; and the ability to have friends seamlessly jump in and join you at any time during your quest against the Burning Hells. Together with the security-related benefits that Battle.net provides, these Battle.net-based features are integral to the Diablo III game experience.

A surprise that was really no surprise at all if you were paying attention.

They told us there would be no LAN play in StarCraft II over two years ago.

They started the great merger of accounts into Battle.net not long after that.

And while some aspects to the whole Real ID plan eventually got shelved, Blizzard still views it as an essential part of their integration plan I am sure.  They will no doubt be dangling some advantages of Real ID before us for Diablo III play.

So the writing was on the wall.  They want you hooked into Battle.net.

Sure, even if it is not a surprise, it is a bit of a disappointment.  The potential impact on the mod’ing community, something that kept Diablo II going strong long after it should have died down, is a very bad thing.  I hope that Blizzard has a plan to support mods with Diablo III.

And while being connected to Battle.net seems like a negative, for me that mostly comes from the era of Diablo II.  Back then I had no dedicated connection to the internet.  Sure, I was advanced with an ISDN connection, but it was only incrementally better than dial-up relative to the always-on connectivity many of us have today.  Being connected isn’t that big of a deal.  After all, most of the games I play regularly require such a connection.  Should I complain about Diablo III and yet cut Zynga a break?

And then there is the memory of Battle.net and how well it ran a decade or so back.  It was a laggy mess.  If Blizzard fixed that, the “connect to play” aspect might not be so bad.  It pushes Diablo III another step in the direction of MMORPGs.  It just needs a fancy open lobby for people to run around in to bring the whole thing pretty close to Dungeons & Dragons Online I suppose.

So with always-on internet pretty common, it is tough to complain.  Besides, with things like Steam you have to be online and connected to even start your single player games (though yes, there is an awkward off-line mode you can enable after you log in) and with other companies just making you stay connected for the sake of DRM regardless of where you purchased them, at least Battle.net offers some benefits to keeping you online beyond just trying to keep the publisher happy.

The other surprise, which I will admit might actually have been a legitimate surprise to many, was the auction house announcement, and especially the real money aspect of it.

You will be able to buy and sell item on one of two auction houses.  More info here on the whole setup.

One auction house will let you buy and sell items for gold, the in-game currency.

The second will let you buy and sell items… or gold… for real world money.

The two auction houses might be a surprise if you didn’t play Diablo II or were a casual or off-line player.  But Diablo II at one point had a very real external economy going as people bought and sold items for real world money.

Diablo II, and Diablo before it, had a lot of things going on in common with MMORPGs of the time, including Real Money Transactions.  The dreaded RMT.

Considering that if you created off-line, non-Battle.net characters there were several little utilities out there that could edit your character file and give you any piece of equipment you wanted (and ruin the game for you along the way), this seemed nothing short of amazing to me.  At the game’s peak there were a couple of sites that would sell you your dream equipment and deliver it to your Battle.net stored character.

With that in mind, it isn’t difficult to see why Blizzard decided to go with the cash shop.  It gives them a cut of those inevitable sales and puts the whole thing under their control.  I am sure they got more than a few complaints about such trades having gone bad.  And they will make some money off of those willing to participate.

The gold based shop… I can only explain that as a required alternative to placate those who will complain about Blizzard’s greed.  You can participate and not spend real money if you so desire.

Unless they have really cut back drops and gold from the first two Diablo games, it is tough to see the point otherwise.  I rarely ever lacked for gold in either game.  In fact, my usual problem was having more gold than I was able to store.  And part of the fun of the game was finding new bits of equipment throughout the dungeons.

A lot of players will use these auction houses though, I am sure.  Having the option is nice I guess, even if I suspect it won’t be something I will use.  And Blizzard will make a good, easy to use auction house.  I miss the WoW auction house in Lord of the Rings Online, if only for the “only show items I can use” check box.

Neither of these issues feel like deal breakers for me.  It certainly won’t change my decision to buy the game, which is pretty much guaranteed.  And unless Blizzard totally screws up, it will be worth getting.

Of course, if you’re looking for problems, there is also that whole 10 character limit thing…  Since Blizzard is now unlikely to delete characters if you do not log on for 90 days, the way they used to in Diablo II, you might accumulate more.  But even 10 is more than EverQuest II gives you, a game with 24 (soon to be 25) character classes.  Blizzard will likely find a way to sell you a few more slots if you need them.

And I will guess that we’ll get a few more slots when the inevitable expansion comes along.  I hope they have an expansion vision beyond “one and done” this time around.  The worst thing they did with Diablo II was let it sit in the corner for 10 years.

What do you think?  Are either of these two items really a big deal?  Am I missing something?