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 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 platform.

Players will have access to several features through, 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 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 provides, these 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 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

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 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 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 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, 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 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?

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

  1. Warsyde

    I really feel it’s much ado about nothing. If anyone was surprised by the “requires internet connection” bit they haven’t been paying much attention to Blizzard for the past few years.

    I think the whole AH thing is a non-issue. If this was a persistent world MMO that would be one thing, but it’s not. I think it was pure genius on Blizzard’s part though, because it’s gotten them tons of media attention and will make them extra money too.

    Now that I think about it though, there is one possible issue — taxation. I’m assuming items sold on the cash AH would be considered income. Would it be considered gambling income? Or what?


  2. Tesh

    I still detest the “must be tethered to the mothership” thing in any game. My internet connection isn’t reliable, and if I want to play single player, there is no good reason to require that connection. Steam does indeed annoy me, and the offline mode is annoying… but the system’s saving grace.

    The RMT aftermarket intrigues me. It wouldn’t bother me as a player, but I think Blizzard is playing with legal fire, let alone player flames. The RealID hook bothers me a lot more than letting players trade *stuff* for whatever coin they feel like spending.


  3. EasilyEnthused

    I am not surprised in the least about the prospect of having to be online to play – although I am annoyed. One of my favorite things about Diablo II was that I could easily play it on an older laptop I have – while waiting in the airport or on a road trip. It was one of those endless games that you could play for 5 minutes and still feel like you’d gained something. Those options won’t be available for Diablo III single player and it’s a growing trend I strongly dislike.

    The auction house is a very good thing – but it opens a can of worms that no one I read (Tobold, Spinks, You) has mentioned. With Blizzard allowing people to use in game money to buy in game items that they can then sell for real world money – they’ve just opened the possibility for them to be complicit in account-stealing and other forms of corruption.

    Just think about it – we all know that gold sellers have been stealing accounts in WoW to sell gold to other players for years. Nothing new there …

    But now, when that happens – Blizzard will be making a buck off it – and that really changes the nature of the beast.

    Before, account hacking and gold farming did little but piss off gamers and cost Blizzard subscription money.

    But now, account hacking and other forms of scams have a real possibility to put money in Blizzard’s pocket.

    I’m not saying Blizzard would systematically endorse this – but let’s be honest here: It’s a lot harder to crack down on scam artists when they’re helping you line your pockets with gold.


  4. Anonymous

    The concept of buying and selling on two different markets seems interesting. I am sure many people will note price differences between them and exploit them (arbitrage).

    Another interesting thing is that you can store money in your Blizzard account from auction sales and re-use that money to buy auction items. This will mean that you can really cash out anytime – just save all your money, buy something really expensive, sell and cash-out afterwards.

    The problem is waiting for someone to come out with a application that monitors the RMT auction house (possibly an API tool) and gives you realtime info on any item you see on your screen when you are in your dungeon. Can you imagine that?

    RMT is fine when its in a corner of the mind as a gray area, not when its so pervasive and part of the mindset of the gamer so much that it affects gameplay. I think that’s why most people object to this.

    What happens now that too many people are focused solely on farming for money. Even playing with friends becomes competitive, although everyone will have seperate loot show up on their respective monitors. Suddenly, instead of sharing that +2 to all skills amulet with your buddy, you decide you would rather sell it to make $20. The community may suffer if this happens.


  5. Aufero

    I can’t say having to be online to play was unexpected, even if it still annoys the heck out of me. Blizzard’s entry into brokering the RMT market wasn’t something I anticipated, but on reflection it doesn’t really affect me – I can’t see myself ever using it. (Isn’t finding your own loot half the point of these games? If you’re just going to buy things, is there really that much fun to be had from yet another dungeon crawl?)

    Both moves leave a bad taste in my mouth. They both seem based on the same attitude that led to the RealID fiasco – anything they do to cash in is okay, even if it degrades the playing experience. As a result, I’ve mentally downgraded DIII from “pick up the first week” to “wait a couple of years and see how popular it was.”


  6. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Tesh – I don’t like the always connected plan, but it isn’t a deal breaker for me. I still want to play. And since the plan was to play with the instance group, we’d probably be using in any case. We’ll see how it goes.

    @EasilyEnthused – The cash AH has some good and bad to it certainly. On the one hand, every shiny now has a potential dollar/euro amount associated with it and becomes something people can steal. Account security becomes a bigger issue, all the more so since access to your D3 account also means access to your WoW account. Get an authenticator and use a strong, not used any place else, password.

    On the flip side, Blizzard has some experience in that arena. I would be surprised if there weren’t some hooks in the game to make tracking down thieves easier. And the amount that Blizzard might make on illicit transactions will be easily off-set by having live agents doing account restores and the like. There is no way around that reality.

    @Anon – I have found in the last 20+ years that there are always some people who focus on loot, whether it can be sold for in-game currency or real money. The people I play with tend to not run to that end of the spectrum.

    And, honestly, unless they have changes D3 drastically from D2, I cannot see the AH being a huge draw. If, however, they tune the game to need that sort of thing to either earn gold or get viable equipment… well… the game probably won’t have much staying power with me in the end.

    @Warsyde – I wonder if Blizzard will send you a 1099-MISC if you exceed $500 in sales.


  7. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Angry – Just to clarify, the note from Vasco wasn’t about single sign on for all games, which has made me mildly uncomfortable since the day SOE lumped all of their games into a single account structure, but rather seemed to be more about a new generation of devices which could be used with multiple services without the compromise of one service impacting the others. Vasco was not indicating that they would use the current devices or infrastructure to work across multiple services. Or such was my read of the note I received, and if I simplified their message on single device/multiple services, that was my fault.

    And yes, as I said, single sign on makes me nervous and I know that the authenticator is not a panacea but merely another breakable security layer and should be viewed as such. Arguments against authenticators because they can be spoofed or cracked seem to ignore the point of having a multi-layered defense. Two flawed layers are better, in my mind, than one.

    And, at least my Diablo III account will be covered by the Blizzard authenticator from day one, unlike my EA accounts, which all got jammed into one account without bothering to notify me.


  8. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Darraxus – I was looking for something on that, but did not see anything either way on the subject. If I find something concrete, I’ll rant about it when I find it.

    No Modding would be bad, very bad. Given the history with Diablo II, Warcraft III (DotA!), and what people are doing with StarCraft II, it would also be insanely stupid.

    So like I said, I hope they have a plan!

    Edit: Or maybe they don’t. Fuxor.


  9. TheRemedy

    I see only downsides to the real money auction house. If World of Warcraft is any indication D3 is going to be littered with gold farmers. And they will have the market cornered on all items. They will be able to farm items and gold faster than anyone else, and will sell them incredibly cheaply that it would be difficult for others to make a profit off it.


  10. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @TheRemedy – I imagine that to be a likely scenario. I can see them farming goods for sale for gold, turning around and selling gold for cash, then farming more goods on which the buyers will spend their recently purchased gold.

    I’m just not sure I care, or if I even should care.

    That market would exist, if to a lesser extent, anyway. That was proven in Diablo II. Now Blizzard will be taking a cut which will also make them responsible for things, so if things go horribly awry, they cannot play the victim. They set up the service, they can own up to what happens.

    While edging towards the “it’s an MMORPG” line, you need not share your world with any of these people nor visit the auction house unless you so desire. I learned back in the original Diablo that starting an open game that anybody could join was a bad idea. I do not plan to change my “no strangers” policy at this late date. So no gold farmers will bother me, except with a bit of lobby spam. Or so I hope.

    It will be interesting to see how it plays out.


  11. Anonymous

    Here is another interesting issue regarding the auction house – price undercutting and being charged the listing fee regardless.

    Assume you have a item for auction listed at $10 and a $0.50 listing fee. Now someone goes and lists the identical item (possibly a set piece or unique item) and does it for $9.99. If there as an interested buyer for said item, there will be a 99% chance they won’t buy your item. Now your auction expires and you lost the $0.50 listing fee..

    Also, what is the purpose for Blizzard adding a fee for sold items? I understand they want to add one to list items to prevent trivial items from clogging up the auction house, but this seems like a cash grab to me.

    Now they have a license to print money with almost no additional upkeep costs for as long as Diablo III stays popular.

    Damn Blizzard for messing up my vision of what could have been…


  12. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    The listing fee for the cash AH seems a bit more problematic than your typical WoW AH transaction. The FAQ does include this item:

    “Please note that we plan to waive the listing portion of the fee for a limited number of transactions per account. In other words, for these transactions, the seller will only pay a transaction fee if the item is successfully sold, and that fee will not include the listing charge.”

    So I gather that the person listing casually won’t be under too much pressure. Though that might be the dope-peddler routine… the first few samples are free.

    And, from the flip-side view, real online auction sites like eBay charge a listing fee to discourage frivolous listings. Without such a barrier,you will get people listing piles of stuff at a stupid-high price in hopes of getting the occasional sucker or accidental bid.

    Personally, I plan to give both AHs a wide berth unless Blizzard has completely changed the loot tables to force people to need to trade.

    If that becomes the case, I will likely try to off-set my disappointment in investing in such a game by discouraging others.

    But part of me is just interested to see how this all plays out.


  13. saucelah

    I have friends that do not have access to broadband in any form. It’s actually common in rural areas of the US to have no option other than dial-up.

    But personally, I really wasn’t all that enthused about this game, so while these are only mild annoyances for me, they are annoying enough that I’m unlikely to ever purchase the game.

    I doubt I am in the majority though.


  14. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Saucelah – I know the feeling. In 2000 we moved to a house about five miles from the NetCom building in San Jose which was tapped into one of the fattest pipes on the internet, but I couldn’t get broadband, or even ISDN (which I had at our previous location) until early 2004. And even now, living a couple of miles from eBay HQ, I can only get the lowest end version of DSL.

    And this is Silicon Valley. So my heart goes out to those in actual rural locations. When I have one of those moments where I swear I am going to move the hell out of this place I immediately start search for places with cheap housing and good internet connectivity.

    But even if I still had dial-up, I would buy a copy of Diablo III. Too many good memories of Diablo and Diablo II. Hopefully Blizzard won’t screw that up.


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